(This interview was originally published by ArtSake, the Blog of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, on Oct. 10, 2013)
Kim Triedman, author of the new novel The Other Room and the poetry books Plum(b) and Hadestown, answers our nano-interview questions and discusses finding the “other room” and how writing entered her life “like something dropped into an open hand.”
Why The Other Room (the title)? Why The Other Room (the book)?
The Other Room the book came to me as a kind of imperative. It just started spinning itself in scenes which had no real context. It’s a tale of trickle-down grief – the after-story of a young child’s death and its ripples through an extended family. It actually came out of a personal experience I had in which – for a very brief period – I absolutely (and erroneously) knew that my youngest daughter had died. As a mother I completely crossed the line. It was so total that the experience haunted me for months afterward until it gradually pushed its way out into the world. The novel, I suspect, was my attempt to process it.
The Other Room the title has several referents: there is the child’s nursery; there is the extra room in which one of the most climactic scenes takes place; and there is the therapist’s office where the mother (Claudia) goes each week to find her way through her tunnel of grief. All are variously referred to as “the other room.”
You’ve written for the writers’ blog Beyond the Margins. How has being part of a local community of writers impacted your work?
My story is actually pretty atypical. I have only been writing creatively for 15 years or so… I started when I was nearing 40. I was coming out of a depression and began writing to help process what was going on with me, and it all just kind of took hold. I wasn’t even an English major back in college, didn’t have an MFA – I wasn’t trained as a writer at all. So I had no writing community to speak of when I started and pretty much figured things out as I went along. I was a big reader, but I didn’t go through this process the way most people do.
I wrote the first draft of The Other Room over the course of a few years, pretty much in isolation. When I finished it, I knew it needed work, but I needed to put it aside, so I started writing poetry. I felt a desire to work on something more immediate – more economical – something I could capture and feel closure on in a day or a week or a sitting. So I took a few poetry classes and started working with a small group of poets. For several years, this was my primary writing support. I’ve only gotten to know members of the local fiction writing community this past year through Grub Street, which has been enormously supportive and helpful. It’s an amazing organization, and they play a remarkable role in this city.
How would you characterize the relationship between your poet self and prose-writing self: Tag team partners? Lovers? Competitors? Frenemies?
Definitely a symbiotic relationship. Each seems to work in the service of the other. The novel took me a long time to write, and I found it helpful to take long stretches away from it and focus on a different kind of writing. Writing poetry definitely helped me with precision: there is an imperative to distill things down to their essence, which is a very valuable impulse to bring back to something as unwieldy as a novel. And then going back to the novel for periods helped to jerk me out of periods when I felt as though I’d fallen into my own ruts, poetically speaking. With distance, you can see some of the tics you’ve taken on in your poetry, and it’s always important to push beyond those places. Otherwise you end up relying on what you’ve done before, and that’s not worth anything to anybody – least of all yourself. So I do like going back and forth, and both my poetry and my prose are surely better for the zigzagging.
Share a surprise twist in the Kim Triedman story.
Well I suppose the twist relates to the circuitous and seemingly arbitrary pathway that brought me here. I was a math nerd. I never took a class in creative anything. I was terrified of throwing my voice out into the ring. But somehow my life kind of led me where I needed to be. That’s very much the way it felt. I started writing, and I didn’t find out for weeks or months that I was writing a novel. In fragments, from multiple points of view. I took a break from the novel and poetry happened. It’s all felt very serendipitous. Like something dropped into an open hand.
Computer, longhand, or typewriter?
Longhand and computer. I almost always start a poem or a scene longhand. Once it starts motoring itself, I’ll switch over to computer. But I need to capture those first few words or paragraphs on paper. Generally sitting outside, on my front stoop, a dog on either side.
If forced to choose, would you be a magic marker, a crayon, or a #2 pencil?
I’d have to say a crayon. I spent so much of my earlier life being careful. Both the #2 pencil and the magic marker makes me think of those years: directed, deliberate, predictable. Somehow I missed the reckless, messy, crayon-outside-the-lines stage, and I like to think I’m reclaiming it now in my later years.
How do you know when your work is done?
When my last line finds me. Especially in a poem: I never know where I’m going until I land at the end, and only then do I realize what I needed to write about. It worked that way with the novel, too. At first I didn’t know I was writing one. Then I did. Then I had to get to the end to find out why I had to write it.
What do you listen to while you create?
Do you live with any animals?
Yep. Dogs and cats. Always have, always will.
What are you currently reading?
The Fifty-First State by Lisa Borders.
That’s a good question. By happenstance three of my books (The Other Room and two poetry collections, Plum(b) and Hadestown) are all releasing this year. That all adds up to a lot of years’ worth of work. So I’m afraid I’m going to have a very big blank page staring me in the face come 2014. I expect I’ll start out with poetry, although I do have an idea for another novel. Maybe it won’t take me so long to write the next one!