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The Next Big Thing: Three Ways to Disappear by Katy Yocom

January 21, 2013

Note from Terry:  It is my honor and good fortune to host the wonderful Katy Yocom’s responses to The Next Big Thing. She is amazingly talented in so many ways but she is a gifted writer and storyteller. I have been privileged to know about her novel for some time now and I’ve followed it’s progress from first draft through the current agent representation. I’m so excited to look forward to seeing it in print and and am proud that you can learn more about Katy and her work on my blog. Katy…take it away!

Huge thanks to the kind and talented fiction writer Terry Price for inviting me to participate in The Next Big Thing. Not only is Terry a wonderful friend, he was also kind enough to host my answers on his blog. So if you’re here, you probably already know what a prince of a guy he is.

Without further ado…

What is your working title of your book?

Three Ways to Disappear. It’s a reference to the three siblings at the heart of the book—Sarah, her twin brother Marcus, and their older sister, Quinn—American children who were raised in India by their parents. Marcus’s sudden death at age seven is one disappearance, a loss that informs his sisters’ lives forever. The other two “ways to disappear” can be taken to reference the ways Sarah and Quinn each cope, as adults, with the legacy of the tragedy. But disappearance is also a theme because tigers—a species on the verge of extinction—play a central role in the story.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It began with tigers. A few years ago, a tigress at our zoo had a litter of cubs. From the moment I learned of their existence, I was obsessed. I visited the cubs weekly—soaked them up the way you’d soak up a painting at a museum. I always thought of my tiger obsession as something slightly embarrassing. At the same time, I was hungering to write a novel, but my brain kept telling me, “Katy, you can’t write a novel about tigers” … until one day a friend told me: “You know, actually, you can.” Two days later, I was on my deck, planting impatiens, and the first line of the novel whispered itself to me. And then the second line. I set down my gardening spade and raced inside to my computer. An hour later, I had a beginning and a good idea of the arc of the entire novel.

It’s a story of family, love, and loss. But tigers, both real and metaphorical, do figure prominently in the story. Tigers are fierce predators, but as a species they are critically endangered. Their wildness and vulnerability echoes that of my characters, particularly of Sarah, my protagonist.

What genre does your book fall under?

I like to think it will be considered literary fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sarah, the protagonist, is impulsive, fearless, large-hearted, and determined. A little reckless sometimes. Up to now, she has traveled the world as an itinerant journalist in war zones. Now, she’s back in India to work in a tiger conservation organization. Jessica Chastain has Sarah’s strength, ferocity and vulnerability.

Quinn, Sarah’s sister, has a stable home and family in America. She struggles with fear that the tragedy might repeat itself in her children’s generation. Naomi Watts would play her well.

Ursula is British and very, very crusty. I’d love to see Helen Mirren in her role.

William is an aging Brit with a certain sadness and loneliness about him. William Hurt could capture his melancholy.

For Sanjay, I’d cast Naveen Andrews. Sanjay is a man cut off by fate from love and children. It’s a role that requires longing and intensity, and Andrews amply demonstrated that smoldering quality as Sayid on Lost. Plus, he’s gorgeous, and what can I say? I’d like Sanjay to be gorgeous.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

After a nomadic existence constantly embracing risk, American journalist Sarah DeVaughan returns to the country of her childhood—a place of unspeakable family tragedy—to preserve the Bengal tigers of India, while her sister Quinn, also deeply scarred by the past and herself a keeper of secrets, looks to forge a new connection with her sibling by casting aside her fears that India will also be Sarah’s undoing; in the end, the gifts India bestows and the price it exacts leave the sisters’ lives changed forever.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have the incredible good fortune to be represented by Lisa Gallagher of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates literary agency. The novel is currently on submission.

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

About a year and a half. After I had the initial idea, I quickly realized there was no way I could write this story without traveling to India. I spent three weeks there visiting tiger preserves. It was a stunning experience—I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to see tigers living in the wild in some of the most beautiful spots on earth. The trip still seems like a dream to me—even more so, the fact that it was funded by grants from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. I can’t begin to express my gratitude to these organizations, which do so much to bring art into the world.

After traveling to India, it took me months to process everything I’d seen and experienced, including a number of close-up tiger sightings. Success in the form of a completed draft finally came at a writing residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City, Nebraska—another organization to which I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

When I tell people my book involves tigers, people inevitably reference Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, though the stories are very different.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The tiger cubs at the zoo get direct credit! As for the family tragedy, Sarah’s life as an itinerant journalist, the events that unfold in India—I’m not sure. Inspiration is a mysterious thing.

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

A forbidden love affair, a suggestion of magical realism, a collective of village women lifting themselves out of poverty. Characters torn from their families who make unorthodox new families of their own. A family of Bengal tigers struggling to survive. And then India itself—the sights, the smells, the sounds, the amazing people. A lot has been written about the India of cities and slums. The India I write about is rural India, where villagers compete with endangered tigers for food and water. I loved the people I met there, and I hope that shows in the book.

Next up for the Next Big Thing:

Cindy Corpier – find her on Facebook!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2013 6:32 am

    I’ve been hearing Katy read snippets from this wonderful book for a couple years now and wish her great success with the project.

    • January 21, 2013 8:11 am

      I totally agree Ellie. I was a PGRA in fall of 2006 when I first became acquainted with the work, then known as “Tiger Woman.” I am so proud of and for her and this wonderful work of art. I am so privileged to have so many talented friends…

    • January 21, 2013 11:28 am

      Ellie, thank you so much! I so appreciate your words. I hope all’s going well with your writing. Happy inauguration day.

  2. January 23, 2013 8:32 am

    Thanks for this, Terry! I too am a katyfan–way to go, Katy! The interview was a lovely overview of your novel.

    • Katy permalink
      January 24, 2013 2:35 pm

      Thank you so much, Kathleen! You’re very kind!

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