Tag! The Next Best Thing (In the Book World)
I never liked playing tag. I am not a fast runner so I often was the one being told “You’re it!” And, as not a fast runner, whenever I was “it,” I took me ages to finally get my hand on somebody and be free of the stress of the whole thing.
I’ve just been told “You’re it” once again, but in this game of tag I’m more than happy to play. Boston-area author, columnist and pal Meredith O’Brien, whose writing career included time at the Springfield (Mass.) Newspapers where my husband and I wrote for so many years, has tagged me for to be next in a blog hop in which an author answers a series of questions about a next project, and then tags someone else to do the same.
Many thanks to Meredith, whose next book, The Mortified: A Novel About Over-Sharing, sounds like something that will zoom straight to the bestseller lists, for tagging me, and for keeping in touch over these many years since the paper. You can read about Meredith’s Mortified at her ever-hoppin’ blog.
As for my responses:
What is the working title of your book?
This is Paradise
A subtitle is on the workbench.
Where did the idea come from?
What genre does you book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Mags resembles a blonde Kristen Scott Thomas. She’d be a natural pick, plus she can act. Mags’ project manager is a lovely, funny British guy named Steve Free. I could see Ricky Gervais getting serious (and being funny when necessary, as Steve is, very often) in that role.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sorta like the above, and a very long one sentence There are so many elements to this story and I’ve worked hard at slimming down the way to describe it. Best I can do: This is Paradise is about a guidance counselor from rural Ireland who started a medical clinic in the remote African village where her son died, the third child she lost in 26 years, and in a larger way is about motherhood, grief, healing, moving outside the comfort zone, and how one person can change one part of our world.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have an agent, John Talbot, who’s doing his best but as yet has had no luck in finding a publisher. I might make this my first self-published title as I really, really want to get it out there. I think it will do some good for Mags’ Billy Riordan Memorial Trust, and might inspire others to see what they can do in this world. It’s not corny to say Mags’ story is very inspiring. So many people have been through great loss. How does this one woman get up every day, never mind get up and does what she does?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve followed Mags on three continents since November of 2009. I’ve been writing as I’ve been going along, and just finished the last page yesterday, Dec. 18, 2013
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I was reading Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer while I was at the clinic, located in Cape Maclear, Malawi, two years ago. I chose it because I’m a Tracy Kidder fan and because I wanted to see how he lassoed so many issues – a healthcare effort in a foreign country, the longstanding challenges in that place, the person behind the efforts being made there for those who have few options for medical care, and the story behind that person. While a the Cape I also was reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen, for many of the same reasons. Tracy Kidder did a fabulous job wrapping up his man and the experience, in so many different places and facing so many varied challenges. Mortensen and the late David Oliver Relin kept me spellbound, so I was very disappointed to then learn of the inaccuracies in the book that, for me, then put it in the fiction category. Good fiction, but still not a nonfiction book, not the real story of how this one man brought education to so many in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I met Mags back in 2004, when I was helping my friend Fran Ryan sell knitwear at the Eastern States Exposition. Fran is from Dingle, where Mags lives, and for several years at that point had organized a group of vendors to sell their wares at “the Big E,” one of the ten largest fairs in the U.S. Our booth was adjacent to the one in the Irish goods area where Mags was selling jewelry and art from Cape Maclear, the proceeds going to the clinic. I kept hearing her saying “I built a clinic in the village where my son died.” People would walk up to her booth, look at the photos of the village and the kids playing outside the clinic, they’d ask what this was about, and she’d give her line again. Many of the people would walk away. Others would approach, she’d speak her line again. I wanted to know who this person was, what had happened to her son, and how does someone go about doing something like starting a clinic – how does one single person do that? Apart from that, how does someone repeat a horrible truth like that, over and over, very often to disinterested ears? I got to know Mags well by asking a lot of questions over the years since, and feel everyone else needs to get to know her well, too.
What else about your book might pique the readers' interest?
Like Mags, the book doesn’t sit still. She works in her office and visits family in Ireland, she spends eight months of her year living in a one-room flat in the volunteer complex at the Cape, she attends fundraisers in the states. The story follows her, and to and through some fascinating places, from the lush green of her Kerry backyard to the rugged rock approach to Cape Maclear, in ways so similar to entering Dingle. As Billy Riordan told her, “It’s like Dingle. Dingle in the sunshine.” The last thing Billy Riordan e-mailed to his mother was the line “This is paradise.” He wanted Mags to visit Cape Maclear, to see the stark beauty. She eventually went there, but to set in place a stone in his memory. She has ended up doing so much more.
The Next Big Thing:
Be sure to check out the author whom I have tagged as she's working on her very own "Next Big Thing:" Friend and fellow knitter Ann Hood (annhood.us/) is the author of a shower of bestsellers, including novels The Red Thread and The Knitting Circle, and the memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, which was named one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly and was a New York Times Editor's Choice. Every writer needs to have a copy of her craft book, Creating Character Emotions, and the short story lover will eat up An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life. Lucky kids will now get to read Ann via the newly launched children’s series, The Treasure Chest. When she posts her Next Big Thing, I will be letting you know…
I should say that my most recent Big Thing, bookwise, was the launch of my first book co-authored with fabulous Tommy Shea, and lifesaver Michele P. Barker.
Michele (www.mpbarker.net) an archivist, historian and author of the award-winning novel "A Difficult Boy," stepped in last summer to help us write 140 Years when Tommy took a job as senior foreign editor at The National newspaper (www.thenational.ae) in Abu Dhabi. Subjects include the order's founder, Mother Mary of Providence; healthcare system pioneer Sister Mary Caritas Geary; Sister Margaret McCleary and her work with those who are poor; and Mercy Medical Center, Brightside for Families and Children, and Healthcare for the Homeless.
Priced at $21.25, copies may be purchased at Providence Place, 5 Gamelin St., Holyoke, and at Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center, 53 Mill St., Westfield. Copies also may be obtained by mail for $25, which includes tax, shipping and handling, by sending a check made payable to the Sisters of Providence to Nancy Arnold, Providence Place, 5 Gamelin St., Holyoke, Mass. 01040.
So what is your next big writing thing?
Gift yourself, or your favorite writer, with admission to some or all of Writers' Day VII at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, Mass., on Feb. 16, 2013.
Talks and speakers will be:
- "The Benefits of the Small Press," with Steven Strimer, a founder of Levellers Press (www.levellerspress.com/), which specializes in working with Western Massachusetts writers.
- "The Journey of a Novel," with Lise Haines (www.lisehaines.com/), author of the Girl in the Arena, Small Acts of Sex and Electricity, and In My Sister's Country.
- "The Nonfiction Book Proposal 101" will be presented by yours truly.
For full information, and to register your writer or yourself for any of these talks, please visit http://www.baypath.edu/NewsandEvents/WritersDaySpring2013.aspx
Regarding that next big writing thing, how do you choose what story to write, and how to write it?
I’ll be at The Yellow House, the cool new cultural in Palmer, Mass., on Feb. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m., to talk about just that.
In “Telling Your Story, in Fact or Fiction,” I’ll talk about how I got the ideas and chose the approaches for some of my books, short stories, magazine pieces and essays. We’ll do some brainstorming to help you get your own projects started, or more focused.
For full information, go to http://www.yellowhouseccl.com/
Those registered to attend the AWP conference in Boston in March are invited to the Stonecoast MFA reading the night of March 7 at Boston Public Library. I’ll be among the Stonecoast readers and enjoying my first AWP conference. I had an airline ticket and conference registration a few years back for the D.C. one, but due to snow was unable to make it to the city on time for the panel I was to be on. I’ll be a lot closer to the venue this time and am hoping for better weather.
Back in the fall, when Elizabeth Searle (www.elizabethsearle.net/) and Steve Almond (stevealmondjoy.com/) kindly included me in the Writers for Warren night of readings and music to benefit Elizabeth Warren’s senatorial campaign, I was introduced to the rockin’ singer-songwriter Amy Correia, who provided the musical part of the evening. Her music stayed in my head and I contacted her about being a visiting artist at Bay Path this spring. I’m thrilled to say she’ll be at the college April 15 to 21, and her time there will include an evening of music and talking about songwriting, open to the public free of charge as part of the college’s Kaleidoscope series. Stay tuned for details. And in the meantime, visit http://www.amycorreia.com/ for a preview of Amy’s music.
Take a trip to Florence this spring. Florence, Mass., is lovely in April, and I’ll be there April 27 for a day-long seminar at Writers in Progress. Details will be forthcoming on http://doriostermiller.com/writers_in_progress.cfm
A few days later, I’ll be at Forbes Library in Northampton, Mass., May 1, for a Celebration of Local Novelists http://www.forbeslibrary.org/events/localseries.shtml#1213
I’ll be reading, along with Michele P. Barker, Marianne Banks and Karen V. Williams. Stop by and see some of the wealth of writers the valley holds.
I’ll get to work with other valley writers once again in May (this time May 8, 15, 22 and 29, from 6 to 9 p.m.), I’ll be running my annual Four Wednesdays of Writing workshop at Bay Path College. Space is limited. If you’d like to be notified when registration opens, please send an email to Briana Sitler, email@example.com
And, if you’re more into visual arts, don’t miss the chance to paint in a plein-air workshop with totally talented Susan Tilton Pecora (www.susanpecora.com/) at Bay Path May 23 and 24. Details are at http://www.baypath.edu/NewsandEvents/PleinAirWatercolor.aspx
Joan Wickersham’s (www.joanwickersham.com/) latest book, The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story, is garnering great acclaim. Join me at Baybsitler@baypath.edu if you and or your club plan on attending.
I’ll close with wishes for a peaceful new year, and thanks again for your interest and support of my writing. No interest and support, I wouldn’t get to do this for a living, and I am truly grateful.
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