10 Questions About My Book: A Next Big Thing Blog Hop Posting

Reference books for my La Pérouse project

My friend, writer and fellow (sister?) Hedgebrook alum Christine Lee Zilka, tagged me this week to talk about my current writing project as part of a “Next Big Thing” blog hop.

I don’t ordinarily go for these “I’ll-link-to-your-blog-if-you-link-to-mine” arrangements, but this one, which involves answering ten specific questions about a current or next project, actually looked fun. And Christine’s quite engaging post, with its great photo of her door-o’-color-coded-post-its, inspired me to give it a try.

The “blog hop” deal also entails me tagging some other writers to do likewise; their names and links to their websites follow my answers.

What is the working title of your book (or story)?
It’s called Landfalls, at least until an agent or editor tells me to change it.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Landfalls re-imagines events in and around the La Pérouse expedition, an 18th-century voyage of exploration that started in France in 1785 and ended with shipwreck in the South Seas in 1788.

Lituya Bay map, La Pérouse
The map that started it all

Where did the idea for the book come from?
From an antique map my husband gave me for my birthday more than ten years ago. An incompetent (or unscrupulous) map-seller told my husband it was an 18th-century map of San Francisco Bay. But after staring at it for a long time and noticing some obvious clues, like the clearly marked latitude lines on the map, I learned it was actually a map of Lituya Bay in Alaska, and that it was from the La Pérouse expedition, which I had never heard of before. I started reading about the voyage, and almost immediately thought: This would make a great book.

What genre does your book fall under?
What is it Polonius says in Hamlet—“tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral”? Yeah, that.

But in all sincerity: Historical fiction. Specifically, nautical fiction. Hopefully more broadly conceived than the genre has traditionally been. And hopefully of the more or less literary variety, whatever that means. Also, it started out explicitly as linked short stories, but on the advice of counsel, I’ve started calling it a novel.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Well, most of the characters are French and male. I’m afraid I don’t know very much about who’s who in French cinema. Just—please, no Gerard Depardieu!

A few years ago a French director, Xavier Gens, was apparently working on a film about the La Pérouse expedition, or about the end of the expedition, anyway—some sort of cannibal flick set in the South Seas. It sounded hideous, to be perfectly frank. But rumors had him in talks with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Viggo Mortensen. I love both actors. But I don’t quite see them playing 18th-century French explorers.

Ben Whishaw
Yes, please.

I do have an English character in one story/chapter early on. His name is John Webber and he was a real person, a landscape artist and portraitist who accompanied Cook on his third and final voyage. I wouldn’t mind seeing the beautiful British actor Ben Whishaw in that role.

And if we were to cast British actors as Frenchmen—because isn’t that what we do?—I could see Benedict Cumberbatch on one of the frigates. In fact, I’d love to have a whole Sherlock/Elementary thing going, with Martin Freeman and Johnny Lee Miller on board as well.

For the women in the book, I could imagine roles for Dame Judi Dench pretending to be French and Isabelle Adjani not pretending and Penelope Cruz as a Spanish woman the explorers met in California, if she wouldn’t mind looking a bit worse for wear. Continuing with the Holmes thing from above, I might have a role for Lucy Liu, for an episode set in Macao.

Sadly, I suspect that my enthusiastic and long-winded reply to this question, the one question here that’s really not about the writing at all, is indicative of my distractibility, one of the reasons the manuscript is still not done.

Light at the end of the tunnel? Or just a delusional spreadsheet?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Represented by an agency, if one will have me.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’m still working on it (see above re: distractibility). Year eight. I do see light at the end of the tunnel. But I may be hallucinating.

What other books would you compare this story to, within your genre?
I can’t quite think of a book that it resembles. I’ve obviously been inspired by other novels of the sea—Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick, the Aubrey/Maturin series, the Horatio Hornblower books, Karen Hesse’s middle-grade novel Stowaway—but I don’t think my book is much like any of those. Writers who do the kind of historical fiction that both delights and inspires me include Pat Barker, Andrea Barrett, Jim Shephard, and David Leavitt, whose novel The Indian Clerk I just finished and may blog about soon. As for other linked story collections, I’ve enjoyed Cathy Day’s The Circus in Winter and, of course, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’m not sure how this question differs from the one above, about where the idea came from. But I will say that there was a gap of several years between conceiving the initial idea and the start of writing. And this will sound like arrogant nonsense, but honestly, it seemed such a brilliant and even obvious idea for a work of fiction that I was afraid someone else would write it first. So I started writing. Which suggests that ultimately, I was inspired by paranoia, but not sufficiently inspired to write quickly.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There are many attractive young men in peril on the high seas. Sometimes they have sex.

Please check out these other writers, whom I have tagged, for their answers to the same questions (their replies may not be up right away, but their websites and writing are worth checking out anyway):

20 thoughts on “10 Questions About My Book: A Next Big Thing Blog Hop Posting

  1. Naomi, the chapters you’ve brought to our Davis writing group so far are terrific — I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing.

    And that’s a lovely photo of Ben Whishaw — have you seen him in the British series “The Hour,” which has been showing on BBC America? I second your nomination of him for a prominent role in the film version of your novel. Maybe even as one of the French characters.

      1. Dang, I kinda hoped you hadn’t seen that post – which was a long time ago; I hope I’ve grown as a reader since then. And I loved the scene at the end, it was very touching – I called it a “wonderful little play…” and it is. I also had a great time checking out the Tlingit, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do that if it hadn’t been for your story.

  2. I’m so looking forward to this! These days I don’t want to waste my precious time on a book someone dashes off for profit or to be cool, no matter how popular it is. From the stories I’ve read, your collection is exactly the kind of thoughtful, multi-layered, intellectually passionate writing that is worth a reader’s attention.

  3. Hi Naomi. I’m always fascinated by the stories of what inspired authors to write their stories. An antique map given to you by your husband for your birthday was not only a unique gift (bless him), but the seed of an idea for, so far, eight years of writing. Thank you for including me in this blog exercise and posting a link to my website. Don’t give up on me. I didn’t realize how ten supposedly simple questions could lead to such long answers. I’ll post my contribution soon.

  4. For the film version of your novel, perhaps Gael Garcia Bernal could pretend to be French, too? And Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), who doesn’t have to pretend.

  5. Naomi,

    Susan T. just pointed me to your blog. It is great to find you! The project you’re working on sounds wonderful. We’re big fans of the Aubrey/Maturin series, having done the whole thing as a read-aloud for our teens. The Perouse expedition will be right up our alley. Just keep writing!

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