I met Chris Cutler the summer of 2007 at Murray, Kentucky during a residency at Murray State University. We were working on our MFAs in creative non-fiction writing, and since it was my second semester (her first), I offered to show her around. Over typed pages of our words, stacks of recently published memoirs, and homemade chicken soup at Gloria’s, we became fast friends. Although we are opposites in many ways (she has a son while I have daughters, she is a blond to my brunette, and she hates onions while I put them in almost everything I cook), we have many similar interests (creative writing, teaching, photography, kindness). A writing teacher, photographer, and the founder and executive director of The Las Vegas Memoir Project, Chris is one of the writing friends I turn to for valued feedback on my writing, and I am thrilled to hear that she is visiting Italy again to explore the questions that “haunt” her and to write about her ancestors “in the environment.” I cannot wait to read her memoir, Abandoned Houses. In her blog about The Next Big Thing, Chris discusses her memoir and the journey on which she is about to embark.
Thank you, Chris, for inviting me to participate in the blog share The Next Big Thing (which is an opportunity for writers to network and share what they are working on by responding to a list of “interview” questions).
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
Right to Breathe.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
At the same time I was working on essays for my MFA thesis, I was experiencing a life crisis and found myself journaling hundreds of pages. As my voice emerged, I wanted to make sense of where I came from, what I was going through, and who I wanted to be.
Each essay materialized from a different place. For instance, while listening to a reading by Squire Babcock, I remembered the snapping turtle that my brother killed while we were waiting to float down the river for one of my mom’s birthday celebrations; that memory became my narrative, “The Celebration.” For another example, I had several dreams about my mother that lead me to write the prologue to “Women of My Childhood,” and a mentor, Karen McElmurray’s questions about my mom and the white house I grew up in helped me delve deeper and finish the essay. However, it all began when one of my mentors, Chris Hale, told me to “Start with a blank page.” Out of that exercise came “Of Beauty, Basements, and Butterflies.”
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Strange to think about, but here are some ideas:
My dad: Jack Nickolson
My mom: Barbara Streisand
My birth dad: Owen Wilson
My ex: Woody Harrelson
As for me, I have no idea, though I was thinking Sandra Bullock because she is authentic and brilliant, and I always love the characters she plays; however, since Chris already chose her, I decided to ask my daughters for other options. Here is what they suggested:
Me as a child: If Demi Moore were a kid again, she would play you because she is serious.
Me as a teen: Abigail Breslin because she is a quirky, quiet girl that everyone likes.
Me as an adult: Sarah Jessica Parker because you have the same facial features and similar personalities.
When I asked what they meant by “similar personalities,” they said that her characters tend to worry a lot, and she usually plays a single mom or an independent woman who doesn’t need a man. Her character is shy but still flirty and fun and likes to stay home a lot, but usually ends up with a good guy. She always plays the mom character, the one who takes care of everybody.
The girls also suggested that they should play themselves, but if we had to pick someone currently famous, Laina chose Selena Gomez for her teen years and Bailee Madison for her childhood while Lexi said maybe Amanda Bynes or Emma Roberts.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Right to Breathe is a collection of creative non-fiction narratives that explore the process of reclamation—reclaiming perception, voice, body and even a name.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I hope to find a publisher for my book, which is currently under review by Deadrise Books.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Over the course of about two years, I wrote these narratives.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’m not comfortable comparing my book with others, but here are some of the books that I read and drew inspiration from while working on my memoir: Just Beneath My Skin: Autobiography and Self-Discovery by Patricia Foster, Wolf at My Table: A Memoir of My Father by Augusten Burroughs, Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Story by Karen McElmurray, Seasons of the Body: Essays by Brenda Miller, Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Pratchett, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, and A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned above, my writing mentors at Murray State University were inspirational during the process as were the numerous non-fiction authors I read. Mostly, however, I thank God for all of the ideas, opportunities, and support along the way.
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
Several of the essays in my memoir have recently been published. "Dolphins for Christmas" appeared in Florida English, while "The Celebration" is in New Plains Review. Then, CircaReview online just published "Of Beauty, Basements, and Butterflies" and "Magic Acts"!
Right to Breathe is just a stepping stone, and I have ideas for a follow up memoir that are marinating. More to come…
Thanks again to Chris for this fun opportunity.
Please check out Heather Foster’s "interview" on February 8th where she will discuss her book, A Heart Like Texas, a novel-in-verse which follows the life of a single speaker in the rural South. The poems are like the speaker: bighearted, risking everything to find and understand love in all its twisted manifestations. You will find her answers on her blog, HEATHERFOSTERDOTORG: Where Heather Foster gets down and dirty with poetry.