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My Novel, Pop Culture, The Writer's Life

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Blog for… The Next Big Thing

This past week my friend Stephanie Barbé Hammer, author of The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior, nominated me for the NEXT BIG THING. NBT asks bloggers to answer a few questions about their completed novel or work-in-progress. Well, you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to do that. The only question is which novel, since I have two that are done and currently on the rejection merry-go-round.

I’ve mentioned Mr. Neutron, a science fiction-fantasy-satire before, so today I’ll write about my other novel, which is so not like Mr. Neutron it’s sometimes hard to believe I wrote them both.

1.    What is the working title of your book?

Curtain Calls

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

Growing up I was always intrigued with my grandfather’s career in vaudeville. But he didn’t marry until his forties, and by the time I was old enough and cognizant enough to ask him about it, he was in his eighties and suffering from Alzheimer’s, so his recollections of those years were sketchy. When I finally thought seriously about writing of his days in the theater, he was long gone and all I had to start with was a photo album my dad had put together. I made some plot notes, but I felt I needed a significant event to build the story around.

I’m also a student of history, particularly of World War I and early 20th century politics. About ten years ago, PBS aired a six-part series called “The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century,” perhaps the best documentary series I’ve ever watched. In it, a brief reference was made to a politician named Jean Jaurès, who was the leader of the French Socialist party and who, according to the documentary, almost single-handedly kept the war from starting two years earlier, in 1912. I had to find out more about this man, and when I did the research, it turned out his life story was quite remarkable, and tied very closely to the entry of France into the Great War (I could tell you more, but that would spoil the book).

Somewhere along the line, the two ideas meshed. Although my grandfather never actually performed in France, I began to imagine how he and his partner, and a lovely singer who appeared in the photo album, might have become involved in the intrigues that surrounded the early days of the war.

3.    What genre does you book fall under?

Historical fiction.

4.    What actors would you choose the parts of the characters in your book?

I’m a fine one to ask this, since I rarely go to the movies. But I’ll try.

Gus Amato: Leonardo DiCaprio

Jack Sullivan: Johnny Depp

Kera McGuin: Reese Witherspoon

Jean Jaurès: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Maurice Bertré: Jacques Gamblin

Jean Longuet: James Franco

Daniel Renoult: Liam Neeson

Albert (the bartender at Le Secret cabaret): casting call going out for 20-something, over 6-4

Aimée (the waitress): Melissa Nassauer

Raoul (a psychopath who plots against Jaurès): Heath Ledger would have been great in this role

… and a cast of thousands

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

A trio of American vaudevillians becomes caught up in the passions and politics of Paris during the first weeks of World War I, and when a statesman’s life hangs in the balance, one of them represents the only chance to save him from assassination.

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

About 18 months. But lest you think that was quick, it’s now nearly five years later and I am on version 9.

7.    What inspired you to write the book?

Frankly, I was enrolled in my MFA program, and needed a thesis. That’s what got me started. I recently realized the 100th anniversary of WWI begins next year, so I spent about a month punching it up in hopes a publisher will appreciate the tie-in.

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

The book presents an intimate look at Paris in 1914, including its raucous night life.

9.    Will your book be self-published or are you being represented by an agency?

An agent has asked for the full manuscript, so I am hopeful.

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About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.

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