I am very pleased to feature Kaitlin Solimine as a Woman Warrior. Solimine’s debut novel, Empire of Glass, was named a Finalist for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize and has been called a “gorgeous experimental work” by BookRiot. Raised in New England, Kaitlin has considered China a second home for almost two decades. While majoring in East Asian Studies at Harvard University, she wrote and edited Let’s Go: China. She has received a Fulbright Creative Arts Fellowship, a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarship, the Dzanc Books/Disquiet International Literary Program award judged by Colson Whitehead, a SF Writers Grotto fellowship, co-founded academic media platform, Hippo Reads, and is associate producer of the childbirth documentary, These Are My Hours. She resides in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.
1.Describe a current personal challenge.
I am the mother of a toddler and while raising her, am attempting to write a second novel. While I am deeply blessed to have a partner who works a “traditional” job that is better at paying the bills than a writing career, and who helps us afford a nanny, it also means he’s away from home 2-3 nights a week and most mornings he’s gone before 6am. Finding the “room of one’s own,” both literally and figuratively, for creative inspiration and writing time, has been a consistent challenge.
So what do I do to address the fact that I seldom have time to write (as I write, toddler is shouting about not being able to turn on the oven!):
- I write in snippets of time, a sentence, a paragraph, whatever I can when inspiration strikes (the iPhone Notes section is great for on-the-go/at the playground writing)
- Music: Listening to inspiring music (for me this ranges from Vivaldi to Joni Mitchell to Drake!) can help set a mood and get me ready to write more quickly
- When possible (and when childcare is available), I sneak off to a coffee shop or the SF Writers Grotto to write without disruption
- Knowing other mothers who are also writers has also been critical to my writing life. WriteOnMamas and PenParentis are fantastic organizations that support parents on their writing journeys.
- At the end of the day, giving myself a break, and not counting the ways in which I’ve been “productive” is most helpful. Keeping a small human alive is a monumental task and doing so needs to be better supported in American society.
2.Describe a craft issue within your writing that might inform other writers.
My debut novel, Empire of Glass, is the chronicle of a family in post-revolutionary China. The novel begins when an American woman, known as Lao K, returns to China to attend the memorial of her former host mother, Li-Ming. When her host father, Baba, gifts her a collection of stories written by Li-Ming, Lao K finds herself responsible for preserving and passing on the history of the family. Beginning with the childhoods of both Li-Ming and Baba in the tense atmosphere of a China in transition, Lao K must find a way to do justice to the fragile string of events that comprise one’s memory while straddling the line as both insider and outsider to this family’s complex history.
It became clear to me that merely providing parallel stories (of the Chinese family and the American Lao K), in the form of alternating point of view by chapter, would not fully exemplify the tension nor the narrative of the “story within a story,” and the translator’s provocative role. In the drafting process, I realized I needed to highlight the translator by way of an opening translator’s note and then in footnotes throughout the text. The footnotes are meant to be disruptive but also informative, and they vary depending on what is happening in the “main” text and the translator’s relationship to it.
In writing, as in life, I think form matters (e.g., when you need to tell a friend bad news you usually couch it in some sort of “frame,” right?). The frame of a story, who is telling it and why, is just as important to me as the story itself. This can become tricky as ultimately the author is the frame, as is the cultural context, as is this Earth, as is the universe, etc. etc., but in general, I always find myself drawn to books that question the form of a book itself, and the reader’s experience of that material text.
3.What are your current writing interests?
Currently, I’m as fascinated by cultural practices of childbirth and parenting as I am in writing fiction—so I’m usually reading books about childbirth around the world, midwifery, and alternative practices (well, alternative to mainstream America). Because my next book will tackle these topics, I’ve found research to be both inspiring and onerous. The best advice I got recently was to allow the research itself to serve as a writing prompt (taking a quote or idea from the research to then prompt me to write a section, as little as 100 words!, of my new book).
As a “writer,” we often don’t give ourselves enough credit for the research time (which can be as demanding/time consuming as writing, if not more!). So having this interplay between the research and writing process, rather than keeping them totally separate, has been a huge weight off my over-achieving shoulders. At the same time, it keeps the writing fresh and grounded in research – an added bonus!
4.Money matters: any advice for those women who write?
Oh, man. I mean oh, woman. I mean, oh, gender neutral noun! Seriously though, this is a major concern for writers everywhere. Early in my writing career, I remember reading a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about early vs. late genius artists called “Late Bloomers.” In it, Gladwell traces the work of writers and artists who are early prodigies and those whose “best” works come late in life. The major difference for the late bloomers is the critical necessity of a patron. As Gladwell notes, “If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true level.” Cézanne, for example, the quintessential late bloomer, had several patrons, including Emile Zola and a banker father to finance his art career.
My point being: find a patron. That can come in the form of a spouse whose career can pay the bills (the Gladwell article chronicles writer Ben Fountain’s long career and how his attorney wife supported him), a parent/grandparent/other benefactor who can help offset costs (e.g., a trust fund… ah, wouldn’t that be nice?!), an established mentor who may not be able to fund your career but can open meaningful professional doors for you, or, when all else fails, a job that provides enough financial security, and flexibility, to pay bills and also find time/emotional space to write (those are few and far between but most writers will teach at the university level not only because they enjoy connecting with students but also because of the summers off—then again, beware the abuses of the adjuncting life, as writer Gordon Haber brilliantly navigates in his work).
Every writer needs a support system to continue pursuing their art, especially those of us aspiring to late genius…. And women especially seem to find “genius” late in life, likely because their lives and the overarching system are not set up to find it earlier (case in point: I don’t think it was a coincidence that of the finalists for this year’s Center for Fiction FIRST novel prize, 5 were women over the age of 37, all of whom are mothers—and the two male finalists were both under 30 and childfree).
5.Environment and health concerns?
A core thesis of my current work is the connection between childbirth practices and environmental degradation. For example, countries with the highest C-section rates (China, Brazil, the U.S.) are also amongst the top climate polluters while those with strong environmental protection practices and veneration for nature (Japan, Scandinavia) have some of the lowest C-section rates. I’m quite preoccupied with how we treat our natural surroundings and how we treat pregnant and laboring women and ways in which we can counteract current trends that remove the intuitive knowledge of a woman (and her body) from the experiences of childbirth and parenting.
My next novel will be a work of climate fiction that borders on magical realism (there’s an extreme climactic event that threatens the livelihood of a town)—that said, climate fiction these days isn’t so far-reaching as we live within new climate realities that threaten the lives of upwards of a billion people according to recent estimates.