I: I think we should begin today by informing the reader that there’s been a considerable break in time since we last met.


R: Why should we do that?


I: Well, I was thinking about how when we read a novel there’s no real record of the time in which it was written. The pages run so smoothly, are so ordered, we probably don’t put much thought to it. But since I’m talking to you as you build this novel, there’s an opportunity for the reader to know how long a novel takes and whether it’s written with or without interruption.


R: Some novels are written fast. I’ve heard people talk about writing as a fever dream. Once I was at a reading and this writer was saying he checks into a hotel and writes and drinks and, I imagine, eats shitty food until he’s done. I use writing to feel good, even if the subject of my writing is melancholy or dislocation. I love sublimation that feels like a very hot bath or the long runs I used to go on. Sometimes I do a stretch that is almost a split and it releases so many endorphins I start giggling. I have always wanted writing to feel that way.


I: Does that mean you don’t feel good when you’re not writing?


R: I feel good if my body and brain are engaged at the same time. I like to hike even though Danielle makes fun of me because I don’t see anything while we’re hiking. She’s stopping every few feet to take videos of woodland ephemera or water rushing down the same creek or just me leaning on my stick waiting for her to be done taking a picture of me leaning on my stick. I told her the other day, “I durate,” which is obviously not a real word, but I mean “I experience duration while hiking.” That’s the thing I’m doing most. Although I am very aware of the fragile trees in our forest; a new one falls every day, it seems, and now hangs in the crook of another tree that is soon to fall. I always miss the first sighting of the trout lily or the bounty of usnea, but it’s hard to miss the skunk cabbages when they return to the forest …


I: So do you mind if I say how long it’s been since we met? 


R: Sure. Fuck it.


I: When I first suggested we should tell the reader how much time had passed, it had been only a couple of months. But since you were telling me about hiking with Danielle, five years have passed. It’s phenomenal.


R: How do I even begin to account for the past five years? As pertains to this novel, something kind of extraordinary happened. I think the first time we met to discuss my lesbian novel was the spring of 2018, and I’d just finished reading Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience and Fiona Shaw’s Tell It to the Bees. I can’t remember how I’d gotten there, but I’d been on a foray through lesbian fiction—I’d also read Doris Grumbach’s Chamber Music and probably a Sarah Waters book. 

I realized that people who write literature (me included) are not comfortable with leaving people in a well-nourished and happy place. It’s not complex enough. It seems to suggest that all your questions have been answered. The women in Tell It to the Bees get run out of town. Rachel Weisz’s character in the book version of Disobedience is a player; she just walks away from the other Rachel. Chamber Music is a beautifully written book dominated by a wife and a nurse taking care of a brilliant though ill man, who don’t get together until after the husband dies, and then one of them dies! So, I was like, I’m going to write my own fucking lesbian romance, and when you finish reading it these women are going to be together and happy and sexy! 

The funny part is, I had no idea there was a lesbian romance genre of Happily Ever Afters, HEAs—like, hundreds of books, so many that I didn’t even need to go back to Rita Mae Brown or to the nineties, when many of them emerged, because they were being written now and profusely so. However, I didn’t discover this until the fall of 2018, and for some reason, once I did, I could no longer write this novel.


I: Because you could get the hit of a happy ending without having to write one?


R: Perhaps, initially. I accepted an artist residency in Berlin for 2019. Went there and didn’t sleep for a year. It was so noisy. I just stayed up all night reading, then stumbled around during the day, sitting on benches in old cemeteries, sometimes meeting up with people but largely walking the city on my own trying to figure out who I was in Europe. By the fall of 2019, I’d become a scholar. 


I: What does it mean to be a scholar?


R: It means I knew all the tropes. I’d read hundreds of books. Could name the popular authors. I learned a lot about what femme lesbians wear, according to these authors. The kinds of heels a high-fashion lesbian would wear. I learned how much people who are not writing experimental novels have their characters eat pizza and watch TV. It was like getting a tour through a kind of living that had eluded me before. I was always weird—even as a kid—living a weird life. And although I would argue I have a great capacity for emotional response (in certain conditions), reading these books somehow taught me about the little things. It’s weird, because I should have known them, but I think maybe I was cynical toward them.


I: Can I ask what you learned?


R: In better novels, I learned how people like to be consoled. I learned all the ways a person can get their feelings hurt inadvertently, how the hurt blooms and, if they’re not consoled, which most of the time isn’t because the other person doesn’t realize what they’ve done, what they’ve said or not said, how that leads to a great misunderstanding. I detest this … device? In romances. Hate it. I abhor communication drama—people misunderstanding each other, not being honest, not asking questions, acting out of fear.