Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing - author meme

Lovely poet friend Luisa Igloria invited me to join the self-interview experiment called The Next Big Thing. Writers participating get to answer 8-10 questions, and then tag five other writer friends to post their own “next big thing” the following Wednesday. I'll add a list of the writers later.

1. What is the working title of your book?

In 2012, my ninth, tenth, and eleventh books came out--a thing that, combined with a stint as judge for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature, seems and was insanity.

The first was a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction (Mercer University Press.) This book combines various threads from family lore into a new fabric of adventure. Soon it will be out in paperback.

Then came a collection of formal poetry, The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press), wonderfully decorated with green man art by my friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins. It hasn't been out long but is a limited edition.

And last is December's Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing) a post-apocalyptic narrative in blank verse, centering on seven children who leave home.

So 2012 saw three books in three genres in three countries. As Thaliad is the most recent, I will focus on it. (Upcoming books: Catherwood will be back in print; Glimmerglass; and Maze of Blood.)

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

In July of 2010, the story simply appeared in the curious corridors of my brain. I never expected to publish the poem as a book (an epic poem? in 2012?) but wrote entirely for my own pleasure. I published a section of the fourth part in qarrtsiluni, and afterward received the surprise of several requests to publish based on the excerpt. (Another fragment of the poem appeared in Kim Bridgford's Mezzo Cammin.) One was from Elizabeth Adams (managing editor of quarrtsiluni with Dave Bonta), and I decided she was the most appropriate publisher. And I like her Phoenicia Publishing. In fact, if you don't know her small press, please go take a look.

3. What is the genre of the book?

Blank verse poetry that hews to epic conventions, translated into our day. Some novelistic conventions.

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

Why should a book be a movie? That is the proper question. Because for once a mid-list writer might make a living? Because people don't read poetry?

Unknown child actors, for the most part.

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

If I had wanted it to be one-sentence long, I would have written it so!

Their world destroyed, seven children fare forth to make a new world? Children build a matriarchal world in the face of natural-world and human violence after devastation? The long effort to build something of beauty and meaning in the face of catastrophe?

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

Phoenicia Publishing of Montreal. Owned by that native New Yorker, Elizabeth Adams, designer and artist and writer and more.

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

I wrote it in an intense burst through July and into the beginning of August. Then I fiddled a long time.

8. What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

I am going to have to take that one as a question about artistic debt, since I don't think the book is like much contemporary work. No doubt I would never have written such a poem if I had never read the Anglo-Saxon poets, the Gawain poet, Chaucer, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Logue, and others. A reader versed in poetry may detect some homage to Homer, the Anglo-Saxons, Milton, and Cavafy. And though it is post-apocalyptic, I would say that the narrative owes a bigger debt to a passion for fairy tales than to an interest in, say, the current spate of post-apocalyptic novels. I am afraid that I have read none of them, aside from those read in 2012 while on the NBA judging panel, and that was too late to influence Thaliad.

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

It blossomed in my head. No doubt the reading mentioned above made a difference. I also have a fondness for blank verse. Every time I try to add a sentence about why, it sounds downright erotic. Flexible. Pleasurable. Easy-to-muscular rhythms.

10. What else about your book/your writing might pique the reader’s interest?

Thaliad is a spectacularly beautiful object, from the jacket or cover to the framing full-page illustrations to the title page to the wealth of gorgeous vignettes by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. The design by Elizabeth Adams is immaculate. The profuse art that decorates the pages subtly adds to the narrative.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.