It’s a hard enough task to write and publish a novel. But to write and publish a novel when your mom is Sue Monk Kidd, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings? That’s even tougher. Still, Ann Kidd Taylor, whose debut novel, The Shark Club comes out June 6, has managed to both embrace being her mother’s daughter (see their book Traveling with Pomegranates) and hold onto her individuality. Here, Ann talks with her mother about following in her footsteps, the trip that inspired them to write a book together, and her advice for other daughters working in the same field as their mothers.
Ann Kidd Taylor: So here’s a question that I’ve been getting a lot lately. What’s it like to publish a novel when your mom is a bestselling novelist?
Sue Monk Kidd: And your answer is…
Ann: I tell them how proud I am of you and that it’s not really an issue for me. When we wrote our memoir together [2009’s Traveling with Pomegranates], it was funny how often people jokingly said, “So, are you two still speaking?”
Sue: It’s a real reflection of just how loaded the whole mother-daughter thing can be. I just got a flash of memory of you crawling beneath my desk when you were six with some paper and pencil while I was working, and when I asked what you were doing, you said, “Writing a book.” That’s when I first suspected you had the writing gene, or whatever you call it. That you weren’t just mimicking me, but that a genuine inclination was rearing its head.
Ann: True. I wanted to be a writer since I was a child.
Sue: You fought the notion for a while in your twenties. But then I imagine daughters rarely follow in their mother’s footsteps without a little resistance.
Ann: Or, in my case, a lot of it. I buried the idea of being a writer, then I buried the shovel. I just felt like I needed to differentiate myself from you, to forge my own path. How could I individuate if I ended up doing what my mother did? It was an inevitable surprise that writing turned out to be my path, too.
Sue: The thing is, even though you became a writer the need to individuate only intensified. I mean, we’ve become writing partners in the truest sense—we co-authored a book, you are the first reader of everything I write, and I’m yours. We give each other feedback, exchange ideas, troubleshoot story ideas, do a lot of creative exploring together. But we always arrive at a place where we have to separate and go write in a solitary space.
Ann: It’s the only way we can protect our individual voices and do our own autonomous work. It was crucial for me to find a space independent from yours. That question I started with… the follow up to it was whether I felt a sense of competition with you, or a sense of being in your shadow.
Sue: Do you?
Ann: Not as long as I’m true to my own vision and voice.
Sue: As we’ve been talking, I’ve thought several times about the literary trip we took to England a few years ago.
Ann: Best trip ever—Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. You’d just finished writing The Invention of Wings and you were so spent, you wondered if you’d ever write again.
Sue: Right. What I’m thinking about is when we were in their house in Haworth staring at their dining room table. Remember?
Ann: The guide was saying how Charlotte, Emily, and Anne used to sit there together in the evenings writing, tossing around ideas, helping one another develop their work, reading aloud, giving feedback. We came away talking about that table and being writers together.
Sue: It became a metaphor for us, a way to frame our collaboration—we called it the table of mutuality. But it strikes me suddenly that the Bronte table is only half of partnership. Not long after we were in Haworth, I went back to England and made a pilgrimage to Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House in Sussex. When I walked out into the garden and spotted her tiny writing cottage, I nearly cried from the sheer beauty of seeing the room of her own.
Ann: It’s the other half of a creative partnership. The room of one’s own. So, you have the Bronte’s shared dining table and Woolf’s solitary room.
Sue: Yes, the mutual collaboration and the autonomous separation.
Ann: That’s the paradox of our writing partnership and I’m thinking it’s the essence of a good mother and daughter relationship, too—creating spaces where we are independent, yet connected.
Sue: I had to give a talk once about the themes in my work and in teasing them out, I noticed that there is inevitably a ‘bad’ parent in each of my novels. There was an unstable mother, a terrible, overbearing mother, and an abusive father. Your grandparents didn’t deserve this, and I suspect it gave them pause. Thankfully, you didn’t pick up that particular writing trait.
Ann: So far.
Sue: Ha. Noted.