The Next Best Thing
I was delighted to be tagged by author JoeAnn Hart for The Next Best Thing project, in which writers answer the following questions about their latest projects, and then tag a few more writers who do the same, and so on. Such fun!
So, below you’ll find the questions JoeAnn answered about her forthcoming novel, FLOAT (look for it in February!), this time about my own current work-in-progress. And, you’ll soon hear from the fellow writers I’m tagging — Kelli Russell Agodon, Wendy Call, Brenda Miller, Judy Reeves, and Susan Rich — who will answer the same questions about their own Next Best Things!
What is the working title of your book?
My Last Continent.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
A short story of mine, “The Ecstatic Cry,” originally published by Ontario Review and included in my collection, Forgetting English, is about a penguin researcher in Antarctica and about what happens when a wayward tourist interrupts her solitude and her work. She was such an interesting character to me that I wanted to give her another story. MY LAST CONTINENT puts her back in Antarctica, this time as a naturalist on board a small tourist expedition that encounters a disaster in the ice-choked waters off the peninsula.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s literary fiction, though with Antarctica as its backdrop—and all the issues there, from dwindling penguin colonies to the effects of increasing tourism—it has a strong environmental component as well. So I’d also call it eco-fiction.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
George Clooney as Keller, George Clooney as Peter, and George Clooney as Nigel. Okay, seriously. George Clooney actually would be perfect as Keller, Deb’s on- and off-again soul mate. And I’d choose Laura Linney as Deb, the biologist. Diane Lane as Kate. Peter Sarsgaard as Kate’s husband, Peter. Daniel Day-Lewis as Nigel.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The story of two women—one a biologist who studies penguins in Antarctica, the other a social worker struggling with a dying marriage—who are brought together during a wildlife expedition that is derailed by a tragedy in the Southern Ocean.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About five months. Then I set it aside for eight years. But even as I’ve worked on other projects, the story and characters have stuck with me. Since picking it up again, I’ve been hard at work for the past six months and hope to finish this next draft within the next year.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Years after finishing my short story, I realized I couldn’t let go of this character, who is passionate about animals and the planet and very snarky when it comes to humankind. She does fall in love, though, and this changes everything—the realization that while on one hand she feels that people are destroying the planet, humans are also the only ones who can save the planet. She’s gotten to be too much at home in Antarctica, and it’s been fun to thaw her out a bit in this novel, to melt away some of her sharp edges.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s set in Antarctica, which is a truly otherworldly place as well as the only real frontier left on the planet. It involves a maritime disaster, which is something we all need to be aware of as tourism increases in these remote corners of the world, where rescues are very tricky. And, of course, there is a big, messy love triangle.
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