Melanie Tem Interview

CD: Would that explain why so much of your fiction is based in very intimate human relationships: mother/daughter relationships, father/daughter relationships, sibling relationships. Essentially, all of your fiction uses the family as the context from which the story emerges. Is this a reflection of your professional experience?

Tem: I think it's more personal. I tend to live in the world on a microcosmic level. I'm a child of the '6Os. I went through that era's large-scale changing-the-world kind of perspective and have done my share of social action. In fact, my specific concentration in social work school was not clinical, but community services, the broader kind of scope. But in my personal life, and in both professions--social work and writing--I don't think like that anymore. There are lots of social questions I'm glad I don't have to make a decision about anymore. It used to be I thought I could make decisions, and that I wanted to make a difference on a social policy kind of level about things that mattered to me. But the older I get the more complex everything seems to me, and the less I am even willing to have an opinion about some of the more important social issues of our time, because I see things more and more and more microcosmically, how they affect people individually, day by day. So I think probably that intimacy in my writing comes from how I see the world, and how I live in it.

CD: Could you describe the genesis of each of the three novels you've published so far--Prodigal, Blood Moon, and Wilding. How each came to you, why you decided to write what you did, and also how each expands upon a standard genre motif. Prodigal, for example, has been described as a vampire novel--

Tem: I never thought of that until it was finished, by the way.

CD: That answers a question I had about whether you consciously choose motifs before you started writing, or simply find that as the story you're writing picks up impetus it begins to clarify itself in terms of a particular motif.

Tem: What would you say is the motif in Blood Moon?

CD: Telekinesis, or wild talents.

Tem: I never thought about that. You see, I don't read a lot of horror, so I actually hadn't thought about that, but you're right, the wild talent motif is what it uses.

CD: This is interesting, because it seems that in contrast to the work you're doing with Nancy Holder, in which you're going to try to expand or explore the possibilities of these motifs, it sounds as though for each of your three novels you weren't deliberately trying to do that.

Tem: Prodigal was written many years ago, so I can't remember exactly how it came about. Actually, Blood Moon was written before that, and it had a hard time selling, probably because it has the least "horror" of all my books, and people had a hard time categorizing it. In fact, Jeanne Cavelos at Abyss said she didn't want it because it's not horror. And Women's Press doesn't consider it horror because they don't think they publish horror at all. It still hasn't sold in the states.

Both of those books grew, like most of my work, out of characters. In Blood Moon the character of Greg is what drives the novel, absolutely. In Prodigal, at least some of the genesis came, I think, from wanting to talk about someone who was supposed to be a helping person, but who in fact fed off of troubles and created problems when he was supposed to be helping. So mainly that book came from my social work experience, because there are a lot of social workers who do exactly that, although hardly as literally as the villain in Prodigal. In fact, there was a particular social worker who had been involved with our family, against whom this novel is my revenge, who did a lot of what Jerry did.

SD: Is there a conscious connection between Prodigal and "Lightning Rod," your story in Lisa Tuttle's Skin of the Soul anthology, which is about a mother who takes on the suffering of her children and thereby deprives them of the capacity to grieve and realize their full humanity?

Tem: Well, there's a connection. Our son died five years ago this March, and much of my writing about loss has to do with the grieving process because it's such a life changing event, and it can be absolutely transcendent and transforming. It has been for me. And "Lightning Rod" is the only story I can think of at the moment that was directly therapeutic for me to write, because at the time I was getting trapped into that exact position, feeling as though I didn't dare let Steve or the other children feel the pain, that it was my responsibility to protect them. And realizing not only how dangerous it was for me but how dangerous it was for them, yet not being able to stop it because that's what mothers do. This is an example of how making the psychological/metaphorical truth of the story literal became therapeutic for me, because it did help me to get a handle on it.

SD: How about Wilding?

Tem: Wi1ding came to me in a conversation one evening with Richard Curtis, my agent, discussing my "next project." I am not a writer who has problems with someone giving me advice about what I should write next because Richard never tries to say "I think you should write this story," when it's not something that occurred to me. He doesn't plan my career for me in that sense. And I said to him "I have this and this and this and this as ideas----which one should I do next in terms of career development?" And one of the ideas was a clan of werewolves, or vampires, or zombies, or something like that living in a city, and it would be a story focused on women. The idea in my mind was the interplay between the traditional kind of old-fashioned ideas of what one of those horror motifs would be, and daily life in a city. That was the genesis, and as we talked I got interested in the idea of werewolves and anger, womens' anger, womens' sexuality, and the violence inherent in the werewolf idea. So that story was, I suppose, still-character driven in a sense, but not as specifically driven by an individual character.

It's also the book or story that has most surprised me by what's there. After I finished the book, I thought, "This has no redeeming social value. I don't know why I wrote this book. I don't know what my point is here, and it's going to be embarrassing if anybody likes this book." So I sent it away, and Jeanne loved it, and Richard loved it. I read it in galleys and thought, "Well isn't this interesting, I didn't see that before." And that usually doesn't happen to me. So it was kind of a surprise.

CD: One of the more interesting aspects of your writing career is your work with Steve. You're one of the few couples who have successful careers as writers in your own right, and as collaborators. It must be difficult for two writers, each of whom has developed a unique approach to writing, to work together.

Tem: No, It's not difficult at all. We have no difficulty collaborating. I think part of the reason may be that, just from the perspective of process, nothing by one of us leaves the house without the other having read it. Both of us edit each other's work, so in a sense we're always collaborating. The other thing is that while I think we have some important differences in our work--this is going to sound terribly hokey, but it's true--I think that the reason why our collaborations work is the same reason why our marriage works, and that is that we have the same way of living in the world, the same approach to life, and the same things that are important to us. Both of us tend to write character-driven work, both of us tend to think that human experience is the point of fiction. I think Steve's work tends to be darker than mine, on the whole, less upbeat. I like happy endings, or at least hopeful endings, and he doesn't, so we sometimes argue about that.

We've collaborated on a lot of different projects in addition to what everyone has already seen, including a high-fantasy novel called Daughters which so far hasn't found a publisher, and about half of a non-fiction book we would finish if anyone were interested.

Pages: 1· 2· 3· 4

No feedback yet