Melanie Tem Interview

CD: Do you find that using these supernatural motifs allows you to deal more easily with human emotions in your stories?

Tem: I don't know if "easily" is the right word. I think that the symbolism, which is a word I use with great care, or the metaphorical quality of horror themes and motifs, maybe lets me go farther.

CD: Could you elaborate on that? Do you mean that using horror motifs creates a safer, imaginary context in which it's easier to grapple with these emotions?

Tem: Again, I don't think "easier" is the right word. As I said before, one of the reasons I write is because there are things that I don't understand or that I'm curious about. I don't tend to write for therapy, but because I'm curious about things. The novel I'm working on now, Revenant, is a ghost story. It's not easier for me to write about loss, and about the difficulty letting go of people we have lost, by using the idea of a ghost rather than writing about loss directly. But it's possible to talk about it differently and say more things.

I'm reminded always of the writer Jonathan Kellerman, a clinical child psychologist who also writes detective fiction. In his book When the Bough Breaks, which uses a child psychologist as the viewpoint character, he has that character muse that if we try to understand human nature solely on the basis of psychology, it's like trying to understand Shakespeare solely on the basis of how the lines scan. We miss something.

As a social worker, I'm trained to understand human nature fairly analytically, and with all kinds of theoretical background. And I'm not denying the theoretical usefulness of that, but I think there are some things that cannot be understood directly, and I think that writing in general allows me access to things about the human experience that I can't get at directly. Writing metaphorically one way or the other---and right now it tends to be in the dark fantasy or horror field---allows me even wider access.

CD: This leads inevitably to the question of whether you feel your work as a social worker has had an impact on your writing, and if so, how?

Tem: Well, the obvious answer, which I think is true, is that any part of one's life has an impact on every other part of one's life. So of course, yes. More specifically, I think, there are a couple of particular interactions between the two careers that make sense to me. One is that I went into social work probably for one of the same reasons why I write. And that is, again, to try to understand somebody whose life experience I don't have. Another is that social work brings one into contact with all kinds of stories that can be told. I have never written whole cloth about a particular client, but very often I will come into contact with someone, and something in my mind will say, "There's a story in that."

Pages: 1· 2· 3· 4

No feedback yet