Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King (winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize), the short story collections From Here (Aqueous Books 2013) and Close Encounters (So New 2007), and the novella collection Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc 2013). She is the founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww a co-host of The 510 Readings, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown. She also is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore, which Baltimore Magazine called a “Best of Baltimore” in 2010. She lives in Baltimore. Follow her on Twitter.
For part one of this conversation, click here.
JWL: So my next question: as a key novel element is an herb, saxifrage. How did it evolve in the germination of THE TIDE KING?
JM: I actually don’t remember why I initially was interested in the herb–it was the remnant of another novel I had started years before and was to be narrated by Heidi, who now doesn’t show up until much later in THE TIDE KING. She discovers her grandfather has this magical herb and must decide whether to use it to her own benefit later in life (ie, develop it pharmaceutically and sell it) or give it to a teacher who is dying of cancer but who had become sort of a surrogate mother to her before betraying her.
JWL: I admire how you recycle/reinvent/repurpose a plot element from another project.
JM: Well, I have to think all authors are similarly frugal! In fact, Stanley and Johnson were a completely different novel I had started as well. I was reading an article in an old National Geographic about a father and son team who part of a team of wreck divers trying to locate the old WWII ship the Bismark. In an epigraph at the end of the article, I discovered that the son had died in a car accident shortly after this article went to press, and I thought it would make a good short story. But when I began to write it, Stanley the soldier emerged. When I was looking for another file on my computer the Heidi story popped up, and I began to see the possibility of the two stories completing each other somehow. It was as if I had all these beads and finally found the necklace that would string them together.
But why the herb, I don’t know. It was probably in a dream I had. Most of my work comes from dreams or a sentence, usually a first sentence, comes to me and I have to figure out the rest of the puzzle. Usually I puzzle it out in my head and then write down the “solution,” as it were.
JWL: Check back next week for a continuation of this conversation.