an interview with Kate Christensen      
photo of Kate Christensen

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  Bold Type: This is your first novel...what's it like to be a published author? Especially one who is getting so much attention?

Kate Christiansen: It's extremely gratifying, of course--also a bit freaky. While I was writing the book, I worried that no one would be able to relate to it, that Claudia was a horribly unsympathetic character. But women AND men seem to be finding something of their own experiences in Claudia's trials and tribulations--which makes me worry for their sake, but of course it's a wonderful surprise as far as the book's concerned. Maybe those in-the-drink years weren't wasted after all....

BT: In the Drink has an autobiographical ring to much of your experiences as a young woman in New York mirror Claudia's?

KC: I did indeed find myself in the drink for a number of years: Claudia's general state of mind was mine, almost exactly, and the story's underpinnings, and some of its particulars, are taken from my own experience--but, because this is fiction and I made a lot of things up, her circumstances differ from mine in many important ways. Because it makes for a better story, her drinking, one-night stands and debts are wild exaggerations of my own relatively modest achievements in those areas, as is her job history--my own was rather less checkered, and therefore not as much fun to read about. But I did in fact flounder and flail throughout my late twenties, and my own slow crawl onto dry land was effected much as Claudia's is--through compassion and connection, and the dawning realization that I, and my own damn self, were not the center of the universe.

BT: What was the most interesting job you had to take while trying to survive as a struggling writer?

KC: None of my jobs were interesting. They were all boring and tedious, and I loathed every single one of them: editorial assistant, waitressing, temping, full-time secretarial work, phone-sex "artiste," adult education teacher--they all sucked, and although it's very hard to be a writer (as we all know because writers are always complaining about it), it beats typing someone else's letters or answering someone else's phone. I can't even type my own letters or answer my own phone. Enough said.

BT: How much of a role does New York play in your novel?

KC: I can't imagine In The Drink taking place anywhere but New York. The city's pace, attitudes, social strata and atmosphere all inform the story as much as anything else. Claudia's voice is a New York voice, the people she knows are quintessential New Yorkers, Jackie could only exist on the Upper East Side--it's a New York novel through and through, and if the New York novel is a sub-genre of its own, then In The Drink was greatly influenced by that master of the sub-genre, Dawn Powell.

BT: What do you think of this whole Bridget Jones' comparison. If not her, who are your influences?

KC: I trace Claudia's lineage through an august tradition of hard-drinking, self-destructive, hilarious anti-heroes beginning with Dostoevsky's Underground Man and continuing through Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, and David Gates's Jernigan, three of the books which have inspired me most. Other exemplars of Loser Lit (and there are many) include The Ginger Man, A Confederacy of Dunces, Bright Lights, Big City, Wonder Boys, Miss Lonelyhearts, A Fine Madness, and, most recently, Arthur Nersesian's The Fuck-up. I was consciously co-opting a predominantly male genre, another reason I worried that no one would "get" In the Drink.

As for Bridget and all her single-women-in-the-city cohorts, I think the perceived similarities between any of these books are as random and coincidental (and artificially created for the purposes of giving critics something to write about) as the similarities between any given group of novels by authors of roughly the same sex, age and circumstance: in other words, I think I have more in common with Lucky Jim than I do with Bridget, Eve or Jane, but because we're all standing next to each other and we're all girls, people think we're together.

BT: Will you we see Claudia again?

KC: Claudia will not, I think, appear again in anything I write. I'm quite confident that she's all right now, and no longer needs my assistance.

BT: What are you working on now?

KC: I'm beating my head against the formidable wall of the dreaded Second Novel, which I have begun anew a grand total of eight times in the past year or so, for a grander total of 300 horrible, loathsome pages of dreck and drivel. I've made the astounding discovery in the meantime that it's as hard to write the second one as it was to write the first. I am seriously considering returning to secretarial work, despite what I said earlier. I'd rather answer other people's phones--I take it back. But if I ever DO by some miracle manage to finish this thing, it will be about a gay man who tries to rescue his sister from a cult... what a stupid idea. I'm updating my resume as we speak.

BT: What are you currently reading?

KC: I like to have 5 or 6 books going at a time--at the moment I'm juggling Round Rock by Michelle Huneven, 10 Lb. Penalty by Dick Francis, Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe and Dreaming of Hitler by Daphne Merkin.

BT: So many critics this summer are talking about the latest wave of chick lit--how do you feel about this so-called genre? Do you think there is an equivalent male clique today?

KC: I think, actually, that there's a new wave of male AND female writers writing about being single, urban, ambitious but aimless, passionate but disaffected-- black humor abounds, as does self-deprecation, social satire, prodigious substance use, financial incompetence, professional floundering, romantic despair--the difficulty of connecting is an age-old theme finding new heights and lows among a new crop of writers. I would define this group of novelists as an end-of-the-millennium tribe of jaded, underemployed, overly-educated pseudo-adults approaching middle age without any semblance of the job security or dignity or marital longevity or child-rearing experience of the generation before us. It's weird being an adult now--we're like overgrown adolescents, many of us, and we're making it all up as we go, without role models or even much of a collective identity--many new novels are reflecting this zeitgeist, all in their own unique and disparate ways.

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    Photo credit © Matthias Geiger