Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Next Big Thing


What is the working title of the book?
There are several, but I'll mention two. One is a book I just finished translating, entitled Letters from a Seducer, by the Brazilian author Hilda Hilst (1930-2004). Another, which still has a bit to go, is a novel entitled Palimpsests. And there are other projects (fiction, poetry, etc.), as always, in the crockpot.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The translation was suggested by the Brazilian publisher, as I'd written the introduction to a translation by her and an author, and greatly admired their work. (This is the second book I have translated from Portuguese; the first, by the out gay Brazilian legislator and reality TV star, Jean Wyllys, remains unpublished, except for a few individual stories here and there.) For my own novel, the idea came from attending an OutWrite conference in Boston many moons and skies ago, and seeing a tiny historical note. It took me years to figure out what I wanted to do with the idea, and then it has taken a while to write it.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fiction and fiction.

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

I would say no one is going to make a film of Hilst's novel anytime soon, except that if 1) Lars von Trier, 2) Bruce La Bruce, or 3) Rosa von Praunheim could find a screenwriter to do it, it might at least have a chance. The text is beyond the American cinematic imagination, for the most part. As for the novel I'm writing, Idris Elba would be my first choice for the main male character, and Kimberly Elise would be great as his sister, who is a significant figure in the work. Anthony Mackie would probably be very good as the third major character. I could fill entire blog post with actors for the other parts, but will just ask you to imagine any number of talented actors and actresses, ranging from Mahershala Ali to Angela Bassett.

In terms of the major white characters, I have no idea whatsoever, save for the 20-something daughter of the main character's nominal boss. That should be played by someone with a somewhat grave, fragile face, and an ability to show tremendous acting restraint.

There are a range of characters, so it would give an array of actors, especially black and brown ones, some jobs.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A man has a stranger appear on his doorstep one night, and he has to help him create a new life.

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

Almost forever, minus a kaput computer and a half.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
With the translation, my inspiration is always Langston Hughes, who was a true person of letters, with translation as one aspect his prolific practice. It's an aspect of his career that people often leave out, but it is one I have taken to heart. Melvin Dixon was also a great translator, writer, and scholar, and someone I deeply admire still, and I would add my former colleague Reginald Gibbons, as well as Marilyn Hacker and Nathanaël, among many, as inspiring writer-translators that come immediately to mind.

With my novel the historical note I came across was the major inspiration. Also years ago my partner's late aunt gave him a book about early African American literature, and it turns out that the real-life person on whom my character is based was a figure notable enough to appear in that book, and even appears in this book. So that was inspiration too. Then there are so many writers and artists and thinkers I have read, followed, admired, known, many of them no longer with us, many lost to AIDS or psychological troubles, and I often think that either with this book or another, I will eventually follow Clarice Lispector's strange little introductory method in The Hour of the Star and list all these "imaginary artist friends,"as Sheila labeled them in her response, either at the beginning or the end of the book. Also, see Delany, Samuel R., Jr.

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

The Hilst book is the very definition of genre-breaking, and required me to learn more words for sexual terms in Portuguese than I know in English. English is vocabulary-rich, but comparatively sex-vocabulary poor.

My novel is set in 1804. How often do you read a book set in that year in America? And there are no electric lights, no cars, no airplanes, no TVs, nothing of the sort. They wear smallclothes and Empire-style dresses and ill-fitting shoes. Everything carries a thin veneer of candle smoke, and the fragrance of urine. There were coaches and the beginnings of plumbing and a museum exhibiting little wax statuettes of Othello and Harvard College and free black people, some queer, too. It was quite a time!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The Hilst book is to be published this fall by Nightboat Books, based in NYC, in conjunction with Abolha Editora in Rio de Janeiro (I believe). They published the first translation into English of Hilst, and I highly recommend it. I do have an agent, so with my novel we shall see.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
Reginald Harris
Lee P. Jones

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