Interview: Lindsey Drager on Genre Bending, Writing Habits, and the Joy of Flaws

By Kate Barrett (interview) and Laura I. Miller (intro)

Sorrow ProperI met Lindsey Drager at one of Lighthouse’s quarterly Open Houses, and we fell into an easy conversation. While my pupils bounced from person to person, and my stomach flipped over on itself with nervous energy—trying to digest the all-at-once influx of Lighthouse patrons—Lindsey held steady eye contact and navigated my disjointed dialogue with ease. She exuded a calm poise that stuck with me. Considering she’s working toward her PhD at UC Denver, will soon release her novel The Sorrow Proper with Dzanc Books, and publishes regularly with places like Kenyon Review online and Web Conjunctions, she’s certainly busier than her demeanor lets on, and I find that admirable. We should all aspire to listen and to connect, even while engaged in life’s furious hustle. Learn more about Lindsey’s particular way of being below.

What are you currently working on?

I am wrapping up a novel tentatively titled The Region of Perhaps, a phrase I borrowed from Virginia Woolf’s genre- and gender-bending Orlando. The novel situates scholarship-infused gothic bedtime stories next to self-help group confessionals, performing through narrative the framework of M.C. Escher’s “Drawing Hands.” The central narrative concerns a scholar of Wrist Studies who tells his ice-sculpting daughter of the fabled Lost Daughter Collective while—or perhaps before or perhaps after—the Fathers of Lost Daughters tell of the mythological Wrist Scholar and his daughter who carves ice. The attempt here is to confuse the line between reality and artifice, folklore and scholarship, far past and near future in order to explore how the stories we receive are shaped by those who do the telling. Think theory meets science fiction meets fairy tale, with just a touch of gender politics. . .

I’m also plugging away on a book-length essay about, among other things, transgender youth and glass in nature and the history of the umbrella.

Do you have a particular writing routine? What is it?

When I am generating work, I write every day for at least 15 minutes, preferably very early in the morning, when the head is still a bit foggy and the mind full of possibility.

When I have reached the point where I need to start developing a project, I write at libraries. Public or private, on a college campus or downtown, large or small. There is something about being surrounded by text and words and books and voices from the long and recent past that charges me; for me, libraries are kinetic, so it is the perfect place to loiter in the space of creating.

What would you be if you weren’t a writer?

A glass artist or a gardener or a natural history museum curator. Or a private investigator or a paper maker. Or a book cover designer. Or a full-time beer vendor, which I did at auto racing tracks in the Midwest in my younger years, and which I found strangely fulfilling.

What kinds of things do you collect? (I think everyone collects something, but maybe that’s just me.)

I collect vintage cameras and books—not galleys or advanced reader copies, but books in final form—that have printing errors or mistakes. For example, one has the title of a different novel along the running header. Another is missing page 148 (in its place is a reproduction of page 24). It is one of my great joys searching for these flawed books.

What’s your worst habit?

Consistent and on-going self-doubt! We’re artists, remember?

Who is the best author no one knows about? What book of theirs should people read and why?

I would love more people to know Scottish novelist Muriel Spark’s work, mostly just so I can talk to fellow writers about her incredible use of future tense in fiction. I read Loitering with Intent (1981) and The Driver’s Seat (1970) in one sitting (that sitting was on a train ride from Denver to Chicago last summer) and already see how her work is influencing my own.


Along those lines, I think women working to challenge the conventions of the novel form deserve more attention: Carole Maso (Mother and Child left me breathless); Rikki Ducornet (The Jade Cabinet is That Book I Wish I Would Have Written); Christine Schutt (All Souls haunts while it enchants); Lydia Millet (My Happy Life is an object study in irony-as-horror); Thalia Field (Ululu: Clown Shrapnel changed the game for me); and Lighthouse’s own Joanna Ruocco (Dan beautifully occupies all kinds of in-betweens). These are writers who are transgressing the conventions of genre and in so doing, recalibrating the novel’s potential as an art form. For them, I am very grateful, both as a woman and as a writer of fiction.

Lindsey will be teaching 8 Week: Intermediate Short Story starting March 23Stay tuned here for more lightning interviews with instructors joining us in the spring!

Kate and Laura keep Lighthouse running, which is a pretty big job. Somehow they both find time to write amazing things.