Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Next Big Thing

Have you seen this literary meme doing the rounds of the blogosphere? It’s a modern chain letter of sorts where writers talk about their current projects.  I was tagged by Irma Gold who wrote about her forthcoming children’s book Meguma and the Bear.  It’s illustrated by Craig Phillips and will be released by Walker Books in June. You can pick up her news about the book at www.irmagold/blog--news.html.  (The next big thing: Megumi and the Bear, 01/12/2013)

Here then, are the questions she sent me about mine. And my attempts at answers:

What is the working title of your current/next book?

I’m working on a memoir that I began when I was living in Canada and my agent there suggested that North Americans would be interested in hearing about life in Australia.   She somehow had the notion that life in Australia was particularly challenging.  Crocodile Dundee and all that.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea was the agent’s, as said.  But to tell the truth I was sort of bored writing it – I’ve always found writing fiction more interesting than writing nonfiction but it’s possible I’m better at the latter.   Because an agent here asked to see what I’d written so far and is keen that I finish it.  Memoirs, after all, do sell.

What genre does your book fall under?

Memoir.  But that’s the marketing term for it.  To describe what a memoir is, or what this one might be is a little trickier.  I’ve had to lop off the end of it, which had been about my experiences in government and concentrate on the earlier years, my childhood and adolescence in America and my first encounters with Australia.  I’ve found that as I’ve got into it that it’s chiefly about the extraordinary lives of my parents and their impact on me.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
You’ve got to be joking.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A maverick’s take on growing up in Hollywood and fleeing from it.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have no idea.  The publishing industry is in serious transition at the moment.  Nothing can be predicted with any certainty, even for someone who has published a fair bit already.  My career came to a skidding halt in the late 1990s when Penguin Australia, who had been my publisher, changed their staff and strategy.  As a result of these difficulties I also lost my agent.  I’ve been working intermittently on a number of manuscripts since then, drafting and redrafting, submitting and being rejected.  A novel set in British Mandate Palestine was my first priority and now that that’s finished I’m turning to the others.  I’ve cheered myself up during these years by taking up painting, taking a break, that is, from the word.   

The interesting thing for me has been tracing the rapidly accelerated understanding of literature as fundamentally a form of entertainment, and how much it’s taken on the imperatives of the show business I grew up with.  As in you’re only as good as your last book.  Or the development of a star system with only a few selected authors having a back list.  Of course, publishing has always been an industry and publishers have to make money, but the rise of the conglomerates has accentuated this.  The real hope is with small publishers and perhaps even author collectives.  I’ve been researching that.  

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
I’m still drafting.  The hardest part has been coming to grips with my father’s story, a sort of Hollywood Gatsby.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The trouble is I’m a writer, not a marketeer.  And my tastes are often at odds with prevailing interests, though I’m an avid reader of contemporary fiction and am the first to delight in the good books being published (in spite of the above) and the achievements of many fine writers.  But the self-promotion that’s required is difficult for me.  It’s partly a generational thing – people my age tend on the whole to admire self-deprecation – but I suspect it’s a problem for most writers.  We’re introverts in the main, and even when we try to raise our heads over the parapet we can feel a bit like clown dolls opening our mouths at a carnival.   

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
While it started out as a brazenly commercial exercise it is no longer that at all.  I am staring into the very heart of the mystery of my own identity, something that I’ve avoided for years.  So the momentum is quite different for me now.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
My challenge has been to write a Hollywood story that has few of the hallmarks of the genre.  It’s been written about so often and so diversely that it’s been hard come up with a treatment with any depth.  The agent with whom I parted ways years ago was very unencouraging, but an essay about Ava Gardner that I worked up from the material and published in Meanjin has been re-published three times.  This may be a sign that I’m on to something.      

Taking my cue from Gold (who included an edited version of the essay in her anthology The Invisible Thread) I’ve tagged a few other writers but so far only Bob Hefner has responded.  Many will know Bob as the former literary editor of the Canberra Times in the 1990s.  He’s a fine musician and a writer, and here’s his next big thing:

‘My next big project is a compilation of short stories, poems, essays, interviews, columns and speeches that chronicle my life as a writer and journalist in Australia and the United States. The book will contain both previously published and new material, including brief narratives that link the longer passages thematically.’


  1. Just seeing if this works. Having strife in cyberspace.

  2. Very interested to read about your memoir, Sara. I remember that Ava Gardner essay and how much i admired it at the time. I'm intrigued by your description of your father as a sort of Hollywood Gatsby. Apart from it being one of my favourite novels, Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby has so many Hollywood qualities - or perhaps qualities that later became associated with Hollywood? Whatever the case, it seems a rich association to me. I'm wondering how many memories are coming back to you as you write, and in what form?

  3. Thanks, Dorothy. I am being flooded with memories - the problem has been corralling them and giving shape to the narrative. And there's a lot of ugly stuff to face and deal with somehow. The earlier chapters have been in a drawer for a while but the new stuff has been challenging, and I often feel I'd like to go back to the mystery I started when I thought the Palestine novel was finished. Oh, for a long, compos mentis life!

  4. Is it possible to write a mystery and a memoir at the same time? Perhaps one might feed the other?

    I can see how troubling it could be finding new shapes for memories that threaten to burst out of the places they've been kept for decades. But perhaps this - I mean the formal challenges - might become part of the memoir too?

  5. Hadn't thought of that. The mystery is based on that trip to Russia I took in 1993. That's when I sat on the devil's bench - Wotan I think he was called? I tried writing that in the form of a memoir or travel piece - it was when I decided to cut the original manuscript of the search for my great aunt's story in two. The original one was a hybrid - fiction and non-fiction - and Penguin wouldn't have it and it was too long to flog to anyone else, or so I thought. Anyway, the novel I've just sent off evolved from the fiction part - and I mean evolved - and after I sent the penultimate ms off I turned to the mystery. But now I'm taken up with the Hollywood stuff - as much as I can be. I'd like to pick up the mystery/thriller/ what have you some day. Never sure what to call it. But I have a character who's a bit like your Sandra Mahoney - not at all like her really because she's not a proper detective but a woman who sort of falls into it - who is central to a couple of unfinished efforts. I have a lot of those scattered around.

  6. Well, that's fascinating - that we might have invented female detectives with something in common! Sandra's not a 'proper' detective either, of course. She rather lives in the shadowlands around investigations - a shadowlands that is part cyberspace as well. It seems a cliche to refer to that now, but when I started, hardly anyone was writing fiction that included electronic crime, at least not in Australia. It could be something to look forward to - a thriller after a Hollywood memoir? And set in Russian too.

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  9. Harley Rodriguez16 January 2018 at 03:29

    Who made the picture? Cause it is awesome! Now I want not only to write bestseller books every once a year (or sooner) but to illustrate them all on my own! Oh, and I need rating on! Can I dublicate myself please?

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