The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop is a chance for authors around the world to tell you what they’re working on. The author answers 10 questions about their next book, and tags the person who first tagged them, plus at least 5 other authors. Peter Mountford, a Hugo House writer-in-residence and author of A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism and the forthcoming The Dismal Science, answers the call to blog and tags three other writers.

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I was tagged by the magnificent writer Colleen O’Brien, who was my classmate at the University of Washington’s MFA program and who is now getting her PhD in Fiction Writing at Western Michigan University. Thanks, Colleen! 

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What is your working title of your book (or story)?
I’ve got a few things cooking, but the main thing is revisions on my second novel The Dismal Science, which will be out in early 2014. And I’m working on a nonfiction book, which doesn’t have a title. And in theory I’m working on another novel that also doesn’t have a title, but that book and I had a falling out, so we’re not on talking terms right now. We’ll get back together eventually.  

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Dismal Science was born from a conversation I overheard at a breakfast table in the cafeteria at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when I was a teenager. My dad worked at the Fund and basically one morning I heard someone decide to cut off a superpower’s financial lifeline. Now, the guy who made this decision was a very sweet Japanese guy, very soft-spoken and charming. Here he was, eating this bleak little fried egg on toast and talking through this issue he was facing at work, he was wrestling with it and talking it through with his colleagues, and the upshot was that this country which was getting an amazing influx of aid from the IMF was not collecting taxes from rich people, and so they weren’t getting the kinds of revenues that they needed, and that they were capable of. So he said, ‘I guess I have to cut them off.’ People there that day at breakfast seemed to agree. The next day it was on the front page of the Washington Post—this whole country is reeling with his decision, and the global stock market is sagging. I was a teenager, just starting to understand the world, and it was very unsettling.

What genre does your book fall under?

Fiction.

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

Mandy Patinkin for the main character Vincenzo, maybe? Oliver Platt looks nothing like Vincenzo’s friend Walter, but he’d be perfect for the part anyway. If Penélope Cruz could cool it with her beauty, somehow tone that shit down, she’d be great for the character of Lenka. 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Publishers Marketplace had this: “...about a self-destructive and emotionally unstable executive at the World Bank whose outbursts have geopolitical consequences...” Fair enough.

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

My incredible literary agent Ayesha Pande sold it to Tony Perez at Tin House Books. 

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

Well, I wrote 120 pages in a month and then set it aside for more than a year. Then there were six months of pretty serious work. Another pause. Later, I had yet another burst and then it was done. Still have a month of revision ahead.

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

For better or worse, people don’t really write fiction about this stuff.  The character is an executive at the World Bank. Paul Wolfowitz has a significant role. A third of the book is set in DC, another third is in New York, and a final third takes place in Bolivia. It’s quite funny at times, I suppose, but it’s not exactly The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. That said, the narrator of Denis Johnson’s novella The Name Of The World is a nihilistic widower, much like Vincenzo. So there’s one. No one has ever heard of that book, I’m guessing, but it’s a book.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always been interested in the fragility and malleability of identity—the artifice of self—and this book is my way of digging around in that issue.  

Also, like a lot of my writing, the book plays with the tension between “political” or public questions and a deeply personal and character-driven story. My first book was situated in the world of speculative finance, and this one is wrapped up in the economic development scene.

There was a major question at the heart of my first book about the value of strategy.  Everyone in the book was trying to logic or game themselves into specific outcomes, but of course life tends not to function along such clean lines—life’s just happening at a pretty quick pace until one day it’s not happening any more. So it was sort of maddening to write the character of Gabriel in A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism because despite some reservations, he was pretty wedded to that game theory outlook, the idea that you can calculate, almost literally, your way through complex life problems. It’s an appealing idea: every problem is solvable, ultimately, if you can just find the right strategy. So I wanted to write someone who was even more adept at the game, but was completely aware of the fallacy of the game.

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

David Shields wrote: “The Dismal Science is mature and extraordinarily well written, almost indescribably sad...Mountford has a remarkable ability to articulate the tiniest nuances of emotion, but what is most astonishing in this book is that this young novelist is able to project himself so convincingly into the psyche of an aged executive at the World Bank.” 

Thank you! Next up:

Irene Keliher is a 2012-13 “Made at Hugo” fellow who writes great fiction and libretti. Irene and I take our kids to the park sometimes and complain about how we don’t write enough. But her book sounds great, and I can’t wait to read it. And...

Cheryl Tan, who is generous and smart and a great writer, and who is one of my favorite people. Also, her first book A Tiger in the Kitchen is the best food memoir published in years. And...

Elissa Washuta, whose first book My Body is a Book Of Rules will be published by Red Hen Press in 2014. Elissa is also a 2012-13 “Made at Hugo” fellow.