Your questions answered

You need to figure out if you’re a poet or a ghost

Hamlet, Marcellus, Horatio and the Ghost, by Robert Thew, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access collection online.

A two part question from a reader this week:

Q : I’ve really wanted to ask you: how do you get better at writing faster? How do you write faster?

A: Online chat rooms made me a fast typist. But I don’t know any single way to write faster, though for many of us it involves removing impediments to thought and the expression of thoughts. Sometimes that is about setting and enforcing boundaries — I am currently trying to imitate my late mentor, Kit Reed, who wrote for three hours every morning, and would not let anyone interrupt her.

Meals…


Illustration showing Asian Americans protesting, covid virus, anti-Asian hate on the streets, small businesses closing, portraying a tumultuous 2020.
Illustration by Mark Wang for GEN

The Conversation

Alexander Chee and Cathy Park Hong on how the pandemic has cracked open discrimination against Asian American communities

In the fall of 2019 I received an email from the poet and critic Cathy Park Hong telling me she had written an essay collection, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning. She asked me to read it and consider it for a blurb. I receive roughly three or four requests like this on most weeks, sometimes as many as three or four a day, but I am a fan of Hong’s, and I remembered her indelible 2014 essay on whiteness and the avant-garde in poetry. If a collection from her meant more of that, I knew I wanted to see…


Lee Isaac Chung’s film took me through his past and into my own family’s story

Yeri Han, Noel Kate Cho, Steven Yeun, and Alan S. Kim, from the cast of “Minari.” Photo: A24

I’ve had the feeling of following the film Minari around for a few months now since the first time I saw the trailer last year. I guessed Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari would be different to me from just about any other film I’d seen from how, even those two minutes, evoked my own memories in a way I wasn’t used to. I laughed with recognition while reading Jay Caspian Kang’s New York Times Magazine profile of Steven Yeun, one of the film’s stars, when he describes this feeling:

When the trailer for Minari appeared online this past fall, I texted…


A story about a short story with at least three lives

I have a story in Kink, a new anthology that came out last week edited by R. O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, two writers I love and admire enormously. Kwon’s moving story of the genesis of the anthology is worth your time. My story’s title, “Best Friendster Date Ever,” one of my favorite titles, suggests what is easy to confirm: the story is not new, and in fact, this is the third anthology this story has been in. And in that is a story.

The first anthology was Best Gay Erotica 2006, edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Richard Labonte…


TV Diary

I hoped watching The Durrells In Corfu would offer an escape from the dark of winter, but instead, found a meditation on the male bumbler.

Last month, as the winter began, I was hoping to escape but there was nowhere to go: the surge of cases due to holiday travel had filled the hospitals across the country, and the weather was cold, which made socializing into cold walks with friends where we wore masks and yelled to each other from across the street. Indoors, I tracked the bad-faith contesting of the election by conservatives, the attempt to overturn the results in the courts and in state legislatures, and the botched vaccine roll-out by the Trump administration, all of it seeming to culminate in the assault…


The stories we have about apocalypse don’t seem to take in how they are actually happening in real time. So what are they even for?

A painted tableau of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the sky parting behind them, soldiers in disarray below them.
Victor Vasnetsov’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, through Wikipedia Commons

I have a new essay at the New Republic, a review of the new novels by Don DeLillo and Jonathan Lethem. I wrote about how their novels seem to describe different parts of the same apocalypse — the DeLillo describing the day it happened, and the Lethem telling a story from years later, in the aftermath — and so I wrote about them together and thought through the implications of that, and how while these novels might not warn us about the future, they might still tell us something about our present. Here is an excerpt:

In my speculative fiction…


Internet Diary 1/2–1/9

1/9/2021 Chelsea, VT

Too often, dates at the start of chapters in fiction do less than the author imagines. The reader does not remember them until it is too late, and meanwhile the author believes someone is following along, and so does less than they should to convey context, story, meaning.

Anyway. Today is January 9th, 2021. It is 1AM.

I have been up late looking at old photos in my computer to cheer me up. I took the below when I was traveling across the South Island of New Zealand for 9 days before the Auckland Writers’ Festival, using…


Internet Diary 12/22–12/29

Dreams, recipes, links, unsent tweets, facts that stick around.

A dark cloud against lighter clouds, framed on three sides by tree branches.
Somewhere in the Catskills in 2018. Author’s own.

“I’m sorry, I can’t read anything right now, but have fun with it!”

— Unsent tweet from my draft’s file, with no available context, back in March.

I woke up the other day to the sound of a doorbell. My husband was still asleep. I got up and went to the door and no one was outside. “Did you hear a doorbell,” I asked him, later, when he woke up. “We don’t have one,” he said. “We have a knocker.” There hadn’t been anyone at the door for so long, I didn’t remember this. …


Your Questions Answered

The first spell you cast as a writer, you cast on yourself.

A highway in Vermont, lined with trees, and white clouds and mountains in the distance against a blue sky.

What is often lost in talk of craft in writing is the exploration of sentiment, and as a result what is almost never discussed is how sentiment is described or even conjured, so this is a good question for aiming at that topic directly. So much advice about writing acts as if the emotional states in a piece of writing are already figured out and they just need to be described for the reader. …


Your Questions Answered

To prepare for a MFA in writing, focus on community and a writing practice first.

It is MFA application season, and I’ve received a number of variations on this question from students to which I have a single answer, and so I’ve decided to offer that answer here.

I typically do not answer as to their readiness with a single yes or no — I don’t want to be that powerful in such an important situation. They need to feel ready, and so I instead guide them on how to prepare. I extend the following caveat: do not let the application process be a referendum on your future as a writer. And then I offer…

Alexander Chee

Author of the novels THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT and EDINBURGH, and the essay collection HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL.

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