Kathleen Lee on Writing Her Novel

Kathleen Lee will be reading excerpts from her new book, “All Things Tending towards the Eternal” in Las Cruces, NM, as part of the Nelson/Boswell Reading Series.

When: 7:30pm, March 6th
Where: New Mexico State University, the Health & Social Services Auditorium, Room 101A.

If you’re in Las Cruces, make sure to drop by!

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Q. You started off as a travel writer, essayist, and short story writer before tackling the novel. The novel has multiple points of view–it is essentially a web of interconnected stories that are heading for a shared denouement. What major differences do you find between novel and short story. Obviously one is long, ha ha, but how different are the conceptions, impulses, execution. And is the novel “based” in some way on shorter work?

A. No, the novel is not based on shorter work. And I’ve mostly failed in my attempts to extract some story-like excerpts from it. I don’t know how to describe the difference between a story and a novel. A story is a single cookie and a novel is a whole cake. Both are dessert but the cake is larger, with more layers and more complexity; with more opportunity for making a mess of things, too. I wanted to write a book that captured what it feels like to travel loosely, for long periods of time, and I thought a novel would be the best way to do that (in part because you can have all of those different points of view which seems a necessary feature of the portrayal I was after since I think that travel is about so much more than a single self, even a single self as a lens through which to see the world). It turned out that long, unstructured travel might be pretty much the opposite of what a novel requires: some kind of structure, and the necessity that the action and characters be fully engaged with each other. When you’re traveling, cause & effect exists in small, sometimes amusing, sometimes miraculous, sometimes irritating ways. But in terms of a driving force, cause & effect seems to relinquish its hold on your life, to be replaced by a kind of baffling, luxurious randomness. You buy a ticket somewhere for no reason you can imagine and later on you go someplace else and you do that over and over again and after half a year of this going here and there, the world has somehow become distinct to you, and your self within it. Which feels seamless and inevitable, but it’s not a novel.
             

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