From Judy Blume to Virginia Woolf
A Q & A with Lily King
Lily King is the author of the novels The Pleasing Hour, The English Teacher, Father of the Rain, and Euphoria.
Name a childhood hero.
Name a work you wished you’d written.
To the Lighthouse
If you had to order your work by how successfully you completed what you set out to accomplish, what would that list look like?
I think the trick is to accomplish more than you initially anticipated. That initial vision of the book is limited, because you don’t have the familiarity, the intimacy, with the material yet. so it’s an intellectualized vision, and not something more visceral and felt. I don’t like to rank my books, so I will pass on that part, if you don’t mind, but the most successful are the ones that have pushed passed that initial vision.
Name a writer in history you would’ve like to have been a contemporary of and why.
My pole star is Virginia Woolf, though if I’d been alive at the same time I’m sure I would be no closer to her than I am now, and even if I were in a room with her I’d be way too shy to introduce myself. But it would be exciting to read her books right as they were published and feel their genius, so fresh and shocking.
Name a work of yours whose reception you’ve been surprised about and why.
I’ve been really surprised by the response to Father of the Rain. I get a lot of emails from people saying either they grew up in that family [I write about] and it brought back so many memories, or that they grew up in a family that was nothing like that one, far away from New England, and it brought back so many memories. When you are taught creative writing, you are told that the particulars will invoke the universal, that if you can get as specific as you possibly can with the details of the world you are creating, it will resonate more fully. It’s the whole idea of Jung’s collective unconscious, I suppose. An older man at a reading of mine last month raised his hand during the Q & A and said that I had put words to so many emotions he’s had but didn’t have names for. This was such a shock to me—that the intense feelings i was writing about, so specific to my female character, could cross the gender divide, the age divide, and probably many other divides as well.
Correct a misperception about you as a writer in fifty words or less.
Oh, I don’t think I’m at all well known enough for there to be misperceptions about me that I’m aware of. You have to be perceived before you are misperceived, I suppose.
Name a trait you deplore in other writers.
As a reader, I don’t like being treated like a half wit. I don’t need a writer to explain things I’ve already understood. I like the author to trust the reader’s intelligence. I like subtlety.
Name your five desert island films.
Groundhog Day, The BBC production of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, Sense and Sensibility (the one in which the screenplay was writtten by Emma Thompson), Pane e Tulipani, Jungle Fever.
Name a book not your own that you wish everyone would read.
The Evening of the Holiday by Shirley Hazzard.
Name a book you suspect most people claim to have read, but haven’t.
Oh, the obvious one, Ulysses.
If you could choose one of your works to rewrite, which would it be and why.
I couldn’t. I couldn’t go back to any of them now. I think it might make me physically sick to try.
Share the greatest literary secret/gossip you know.
I’m really good with secrets. So my lips are sealed. Actually, I got nothing.
Name a book you read over and over for inspiration.
To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Evening of the Holiday by Shirley Hazzard, The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk, Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro, and Sunstroke by Tessa Hadley, to name a few.
Name the writing habit you rely on to get you through a first draft.
I try really hard not to pay attention to the voice who says it’s really bad and will never come out all right. That voice comes right back the minute you start a new novel and really can be very persistent and distracting and I just try to block it out and remember that I did get to the end of the book I just finished, and it wasn’t the complete disaster the voice predicted.
Name a regret, literary or otherwise.
I wish I had written the author (if living) of every book that has moved me and thanked them.
Name your greatest struggle as a writer.
Putting fear in its place in the closet.
Name a question you wish you had been asked.
Do have any quotes about writing that you have pasted on your lamp on your writing desk?
As a matter fact I do. Here is one of them:
“The true writer, that free servant of life, is one who must always be acting as if life were a category beyond anything the novel had yet grasped; as if life itself were always on the verge of becoming conventional.” –James Wood
Photo by Greta Rybus.