The Mark Blog

Honest Space: An Interview With Lucy Corin

Photo credit: Robinberg Photography

At this point in The Mark program, I thought it would be helpful to reach out to Lucy Corin, my teacher from my masters program at UC Davis. I often look to writers I admire for guidance, and I’m excited to share some of Lucy’s inspiring thoughts with you here, on The Mark blog.

Shortly after completing the Emerging Voices Fellowship, I applied to the masters in creative writing program at UC Davis. Lucy was the faculty member who notified me of my acceptance, and she also sat on my thesis committee. My graduate thesis was a draft of the novel I'm working on now in The Mark.

As a winner of the 2012 American Academy of Arts and Letters Rome Prize, Lucy is currently living and writing in Rome. She has a new collection of short stories forthcoming in August 2013 from McSweeney’s Books, called One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses. Her other books include Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls and a terrific collection, The Entire Predicament. She’s an associate professor at UC Davis and earned her MFA from Brown University.

The following interview was conducted over email.

As a former student of yours, I'm curious: What's it like for you to be away from campus and engaged full time as a writer, as opposed to splitting your time between writing and teaching?

I have loved teaching and learned so much from it and from individual students along the way. But I'd been struggling with some burnout, so it's an enormous relief to have some distance from it, to read without thinking about what my reading might mean to students or to my professional life. I hope the result will be that I return to teaching with a different relationship to it. I think the burnout came from my frustrations with the institutional changes we're all familiar with as well as being tired of my own shtick.

As soon as I have a shtick I become sick of it. But since all my non-teaching time is devoted to writing, when I go back to teaching, I just want to rely on my shtick, even though that feels really false and lonely to me. And abandoning my 'way of doing things' or my 'take on things' would leave me swirling with uncertainty in public, and that is not good for teaching—not in lecture format or in seminar format, either. But departure from habit is essential to writing and to the time spent writing.

All of this is just to say that writing full time is wonderful and I can't get enough of it.

You have a blog, referred to on your website as a "public writer's journal.” What's this experience like for you? Do you find that it affects your work or writing process, and why did you make the choice to start it?

I decided to do it because I wanted to embrace the idea of having a "web presence" instead of scoffing at it. I wanted to use the space without the ambition of being a trafficked site—without fighting for visibility on the web. I wanted to make it an honest space dedicated to what I think is important about what I do, rather than a space that felt controlled by the aspects of marketing that I think are disruptive to the making of art. I did not want to reproduce or create chatter.

What is your current project and can you tell us a little bit about it? What are you excited about and what's been a struggle?

I don't think I want to say much more about the project than what's on my blog. Mostly because I'm in the phase where my ambitions for it feel so grand that it's embarrassing to say what they are. It's a novel I've been trying to write for a long time—throwing away many months and reams of false starts—while also writing another collection of stories.

On your blog, you mention your aversion to free indirect discourse,* both in your own work as well as in the fiction you read. Can you explain how you navigate this technique?

I don't hate it every time I see it, and I don't avoid using it myself. I've just been paying extra attention to my response to different uses of it. What I don't like is a kind of "Look at me! I'm not here!" tone from the author that I feel is present in almost every third-person realistic, or supposedly stream-of-consciousness, thing I read.

I cannot bear authors pretending they aren't in there when clearly, they are. I feel it lacks honesty. Perhaps people think that using that form of narration will save them from having to deal with one of the most essential—if not the most essential––dynamics of fiction, which is the fiction-ness of the fiction.

I'm reading Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, which is a very realistic novel, but it has an active relationship with its fiction-ness that allows me to embrace its form of realism. Its mode of self-awareness is in the spirit of its take on the world—and it gives the authorial presence a real authority.

I'm interested in how you feel about endings. Are there any novels or stories that come to mind that have what you consider perfect or near-perfect endings?

I think you can only approach the question of where a novel ends within the context of what has come before in the book. But it also seems to me that people treat crisis/upheaval as the exception in life, rather than the rule. I mean, it seems to me that people are mostly at war, and that there are only moments of peace. So I've been thinking that it's actually strange that novels supposedly begin and end with stasis. In this sense, stasis is the artifice, not change, not conflict, drama, or discord. Stories often end with a moment of recognition of the profound discord that might have been there all along, unrecognized, and that seems like a more 'realistic' aspect of traditional form than stasis-conflict-stasis.

In writing a novel I often feel the pressure of conclusion—resolution, the lapping of waves on a final shore. In my first novel the ending was like a long stutter: the narrator kept trying to tie up one thing after another, not forgetting any threads in the book and knowing she was having a last say about each. I am very conscious of the last things a book or story has to say on the matters it takes up. But I wonder, for my current novel, if there's a way to refuse that pressure to land on last words.
As for an example of a 'perfect' ending, I'll say that I always return to Lolita for 'perfection,' but I am really taken with the ending of this Paula Fox book for reasons that aren't really about 'perfection.' One beauty of her ending is that she takes that self-conscious shadow of the book and makes it literal in a totally surprising and very complex way. It's a new all-time favorite book for me. I bet I'll teach it...

*Free indirect discourse is a style of third-person narration that slips into a character's thoughts, coming very close to a first-person point-of-view. The effect is that a character's consciousness and direct experience are filtered through the third-person narrator.