Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Having been tapped to do this meme by both James Cooper ( and Jonathan Oliver, I've decided to lead with it today, hoping it'll break me through that self-organizational wall I've been wrestling with. So:

What is the working title of your next book?

Experimental Film: A Novel. It's supposed to be my first full-length stand-alone, after finally finishing up the Hexslinger series, so that's its own very peculiar brand of performance anxiety, right there.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Much like my prospective main character, Lois Cairns, I was a film reviewer for eight years and taught Canadian film history for ten, which is an...interesting genre to try and get students excited about, especially Canadian ones. I basically had to cobble my own curriculum together from various sources, and was forced to think analytically about just why the Canadian system “works” the way it does, as well as why Canadians—English-speaking Canadians, in specific—seem drawn towards the types of films we produce. Short story short, a lot of it is about negative definition, ie wanting to distinguish ourselves from the States by making the exact opposite of what we perceive to be a “Hollywood”-type movie. Which may well be why one of the richest veins of Canadian film lies in the realm of explicitly non-narrative, incredibly artsy, experimental film.

But while this is a thematic itch I've wanted to scratch for almost forever, it's not exactly hook material. So let me hasten to add that there is a genuine plot at work, as well: After losing her job and falling into a depressive state, Lois accidentally stumbles across evidence that there may have been a hitherto-forgotten female filmmaker operating in Ontario around the same time as George Méiliès did in France, making similiarly fantastic-horrific films on highly flammable silver nitrate film. Naturally, she pursues this evidence, hoping to parlay it into a documentary and book that will establish her on the Canadian film history map. But what she discovers is that this woman was working out of her own obsessions, trying to create a film that would transfer one specific image she'd been literally haunted by all of her life into other people's heads...and as result, at least one of her films—the last, most effective, one, created just before she herself disappeared under mysterious circumstances—is something no one should ever watch.

What genre does your book fall under?

Oh, horror, natch. Always horror. It's probably closest in structure as well as content to “each thing I show you is a piece of my death”, the Shirley Jackson award-nominated novelette I co-wrote with my husband, Stephen J. Barringer, which makes it a cross between M.R. James and The Blair Witch Project. But because it's a book, what I want is a nested documentarian presentation that juxtaposes subject interviews with a pseudo-CanCon prosefic/True Crime overall narrative voice that you only gradually realize belongs to a completely different yet equally real person, the journalist Gregg Polley.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm, well: Going CanCon, I'd like to cast my old schoolmate Megan Follows as Lois, because we're almost the same age and I want to see her onscreen again. For Lois's much put-upon student turned intern Safie Hewsen, I'd like to cast an explicitly Canadian-Armenian actress, though an American-Armenian actress of the right age (25 or so) would also be okay; if I had to cross-cast, though, I'd tap Agam Darshi, because she also needs to work more. Gregg Polley would be David Hewlett, while Colm Feore would be perfect for the smallish yet important part of Dr Guilden Abbott, head of the Freihoeven Institute for Psychic Research, through whom another lynchpin character I'd like to cast out of French Canada would be discovered, a very old man who we only get to “know” through interview footage. Jonathon Young would be perfect for the self-obsessed experimental filmmaker/former National Film Board of Canada employee Wrobert Barney, in whose sample-heavy movies Lois first discovers traces of the work of our lost female filmmaker, while the filmmaker I'd have to break ranks and cast Alice Krige, just 'cause. But then again, she was in Guy Maddin's Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, which makes her an honorary Canadian.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The elevator pitch is: “Martin Scorsese's Hugo meets John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns”, but this obviously works better if you've seen either of those movies, so...(Shrugs)

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

It's due in September, 2013 to ChiZine Publications. If things go the way they have thus far, that means it may be out sometime in early 2014.

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

Again, if things go as they have thus far, I expect the first draft to be roughly on time, with edits done a month after that. This will hopefully be a shorter book than either of the Hexslinger sequels, given that it's a self-enclosed narrative.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

In a lot of ways, I think this is going to be my attempt to write something like Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, an outright creeper with a Jamesianly matter-of-fact antiquarian tone. But I also want it to have some of the impact of books by people like Kathe Koja (Skin) and Adam Nevill (The Ritual), which will be interesting to deal with, because I'm trying to write about the book's events from the outside-in rather than the inside-out. My CanCon prosefic models, OTOH, would be Lynn Crosbie, Michael Ondaatje, Susan Musgrave and Gwendolyn MacEwen biographer Rosemary Sullivan.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See above, but: The notion of a haunted film has always provoked and fascinated me, probably because creating fear through the visual image is one of the hardest things imaginable. I also always wanted to write something which was specifically “Canadian”, perverse and outrageous and self-mythologizing, my very own version of a Telefilm-funded project that'd never, ever make it past the first few assessment rounds. Then again, I always have to remember that one of my old teachers, Paul Donovan, once wrote a satirical novel eviscerating the Telefilm experience, then got Telefilm to fund him to make a movie out of it.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

Well, it's a lot less of a sausage-fest than the Hexslinger books were, so that might be a draw or a drawback, depending on what you like: Female main character(s), female monster(s), female mythology, female-driven story. In a way, it's a nightmare fantasia about female creativity with sidebars about being the mother of a special-needs child, as well as the info-dumps about Canadian film history. But then again, hopefully, it'll just make you really uncomfortable to be reading it alone.;)

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