The Next Big Thing

I have been tagged by author/editor A.C. Wise to participate in The Next Big Thing, which is growing so exponentially that soon no one will remember where it began…which I already don’t. But on to the Q&A portion of the program.

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?  


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

A conversation with screenwriter Joe Gangemi, which in turn came from a conversation he had with two producers at Lionsgate. They were interested in doing a film about a haunted White House. He asked me if I would be interested in writing such a book–at that point no particular presidency had been selected. (Joe and I had both rejected Lincoln.) So I started researching, and found the perfect White House situation.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Historical thriller.

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

This is always fun to think about.  David Strathairn would be my choice for President John Tyler; there’s a physical resemblance there, and I had him in mind throughout. Omari Hardwick or Laz Alonzo perhaps for the main character, James Christian. His is going to be a tough slot to fill. Colin Farrell was who I thought of while writing Martin Renehan, a “Frogtown” fireman who becomes one of the president’s bodyguards. I’d love to get Idris Elba and Keith David in there somewhere, too.  Keith David’s also my top choice for reader if there’s to be an audiobook.

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

Historical thriller set in the White House of 1841, where one president dies in office, and the next moves into a house haunted by ghosts and by something far more sinister. (the image is of my notebook cover for the project–don’t go looking for this in the bookstores…)

"Dark House"

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

I’m not planning to self-publish anytime soon.

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

Quite awhile. Initially there was a lot of researching to be done. Then I started out attempting it in an omniscient POV in order to fold in the true historical events; but after about 100 pages, I found that these historical episodes spiked out of the narrative rather than incorporating as they should. They were stopping the story dead every time they turned up. So I came at it again as a first person narration.  Overall, I guess the first draft probably took me a year.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

One of my own, FITCHER’S BRIDES, which is set in 1848 in the Fingerlakes district of New York, and is a retelling of the Bluebeard fairy tale. And novels by Dan Simmons, Matthew Pearl, and maybe even a bit of Tim Powers, whom I greatly admire.

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

As I said, this gets laid on Joe Gangemi entirely.  I was minding my own business, working on a contemporary supernatural mystery series, kind of “The Thin Man meets Topper,” when this came along, derailing that pretty effectively.

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

A lot of what’s in the book is true: the president was horribly unpopular with the Congress, and mobs attacked the White House, which forced him to create a team of “doormen”–becoming the first iteration of the Secret Service. The house itself was in the state of a Halloween exhibit. Charles Dickens (who plays a small but critical part in the book) described it in fairly horrific detail when he arrived there in 1842.

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

A.C. Wise is entirely responsible, although I gather the “game” of the Next Big Thing has come through some other luminaries–writers like: Donna Galanti and Lucas Mangum.


The Writer Reinvents Himself

Were I not to clamp both hands firmly over the lips, the first words out of my mouth might be “Oh, are we doing this again?”

By now, at 60, I figure that over the course of a lifetime I’ve regenerated about as many times as Dr. Who (and I want that screwdriver, dammit!).  Some of those inventions are public, and employment oriented: singer in a garage band or three (there was a future in that only so long as people allowed us in their garages); legal secretary; painter; graphic artist; technical writer; illustrator; window treatment expert (which really involved inhaling far more 3M products than is likely healthy for one); book store manager…somehow I dodged “cab driver,” which used to turn up on writer resumes with the regularity of a splotch of tomato soup.

Writers reinvent in order to survive.  Your fantasy-writing career is tanking? Take up paranormal romance. Young Adult Fantasy is glutted? (It is at the moment, by the way.) Try young adult science fiction…maybe for boys, they need more fiction aimed at them.  And maybe under an assumed name which doesn’t have the baggage of bad sales figures that the publishing houses–now no longer remotely interested in the concept of “growing” anyone’s career unless you are an overnight success straight out of the chute–employ the way French peasants employed the guillotine on aristocrats.

Even assuming that we have pretty numbers, we spend our lives looking for what excites us–that crazy bit of history nobody else seems to have noticed. That line from a song that set your brain on fire. That astonishing biography nobody else has written.  That riff on zombies that lets you talk about marital breakdown. In my experience, since I don’t do series, every project, every book, every story is a matter of reinvention.  For a story of mine that was reprinted awhile back in Apex Magazine (, I had to become a slave aboard a slaveship two centuries ago. For my most recent novels, the Shadowbridge duology, a female shadowpuppeteer in a world that nobody other than me had ever seen.  For another short story out this year, “The Dingus,” a former boxer/trainer who now drives a cab (see, I knew I should have had ‘cab driver’ on my resumé).

All this imagining, it’s what we do.  In that we’re like actors.  The late Andre Dubus said that to write his stories well, he had to dive deeper and deeper into his characters; in essence, become them, know their every move, every strategy, every failing.  Only then was he satisfied with his stories.

So, reinvention?  It comes with the addiction.

The trick, I think, is to embrace the addiction and not run away from it.  Author Chuck Wendig said that not long ago in a blog post: “Good advice for 2012: This is the year when you do not run from the thing you want to write, and do not try to pretend that it should be easier, different, harder…anything but what it is. The story you have to get out.”


*This post is a revision of an earlier piece.