Catherine Lacey on Playing the Long-Game for Her Fiction
“I’m making a body of work over a lifetime.”
Catherine Lacey is the author of the novel Biography of X, written by the widow of the titular X, an “iconoclastic” artist, writer, and mystery (it turns out) following X’s death. Set in a revisionist history of the U.S. in which much of the South seceded in 1945, the widow follows the clues as to X’s life around the globe, and the story becomes an exploration of grief, art, and love. X is a true “art monster” who has put her work above everything else, and a fantastic creation from Lacey, who is author of the novels Nobody Is Ever Missing, The Answers, and Pew, as well as the short story collection Certain American States.
Biography of X has already been seized on as wildly inventive, so we asked Lacey to tackle the Lit Hub Questionnaire, revealing her rules around reading and writing and the best advice she was ever given.
What time of day do you write?
For many years I was very rigid about writing in the morning and I may become that person again some day, but lately I’ve been realizing I like to read first thing in the morning so I’ve been writing at odd hours, late morning, late night, with afternoon tea, whenever.
How do you tackle writer’s block?
When I don’t feel inspired to write, I don’t write, and I don’t worry about it. If deadlines require me to work anyway, usually taking a long walk alone with no phone and no destination helps set me in the right state of mind to write.
What’s the best or worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
The best was to always be writing something new when a book comes out. John Wray gave me that advice before I published my first novel and I’ve always taken it. It helps keep everything in perspective, I think— to remember that I’m making a body of work over a lifetime rather than to focus on the reception, whether positive, negative or neutral, of any single work.
How do you decide what to read next?
I used to be very strict about what I was reading and when and why—as if I was in some endless school of trying to prove myself to some horrifying authority—but I read more intuitively now and I find it makes me happier and makes me read more. One book leads to another, the random book found at a friend’s house proves to be crucial, a used bookstore find jumps to the top of the queue, a gifted book sets me on some new path I couldn’t have found alone.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead?
I would go into furniture building and repair with Daniel Saldaña París.
Catherine Lacey is the author of Biography of X, available now from Farrah, Strauss and Giroux.