The Next Big Thing: Diane Raptosh
“The Next Big Thing” is a blog hop in which authors around the world share what they’re working on by responding to ten questions. College of Idaho faculty member Diane Raptosh responds to questions below. She was invited by Philip Brady, whose Next Big Thing post can be found here.
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I’d long wanted to write a book-length poem taking on some major issues of our day. In fact, I felt if I did not begin to write about some of these subjects, I might implode. But I wasn’t sure how to go about such a book without sounding didactic, prosaic, tiresome. I needed a vehicle for writing a book like this, and I found one when I began thinking about the trope of “Everyman,” the figure of the generic John Doe. I decided to adopt this American fellow and give him a story, another alias (Calvin J. Rinehart), an affliction (amnesia), some serious history, and a several jugs of silliness. I decided he might be just the mouthpiece to take on some of the following: environmental degradation, the U.S.'s bloated prison population, immigration, race (including what it might mean to be a white man in a time of rapidly changing racial demographics), rising unemployment rates, and this is just a start. At the same time, given that my protagonist is an amnesiac, I knew the book would have the chance to meditate on what it means to be a self, to have and to lose an identity—and then to regain one--revising, for the sake of the greater good, whoever one might have thought oneself to be.
What genre does your book fall under?
It is a book-length dramatic monologue in verse, and so it is poetry.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I would ask Ted Levine, who played Captain Leland Stottelmeyer in the television series Monk, to play the protagonist John Doe, AKA Calvin J. Rinehart. Ted Levine has the right blueness of eye and blond in his bang. I’d need to hire a mustache professional to curl up the tips of his ‘stache in order for it to be considered true walrus style. Levine would also have to pack on some extra weight, since John Doe, a sworn wan indoorsman, doesn’t like to exercise.
American Amnesiac is pretty much a one-man show (John Doe’s), although some very important and strong women figure in his world: Obama’s mother-in-law, the White House live-in grandma, Marian Robinson, for instance, is invoked, though not by name. I would love to have her play herself.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
To crib the language of Phil Brady, “the dopplegangered protagonist/s of American Amnesiac serves as a vatic channel for contemporary America.” Perhaps it is fair to say that the protagonist here is a one-man revolution—one that paves the way for a world in which each of us more strongly “esteems the we.”
Whoops. That was two sentences.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book will be published on August 13, 2013, by Etruscan Press. I feel extremely grateful for this piece of good fortune.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took about 18 months. I am usually a very slow writer, but once I worked out the concept for this book, I was in its grip. I wrote at my desk, in the bathroom, in the car, at the kitchen table, in bed, in libraries, and no matter what.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I felt a little of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself wanting to come through to the 21st century. I was also thinking about C.D. Wright’s One Big Self: I admire very much her book-length poetry projects. Dionne Brand's Ossuaries, maybe.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to let myself get carried away in language--language in the act of telling what I thought were truths. It was something I had to do.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
The book also takes little jaunts into philosophy, music (R&B, classical, and pop), as well as internet culture. The book loves questions and likes to invite the reader in. It is, I hope, some harrowing fun.