I’ve been tagged by Katherine Barrett, Literary Mama columnist and book review editor, in a blog chain called The Next Big Thing. Here’s the deal: I answer a set of interview questions about my next big writing project, then I tag five writers who in turn blog about their next big thing. And so on.
Normally I delete blog chain requests without a second thought. But this one landed in my inbox shortly after I set this writing intention: to be more visible as my authentic self out in the world. Corny? Maybe. But for someone who can go for months without telling even her closest writing friends what she’s working on (never mind what she’s struggling with!), this intention is my beacon. So when Katherine tagged me I thought: of course, already I’m being challenged to rise to my intention. Thank you, Katherine, and here it goes…my Next Big Thing:
What is the title of your book?
Searching for Salt: A Memoir
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Here’s the two-sentence version:
An exploration into a traumatic sexual experience at age 19 leads me to the discovery that my mother’s reaction to the event was not, in fact, isolated and arbitrary but part of a chain of events that not only illuminates my relationship to my mother but also holds the key to who I am as a female and, finally, to speculation about my mother’s deeper, hidden truths. The initial question Who am I? morphs into the question Who are you? and leads to insight, a “thawing” heart, and forgiveness.
What genre does your book fall under?
Memoir. Creative nonfiction. Literature of the Self. Women’s literature.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Searching for Salt began as my MFA thesis, which I completed in 2011. At the time I was writing about my relationship to motherhood, in particular how motherhood shaped me during my son’s challenging teen years. But when I blew the dust off the manuscript and started to dig beneath the surface, I discovered that I was, in a sense, hiding behind motherhood and my son’s story in a half-hearted attempt to avoid telling a story I thought I’d take to my grave, a story that I deemed too painful and “unpalatable” to tell. This deeper truth, it turns out, is the story that I need to tell and the one that is insisting on being told!
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took me the better part of a year to write the thesis. Then I put it away for close to a year. Then I spent eight months pulling my hair out—I mean writing my way toward the real story, a process more akin to a messy (i.e., tear-filled and snotty) excavation than to a revision. A happy result of this excavation is several “spin-off” personal essays that I’m currently working on. One of these essays, “The Bruise,” will appear in the April issue of River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. (Yay!) Next step is writing a new draft of Searching for Salt from my newfound clarity and emotional distance.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
This is a tricky question for me to answer. Because the story I am telling is one that I would in many ways rather not tell, or at least have been conditioned not to tell, the story itself must be credited for its insistence on being told. Brooke Warner, writing coach extraordinaire, has been instrumental in challenging me to tell the harder truth. Thank you, Brooke!
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’ll have to get back to you on publishing details.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
I am inspired by Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments for her candid portrayal of her difficult relationship with her mother and her discovery of her Self within this relationship (or despite it!). In When Women Were Birds Terry Tempest Williams stakes claim to her voice despite the legacy of her mother’s blank notebooks, which symbolize the insipid silencing mothers pass on to their daughters. And Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is about self-discovery and transformation born not only from her excruciating trek on the Pacific Crest Trail but also from the deeper, internal exploration of her relationship to her mother that this hike, as a narrative frame, affords her on the page.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Well, I’d love to see Susan Sarandon play my mom. And Drew Barrymore play me. Two women who are unapologetically themselves.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The title Searching for Salt comes from a Haitian folktale I first stumbled upon many years ago in the YA novel A Taste of Salt by Frances Temple. This quote has been my guiding light: “If a person dies, and their body is stolen by a zombie master, the zombie master will make the body rise and work all day and all night as a slave. The zombie understands only his suffering. He has no power to break away. He can only work and work. But there is one little trick that can save the zombie. …. If the zombie can get a taste of salt, he will understand. He will open his true eyes and see that he has been made a zombie. And he will turn against his master. He will obey him no longer. He will make himself free.” So, Searching for Salt is ultimately about opening my true eyes and seeing through the shroud of denial that has silenced my mother and me.
And now I tag:
Brooke Warner, writing coach, memoir teacher, and author of What’s Your Book?
Sarah Wells, essayist, poet, MFA student, and author of Pruning Burning Bushes and Acquiesce.
Ginny Taylor, essayist, memoirist, and contributor to This I Believe: On Love.
Darcy Rojas, blogger, memoirist, and creator of the website Life in Progress.
Lisa Hardman, essayist, poet, and recent winner of the Arapahoe Community College Speak Peace: Colorado Responds art and poetry contest.