The next big thing: authors tagging authors

I don’t usually participate in memes, but this is a good one. It’s important to participate in the symbiosis of these literary circles we exist within. If only to recognize that there is a communal quality to art and we who make it can benefit from that mutual support. I was tagged by the talented cyborg, Brianna Johnson , whose fantastic, boundary-shattering writing gets inside your bones and breaks your heart. She, in turn, was tagged by another of my favorite monsters, Bhanu Kapil, whose next book, Notes for a novel not yet written: Ban, I eagerly await.

In turn, I’m tagging Jessica Otto, whose poetry never fails to enthrall me and whose blog, Chewing Wormwood, makes my mind roll over and bare its belly in ecstasy on a regular basis. I’m also tagging Sarah Cedeno, who I met at Goddard College. Her words captivate my imagination and my attention, and her blog is a trove of poetry and insight worth mining.

The Next Big Thing, authors tagging authors, is an exercise in which we all talk about the work we’re currently incubating, or shopping to publishers, or releasing soon or all of the above. Please, please, please read the illustrious words I’ve tagged here. Spread the love. Spread the lit.

What is the working title of your book? 

Buffalo Steel is the one I’m shopping around and revising, now. I waffled on “Steel” for a long time. “Steel” versus “steal,” as in steal away, as in what the narrator does, time and again, to escape the shadows grasping at her. “Steal” as in taking, because doesn’t all writing take a little from us, demanding something from its readers. Some commitment. Some heart. Tears, perhaps. If we’re lucky. Or “steel” as in steeled against those same influences, or steeled in the face of adversity, or steel, the material that built the city she can’t seem to escape. Steel that shaped her, that runs filament-thin through her veins. Through my veins. I revise until I taste metal on my tongue and then I wonder at the similarities between licking a steel rod and tasting blood. How deeply steel is in us. In me.

Steel it is, and will be, unless I can be adequately persuaded otherwise.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After growing up in the shadows of the shuttered steel plant that left Buffalo desperately silent and the cross-topped spires that skewered the dreams of its residents, Buffalo Steel finds its narrator setting off from the city that raised her to find her own spirit, away from the forces that forged her.

That’s a long sentence, and the type of sentence that makes me wish it was poetry, instead. Makes me write it.

How long did it take you to write?

But aren’t we always, writing? Two years, maybe. A lifetime. That’s the thing about writers, I think. We’re always writing our stories, some stories, something. And even when we’re not, we’re always writing because we can’t breathe without formulating text. I think of my blood like sentences running through me unassembled, or how that explains what comes out when I type, because nothing else does.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Every day on my way to work when I used to work in downtown Buffalo, I’d pass the abandoned Buffalo Steel plant. Its grounds, a graveyard to industry. Some mornings, the sun would shine through broken windows, blinding me. My head would fill with words, drowning out top 40 on the radio. I wrote this to stop writing this.

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir. Creative nonfiction. I hate genres, except as headings on bookstore shelves where my book is housed for people to buy it and read it. Otherwise, I hate that we have to categorize ourselves that way. It feels restrictive. It feels proscriptive.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Ask the producers. The writer doesn’t get to make those kinds of decisions.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a story of a city that swallowed its own heart, and the girl who carried it away and back again in her body. I wrote it because the spirit of Buffalo keeps me awake at night with its urgency. This is a coming of age story without the desperation that pervades so many bildungromen (a word I learned a few months ago, and have used as often as I can ever since because it sounds like someone swallowing a mouthful of shit and spitting it back out again, which is so authentic to what coming of age memoirs can be, isn’t it?) It didn’t want to be written. But it’s a story that needs to be told, over and over again, until people hear it. Until I hear it.

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