Monday, January 14, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt this blog to bring you an installment of: The Next Big Thing. This week I’m taking part in an Internet chain letter for writers by that name. The idea is for a writer to answer a series of questions about a current project in the works, and then tag other writers to respond to the same questions about their own work.

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

I’m working on a book of poems called Talking with the Radio.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I live in California and I spend a crazy amount of time driving in my car. I always listen to the radio to calm me down while I drive—I didn’t learn to drive till I was 39 years old, and I can use some calming.

I mostly listen to the jazz station in the San Francisco Bay Area, KCSM 91.1, also available streaming at Whenever I hear a song I really like, I start talking to the radio, imagining that artist’s voice in a monologue. Or I just react to the music, making up words that go along with it. I know, I should be paying attention to the road! But that’s how I’ve written a lot of the poems in this book.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. But some of the poems are intended as song lyrics.

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

There are some dramatic monologues and dialogues in the book that would work well for actors to recite. I’d choose Beyoncé or Queen Latifah to sing some of the lyrics in the book, and B.B. King to sing the blues song “Washing the Soap.” I wrote a dialogue between the singer Dinah Washington and her mother—I’d pick Alfre Woodard to play the mother. I’m not sure who would play Dinah. OK, I’d settle for Beyoncé again.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Talking with the Radio features poems and song lyrics about popular music and jazz.

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

Do any agents represent poetry? If they do, they must be one sonnet short of a sequence.

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

I’ve been writing this book very slowly, since a poem about a singer or a song doesn’t come to mind every day, or even every month. I’ve written several poems a year for this book over a five-year period.

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

Many, many poets have written about popular music and jazz in their work. Their work inspired me. My book is dedicated to those poets, from Jack Kerouac to Ntozake Shange to Cornelius Eady.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I just love jazz and popular music. I grew up listening to my mom’s Ella Fitzgerald vinyl LP records as she puffed on her cigarette holder, sipping Johnny Walker Red Label. I had a little transistor radio as a kid that I snuck into my bed at night and listened to Top 40 hits to put me to sleep.

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

The book includes a series of ghazals. The ghazal is a popular song form in South Asia. It’s also one of the oldest poetic forms still used. It comes from Arabic, and it was perfected during the Golden Age of Persian poetry in 12th century Iran, during the period of Rumi and Hafez. I like to sing my ghazals as blues songs. Obviously, that’s not how ghazals are sung in Asia. But the blues was originally a fusion of African and European vocal styles. Many of the Africans who were brought to the U.S. first as slaves were Muslims who knew how to chant Arabic prayers. Quite possibly the blues was influenced by Arabic song and poetic forms as well, forms such as the ghazal.

I’m tagging three wonderful writers whose work I admire greatly, to post blogs next week in The Next Big Thing: Richard Chiappone, one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met; Beverly Burch, who is triply talented as a published fiction writer, poet, and author on psychology; and Andromeda Romano-Lax, a terrific historical novelist. Thanks to the amazing Sammy Greenspan of Kattywompus Press for tagging me.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer


  1. I really agree with you. Your advice for writers is really fabulous, awesome and useful. Too much nice work.
    Hindi Poetry

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Umair. Do you mean I should write about Hindi poetry? I don't know that much about it. Tell us some writers we should read, maybe ones whose work might be available in English. Zack