An interview with JillTidmen by Fernando Pujals, Fiction Editor
I had the pleasure of sitting with Jill Tidman before she read at the San Francisco Motorcycle Club for the release of 15.2, which features her story “This is How I Saw It”. Amid the tireless club members serving liquor to the literary patrons, with their heathenish chatter, Jill—without her attorney present—agreed to answer some questions.
14H: This is your first published story so, first and foremost, congratulations. Does it feel like more of a relief or a burden?
JT: [Laughs] I don’t know. I think it just feels good. It feels like there is someone out there, in the ether. I’ve been sending [work] out there for a couple years and usually it comes right back and it’s hard to know what’s happening. . .
14H: In the ether?
JT: Yes, in the ether.
14H: Any horrible rejection stories?
JT: No. Other than just the little receipt-size papers. I think I just have tough skin.
14H: How do you develop that tough skin? In the face of all those tiny little papers.
JT: For me, I just love writing.
14H: How did you arrive at writing?
JT: I’ve always been a writer. It helps me in understanding the world, understanding myself. In the last few years I’ve started writing fiction and sort of reconnecting with my imagination, which I hadn’t done since I was very young. So for me it’s all joy.
14H: What were you writing before you were writing fiction?
JT: I was writing poetry. I was a philosophy major so I was always writing papers and stuff like that. I guess the writing came easier to me than multiple choice tests. I was always writing journals too, so I guess I just needed it. It’s been part of me.
14H: How has philosophy informed your writing?
JT: I question a lot. I look at things from different angles. That’s helped to try to sympathize with characters and create as full a picture as I can.
14H: There’s been a lot of news lately of pedestrians being struck by muni, by motorists, on the 101; can you tell us about the genesis for the story “This is How I Saw It”?
JT: Yeah, well, I used to live at 21st and Valencia, and walking up around the neighborhood people used to fly down Guerrero, and you know sometimes you have those moments when you’re driving on the bridge and you think... I could go off the bridge and end it right now. How it only takes one motion to totally change your life, and every one around you. So I had this one moment where I saw someone going and thought there was going to be a problem but there wasn’t one. But it stuck, it stayed with me, and I just wanted to explore what that... what witnessing something like that would do, to the witness. I also think that I’m not the only one that has those thoughts about doing something really detrimental on an impulse.
14H: Have you ever been witness to anything, small or big, that you’ll never forget?
JT: I’ve been fortunate, I haven’t seen anything that brutal. My husband, on the other hand, has a knack for always being on sight when there’s disaster, and he’s also the kind of person to run towards it and he knows what to do. I’m the one that gets pretty paralyzed. Actually, one summer we were at a school pool and a little girl was drowning and he went and in got her out of the pool and did the finger hook thing and they saved her life, so I witnessed that.
14H: How do you know when you’re reading something really, really effing great?
JT: For me, when I read the sentence three or four times before I can move on. Often, for me, it's about how people put words together, I almost can’t see the story until I’ve really seen the sentences first. I look at it through that angle and then I have to let go of the sentence structure and get into the story line.
14H: If you could elicit one thing from your reader, what would it be?
JT: A fresh way of hearing things, reading things. I always like to give people a different view of the world if I can, maybe something they hadn’t thought about themselves, to try to connect us all a little bit more.
14H: That’s interesting because in “This is How I Saw It” there are many thematic elements tied to images that reveal a sense of connectedness. For example the protagonist associating lamb with fertility and then one of the closing images and the idea of creation, is this a conscious choice in the writing, to have connected images?
JT: Definitely not intentional. It surprises me. That’s how I know though, when something is sort of coming together. When there are connections made that I never would have thought of, and then I look back and there they are. I never use outlines, really. My best work is when I don’t have a clue, and I just sit down and write and all of a sudden it reveals itself.
14H: This story takes place in a great bar in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco and that atmosphere is incredibly well-rendered; it seems vital to the frenetic tension in the story. How does place come into or influence your work?
JT: It really does, often the story comes to me as image and a setting or environment that evokes something I want to know more about. Often, by trying to get a better sense of the environment, I can see what is actually in it, and the story goes on from there.
14H: What are you working on now?
JT: Well, I did that write 50,000 words in a month thing.
14H: What was that experience like?
JT: It was crazy. I decided to write on a typewriter so I couldn’t erase anything which was liberating because I often, I mean, I can’t really move on to another page, until one page is really set. With this experiment, because of the quantity over quality aspect of it, if something wasn’t going right I just kept [writing]. I was so unattached to the outcome, and that was fantastic. The story starts in a restaurant, during a conversation over dinner.
14H: Have you gone back to it?
JT: I let it rest, and then figuring how to get it into the computer was a really nice way to review it... I didn’t have to retype all of it. I probably salvaged about two percent of each page. I was able to pull the stuff that felt like there was something to work from, so I’m stuck piecing it together, it’s fun, it’s just a new way to generate material, I guess.
14H: Is that important, to find new ways to to generate and reenter your work?
JT: Sometimes. Yes, because life gets in the way. I have a full time job, and lots of distractions it feels. If I don’t have something that’s really tugging at me, I can easily fall out of the habit so this is definitely a trick.
14H: What are some of your distractions?
JT: [Laughs] Other hobbies, yoga, swimming, um... [Suddenly, someone in JT’s posse yells across the bar to offer her a PBR, JT smirks]
14H: Is PBR a distraction?
JT: These guys are all a distraction. [JT begins pointing out the members of her faithful posse, life-saving husband included. Don’t mess with JT, her posse rolls deep.]
14H: Any favorite hills in the city?
JT: I used to love walking straight up 21st, it gets real raw up there. I go to Bernal Hill a lot.
14H: Rather be hit by a car or eaten by an animal?
JT: Car, get it over with quicker.
14H: On that note, We’ll let you go.
Jill Tidman's first published story, "This Is How I Saw It", appears in Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review Volume 15.2. She is the winner of the Bambi Holmes Award for Emerging Writers, an award selected annually by the Fourteen Hills Editor-in-Chief.