Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop: Spencer Dew


Spencer Dew at his desk

The Next Big Thing is a weekly blog hop with a standard set of questions for writers to answer about their forthcoming book projects. Last week I answered questions about my bookstore memoir, and as it turned out, two out of the three writers I tagged don't have their own blogs, so I'll be blogging their answers here today. This installment features novelist Spencer Dew. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Spencer's novel and I can't wait for it to come out in March on Ampersand Books: it's smart and hilarious and has its finger on the pulse of something very American. I'll let him tell you more:

*****

The Next Big Thing: What is the working title of your book?

Spencer Dew: Here is How it Happens. It is a novel about Northern Ohio in the 1990s, about a specific place and a specific time, plus those ways that place and time get turned to something in our memories—nostalgia, for instance, or the expectation of hindsight in the moment, if that makes sense. It’s a story about kids at a college in a small town, and they try to overthink things, strain to paste pretty words on their situations.

TNBT: Where did the idea come from for your book?

Spencer: The original idea came when I was in college myself. I wrote what I thought was a short story the second semester of my senior year, and before I dropped out of an MFA program I was told it wasn’t a short story but the start of a novel, so I wrote a novel, and then I rewrote it, a few dozen times.

TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?

Spencer: It is a novel. I don’t know all the marketing categories, but I guess it gets shelved in either “fiction” or “literature” or maybe “indie/small press,” unless you shelve it in a store or library in Northern Ohio, in which case maybe you’d call it “local,” though it wasn’t written in Ohio and I haven’t lived there since college.

TNBT: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Rick Gonzalez should be Eddie Yoder. That one’s for sure.

TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Spencer: Courtney and Martin have practiced their cynical in-jokes and nonchalant pose, but beneath this fa├žade of self-satisfying ennui, these kids are staring down their futures and facing the traumas of their pasts.

That one sentence sounds a bit serious, however. The kids are serious, or semi-serious, or their situations—those traumas of their past, as well as their dead-end but still-living relationships—are serious, a serious problem, but the novel itself is comic. I wrote it and all, but it cracks me up. Reading the galleys I laughed out loud. That, to me, was also the mark that the manuscript could finally be called “done,” that it could consistently make me laugh and keep reading.

TNBT: How long did it take for you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Spencer: I wrote the first draft as a student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. It took me a couple of months. It was, shall we say, rough.

TNBT: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Shiela Heti’s How Should a Person Be? Kenneth Patchen’s The Journal of Albion Moonlight. I guess it depends on the point of the comparison, but I’d be curious what people make of either of those. Patchen is a presence throughout, as a product of Niles, Ohio. The kids are always quoting Patchen.

Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008)

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

Spencer: In Boulder I knew a woman who collected used tampons from public toilets for an art project she had in mind. It was slow going, as you might imagine, and not without its own set of risks. So she bought some pigs’ blood, to make her own used tampons, in mass. She tried to microwave it. That is where I learned about what happens when you microwave blood, which figures in the book.

Maybe that will only pique the interest of a certain sort of reader? The history of Ohio is important, and things like paper place-mats, all-night diners, youth in ill-considered and ill-aimed rebellion, kindness to animals, true love. Like I said: there’s Kenneth Patchen all over the place.

Blog Hop: Here’s who Spencer Dew tags and why:

I know Jill Summers from Chicago, where she is a pillar of the performance scene with stories at once hilarious and heart wrenching. She made a puppet show about Dracula before that movie came out, and it was at the Chicago Cultural Center, which is profoundly badass. Her work has been featured on National Public Radio and tons of other places (Monkeybicycle, Make Magazine, Annalemma, etc.). Her website is http://dottysummers.com/

I have never met Kristina Marie Darling, but the three books of hers I’ve read have been astounding. She has an approach to literature which, as I imagine it, has been equally informed by close attention to visual art (the assemblages of Joseph Cornell, for instance) and to that stuff that gets lumped as “theory” (by which here I mean a spread that runs from the private letters of Sigmund Freud to the musings of Maurice Blanchot). Darling constructs meticulous texts from varied sources, with entrancing results. Her website is http://kristinamariedarling.com/

These two are writers I’d recommend to anyone, and urge everyone to follow.

*****

Thanks to Spencer Dew for participating in The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, a franchise someone who isn't me invented and started spreading around the literary blogosphere many months ago.

Stay tuned for Eric Nelson's Next Big Thing answers later today and Jill Summers' next week. And I hope that Ocean Capewell will be blogging her answers on her blog sometime this week.

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