Books Historical fiction HRC Killingly Teaching

The draft done!

It’s been a busy summer and fall, blog friends!

I’m more than halfway through my second fall semester at the College of Wooster and I’ve just finished a draft of Killingly, also known here as “the Mt. Holyoke novel.” It clocked in at more than 151,000 words, which officially makes it a Big Book. (Alcestis was only 92K, much slimmer.) I’m delighted to be done with the draft, but it’s also a little weird, as I’ve been working steadily on the book just about every day since mid-May, and thinking about it since 2008. Of course there will be more to do, but I’m glad to have the first version down on paper.

I’m also teaching the dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel First Year Seminar again, as well as Intro to Fiction and Poetry. Both classes are delightful, as usual, as are my four new senior Independent Study advisees.

I was tagged for the Next Big Thing writing meme, which asks writers to answer some questions about their current works in progress. The writer who tagged me is Jessica Reisman, a writer friend from Austin, and you should all go read her answers to these questions, too, about her fantasy novel set on an alternate 1600s South China Sea.

Since I just finished the draft, I’m going to answer questions about that book rather than the three or four other things I’d love to write next.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Killingly. I hope it’ll stick.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

A news story in the New York Evening Journal, circa 1900, that I found in the microfilm archives at the Harry Ransom Center while working there as a grad student research intern.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Literary historical fiction with a gothic/crime twist.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I can’t answer this question because, in my post-draft haze of affection, all the characters feel too much like real people to me! Uh. But despite the fact that this novel is omniscient third (sort of) and pretty long, I think it would be much easier to film than Alcestis. I’ve often tried to explain the way knowledge is revealed in the book by talking about Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

I usually just say “It’s about a student who disappeared from Mt. Holyoke College in 1897,” but for a slightly longer answer, it’s about what happens to and between the people who loved her after she disappears. It’s also about being a woman who loves learning in 1890s America.

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

This is kind of a weird way to phrase this question…? My agent is Diana Fox and the book will not be self-published unless something goes very much not according to plan. Cross your fingers.

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

Since first having the idea, four years. Actual solid writing time, probably about six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger; Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace; Donna Tartt, The Secret History. Also maybe some Tana French and Emma Donoghue in there too.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Reading too much George Eliot and Henry James. This is my pseudo-Victorian novel. In terms of the pastiche poetry and letters, A. S. Byatt has been a huge inspiration. (My guiding question at some moments during the composition of this novel was “WWASBD?” [What Would A. S. Byatt Do?])

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well… the fact that it’s set largely at a nineteenth century women’s college and includes the cat fancy, vivisection, secret Catholicism, a giant fire, a train journey to Jacksonville, itinerant Shakespearean actors, an ex-cop private detective who prefers men and reads Jane Austen, lots of pastiche including epic poetry in blank verse, a quasi-Victorian narrative style, a pretty kleptomaniac, Civil War veterans, and a Congregationalist minister, maybe?


Don’t forget to check out Jessica Reisman’s blog!

I’m tagging the lovely Amy Boutell and Chrissy Kolaya.


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