(This post was first published on The Nervous Breakdown, Nov. 7, 2013)
Were you really planning on wearing that?
What – I thought you liked this outfit…
But for your first interview?! I mean, you could have tried, don’t you think? This is when people form their first impressions of you as a writer.
Oh, for God’s sake, does anyone really care if I show up in my Red Sox hat and pajamas? At least I brushed my teeth this morning. And what kind of a feminist are you anyway?? Would you be asking Jonathan Franzen about his fashion choices?
Hey…you could try taking a page out of his book. Anyhow, I just hope you’ll do a little better for your readings. Either that or you’d better have a damn good novel.
I have a damn good novel. And a pair of used red Miz Mooz chunky heels. I’ll knock ’em dead.
So you’re feeling pretty good about all this?
I have to say I’m scared shitless.
But I thought you’d been through this process before? The readings, the press attention?
As a poet. And frankly, nobody reads poetry anymore. A big poetry reading these days is you, your fellow reader, and one or two people who accidentally stumble in on their way to the rest room. As to press attention, you’re lucky if your mom takes a photograph.
So how’s that going for you – the poetry thing?
Is that seriously your question?
Could we please get down to business?
I’d have to change into something a little more professional…
Do you consider yourself a poet or a fiction writer first?
Suit yourself. I consider myself a poet first. For me, it’s all about language – image and metaphor and the sounds and rhythms of words. I love the mouth-feel of a well-turned phrase. The storytelling aspect of fiction came separately, as kind of a surprise.
Okay, excellent! This is beginning to feel like a real interview! So, are you always writing both poetry and fiction, or do you alternate?
I get easily bored. I alternate. When I started out in my 40s, I’d never written either poetry or fiction. The poetry came after I’d finished an early draft of The Other Room. And I really took to it. After working on such a huge piece, I loved the economy of it, the way you could just capture this one perfect thing in a sitting. Over the next several years I did a lot of back and forth. When I’d come to a standstill in my poetry, I’d go back to the novel and start re-imagining new sections or re-writing old ones. I found this to be helpful in a couple ways. First and most importantly, writing poetry helped me with precision: the more I wrote, the more distilled my prose became. And sometimes I just needed to get away from the huge-sprawling-mess of the novel in order to bring a clear eye back to the narrative.
You do some interesting things with form and timeline: some of your scenes actually “repeat” slightly in that the same bit of action or dialogue is replayed from different character perspectives. Can you talk about that?
I really like that kind of structural disjointedness. The thing about any story is that you ask ten people to tell it after the fact and you get ten (sometimes wildly) different tales. It’s done a fair amount in film – Rashomon’s the classic example – but less commonly in literature. I think what it adds is a sense of texture and depth – of drilling down into the story – so that the narrative feels like it’s growing in multiple ways. You get this kind of three-dimensionality in places you really want to highlight.
The Other Room has a feel of emotional urgency to it: Can you talk about how you generate and sustain that kind of tone?
Well, the book starts with the baby already three years’ dead. Clearly the onus is on the author to create new exigencies. You have to do something to keep people reading. Claudia and Josef are both still grieving, albeit in very different ways, and Claudia’s twin, Yvonne, just wants the whole damn thing to go away. There’s unspoken bad blood between Claudia and her Dad, too, and Stuart, the psychotherapist, is hearing Claudia’s story piece-meal, a sentence and a session at a time. So I think the urgency has a lot to do with the fact that there are all these stakeholders – all these people looking for different outcomes and with different things on the line. And underneath it all is this steady drumbeat: just how did the child die.
Kind of dark, isn’t it?
I just write what I need to write. I think the upside of that is that my work carries a sharp emotional honesty to it, and I think readers will respond to that. Obviously The Other Room traverses some difficult emotional terrain, but there’s also humor in it, and there’s love in it, and I think they’re rendered in all their messy, recognizable human-ness. Because I do think readers gain more from novels that push them to feel…to be their most feeling-selves – not in a manipulative or overly sentimental way, obviously, but simply by saying it like it is. For me, that’s one of the most exquisite things that fiction can offer – that experience of pure emotional resonance when someone describes something we’ve thought or felt without even knowing it. To some extent, the story itself matters less than the emotional authenticity of this exchange.
So, this is great! I think we’ve actually done this thing! Do you have any last thoughts?
Can I borrow your zebra-print pedal pushers dress for the launch?
We can talk about this late—
And maybe that chartreuse Jackie-O pillbox?
I think we really need—
Plus I don’t know if I mentioned it but we’re actually going to have the launch party at your house….
KIM TRIEDMAN is both an award-winning poet and a novelist. Her debut novel, The Other Room, and two full-length poetry collections, Plum(b) and Hadestown, release in 2013. The Other Room was one of four finalists for the 2008 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and Kim’s poetry has garnered many awards, including the 2008 Main Street Rag Chapbook Award and the 2010 Ibbetson Street Poetry Award. Her poetry has been published in numerous anthologies and literary journals including Prairie Schooner, Salamander, WomenArts Quarterly, and Poetry International. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Kim co-organized and co-chaired a collaborative poetry reading at Harvard University to benefit Partners in Health and the people of Haiti. The reading was featured on NPR’s Here and Now with Robin Young and led to the publication of a Poets for Haiti anthology, which Kim developed and edited. A graduate of Brown University, Kim lives in the Boston area.