10-Minute Writer's Workshop: Alexander Chee

Mar 23, 2016

Alexander Chee is a careful craftsman of language. As we came to find out, when we talked to him from Argot Studios in NYC, he is as measured, unassuming and thoughtful in his speech. A retiring man, who prefers to write in transient spaces, he also just so happens to have penned the most hotly anticipated literary novel of 2016 - The Queen of the Night, a sophomore work fifteen years in the making*.

Credit Sara Plourde

What's harder to write - the first sentence or the last?

[Laughs.] Maybe all of the ones in between. The first sentence came very quickly. What turned out to be part of the writing was finding the first sentence for the novel. The first sentences that you write aren't necessarily the first sentences of the novel. And then, of course, choosing the last sentence also has this incredible power to it.

Are there any habits you would encourage other writers to take up or avoid?

I had a number of habits and methods that I came up with in the writing of this. One was changing the font on a draft, and the point size and the spacing, so that it looked like something else entirely. There were times that I would do that and it was suddenly made strange to me again. I was able to see things that were wrong that I had allowed to stay only because they were familiar.

What is your personal worst distraction from getting your work done?

Imagining failure. As I say to my students, you can do two things with your imagination...you'll create two narratives: one will be the one that you can publish, and the other is a private narrative in which you are a failure. Both are incredibly vivid, but only one can take you forward.

Listen for the full interview!

*He assures us he didn't spend the full fifteen years writing...only eleven or twelve.