This Interview Has Bieber Fever: The Next Big Thing

Fellow writer and University of Nebraska MFA alum David Atkinson kindly invited me to participate in the Next Big Thing interview, which has been getting around the internet and in which I answer the following questions.  Here goes:

1)      What is the working title of your next book?

Well, I’m not working on any next book right now, so I’ll just give you the title of my soon-to-be-released first book, due out March 1 from Red Hen Press.  That title is Parnucklian for Chocolate.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

A sentence just sort of popped into my head, “Josiah eats chocolate,” then another, “Nothing but chocolate,” and it just took off from there.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Literary fiction.  It’s kind of a bildungsroman.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I think, if a movie were made, Justin Bieber should play all the parts, like Eddie Murphy in one of those movies where he played all the parts.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Parnucklian for Chocolate is a dark comedy about what it is to grow up an alien in your family and your own life.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Red Hen Press.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Right around three years.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Slaughterhouse Five, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird.  Those are good books, right?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wrote much of the first draft while sitting through inanely tedious teacher-credentialing classes.  So boredom, at first.

After that, I was inspired and encouraged by my lovely wife, Liz, and my MFA faculty mentors, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Jim Peterson, Kate Gale, and Amy Hassinger, all of whom made this book possible.

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

Reading it may prevent premature balding.

And here are four other fabulous writers who may or may not be participating, and whom you should check out regardless:

Jen Lambert

Liz Kay

Sarah McKinstry-Brown

Joseph Michael Owens

Or anyone who wishes to join in can just answer the same questions on their blog and leave their link in a comment.

Bah Humbug!


Our first Christmas together, Liz and I established a now four-year-old tradition of reading aloud Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, having at the time recently acquired an 1892 edition of Christmas Books and Stories Vol. I (Vol. 34 of the Works of Charles Dickens—Chapman and Hall).  It’s pages being delicate, this copy remained on the shelf the following year, replaced by a ninety-nine cent Dover Thrift edition we bought at Shakespeare and Co. (the Lower Manhattan one, not the Paris “we-published-Ulysses” one).  That same Christmas, Liz and I were lucky enough to gawk at Dickens’ original handwritten manuscript of A Christmas Carol, on display for the Holidays at the Morgan Library.

And this being our baby Tom’s first Christmas, we have included him in our ritual, reading him the first half of the Christmas Present chapter in one installment and the Fezziwig scene in another, his attention span being at least slightly shorter than either of our own.

For whatever reasons, A Christmas Carol is a wildly popular story, the best evidence being how widely it has been adapted.  Even It’s a Wonderful Life, a Christmas tradition unto itself (and possibly A Christmas Carol’s chief rival in that regard, A Christmas Story perhaps serving as the Ross Perot of the race) seems—though based on a short story—to borrow from or at least to be influenced by its predecessor’s plot.

Liz’s favorite version is Scrooged—with Bill Murray as a Gordan Gekko-esque Ebenezer.  We both fondly remember the Mickey Mouse version, its “Uncle” Scrooge trailing us through childhood as the antihero of our generation’s after school staple, DuckTales.

But my adaptation of choice would have to be the 1970 musical, Scrooge, starring Albert Finney.  Though my wife enjoys her declarations that I was alive in the 70s (she may also scoff at my earlier lumping—we being an entire five years removed in age—of the two of us into the same generation), 1970 is a bit before my time—I only personally experienced 13 months of the decade—yet I somehow came into possession of a VHS copy of the musical, taped from TV.  In fact, this same VHS tape also included A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Garfield Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and possibly more, all taped from TV, with the aforementioned Scrooge at the end.  I remember watching the tape, dozens if not hundreds of times, always rewinding to the beginning and watching those various Christmas specials—enjoyable enough, but ultimately obstacles to the true prize, Scrooge, which I enjoyed immensely—I would watch the tape all throughout the year, not just at Christmas—attracted, for the most part—though I enjoyed the story and a couple of the songs, “I Hate People,” particularly—to the general texture of sooty yet bustling Victorian London, a period and place which—thanks to both Dickens and Sherlock Holmes, and like the Old West or Medieval England or 1920s Chicago—I often imagined myself adventuring in.

Liz and I recently rediscovered Scrooge (the musical) via YouTube.  A couple of revelations:

  1. As a child, I believed Albert Finney (in 1970) to be elderly, though this wouldn’t account for his being a young man in the flashbacks (the magic of cinema!).  I also thought that he and George C. Scott were the same person.  But then I also thought that everyone on TV with a moustache was the same person.
  2. The YouTube version of Scrooge revealed a somewhat homoerotic scene cut from the TV broadcast I had long been viewing, in which Jacob Marley returns and drags Scrooge through hell, which is full of men with no shirts, and pulls on his chain.  Alec Guinness, the original Obi-Wan Kenobi and religious figure to former and current nerds and fanboys galaxy-wide, plays a strangely effeminate Jacob Marley who is either constipated or can’t remember his lines.  Or both.

Our New TV Could Eat Our Old TV

Three years ago, we didn’t have a TV.  And were a bit uppity about it.  As of last Saturday afternoon, we have three.  And two are big.  And one is officially “smart”.

My birthday was last week, and last Saturday my stepdad (Earl) and his wife (Deb) brought over my gift: a new 32” SMART TV + WI-FI, prompted no doubt by a previous visit that revealed our having outfitted our living room with a TV about the size of a desktop computer monitor, a TV that never seemed small in our tiny Brooklyn sublet but turned out to be exactly that when relocated to our relatively spacious living room in CA.

It was a bit awkward, though, for a moment, when Earl and Deb arrived, gift in tow, and could see through the front window that we had already replaced our dimensionally-challenged TV with a new 32” unit.  In fact, we had gone out the day before Thanksgiving to gleefully do what we had discussed doing yet had failed to do for months: replace that puny little TV with a grown up TV, finally pulling the trigger on a $220 off-brander on pre-Black Friday sale for $150, which we promptly set up and attached to our handy little antenna (we’d been off cable for about a year) and marveled at for a solid four days—Alex Trebek had never looked so vibrant—before Earl and Deb’s aforementioned birthday visit, the aforementioned awkwardness of quickly assuaged upon the discovery that the two sets were not of the same ilk, the new arrival being, as the box prominently declared, “SMART + WI-FI”.

Last Christmas, Earl and Deb, who are generous gift-givers, gave us a Kindle Fire.  It was our third Kindle of the season, as my mother and her now husband—also generously—got Liz and I each a Kindle reader.  Liz and I had scoffed and guffawed for years at the idea of us, serious readers that we are, would do so on a machine, a sentiment that—perhaps revealingly—faded immediately upon our unexpectedly becoming owners of such devices.  Personally, I’ve found my Kindle reader to be particularly useful when traveling—in the past, for big trips, I’d pack my bags at about a 50/50 books to clothes ratio (cuz you never know).  And while electronic versions of current books can be pricy, you can load up the complete works of, like, Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, Joyce, etc. all for around ninety-nine cents a pop.  More recently, I’ve found the ability to one-handedly turn pages by push-button convenient while feeding a baby.

But it’s the Kindle Fire that gets the most use in our household, and it’s this particular device that—uppity as we were our year with no TV, perched in our respective chairs, tomes in hand, approaching social situations prepared to pounce on any and every opportunity to note our dismissal of that technological scourge of society—that reveals the somewhat embarrassing fact that given the choice of classical (or even not classical) literature versus shiny and colorful full seasons of The West Wing or Glee, the shiny and colorful win out every time.

It was the Kindle Fire that allowed us to ditch cable last year and that became our primary deliverer of passive entertainment, until our special delivery the past Saturday.  The upshot is this: while we don’t see ourselves as the kind of people with a 32” TV in their bedroom and a 32” TV in their living room with cable and On-Demand and Netflix Instant Video and Amazon Instant Video and twenty other things, and while we don’t envision raising our child amongst such bombardment, for now we’re kind of enjoying it.  (I mean, who doesn’t want to lie in bed watching Hoarders at six in the morning?)