THE THEATER IS UNDER SUBMISSION…
but I can tell you this:
It’s a literary page-turner featuring a reluctant anthropologist who travels to Afghanistan during the waning years of the Afghan war, only to find that her compromises come spectacularly undone.
Advance Praise for The Theater from Edan Lepucki, author of the gripping post apocalyptic novel, California:
“Powerful, compelling, and impeccably researched, The Theater is a story about war and love that simultaneously informs and entertains the reader. It’s at once sweeping and intimate, accessible and ambitious. This is a bold and important debut.” – Edan Lepucki, author of California
Here are a few more things I can tell you. While The Theater was in development, I was invited by the novelist Aline Ohanesian to answer some questions for The Next BIG thing blog hop. Aline’s novel Orhan’s Inheritance is just out, sweeping the country, and winning all kinds of awards and recognition.
And now, without further ado, excerpts from my contribution to the NEXT BIG THING Blog Hop.
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The Next BIG Thing Blog Hop
In this blog hop, I and my fellow authors, have answered ten questions about our book or work-in–progress, including behind-the-scenes information about how and why we write–the characters, inspirations, plotting and other choices we make.
Here is my Next Big Thing!
Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing
1. What is the working title of your book? The Theater
2. Where did the idea come from for the book? I began publishing articles about the post 9/11 wars before I left academia. I was most interested in Afghanistan because of the long history of war and resistance in that country. My research took me to North Carolina where, during a four-year period, my partner, an Afghan war veteran deployed repeatedly. It was through this amalgam of research and personal experience that the book took shape, with a female anthropologist, a civilian, reluctantly serving with a military unit in Afghanistan, forming close friendships with her counterparts and falling in love before things go terribly awry.
3. What genre does your book come under? It’s character-driven, suspenseful literary fiction, which is not an oxymoron!
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Fun question…but there are 3 primary characters and 58 secondary and tertiary characters. Too much to say about that here!
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Shhh! The Theater is under submission.
6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? InkWell Management.
7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Seems like forever. ha. I’m meticulous about details and I try to get everything vetted, so it took five years. When my partner was deployed, there were long periods of waiting, where all I could do was try to keep my mind occupied. In the end, all that emotion went into the book. I don’t think the book would be the same without the personal trials and hardship.
8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have always loved The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. The context, characters and time period in The Theater are much different, but both books show how war brings together people from disparate places, rips them from their lives and families, and throws them in a contact zone where they are irretrievably changed. The characters in my novel go through this kind of upheaval and confrontation. War tests their courage, their capacity for love and survival, their very humanity.
Talk about voice. There is nothing held back here. The narration also changes from gritty and desperate to poetic, even ethereal. And Johnson never gives his characters a good or right option, which to me, says more about the war itself and the world that created it.
As a writer, I love how the book defies so many of the conventions of the novel. It moves seamlessly across time and place, and between characters whose lives intersect and diverge. There is extensive use of letters, speeches, orders, even long quotes from journals and studies. This kind of intertextuality is not new, but Johnson does it so well that you don’t notice it. You feel yourself experiencing these odd bits of culture with the characters, inside the world of the story from page one.
Nadeem Aslam‘s, The Wasted Vigil is a haunting tale of five people whose lives collide in post-9/11 Afghanistan. This came out when I was already drafting my book, but has many similarities to my work and has been an influence and encouragement during the final stages of my process.
Also: Joan Didion, Democracy. Didion, just Didion!
And more recently, Lily King, Euphoria! Which is based on the complicated world of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead (called Nell Stone in Euphoria), and the moral dilemmas that arise for any anthropologist. There is also a juicy love triangle. Yeah, Euphoria! Just Euphoria!
9: Who or what inspired you to write this book? I covered this somewhat in question one, but here’s a little more. It took several years, after I was well into drafting the book, to understand my personal connection to my work, even outside of my life with my partner and friends. I have family members who served in the military and government, and I grew up with war widows on both sides of the family. I never knew either of my grandfathers. They both served in World War II and died young, not in combat, but as an indirect consequence of their service – drinking in one case, disease in another. This significantly shaped the course of all of our lives. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, my son was in high school and I saw the lives of young people overshadowed by the specter of war. I was teaching at UC San Diego and living in Temecula (Riverside County) at the time – San Diego is expensive (the joke among new profs was that only the chancellor can afford to live in the county). Temecula is best known for its wineries, but is situated between five major military bases (Camp Pendleton, Naval Base San Diego, March Air Force Base, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty Nine Palms, and MCAS Miramar). My son’s high school was directly across from an Army, Navy, and Marine recruiting station, and probably half of his classmates were military children with one or both parents deployed. Even for those that didn’t enlist or have parents in the military, war became a part of their consciousness and affected their life paths. To me, this was a microcosm of what we all live to one degree or another when our country is at war.
10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? As an anthropologist, Montana is trained to notice things other people do not. She has a unique perspective on Afghanistan and the Pashtun people, as well as the military units she works with and the duties they are called to perform. In the scenes where she is on humanitarian and other missions, things rarely go as planned. The Theater focuses on these unexpected twists and what happens behind the scenes. There are some interesting scenes involving new technologies and how that affects both Afghans and Americans. The love scenes and characters are also atypical and I hope people find them intriguing.
Did I mention that The Theater features 61 characters in 3 countries with Art brought to you by Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, Magdalena Abakanowicz, a rug weaver, and a dude who’s really good at field sketches…Music by Berlioz, Alicia Keys, MGMT, Death Cab for Cutie, and some Afghan folk musicians who don’t get their names on albums… Writers and Poets, including Mohammed Iqbal, Rumi, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf, Martha Gellhorn, Denis Johnson, Joan Didion, Pablo Neruda, Emmanual Levinas, a handful of other philosophers, social theorists, anthropologists, and more. Among the most prominent female characters is an M.D., two Ph.D.’s, and a Sergeant First Class in charge of a difficult job.
Recently, the Pentagon announced the official inclusion of women in combat. But women have been working in Afghanistan, in or near combat, often in support and intelligence roles since the beginning of the war. People just don’t hear about them. It is my hope that publication of The Theater will shed a little bit of light on their experience and that of civilians living and working in war zones.