Dear Reader: A Q&A with Claire Vaye Watkins

Claire Vaye Watkins

This month’s letter-writer at Ace Hotel New York is Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus (Riverhead, 2015) and Battleborn (Riverhead, 2012), which won the Story Prize. She’s published stories and essays in Granta, The Paris Review, The New York Times, Tin House, and many others, and her essay “On Pandering” is one of our favorite things.

As this month’s Dear Reader author, Claire was selected by Tin House for a one-night residency at Ace Hotel New York, where she crafted a letter to an imagined audience. Her letter, still a mystery, will be placed bedside in each room later today—but first we caught up with her to talk rituals, secrets, and the writing that no one will see.

If you could correspond with any fictional character or literary figure via letters, who would it be? And why?

I’d love to go back and forth with Kurt Vonnegut, especially in this brutal and bonkers political climate. I miss his voice tremendously.

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?

I used to plan and outline, and I still do to some extent. But I know now that you can rarely anticipate the most interesting, crackling moments in writing. If it’s going well it’ll go somewhere completely surprising.

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?

On my best days I think of audience not at all and instead write only for myself. I’m often surprised anyone is drawn to my work, because even the published work is still private. Whenever anyone says they’ve read something I feel grateful to them and also a little exposed, as if they’d snuck into my notebook and snooped. My favorite stuff still feels like a secret.

What’s a book that you wish more people knew about?

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. A beautiful and bracing nonfiction book about the history of water in the West, which is to say the future of the American West as we know it.

Do you have any rituals, ceremonies or requirements that accompany your writing process? 

Acceptance and play are big parts of my writing process these days, so sometimes it looks like I have no process at all. I read a lot, and write in my mind for a long while before I sit down at the page. At that point I usually write longhand, in a notebook. I love the privacy of the notebook, and the tactile pleasure of it. Sometimes I write just for the pleasure of the pen moving across a piece of paper that maybe no one will ever see.

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.