An interview with author Kelley Clink – CWA’s 2015 Book of the Year Award Winner for Non-Fiction, Non-Traditionally Published
By Christina Rodriguez
Losing a loved one is one of life’s hardest trials. It leaves you walking around with your heart at your feet. Walking into any reminder kicks grief into gear. In a different kind of same, author Kelley Clink explores how living with that grief can lead you to finding parts of yourself, something she needed after losing her only sibling, her brother Matt in 2004. This stunning debut won the Chicago Writers Association’s 2015 Book of the Year for non-fiction, non-traditionally published.
Clink says it best on her website about examining her life after her brother’s death while living a partial death of her own: “As the older sibling, I spent years believing that Matt’s bipolar diagnosis was a hand-me-down version of my depression, his first suicide attempt an echo of mine. Before his death this similarity was a comfort, a hope that he, like me, would continue fighting and flourish in young adulthood. After his death our sameness haunted me. As I grieved, I tried to make sense of our seemingly parallel lives, tracing the evolution of our illnesses in an attempt to understand why he had died and I’d survived.”
Hear Clink read from a different kind of same during CWA’s 5th Annual Book of the Year Awards ceremony at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Book Cellar in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. All are invited. The event is free and open to the public.
Here, she tells us how writing (and publishing) is everything you think it is and more.
How does Chicago influence your writing or writing life?
One night ten years ago, I sat in my basement and wrote the first draft of a short story about cleaning out my brother’s apartment. A few months later I stumbled upon a writer’s workshop in my neighborhood and shared that story. If it hadn’t been for those people, and for the rich, supportive literary community in Chicago in general, a different kind of same would never have made it out of my basement.
Give a general overview of your work. What are your main concerns, ideas?
Life is hard, scary, messy, and beautiful. Writing and reading about it makes it less hard, less scary, less messy, and more beautiful.
In one sentence, what is a different kind of same about? Tell me what interests you most about this book—or tell me other things, besides books, that might constellate around it.
Uuuuugh. This is really hard, but here-goes: “A different kind of same is Kelley Clink’s investigation of her brother’s suicide, her own history of depression, her journey through grief and, ultimately, her path toward acceptance, forgiveness, resilience, and love.”
Tell us about the events that led to you writing a different kind of same. What has been the most interesting?
I started writing a different kind of same because I couldn’t talk about my brother’s suicide out loud. My grief was liquid black and sticky, like an oil spill, and every time I opened my mouth I felt like it coated everything and everyone. The page was a safe container for that grief.
When I started writing about my brother and my grief I expected catharsis, healing. What I didn’t expect was the form that healing would take–a transformation in the way I saw my depression and myself. I became a different person while writing this book. It saved my life.
How does/do your identity/ies feed into your writing?
As a memoirist, my identity pretty much is my work. That being said, the longer you work on something, the more separate it becomes. You became a character, and that actually makes it easier to write about difficult topics.
Tales from the pit: Do you have any lessons or anecdotes to share about the publishing process or industry that you learned while publishing a different kind of same?
This is my first book, so I can only speak to the experience of a rookie nobody. Pretty much all the crappy stuff you’ve heard about publishing is true. It’s not going to give you self-worth. It’s not going to make you famous (or rich). It’s going to take a long time. It’s going to involve heaps of rejection. People are going to write shitty things about you on the Internet.
Pretty much all the crappy stuff you haven’t heard about publishing is also true: you’re not going to break even on what you spend on publicity; you’re going to have to write a ton of articles to “build your platform,” but you aren’t going to get paid for any of them; worst of all: you’re going to have to start working on another book while you’re still trying to sell the first one.
Seriously though, there are drawbacks and advantages to every publishing model. By all accounts, I had a pretty good experience. I chose a hybrid press, SheWrites, and I loved the control it gave me over my work. I also loved the people I worked with, and the community of writers I became a part of.
I do have one bit of advice: when you’re going over your final corrections, do NOT forget to make sure your author photo has been updated. Otherwise you’re stuck with the shot your husband took in your backyard when you were six months pregnant and in the awkward stages of growing out a pixie cut.
How long was the writing process for a different kind of same? What kind of research did you have to do? What was the most challenging part?
The writing process was probably about six years – four for the first draft, two for the second/third. I did a lot of research. I interviewed family members and my brother’s friends. I read through his email and blog archives. I listened to his music. Reading his blog was the hardest part for me. It primarily covered the last two years of his life, the years we’d had the least contact, and I was consumed with guilt at having drifted apart from him during such a tumultuous time. The first few times I read it were extremely painful, like I’d brought him back to life just to watch him die again.
Kelley Clink is a full-time writer and an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, including Gettysburg Review, Colorado Review, Shambhala Sun, Woman’s Day, and The Huffington Post. She is the winner of the 2014 Beacon Street Prize in Nonfiction and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives near Chicago with her husband and son.
To find out more about Kelley Clink, go visit her website here.