NOTE: The Next Big Thing is a blog series, winding its way through the internet. Today, I’m delighted to host this Next Big Thing interview with Nan Cuba, who is as lovely, kind, and generous in person as she comes across in this interview. Her debut novel, BODY AND BREAD, is one that I am most looking forward to in 2013.
I’m so grateful to you, Myf, for the invitation to join the blog chain. I’m your fan, of course, and loved ECHOLOCATION. I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND will be my New Year’s treat. Support from a writer of your talent is a touchingly generous gift.
Here’s my interview:
My forthcoming novel is called BODY AND BREAD.
Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?
I wrote a piece of flash fiction, and when I showed it to a friend, she said it reminded her of Katherine Anne Porter’s story, “The Grave.” I was shocked to realize that without being conscious of Porter’s influence, that connection was true. Both stories are about a brother and sister, and when I reread Porter’s, I was convinced. The brother in hers is named Paul, and my story is loosely based on my deceased brother, Paul. My story grew into a series of stories, which eventually became the novel. BODY AND BREAD is dedicated to my beautiful brother.
Q: What genre does your book fall under?
It is literary fiction, a family epic of present and past intertwining plots.
Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For the adult narrator, Sarah, I’d love to have Emma Thompson play the role. For young Sarah, maybe Ellen Page. Sam, the brother, needs to be someone like Jake Gyllenhaal.
Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
While hallucinations of Aztec ritual death and rebirth escalate, Sarah Pelton uses her skills as an anthropologist to investigate her family and find the cause of her brother’s suicide, but a secret is uncovered instead.
Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m thrilled to have my book in the impressive lineup at Engine Books. My pub date is May 14, 2013.
Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The first story was written in 1989, while I was a student in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. I started on the novel a few years after that, and it’s gone through so many versions that I can’t pinpoint a date for a first draft. My editor, Victoria Barrett, guided me through three major revisions. This has been a long journey.
Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I know I’m dreaming because I’m not the linguist or metaphysicist that she is, but I hope the elegiac quality and spiritual elements remind some readers of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. My agent, Esmond Harmsworth, thinks the story’s balance between present and past is reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement or Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.
Q: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My brother and my wish to illustrate the damage inflicted when a family member commits suicide.
Q: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The story includes Aztec, U.S., and Texas history, which touches on the Czech immigrant experience. Two scholars helped with Nahuatl and Czech translations, for which I am immensely grateful. Also, Victoria Barrett is a genius. She designed the book, including the cover image, which is iconic. Even better, I don’t mind that it took me twenty years to get this book published, because that process brought me to her. She worked as hard as I did during the final revisions, and that kind of talent and dedication are increasingly rare. If you read literary fiction, Engine Books has exactly what you love.
Here are the excellent writers I get to tag for interviews, all highly recommended:
Natalie Serber whose collection of stories SHOUT HER LOVELY NAME shares an honest and probing view of mother/daughter relationships.
Dale Neal whose novel, THE HALF-LIFE OF HOME is part elegy, part folktale.
Joe Schuster whose book, THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a terrific baseball novel with a compelling human story.