Happy Monday, Reader! There are still a few next big things coming over the transom, and today I’m happy to host Suzanne McNear’s. I also want to point you to Kathryn Levy’s, whose next big thing is posted on her website.
What is the working title of your book? My book’s title is Knock Knock
Where did the idea come from for the book? The idea came to me many years ago. I started the book, put it aside, worked on it again, put it aside again when an agent said it was much too long. (It was). At the time I was divorced, raising three daughters, working at a demanding job as a fiction editor at Playboy Magazine. The novel was based on my life, and it was too close to me, too hard for me to cope with. I put the pages- all typewritten – into a box and put the box away.
What genre does your book fall under? I wrote the book as a novel. However, my co- publishers at The Permanent Press thought of it as a fictional memoir. I had always thought of the book as a novel, and was not familiar with the term “fictional memoir.” However, the book was certainly based on my life, and sometimes I used real names. The story is told by a character I called March Rivers, and to me, the story is March’s story. Not Suzanne McNear’s story.
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie? A movie. Oh that would be fun. I would have liked Nora Ephron for a director. I wish she were still with us to consider it. I’m not sure about actors. Maybe Philip Seymour Hoffman for the director and for March’s husband. The husband is a drinker, a mystery writer, a troublemaker, a buffoon. Philip Seymour Hoffman would be perfect, and he would know the right actress to play March.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? An artist friend wrote to me and said he found Knock Knock “deeply moving and wickedly funny.” I put this note up on the wall above my desk.
Who published your book? The book was published by The Permanent Press, a small press in Sag Harbor, New York. Judy and Marty Shephard, the co –publishers took the book after a friend asked them to read the manuscript, and this all happened very quickly. I was stunned. And for good reason. The Shepards and their staff work in a wonderful old farm house not far from where I live, and when Judy showed me her desk there was a huge stack of manuscripts, going back a year or more, which she was working her way through. So were it not for a friend I might still be waiting to hear.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It took forever. I started the book when I was pregnant with my third child, and put it away when she was born. I worked on it again about ten years later when I was a fiction editor at Playboy Magazine. Robie Macauley who ran out small department sent the novel to an agent in New York and though it was not finished, and already ran to 500 pages this agent sent it to various publishers who turned it down. Then the agent and I had a falling out and the novel came back to me and back to the drawer in my desk. I did not want to think about it again. Ever. Ten years later I was living in New York and in Gordon Lish’s workshop. When I had finished a collection of stories I was given a contract by Knopf where Gordon was an editor, but the contract was for “a work of fiction,” not the stories. According to the editor and chief at Knopf, all the stories were alike. Which they certainly were not! At the time I had just exchanged my apartment in New York with a friend who had a house in London, so off I went with hopes of creating this “work of fiction.” I sat at a desk in a house in Little Brompton and stared at the Concorde on its way to New York, winter afternoon after winter afternoon. Trying to think of a work of fiction. Something. Anything. Nothing. A few years later I did publish the stories in a collection titled Drought whose working title had once been Water Water. I loved the way this collection turned out. It was designed by Leslie Miller at The Grenfell Press and published by Canio’s Editions in Sag Harbor. I was writing stories again when my daughter who is a writer and editor asked me to think about the novel I had put aside. What had ever become of it? Where was it? Well, it was, fortunately, still with me, after six moves, in the same box, in the desk drawer. I opened the box and there were the pages, crisp and yellow with age, thin as potato chips, and not a terrible book at all. Worth going back to. After many years. And so, with my daughter’s encouragement, I set to work, and three years later the book was finished.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? The book was published as a fictional memoir, and I haven’t really read many memoirs. I have certainly been influenced by Christina Stead and Jane Bowles, and by Beckett and Harold Pinter. And by Gertrude Stein. And Kafka. I love writing that is unconventional, dark, quirky. And black humor is important to me. I have written a number of plays and when I was rewriting Knock Knock I found that I could take advantage of all I had learned from Beckett and Pinter. Recently I have been reading David Foster Wallace. The Pale King is extraordinary. It goes on forever and I could not stop until the very end when I felt such a sense of celebration, for the work, and such a sense of loss, knowing David’ s work was complete. There would be no more.
What is there about your book that might pique a reader’s interest? There are unsettling scenes in the book; a turbulent marriage, a divorce, a nervous breakdown, but there is also a comic sense that carries the story along. At the worst of times the story is funny. The sense of the absurd, that manner of seeing life as such is at the core of my work. I recently published a story titled “Swimming Lessons” which won the Neil Shepard prize given by the Green Mountains Review earlier this year. The story was about a sudden death, a woman quite lost for a while, a man falling or jumping through a glass roof, but again the story was comic. It also had a scene from a Pinter play in it. So Pinter is my guardian angel, and a very attentive one.
Suzanne McNear is a former editor and journalist, and now devotes herself to writing fiction and plays. Her essays have been published in The New York Times and Vogue. Her collection of stories titled “Drought” was published in 2004. A story titled “Excerpts from a Wisconsin Childhood” was published by Midnight Paper Sales in a special edition with woodcuts by Gaylord Schaniiec. She is currently working on a collection of stories which will include “Swimming Lessons,” winner of the Neil Shepard prize for fiction in the latest issue of the Green Mountains Review.