When I wrote about New York, I did draw very much from trying to see myself in the city, walking around and feeling like it was this dirty, crazy, mess. Going back to the idea of time, there's an interesting continuum you work with. You start with the camp point, but we get to go back and forth Previously in writing a novel I would often take a more traditional view of time and feel hampered by that.
I made a deliberate choice to use time in a much more fluid way. I loved that I could keep going; it's like realizing there's no fence on your property. The structures that we have in literature can be very formulaic. How do you break out of that model? I always feel like "radicalize your work" is the way to think about approaching it. You have to entertain yourself, but you have to do more than that.
The reader is as smart as you or smarter. You should trust the reader. I think a lot of the dull parts of first drafts come from a kind of over-managing, intrusive writer who wants to direct traffic. The idea of taking out the parts that the reader could infer is very liberating, and it's weirdly part of radicalizing your work.
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It allows you to go to new places fast. The book involves the idea of the evolution of the self — the year-old, and the person that person grows up to be. What was it like to take these characters through so many life stages? Somebody asked which did I prefer, writing about the characters when they were young or old, but I realized I didn't distinguish that in my mind. They were an amorphous self, and they stayed that way.
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They could age back and forth easily and they were one. My friend and I would say we'd had a "sighting" when we'd see someone from camp and remember that person in their year-old self. When I see these people, I see myself with possibilities, before the disappointments and limitations of adulthood set in. But you've never lost the original you. How do you approach the creation of your characters?
Book review: ‘Everyone Is Beautiful’ by Katherine Center | write meg!
We talk about character and place as if they're shining distinct orbs. They never are. What really makes a character work, is how he or she works with other characters. They're not singing their separate arias facing the audience. The test for me was, if Jules worked, it was very much about her relationship with Ethan. If a character loves another character, you don't have to put the pressure on the reader of the question "don't you love this character?
When did the title emerge? Oh, I had it right away. The minute I thought they'd call themselves The Interestings there was no way that wouldn't be the title of the book. But again, who knows if it's good? You carry it around for a while. It has to represent the intent of the book. It's the kind of thing you'd tape to your computer, a Psalm or something.
Let's talk about gender byline disparity and the different ways male and female novelists can be treated. VIDA does incredibly important work because they just continue to show the disparities here.
The statistics are shocking about what happens, because you see it's part of a big continuum: who's reviewing, who's getting reviewed. It's not even close. The notion that yes, you can win a prize but does it have the same effect on a woman that it does on a man? Who are the writers that people see as authorities in our culture?
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It can be very depressing. If you look at the numbers you can feel like you've been slapped. Someone said, what can we do other than talk about it? I'm not against talking about it.
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Talking about it has to be good. But for me, writing is as good as talking about it, continuing to create this body of work by writers, some of them women, writing about women characters. Things change, and Jenny Egan wins the Pulitzer. But you're not writing for the prizes, you're just writing. If you're a women writer living in America today, you take note of the numbers, and you keep working.
In the acknowledgments to your book, you call Riverhead's Geoffrey Kloske an "excellent and, yes, feminist publisher. VIDA had done a series about the number of women writers published at the various companies, and Riverhead came out very well. And it's not just that. Looking at what they've published over the years, he publishes important work by excellent women and really supports it. He cares. What has the book tour been like this round? When you have a book out, it's like a period of protracted or concentrated megalomania, and it's really not normal, or good for you, or any of that.
I'm in the end of it right now. I've enjoyed this publication more than most. But I really enjoy writing much more. It's quiet, it's about possibilities. Then there's the stuff you're afraid of. I was on a panel with a writer who said afterward she was afraid to write certain things because she didn't want people thinking things. I too wish I could control the minds of everyone around me.
The pain of not being able to and having your work misinterpreted and being humiliated, all of that is dreadful, and I completely sympathize with that. Of course, the alternative is saying to yourself, I didn't do the work that interested me because of somebody I don't even like. It's a really great way to think about it. Because why are you writing?
Are you writing for a claim? Does it have to happen with this one? I want to continue writing and publishing into my old age. Some books feel like sorbets between courses. You weren't ready to write the next one, but you have to do something. VC: Did you ever think dating apps would be research for a novel as smart as yours?
Can you talk about how it became fodder for the novel? CCW: Haha they've been traumatic enough for me to at least get some use out of them. I've been jumping in and out of them since I was Queenie's age, and actually the way that I'm spoken to by white men hasn't improved in the last four years.
I still get called an 'ebony princess', a 'strong black woman that can dominate me' as well as being asked to go round for sex — as an opener. As I've grown older I've learned not to be so upset about it, and actually writing about these dehumanizing approaches in Queenie means that I've been able to laugh about them. VC: Female friendships are core in Queenie's life, can you tell us about the Corgis and who inspired them?
CCW: I have more friends than Queenie — which isn't a boast, it just meant that I had loads of different people I could mash together as a base for who I wanted Queenie's friends to be, because I wanted the friendships and dynamics in the book to be as realistic as possible. I think they all kind of needed to be women who had been friends with her for varying lengths of time, which meant that they had different understandings of her.
Of course, each of them being from different backgrounds plays a huge part in the friendship dynamic, and it was vital that they each had their own identities for themselves even though we don't know enough about them because Queenie doesn't ask them how they are. Darcy is named in homage to Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones's Diary , and Kyazike is actually the Ugandan name of one of my best friends I asked permission to use it obviously.
VC: What do you hope young women learn about love from your novel? CCW: Finding your true value does not — cannot — come from love, lust, or sex. It might sound corny, but finding your value has to come from within, and not from a partner. I'm not saying 'you need to love yourself in order to love someone else' I'm saying that it's vital that we as women understand our value in order to navigate love and its machinations.
VC: If you could place Queenie between any two books on a book shelf, what would they be and why? CCW: How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs because I love how Alexia explores so many facets of black womanhood — be this through class, age, or sexuality — and she creates so many vibrant, relatable characters. I was trying to think of a London novel but I don't think one like Queenie exists yet, so I'll say Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the second novel.
I reckon Queenie, an aspiring journalist, would at some point write a blog akin to 'Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks by a Non-American Black,' the fictional Ifemelu's anonymous one. Any suggested titles welcome, hit me up on Twitter! VC: So often as women of color, we end up being the warm and sassy sidekick. Is that a stereotype you were aware of and how did that shape the writing of this book from Queenie's name to her journey?
CCW: When I began writing I was determined that Queenie would not be the sassy sidekick to anyone, and that she would very much, for the period of time that she was sort of losing the plot, make herself the center of everyone's world. From dominating every conversation, to putting all of her disparate friends in one group chat, she more than makes sure that she's number one. I grew up being labeled sassy I'm not at all sassy , with people repeating what I say and adding finger snaps that I definitely didn't do, and being called loud.
I'm actually a real introvert and am very shy, sometimes cripplingly so. I also didn't feel that Queenie needed to be likeable. She makes a lot of annoying decisions and you want to shake her a lot of the time. Plus so many women, characters and in real life, are meant to be "nice. I'm not interested in being "nice. The origin of Queenie's name is an interesting one, too.
It came about when, frustrated at not having found a name worthy of my protagonist despite having written almost all of the first draft, I turned to my mum and asked 'what name might you give a girl who you would probably think was really extra but actually is quite nice and special? And so I had a lightbulb moment that I effectively stole from my mother.
Her name, when I found the perfect one for her, goes back to value of self, I think. We as black women have been long stripped of our value and have always had to police how we express ourselves. I think many of us have had our identities as black women thrust upon us and based on stereotypes.
These aren't in order of preference because they always change. CCW: Every single day of my life. I'm always like 'oh yeah I write best at night,' but if it comes to nighttime and a new series drops, then I can kiss goodbye to Microsoft Word and say a big hello to Netflix or Hulu. Me and Netflix, wow, what a love affair. When I die, I will leave everything to Netflix in my will. I've just started rewatching How to Get Away with Murder I'm not just saying that because Annalise Keating is a bad bitch and I need her energy to empower me through this Queenie release.
I love High Maintenance , and Broad City , which is bittersweet because this is its final season and I'm a die-hard fan. Plus I'm waiting not-so-patiently for Atlanta and Insecure to come back. I mainly watch American shows while the U.
Especially the Caribbean vs African diaspora war. VC: If you could have tea with any living author, who would it be? CCW: I'm very lucky in that I've met a few of my writing idols, so I'm going to reach for the stars and say the unreachable here: Toni Morrison. VC: If you could have drinks with any living author, who would it be? CCW: I don't drink alcohol, but if I had to, and then ignore the resulting indigestion, I'd say Alexia Arthurs who wrote the short story collection How to Love a Jamaican because we haven't met yet but always gas each other on the socials.
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She seems like an amazing person as well as a sensational writer. I adore her. And her two cats Cous Cous and Fable. Check them out on Instagram, they're mad fluffy. VC: You have a full-time job, what's your best advice for someone who's dreaming of writing a book but is also working full-time? CCW: I would say to write when and where you can — and if you can't write on your lunch breaks or on your commute, buy a designated notebook and make notes.
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And if a notebook isn't your thing because, like me, you always forget to bring a pen, just jot down any and every thought in the notes app on your phone before you can forget them. You'd be surprised how many plot points you can think of in meetings. It's also fine to put your social life on hold while you write — your people will understand. But I would also say that becoming a hermit like I did isn't always necessary.