Friday, January 18, 2013

Guest blog: Richard Chiappone on The Next Big Thing

I'm continuing to participate in the Internet chain letter, The Next Big Thing, where writers discuss their works in progress. This post is a guest blog by the writer Richard Chiappone. Richard is a colleague in the low-residency MFA in writing program at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He's the author of Water of an Undetermined Depth, a collection of short fiction published by Stackpole Books (2003). Opening Days, a newer collection of short fiction and essays on outdoor sports was published in 2010.

                                                       Richard Chiappone

Here's Richard's blog:

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Mister Almost and The Enemy of Fun, a novel.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
When I was a kid in the fifties, there was a terrible apartment fire in our town, Niagara Falls, New York. Some very poor African American people died in the fire, and the landlord of the apartments, the father of a neighborhood friend, was charged with building code violations in relation to those deaths. I never forgot how embarrassed and mortified my friend was.  I’ve always tried to imagine what it would be like to be the kid whose father was in prison for a major felony like that. An apartment fire in a fictional poor black neighborhood is the central event in the novel.  

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a character-driven novel about a working class family. I guess booksellers will call it “upmarket” or “literary” fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
There are several young boys in the story, and I don’t know the names of actors in that age bracket. But, for the key adult roles, I picture Claire Danes as the mother and titular Enemy of Fun. And I like Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the father.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When a fatal fire results in the jailing of a boy’s father, the boy and his mother must set aside their contentious power struggles and work together to salvage as much of the family as they can.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It’s currently in the hands of Sam Hyate, at The Rights Factory.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the major events as a short story in 1992. At some point over the years of revision, I realized the story was too big for the short form. The first complete draft of the novel version was finished in 2009. So, I guess the answer is, seventeen years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Well, it’s set in 1960, and racial issues are a big part of it, and justice and the legal system are part of it too; so, that subject matter hopefully makes it a little less presumptuous to associate it with the venerable To Kill a Mockingbird. And it’s a coming of age story about a young man growing up on a big river (The Niagara) so, I’d love to be even more presumptuous and say The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But, of course, beyond those facile similarities, it’s nothing like either one. If I could find any justification at all, I’d include The Bible, and all of Shakespeare’s plays as comps too.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My childhood friend whose father went to jail; my mother, who always wanted to move up socially; my father, who wanted only to live a quiet, peaceful life; my brothers and sisters and all the kids in the neighborhood who were, and still are, my tribe, my clan, my family; growing up in the industrial, ravaged, and polluted natural world along the Niagara River—which I believed to be a paradise; but, most of all, having come of age myself in the tumultuous, unforgettable 1960s.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Mister Almost and the Enemy of Fun is about family, race, religion, friendship, first sexual attractions, fear of death, crime and punishment, frogs and snakes, and the magical way that childhood is illuminated by a young person’s imagination.

1 comment:

  1. I have read both Opening Days and Water of an Undetermined Depth as well as the SS published in Sun Magazine: Uncommon Weather. I do not see Mr. Almost and the Enemy of Fun on Amazon. Is it published yet?