The Ancestry of Objects, Tatiana Ryckman
Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the novel, The Ancestry of Objects (Deep Vellum Books), as well as a novella, I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do), and two chapbooks of prose, Twenty-Something and VHS and Why it’s Hard to Live. Tatiana is the Editor of Awst Press and has attended residencies at Yaddo, Arthub, and 100W Corsicana. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Lithub, Paper Darts, Barrelhouse, and other publications.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did The Ancestry of Objects take to write, from conception to publication?
Tatiana Ryckman: Seven years? Oof, now that I say that, I’m not sure it’s good enough to have taken seven years, but there it is.
I wrote the first draft in two weeks in 2013. I was at Yaddo for a month with writers and artists much more established than I, and I felt an obligation to that space and the community of people there to produce as I never had before. That desire was facilitated by having someone else think about my meals and the fact that there was, essentially, nothing else to do. I spent six months or so on revisions and then started sending it out.
Nothing happened. I moved on. I put out a couple of chapbooks, I wrote another novella that came out in 2017, and upon returning home from the release party I fell into a deep depression and decided (in a very indulgent and unofficial way) never to write again. I threw away my writing desk. I gave up and it felt very grand.
About a year later Will Evans from Deep Vellum reached out and asked if I was working on anything. I wasn’t (see aforementioned petulance), but I said I had a manuscript I could dust off. A sent him a draft in February of 2019 and he generously offered to publish this weird, 17,000 word manuscript that I hadn’t worked on in five years. He suggested a light edit. You know, develop a few of the themes with a well-placed sentence or two. By the time I sent him the final revision in September it was 30,000 words. And that was more or less the end of it.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure?
Tatiana Ryckman: Deadlines are the best. I love a deadline. I wish I had deadlines for everything… reading books, responding to emails, finishing breakfast… How else can you be sure things will get done?
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?
Tatiana Ryckman: Other than recording my dreams, writing is far from a daily ritual, and I’m not sure I actively do anything in service of writing for writing’s sake. I have a very strict morning routine that I would say is important to my continued existence, and is perhaps in that way important for writing. Before getting out of bed (often before I’m even actually awake) I write down my dreams. Then I do yoga while reciting the rosary. Since Covid I’ve added a very lenient version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pandemic at-home workout. Then the day devolves into a mixture of snacking and looking at the internet. I’ve also instituted a “3-mile something.” Walk, run, bike—it doesn’t matter, but I have to leave the house, and I have to do it for three miles. Walking is probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?
Tatiana Ryckman: My first semester of grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts I worked with Diane Lefer. I reported to her that I was sitting down every day and making myself write for hours, and I sent her many shitty stories. In one of her generous and thoughtful letters in response to my work she said (something like) “where does this macho idea of writing come from? Why force yourself to write when you don’t want to? Go ride your bike.” If she didn’t say it directly, it was strongly implied that in order to write about life, you have to have one. That advice, along with an amazing reading list, broke my idea of what a story had to be, and how stories came to be, and that was certainly a gift to my writing.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?
Tatiana Ryckman: I try to keep little notebooks on hand, which means that my notes are never in one place, and usually forgotten at home, and then I end up writing on a gum wrapper or receipt (because gum doesn’t really come in sticks any more, have you noticed this?), and then I find these bits of trash months later, abused at the bottom of my purse, or tucked like a bookmark in the pages of an abandoned novel, or wadded at the bottom of the cupholder in my car. It’s a delicate system that I take great precautions against changing.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: Who are you crushing on art-wise?
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you choose?
Tatiana Ryckman: Installation. I have many ideas and none of the tools.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: Could you discuss the form of your book a bit more? (You use “We” and white-space a lot and I’d love to hear about this process.)
Tatiana Ryckman: The “we” happened on its own. Though I had to acknowledge at some point that writing in first person plural should serve some purpose. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that the narrator struggles to find her own voice and identity, and the echoes of her grandparents scolding her “we don’t do that,” is also indication some internal conflict about to whom she belongs. There may have been a week where I re-wrote the ending switching from “we” to “I”, deleted it, re-wrote it, and deleted it again. Ultimately that indication that “now everything’s fine!” felt too heavy-handed, and fundamentally dishonest, so I didn’t. But I think that experience of going back and forth about who she is is fundamentally who she is. There is an additional implication in the “we” that I prefer to leave ambiguous.
As for white space… that may be an authorial tick of mine. I tend to write episodically, even in my longer writing, and white space helps demarcate shifts between those episodes, whether the episode is a scene, a revelation, or a mood.
Sebastián Hasani Páramo: If you could describe The Ancestry of Objects in three words, what would they be? Why?
Tatiana Ryckman: Hm… all that comes to mind is “dour.”