PW: There aren't many novels out there about pool, and certainly not many about women pool hustlers. What inspired you to make pool a focus of your second novel, Something Rising?
Haven Kimmel: In the same way that a character has only one possible name, and only one possible home and family, I think characters have only one vocation. I could see Cassie [the protagonist] very clearly—her taciturn nature, her competence, that level of drive and skill that she brought to everything. And also her silence, which was very important to me. Honestly, one day I was walking past a pool hall and I thought, That's it. It's a metaphor in many ways, for Cassie, for her family, and for this very flat landscape on which lives hit one another at angles.
PW: What sort of research did you do?
HK: I love to play pool, and I've been playing for years. I spent a year and a half going to pool halls four or five times a week. And I read all the other pool novels. There are very few, but the three sort of classic ones are very, very good—The Hustler and The Color of Money by Walter Tevis and a book called Playing off the Rail [by David McCumber]. And then I watched [instructional] videos and bought all the books like Billiards for Dummies. I immersed myself in it as you would in any research, although it was more interesting.
PW: In Something Rising and in your first novel, The Solace of Leaving Early, I got a sense of smalltown flatness, almost a claustrophobia. Is that something you set out to convey?
HK: No. That is a fact of life for a lot of people who live in the Midwest and for most people who visit the Midwest. But I love the Midwest, and I love farm country in particular. For some characters in these novels that take place in east central Indiana, that geography is salvific, and for some people it's a prison. It was a prison for Laura, Cassie's mother. In the end, while it was not for Cassie, she still had to leave. And I think that probably is closer to my experience of the Midwest than anything else I've ever written.
PW: Laura was such a sad character. There's a memorable scene in the book where she rants about a "woman chipper" that destroys women. Where did that come from?
HK: I was listening to NPR, and there was a story about—honestly, I can't remember if it was Pat Robertson or Pat Buchanan, but it was some mischief that one of those two was up to. I thought, I wonder how far the misogynists of the world would go. And then it just struck me as sort of funny—you know, maybe they'd run us through a chipper. It occurred to me that there's a woman's voice in the world that's trying to express the fear of that violence: What will happen to women if a certain category of person gets his or her way, and what will happen to our daughters? That went into the development of Laura.
PW: What about Cassie's sister, Belle? She is a scary idea of what could happen to a daughter.
HK: Belle is an archetype of women I saw growing up in smalltown Indiana, who were nearly destroyed by their environment. I feel great compassion for Belle. I think that anyone who has read [my memoir] A Girl Called Zippy will see shades of what could've happened to my mother, who was brilliant and trapped, in Belle.
PW: Would you call Cassie a feminist?
HK: Cassie is an ass-kicker.
PW: What are you working on now?
HK: My new novel is the last in the trilogy that started with Solace and Something Rising. It's new—I'm only about halfway through the first draft—and it concerns three disparate women who work together in a store called Hazel Honeycutt's Used World Emporium. Accidents like the weather change their fate. It's difficult. There's so much weight on the shoulders of this book, to connect the themes and the metaphorical thrust of the first two. It has to be resolved like a chord in this book.