Tim Poland

Tim Poland

Tim Poland is the author of The Safety of Deeper Water

Did you set out writing this novel with an outline or did the story unfold as you went?
The novel grew out of a short story entitled “Escapee,” which first appeared in the Beloit Fiction Journal and subsequently, as the title story of my first book. I never work with an outline. My fiction, rather, pursues a character or characters in a situation, trying to discover where it will lead. Once the characters are in place, so to speak, I try, as Andre DuBus said, simply to “follow them home.”

Is the river described the New River Gorge, but with a different name? Or is the setting completely fictionalized?
Not the New River Gorge, though I live along the banks of the New River elsewhere. The setting is a patchwork quilt of bits and pieces of very real places in the Appalachians of southwestern Virginia, stitched into a completely imaginary place. As the poet Marianne Moore said, it’s “an imaginary garden with real toads in it.”

Would you describe yourself as a novelist, poet, essayist?
I’ve published poems and essays, true, but I think I’d describe myself primarily as a “fiction writer” for now. When I publish a second novel, then we can say I’m a “novelist.”

Describe the intimacy you feel when out in the water.
“When out in the water,” as you say, I step “out of my head.” I like it there.

Describe the feeling when you knew you were done.
I felt the need to drink a lot of beer and sleep a lot.

Did you plan on having gender play a prominent role or did that just occur?
The tweaking of stereotypical gender roles was overtly conscious only in terms of the initial conception to make the central character a fisher woman—as the book says, in “a place where a woman just goddamned wasn’t supposed to be.” The juxtaposition of contrasting elements is what makes for dramatic conflict, after all. And I’d have to confess that I was consciously determined that the central women in the novel, Sandy and Margie, would resolve things on their own terms and would most certainly not be “rescued” by men. But beyond that, the gender issues, so to speak, in the novel grow out of paying attention to the development of these two women as they are. I’ve known plenty of women with the sort of relentless and independent determination you can see in Sandy and Margie—and they’re the sorts of women I’ve always been drawn to. Simple, but true.

What were the difficulties you came across writing from a woman’s point of view?
It’s not so difficult if you pay attention to the women around you (and I have), and if you don’t presume to speak for women, in general, but rather to bring these particular women to life. One of the great transgressions a writer can commit is, as Foucault said, “the indignity of speaking for others.” I try to remember that—and just tell the story as it needs to be told.

Did you ever have the experience of showing a passage of this story to your wife/another female and her being like “rewrite this: a woman would not say this/act in this way.”
A couple of times.

Do you see a female audience for this novel or do you think a male and female audience would benefit?
There’s an obvious hook for a female audience, given the protagonist and situation of the novel, but I’d certainly hope it would appeal to both—it should—it has so far.

What book signings do you have scheduled in the near future?
Nothing specific scheduled right now until the West Virginia Book Festival in October.

What workshops will you be teaching?
I’ll be teaching at Wildacres Writers Workshop, along with Ron Rash, Ann Hood, and others, in North Carolina (July 3-10).

Do you have any projects in the works? If so, please describe.
Yes, new work is in progress. Sorry—I never discuss work in progress. Not trying to be coy or snotty—it’s just a quirk of mine—like a sports superstition—don’t want to jinx it.

What are your future plans?
I’m an English professor, a fiction writer, and a fisherman—it’s what I am—can’t help it. Ain’t nothin’ changin’.