Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Alexis Orgera, amazing poet and blogger and teacher and all-around great person, tagged me to participate in The Next Big Thing interview. Thanks Alexis!

What is the working title of the book?

I have a chapbook titled CITY OF TOMORROW being published by Greying Ghost Press sometime in the coming year. I have a full-length I’m calling ITHACAS that I’m submitting to contests and open reading periods currently.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

CITY OF TOMORROW: My grandfather, urban planning, and Oklahoma City. Like so many other cities, Oklahoma City got swept up in the 60s and 70s by the Urban Renewal craze and even went so far as to hire I.M. Pei to draw up a master plan for redeveloping downtown.. At that point downtown OKC had many great old buildings and true density.

Downtown OKC in the 1960s.

But the pull of the suburbs had begun and downtown had lost its luster. The City used imminent domain to seize property from owners and in the mid-70s went on a demolition spree in order to prepare the city for the “City of Tomorrow” that would be built in the old one’s place. Hundreds and hundreds of buildings were razed, but it could have been worse: the areas in red below were originally slated to be demolished.

Sadly the city’s economy went to hell in the early 1980s in the wake of the oil bust and the FDIC bank crisis, which began with the collapse of OKC’s Penn Square Bank, and so I.M. Pei’s vision for the City of Tomorrow never became a reality.

During this time, amazingly, given how conservative the city is, Baptist Medical Center in OKC was quietly performing gender reassignment surgeries at its Gender Identity Foundation. My grandfather was one of the doctors who performed these surgeries. Eventually, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma learned what was going on and, after a three-month investigation, voted 54-2 to ban the surgical procedure at the hospital.

I started doing some research about my grandfather around the time my second son was born and realized that the controversial vote to shut down the Gender Identity Foundation occurred two days before the demolition of the Biltmore Hotel, an iconic 26-story skyscraper. At the time it was the tallest steel-reinforced building ever to be demolished by explosive charges.

Biltmore Hotel Demolition.
Photo by Paul B. Southerland, from Daily Oklahoman archive.

 Gus woke up a lot during the night and I spent a lot of time rocking him back to sleep. It was during this time that I got the idea to write a novel about a character undergoing a gender transition at the same time that the city was undergoing a transition of its own and the hospital was deciding the fate of the Gender Identity Foundation. I never wrote the novel but I did write a long poem.

ITHACAS: Traveling to look for something, not finding it there, coming home to find that home has changed, embarking on a journey of introspection. The idea for the title came from Cavafy’s poem of the same name.

What genre does your book fall under?


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

CITY OF TOMORROW: David Bowie in 1977 would be the lead character. The doctor figure would be David Bowie in 2013. And the jazz musician would be Danny Glover.

ITHACAS: I would make my acting debut.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Instead of a synopsis, I’ll quote a representative line from the books.

CITY OF TOMORROW: “death and rebirth are constantly fighting /on some cosmic plain that half-resembles that barren field.”

ITHACAS: “Always becoming / nothing.”

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

CITY OF TOMORROW: I wrote and revised it in January 2013 but had been thinking about it for two years.

ITHACAS: I wrote the poems between 2006-2012 but spent the last half of 2012 revising, editing, working on arrangement, etc.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

CITY OF TOMORROW: See long-winded answer above.

ITHACAS: Louise Gluck, Alain de Botton, Facebook, and walking to work sometimes.

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

Greying Ghost Press is publishing CITY OF TOMORROW. Who knows about ITHACAS.

To keep this chain interview going, I tag the following excellent writers:

Hollister Hovey

Amanda O’Connor

Jarrod Annis

Matt Miller

Mary Graham Walker


Susan said...

Very interesting information about the ban of the gender reassignment surgery. I knew that your grandfather had been a pioneer in this area. Fascinating to write about it with the backdrop of the demolition of old OKC

Rachel said...

I never thought a book about demolition was going to interest me, but this one is exceptional. The info that appears in the text is not only about buildings themselves but about their story and their connection to other premises of the area. Last year I rented this buenos aires apartment and the lady from the rental company gave me a brochure which had the story and importance of the building I was staying in for the development of the city of BA!