Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Next Big Thing: Liz Stephens

University of Nebraska Press (2013)
I'm happy to host Liz Stephens's Next Big Thing self-interview.

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What is the title of your book?

Where did the idea come from for the book?
There are two answers to this. One: a poster on the wall of Utah State University which was for essay submissions. I was a creative writer, I knew that, but had no idea what “essay” really meant in a creative context (this was notably before getting an entire PhD as an answer to that question). I thought, well, nobody better find out I don’t know what that means, I better look that up. Once I had, I started writing in the first person and have never looked back. Secondly: once I accrued enough material, the shape of the papers after I kept shuffling them simply felt bookish. The length of the thought was bookish. I kept going, because I had more to say and I could tell that. Writing an essay of course feels very different not just at the end but from within. The idea itself has a particular scope.

What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Love this game. Well, my husband’s an actor, so he’d like to play himself, but I’ve broken it to him that he’s too old for the part now. What happened to Lili Taylor? Can she play me? And for him, maybe…who does working-class vulnerable guy really well? Ewan McGregor working an American accent? Of course these two are roughly our age but they are “Hollywood 40” so I think it’ll work.

What is the one-sentence synopsis?
A grown person sets out to figure out why she doesn’t feel grown up yet.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The Days are Gods has just been released by University of Nebraska Press. I was lucky: the acquiring agent for the press was at a public reading of mine, the very first of any of the material for this book, and she was there to see someone else. I still remember who. She handed me her card afterwards unasked; her instincts were right, their list was perfect for this book.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Hm. Seven years. In the meantime I got two graduate degrees, got married and helped shepard my husband through his graduate degree, had a baby, started raising a daughter, bought and sold two houses as I moved across the country twice, defended a PhD, and wrote a book.

What other books would you compare to this story within your genre?
The book has been claimed to be similar to The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Erhlich, also to Mary Clearman Blew, Teresa Jordan, Pam Houston, Ellen Meloy. All Western memoir writers. But every time that claim is made it’s qualified, to say that mine is by an outsider, and younger (that’s only relevant because of point of view culturally), and not trying to claim to become authentic as a local in any way in the process.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Me. My full head. The women I mention above showed me the form and blew my mind, but the momentum to finish a book? The uncomfortable somewhat unwelcome drive to get a bunch of stuff off my chest in memoir form, which by implication I think is often saying, “You know? Know what I mean?” at the end of each chapter, that need was in me. I was not driven to get it done in order to say, “I wrote a book.” Willpower has no ideas.

What else about your book might pique the writer’s interest?
I don’t like distancing in writing. I like having the patience and tools to say things in the way we wish we had time to think them through, but being intentionally obtuse in print is just …showing off or something. No, that’s not right. It just has a different intention. But not all-inclusive certainly.  One of my students wrote the greatest thing the other day. He said, “Fiction seems to be about turning water (reality) into wine (better-than reality). Creative nonfiction seems to be where you say, ‘Look at this water I’m holding in my hands.” I love that.

1 comment:

Richard Gilbert said...

Very nice. I love this book! It's on my all-time favorites list. Liz, your notion of intention and need over willpower rings very true. A book takes persistence, obviously—seven years worth in this case—but what drives the persistence seems key.

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