The Next Big Thing

by Jeff Oaks

I’m up this week for The Next Big Thing, thanks to CM Burroughs. I’m writing about my chapbook coming out this year from the fantastic Seven Kitchens Press, run by Ron Mohring. So here goes:

What is the working title of the book?

Mistakes with Strangers

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The title poem came from reading too many memoirs in which the protagonist (I can hardly use the word Author here because the I seemed so constructed) is such a loser that the book becomes a kind of boast about how great a loser he or she is. I began to write a list of bad adventures I had, which quickly intertwined with fantastic adventures I could have had, much like that game we used to play in some classes where you’d tell three truths about yourself and one lie and everyone had to figure out the lie. At some point about two years ago, I realized I had a group of poems that all revolved around the idea of mistakes.

What genre does your book fall under?
Poetry. There are some prose poems as well.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I think a number of actors could take turns–Judi Dench because she’s said to never turn down an offer, Tom Hanks because at some point in my life people kept telling me I looked like him (I never saw it), Donny Osmond, and an uncredited actor whose face we never see but who is accompanied by a small quiet pack of black dogs.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Mistakes are humiliating, but humiliation might be, if Wayne Koestenbaum is right, where everything begins.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
4 years maybe?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Well, Augusten Burrough’s memoir’s title Running with Scissors gave me the start. But at a very deep level, this all started in about 1995 or 6, when my father’s second wife blurted out that I was a “mistake.” It hit me like a shovel, changing the earth under my feet and simultaneously clearing up a set of questions I think I’d been hiding from myself (i.e. why was I so much younger than everyone else in my family?). So I’ve been thinking about the issue of Mistakes for quite a while now.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I don’t think anyone will have to look up any words.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published by the fantastic one-man enterprise called Seven Kitchens Press, run by Ron Mohring. This will be our second chapbook together. His enthusiasm for my work and for the work of many gay, lesbian, and bisexual poets has been remarkably generous. I owe him a lot personally, for having revived my flagging ambition about four years ago.