Writer Lily King experienced a nightmare that Many writers faced last year: her new book Writers & Lovers hit shelves just two weeks before much of the United States began shutting down under stay-at-home orders.
The novel, King’s fifth, follows current waiter and aspiring writer Casey Peabody as she strives to move from one phase of her life into the next amidst grief, joy, romance, and artistic fulfillment.
King had a launch party for the book, did a handful of in-person events, and then began the process of canceling events as her three-month, on-the-road book tour went fully online instead.
Staying at home for her book tour meant more time with her family for King, something she says she relished. Writers & Lovers still found an audience, too—it was Jenna Bush Hager’s March pick for The Today Show book club and featured prominently in "best of 2020" year-end lists—but King said that the psychic state readers found themselves in while stuck at home maybe let her get away with a happier ending than usual.
“I feel like I got lucky with the happy ending,” King said. “Not to ruin it for anybody, but I think that because it was at this time, people kind of allowed me a happy ending. I’m not a writer that has a fully happy ending very often, and I feel like I was able to get away with it because people were so eager for that.”
Now, almost a year out from the release of Writers & Lovers, King will celebrate its recent paperback release as she headlines the sixth installment of InPrint’s 2020-2021 Margarett Root Brown Reading Series with fellow author Chang-rae Lee. We caught up with King to talk about Writers & Lovers before the event.
Writers writing about writers writing can feel like a snake eating its own tail—what made you want to tell Casey’s story?
I really felt that it was the kind of book that I wanted to read in my 20s and 30s when I was just starting out writing. I feel like men write about becoming writers much more than women do. I didn’t feel like I’d read that story before. And personally, I love reading about writers. So I had no sense of taboo. And I’ve kind of been surprised by the question that comes up a lot: How did I dare to write about writers? Everyone knows you’re not supposed to write about writers. I never got that memo. (Laughs.) I love reading about writers.
It was tricky because I really wanted to write about what it felt like to hold a novel in your head and to have it slowly come out on the page. And yet, I knew that that wasn’t going to be very exciting for readers. So I had to be so careful about how I rendered it, when it came out, and always erring on the side of concision and saying too little rather than saying too much. But I wanted so much to convey how the imagination works, and how it’s always working, particularly when you’re not at your desk. It’s working when you’re not thinking about it, and then suddenly, Ah, that scene! Time brings you something you’ve been working on, even though you weren’t conscious of it. That stuff was important to me.”
You’re at a point in your writing career where you’ve experienced success. What was it like for you getting into Casey’s shoes, who’s trying to catch a break?
It was kind of surprisingly easy. I think it takes a long time to catch up with your own life. So much of me still feels like I’m waiting tables and trying to write my first novel. There are a lot of similarities between writing your fifth novel and writing your first novel. It really is just as terrifying. Maybe not just as terrifying, but you don’t feel like you have a road map just because you went somewhere else. Now you have to go somewhere new, and you have to find your way. That was really easy to capture because I’ve done it so many times and have so many doubts with every single book—moments where I swore I was going to quit, and that kind of thing. I have so many dreams that I’m still waiting tables and I’ve forgotten the mushroom soup, and I can’t get into the kitchen to get the silverware. That came back to me. I was worried about writing the waitressing scenes and not being able to remember the lingo, but slowly, slowly, slowly the lingo came back. It was easier than I thought to inhabit that life.”
Casey talks about what excites her about literature in the book when she’s doing an unexpected job interview, and she says it’s “that reverberation”—a book worming its way into your mind. Now that the book has been out for almost a year, what do you hope is reverberating with readers of Writers & Lovers?
I guess I just want Casey to feel like a real human being to people when they read the book. What I love about reading is jumping into another person’s consciousness. It just gives you a break from your own consciousness, which can be unrelenting and oppressive at times. I love reading to have the feeling of being someone else for a little while and seeing the world from their eyes and with their language. That’s what I want to reverberate. I love the feeling of reading a book and then putting it down, and going about my day, and having both my consciousness and the consciousness of that writer or that character in my head at the same time. It expands the way you experience your own life just a little bit. I love that. That would be my biggest hope: that I could give that to other people.
Feb 22. Tickets $5. Virtual event. More info and tickets at inprinthouston.org.