Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing in Books, or, Passing the Buck!

Welp, I was tagged to participate in a blog meme entitled “The Next Big Thing in Books.”  My book is definitely the past, present and next big thing in my life right now, so . . . why the hell not?!  I was tagged by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, whom I met because she and I work with the same editor at Dutton – the magical Denise Roy.  Lisa’s novel is entitled Pastors' Wives.  Its pub date is April 30th, and you should all read it.  I thought it was a perfectly balanced exploration of the ties that bind women, men and the church together.  In this case a mega-church outside Atlanta, Georgia.   At the end of this blog entry I will tell you about the four fabulous (and generous) writers I have tagged to keep the meme going on their blogs, next week!
The following questions were posed by whichever genie of the interwebs began this meme.  I hope you find my answers interesting.

1. What is your working title of your book (or story)?

The original mock-up cover for The Guild is on the far left. The US cover is in the center, and the UK cover is on the right.
My working title was The Time Tutor.  My agent, the immortal Alexandra Machinist, felt it needed a different title, and it became The Guild.  Then when it sold, it was renamed again, this time by my Michael Joseph editor, the dashing Alex Clarke.  For him, the mood of the novel evoked a song he had loved as a teenager, by a band called Ghost Dance.   For me, that title -- The River of No Return -- evoked the 1957 western with Marilyn Monroe.  It took me a while to get used to the title, but now I like it.  

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

The idea came to me when I was living in Vermont in 2004.  The house was built in the late 18th century, but it had been rehabbed around 40 years ago.  On the surface it looked like a New England farmhouse, but the rehab had injected some rather psychedelic modernity into it.  We called it the 1790s-1970s house.   So anyway, there was no light pollution out there in the woods, and one night I was looking out the window, down toward the beaver pond, which was all frozen over, and glowing in the light of a full moon.  Suddenly the distance between 1790 and 1970 seemed like nothing at all, compared with the millions of years that beavers have been farming the woodlands of North America.  It was then that the image of my main character came into my head, fully developed.  He is a reluctant time traveler named Nick.  I imagined him living in that same house, trying to negotiate a blank of 200 years in the middle of his life.  I wrote down a five-page character study of him, imagining him waking up from a nightmare memory of the Napoleonic War to just such a moonlit night in Vermont, and then going downstairs and receiving a letter from a mysterious corporation that controls time travel.  I had no idea what happened next, what was in the letter, anything . . . I put the character study away and forgot about it for seven years.  

3. What genre does your book fall under?

My novel is a deliberate mash-up of genres.  At its heart it is a time-travel adventure crossed with Regency romance.  But other, competing genres are duking it out in there, as well.  It is also a spy mystery, a swashbuckler, a speculative epic, it owes a lot to melodrama, and it is a story of impending apocalypse.

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

Rudy Youngblood
Since this is all in the realm of fantasy, I’m going to go back to classic Hollywood for some of them. I think of Nick as a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper.  A bit of Jimmy’s self deprecating innocence and a bit of Gary’s world-weariness.  I think of Julia as looking like Noomi Rapace, but her character is nothing like Lisbeth Salander’s.  The opposite. If we’re sticking with classic Hollywood she’d be fabulous played by Debbie Reynolds, though the look is wrong.  Leo would be fantastic played by Rudy Youngblood.  Alice would be great played by Akosua Busia, although she’s too young for the part.  Arkady is sort of Donald Sutherland-ish. There are plenty of other characters, but I think I’ll stop there!

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

Here’s what Lauren Willig, author of The Pink Carnation series -- in which you should all indulge -- has to say about it, using two sentences:

A compelling race through time in a historical world turned upside-down  --  the Regency as you’ve never seen it before. Take one nobleman and one gently born lady, add time travel, intrigue, a vast conspiracy and a wicked way with words, shake and serve.

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

The book is coming out from Dutton, a Penguin imprint, in the United States, and from Michael Joseph, a Penguin imprint, in the UK.  It is also being translated into French, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish, and there is an audiobook in the works.  It is represented by Alexandra Machinist of Janklow and Nesbit.

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

Ten weeks.  But it was very rough, almost entirely different than the book that is being published!

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

In true time-traveler style, I’m going to answer this question by talking about some older books that I admire, three British and three American.  Each one taught me something huge about popular fiction.  I hope my novel reflects my admiration for them in some way – though I wouldn’t say my story is like them.

A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, by James E. Seaver.  “Captivity Narratives,” or stories of non-Native settlers being taken captive and adopted into Native American nations, were the first American best sellers, and dominated American book publishing for two hundred years.  Mary Jemison was taken captive before the American Revolution, then was adopted by the Seneca and spent the rest of her life Seneca.  Her story, written in 1824 by a man who interviewed her when she was in her 80s, remains an incredible read.  The genre of time-travel fiction has much in common with captivity narratives, and I found myself thinking about Mary Jemison now and then while writing my book.  One of my characters is even named after her.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.   My time-travelers use emotions to get around, and so does Alcott.  This 1869 novel is one of the pinnacles of the sentimental tradition in literature.  The power of that tradition to move both plot and readers is sneered at in many quarters – but it should not and cannot be denied.

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie.  Romance is a tiny sub-plot in all of Christie’s mystery novels, but it is as necessary to their perfection as salt is to caramel.  She also adds characters throughout her novels to move plot along, so that by the end a symphonic group of people are arranged around to hear the solution – a brilliant trick for making stuff happen in fiction.  This entirely exquisite mystery is from 1935.

The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer.  Heyer is the queen, and this 1940 novel is a confection like none other.   I love a hapless-but-handsome, harassed-but-heroic hero.   

Cocktail Time by P.G. Wodehouse.  The myopic self-involvement of his characters, and the way they drive one another crazy, is endlessly hilarious – but these are also brilliant novel-building techniques.  This lesser-known 1958 novel is about a man who writes a novel in an unforeseen fit of creativity and then reaps the whirlwind – therefore it is quite close to my heart.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany.  This 1966 novel kept coming back to me as I wrote The River of No Return.  My novel is a happy love story, but it has an ominous strain that owes a lot to my childhood reading of science fiction. Delany's use of a language that can be deployed as a weapon was inspiring to me as I worked out the kinks in my own time-travel ideas

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

I have always had admiration for anyone who writes a novel, and I never seriously suspected that I would.  But two years ago I desperately needed to do something that would make me happy.  I sat down one day with the character sketch I had jotted down seven years before, and the novel just spilled out.  I discovered reserves of joie de vivre I didn’t know I had. 

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

I wanted the sense of time travel to be woven into the prose of the novel.  There are dozens of buried sentences and sentence fragments from other novels stitched into the fabric of mine.  Some are very obvious, most are pretty obscure.  I don’t want readers to notice them, at least not consciously.  I want a reader to have a few moments where they get the creepy-crawly sensation that there is another voice from another era whispering in their ear.

And those are the questions!  Now, on to the writers who have graciously agreed to carry this meme thingy forward.  They will each be answering the same questions I’ve answered, next week.  Read their blogs and their beautiful books Thanks, friends!  

Eiren Caffall is a musician, artist and writer.  Her third album,Shopping the Holdfast, will be coming out in 2013.  She is working on her first novel, an adventure story set in an environmentally devastated future.  Her blog is here:

Kim Fay is a novelist and food writer of extraordinary talent.  Her prizewinning cookbook Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, has been followed by her recently released historical novel, set in Cambodia of 1925. The Map of Lost Memories is a 2013 Edgar Award Finalist for Best First Novel by an American Author. Her blog is here:

Dana Sachs is the acclaimed author of both fiction and non-fiction. The House on Dream StreetIf You Lived Here, and The Life We Were Given precede The Secret of the Nightingale Palace, a marvelous fictional take on the American phenomenon of the road trip.  She is working on a new novel set in Budapest, a city she knows and loves.  Her blog is here:!/BLOG

Misty D. Waters is a writer of science fiction and fantasy.  You will be hearing more about her in the future – I can tell because of the time travel thing.  Her blog is here:


  1. I love how you came up with the story!! Our muses work in the strangest ways sometimes:)

    1. So true! And then our muses sometimes decamp for seven years at a stretch . . . though I think mine might stick around for at least another novel or two, now. I hope. I wonder what she likes to eat?