The Next Big Thing

Recently, I was tagged in a blog-chain by my dear friend and fabulous writer Marilyn Bousquin.  Honestly, if Marilyn hadn’t been the one asking me to participate, I wouldn’t have.  And more’s the pity because I would have missed a great opportunity to really hone the idea for my book.  This has been a fascinating series of questions to ponder, one that not only made me think I was being interviewed by the New York Times, but also, and more seriously, led to not only the development of this blog site, (thank you Sarah Wells for the nudge!) but forced me to verbalize on the page my writing intent and focus.

Deep breath; here goes:

What is the title of your book?  I’ve changed the title more often than I’ve changed my socks.  I think I’m waiting for the perfect phrase to jump out at me, and, like the cliché about pornography, I will know it when I see it. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?   In a nutshell, my memoir is about a woman (me) who through her obsession with a painting by Caravaggio of a young castrato discovers healing of her own history of childhood sexual abuse.

Of course, it’s much more complicated and layered than that.

What genre does your book fall under?  Memoir, Trauma memoir. Lyrical memoir. Ekphrastic memoir.

Where did the idea come from for the book?  Actually, the idea emerged from my MFA thesis, The Undrowning, which chronicled (with uber-navel gazing, I might add) my history of childhood sexual abuse, the denial of it, followed by decades of silence, therapy, and the beginning of healing.  Included was a brief narrative about my obsession with a painting done by Caravaggio in the late 16th century of a castrato—a man who had been castrated as a boy in order to perfect a desired singing voice.  Interestingly enough, castrati of the 16th century had actually been the thesis topic for another master’s several years before the MFA came along.  The two topics came side by side in the MFA manuscript, and I began to really wonder how that happened.  Did I want to castrate my abuser?  The ‘aha’ moment came when I realized that I didn’t want to inflict pain one someone who had harmed me, but rather that both the castrato and I shared something in common over the centuries—we had both been sexually abused as children.  That’s the starting point of our connection that actually runs a lot deeper and ultimately leads to healing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?  In some ways, I’m just now really starting to write the first draft, though I’ve been working on both manuscripts for over four years.  It seems as though the previous two theses were the rough drafts, allowing me to get down on paper what I needed to at those times, which included a lot of healing/therapy/drugs on my part.  With that out of the way, I now feel ready to tackle the entangling of two distinct, yet connected, story lines—the castrato’s and mine—his from a historical perspective, and mine from a personal one. 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?   The incredible Sonya Huber, my MFA thesis mentor.  After gallantly trudging through my manuscript and defense, she encouraged me (bless her heart!) to tell the story completely, to insist on including the castrato.  But I think I’m also writing it to encourage other victims of childhood sexual abuse—male and female—to search for their own story, their own truth, their own healing which can come to us through a variety of surprising means—including through paintings from the Renaissance.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  Not sure yet.  Of course, I’d be thrilled if a small press would be interested.  On the other hand, I’d also consider making the book available online with interactive links (like in Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point) so the art and photos could be viewed a click away, and the voice of a contemporary countertenor (the voice we currently have closest to the now-extinct castrato) could be heard.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?   If only looking at the ekphrastic component, I would compare it to Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters, or Patricia Hampl’s The Blue Arabesque, both beautiful works that delve far beneath the painted canvas, both works based on a writer’s obsession with paintings.  But if one would only consider the structure and style of my book, I’d have to compare it to Deborah Tall’s Family of Strangers, or Abigail Thomas’s Safekeeping—short, short lyrical chapters based on memories, historical fact, art history, my imagination, or any combination of the above—juxtaposed to move the story forward, always forward. 

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?  I would love to be played by Meryl Streep.  But I’m not sure who might play the castrato because I think he should be played by a young Spanish actor, yet to be determined, whose singing voice would be dubbed in by Philippe Jaroussky, the phenomenal French countertenor.  Of course, if Jaroussky were interested…  That would be so incredibly cool.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  If you think that childhood sexual abuse within religious organizations is a phenomenon of only the 50 years, think again. The practice goes back centuries.

And now I tag:

Karen Donley-Hayes: Writer, essayist, horse lover.

Sonya Huber:  Writer, mentor, lovers of words.

Ruth Schwartz: Poet, shaman, writing coach, amazing cook.

Jen Kindbom: Poet, teacher, designer of cool purses.

If you’ve made it this far in this longer than normal blog post, let me know what your Next Big Thing might be. Your response doesn’t have to include all of the above questions, unless you want to.

Thanks for writing with me,



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mbousquin
    Jan 24, 2013 @ 15:48:15

    Ginny, This is such a powerful story. Connecting the “emotional truths” between your narrator and the castrato, as evoked by a work of art, speaks to the timeless power of art and the continuity of universal themes over centuries. Phew, the layers and depths captivate me. The connection also brings to mind the image of books displayed in museums. Which of course would be a library (though I like the ring of “book museum”). Your memoir will have to kick off the first ekphrastic museum, where books hang on walls beside the art that inspired them. I am deeply blessed to be on this memoir writing journey with you.

    • The Wilderness Table
      Jan 25, 2013 @ 16:11:46

      Thanks, Marilyn. I sure hope the layers and the depth don’t overwhelm me! I do love the idea of books being displayed next to the pieces of art that inspired them, kind of like the way some poems find their way next to art.

      • mbousquin
        Jan 27, 2013 @ 11:58:28

        Just thinking of you, so thought I’d stop by. Happy blogging, my dear. I love reading your words.

  2. The Wilderness Table
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 14:10:11

    Be sure to leave me a comment by returning to the top of the post and clicking on “Leave a Comment.” Silly, but that’s the way it works.




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