It’s been a busy month/year/life for Rosalie Knecht, whose much-anticipated novel Who Is Vera Kelly? (Tin House 2018) hit shelves this week. Already, the New York Times Book Review is calling it “gripping, subtle, magnificently written.” (“Knecht is the real deal,” the review goes on to note.) A social worker by day, Knecht is also Literary Hub‘s Book Therapist, author of Relief Map (Tin House 2016), and translator of César Airas’ The Seamstress and the Wind (New Directions 2011).
This month, Knecht took 24 hours to catch her breath at Ace Hotel New York. As the latest author to participate in the Dear Reader series, she spent a night at Ace and penned a letter to an imagined audience. What she wrote has been a mystery until today, when it’s being placed bedside in each room. We caught up with Rosalie to talk letters, the perfect reader, and resisting the urge to map.
TIN HOUSE: If you could correspond with any fictional character or literary figure via letters, who would it be? And why?
ROSALIE KNECHT: I would have loved to get Raymond Chandler’s letters. He was hilarious, and much easier to take through the mail than in person.
Do you map out your writing, or do you discover your path as you go? How often does your work go in directions you never expected?
A few times I’ve gotten all excited and mapped out a book all the way through, or half of the way through, and it feels amazing and productive and is much easier than just spending that time on writing scenes, but in the end, I’ve never written a project the way it was outlined. If an outline is too detailed, or it extends too far ahead of where I am in the writing, it completely deadens the work. I just lose interest in writing it. So I’ve learned that I can only sketch out the general shape of things, or it will take all of the fun out of it.
Dear Reader tasks you with writing for an imagined audience of strangers. How much do you think about your audience when you write? Have you ever been surprised by who is drawn to your work?
I don’t really think about audience. I think about an abstract, single reader, who enjoys exactly the things I enjoy and hates exactly the things I hate. I look forward to being surprised by people being drawn to my work in the future.
What’s a book that you wish more people knew about?
I Served the King of England, by Bohumil Hrabal. A picaresque about a boy working in hotels, while the twentieth century happens around him. It’s just really beautiful and funny, and brutal at the end.
Do you have any rituals, ceremonies or requirements that accompany your writing process?
Just that it has to be the first thing I do that day. All right, that’s a lie. I can maybe wash a few dishes, straighten the kitchen, look at Twitter for fifteen minutes, but if I get really absorbed in anything else before writing, it’s a thousand times harder to get started. Ideally I get up, the kitchen is clean, the cats have already been fed, and all I have to do is make coffee and sit down at my desk.
Dear Reader is a collaboration of Tin House and Ace Hotel New York. You can find this interview and other delights on the Ace Hotel blog.
Photography by Seze Devres for Ace Hotel New York.