Brooklyn Eagle recently featured Suzanne Rindell’s much anticipated debut novel “The Other Typist.” Set in 1920s Manhattan, the story follows Rose Baker, a typist in a New York City Police Department precinct on the Lower East Side. In this enchanting, sometimes eerie story, Rose struggles to assert her identity as a woman torn between her role in the interrogation room – where, through her recordings of crimes, she has the power to determine men’s fates – and her role outside the interrogation room – where she is constantly reminded that she is of the weaker sex, subjecting to demands to file papers and make coffee.
When Odalie, a glamorous woman, joins Rose’s office, Rose becomes captivated by her new colleague. The two women juggle their professional and personal lives, navigating the shifting spaces that women occupy in both settings, and Rose struggles to cope with the unhealthy obsession she develops with Odalie.
At a pre-pub party at Manhattan’s Algonquin Round Table, Rindell read from her novel, which will be released on May 7. She introduced her book with a Dorothy Parker quote that was relevant to both the novel and the venue (which originated as a meeting spot for such literary figures as Parker and Robert E. Sherwood): “I wish I could drink like a lady / I can take one or two at the most / Three and I’m under the table / Four and I’m under the host.”
Rindell went on to describe the tense atmosphere that pervades Rose Baker’s life. While the conventions that women in New York City conform to are certainly changing for the better, Rose still seeks comfort in the Victorian ideals of sisterhood. “Rose is very prim and proper,” Rindell explained. “I have a lot of sympathy for her,” she said, referring to Rose’s intense fixation on Odalie. “Lonely people do strange things.”
Likening her two main characters to the cocktails created for the event, Rindell said, “Rose I wanted to be a bit crisper and cleaner – a little less fun than the Odalie – which is dangerous if you drink the whole thing!”
Rindell will appear in Brooklyn on Wednesday, May 8, to celebrate the release of her novel at BookCourt. In anticipation, Brooklyn Eagle spoke with the author about her inspiration for “The Other Typist.” She shares with us her writing routine, as well as a preview of what she’s working on now.
What inspired you to write this story?
I was working on my dissertation and was immersed in 1920s literature. In the course of my research, I came upon an obituary of a woman who had worked as a typist in a police precinct during the ’20s, and I began imagining what her life might’ve been like… the things she might’ve seen and the reports she might’ve typed. Soon after that, I began hearing Rose’s voice, and I was compelled to listen and see where it was going. So I guess it was a combination of having laid down a research foundation in the period, and then having a character I found interesting emerge. I’m always drawn to character-driven stories, and Rose had a strong personality from the start.
Did you spend much time researching the era – particularly life in New York City during the era?
I guess so, but as I mentioned above, that’s because I was already working on an academic dissertation in the era. I didn’t know I was writing a novel until it was really sort of writing itself! And when it comes to New York, I have a sort of love affair with this city. It’s like no other city in the world, and I’ve always been intrigued with the particular ingredients that have gone into its making. I love checking out the photo archives at the local libraries, or going to the various historical museums that can be found in town.
Both Rose and Odalie are such well-developed and crucial characters. Did you develop them simultaneously or did you have one particular character in mind at the outset?
When I started, I had Rose’s voice and an image of Odalie stuck in my head. I understood Odalie would be the object upon which Rose would fixate. And then I had that scene in the epilogue – SPOILER ALERT – the one where Rose cuts off her hair. I knew I wanted to end up in that particular scene, and then it became a question of figuring out how.
It’s helpful to treat it like a regular job. Monday through Friday, I try to get up, get coffee, and sit down to write. If my desk at home is not doing the trick for me, sometimes I go to a shared writers’ space where I’m a member, and work there. Two other things that are part of the routine are (1) rereading books I admire and trying to dissect what makes them so damn good, and (2) allowing myself time to daydream. The daydreaming feels lazy but it’s actually really important. I’ve always needed to picture my stories playing out like a film in my head before I can write them down.
What are you working on now?
A second novel, set in Greenwich Village in the 1950s, centering around the beatnik/publishing industry scene. I’m having a lot of fun so far with this new set of characters.
* * *
The May 8 event will begin at 7 p.m. BookCourt is located at 163 Court St. in Cobble Hill.
* * *
Daily coverage of Brooklyn writers, books and book events can be found in print (Brooklyn Daily Eagle) and online (brooklyneagle.com)