This week’s installment of Ten Questions features Casey Plett, whose second story collection, A Dream of a Woman, is out today from Arsenal Pulp Press. “Obsolution,” a novella that threads through A Dream of a Woman in alternating chapters, tells the story of a trans woman named Vera and her evolving relationship with a cis woman named Iris. Beginning in college and extending into Vera’s thirties, the story tracks the full scope of their relationship—the romance, friendship, and separations—including the subtle hurts they both inflict on each other and episodes of overt harm. Plett reveals here, and throughout all the stories in A Dream of a Woman, how people mark each other. Vera and the trans women across the collection lose and find friends, family, and community. A Dream of a Woman traces their various efforts to build lives and act with care, despite the violence and hate with which they contend and carry. Casey Plett is also the author of the story collection A Safe Girl to Love (Topside Press, 2014) and the novel Little Fish (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018), which both won the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction. The author of a column on transitioning for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, she has written for Maclean’s, the New York Times, and the Walrus, among other publications. A two-time finalist for the Writers’ Trust of Canada Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ2S+ Emerging Writers, she lives in Windsor, Ontario.
1. How long did it take you to write A Dream of a Woman?
The bulk of it came in two periods: just before the pandemic, then during the pandemic.
Period 1: In the winter of 2019 and 2020, I lucked out with back-to-back residencies. The first one started in November and once I got there the five chapters of the novella “Obsolution” kind of poured out of me, so did the story “Perfect Places,” and by the end of February 2020 I had two-thirds of the book done. It was a fever dream process of creation, not unlike my first book of stories I suppose.
Period 2: This was a more considered and tougher period. I wasn’t able to revisit the book till May 2020, and what followed was a really hard year for many reasons you might imagine. Finishing the book during this time was a dark, tumultuous process. But I got out what I needed to, and by April 2021 the book was done.
I tend to write fast but I have long stretches where I don’t write at all. Feast or famine over here I guess. I love not writing though. Right now I’m not writing at all—it feels great.
2. What was the most challenging thing about writing the book?
The pandemic. “Rose City, City of Roses” and “Enough Trouble” came whole cloth out of quarantine life. And while the former story is explicitly set during the pandemic, and the latter is explicitly not, “Enough Trouble” feels to me like the real quarantine story, in terms of what’s in the story’s bones, in terms of what it has felt like to live in this world of constriction and isolation and grasping at nothingness.
Maybe that’s just a me-thing. Maybe it won’t feel that way to anyone else. I guess that’ll be for readers to determine.
3. Where, when, and how often do you write?
I have spurts and stops. I don’t try forcing it, especially not with fiction. With nonfiction, I think I have a more artisan-like approach to creation—I know what I need to do, I just need to put ass in seat and do it.
With fiction, if I feel myself forcing it, I don’t do it. Conversely, if I feel like I have an idea with fiction, and I need to work on it, I cancel plans, let the laundry pile up, and so on.
As for where, I like to leave the house a lot. I write in cafés, bars, libraries, restaurants. They don’t have to be nice; I wrote plenty of my first novel, Little Fish, at the Tim Hortons on Broadway and Maryland in Winnipeg. But changing up my physical space is big for me.
4. What are you reading right now?
I’m finally getting through Amy Hempel’s Sing to It. It rules. I just finished Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends and holy CRAP was that book good.
5. Which author, in your opinion, deserves wider recognition?
Off-the-cuff I’ll say Chandra Mayor and Erika Lopez. Queer women who are sad and weird and funny and honest and whose books are just stellar.
6. What is one thing that surprised you during the writing of A Dream of a Woman?
This is my third book of fiction centered on young trans women who are hot messes and are trying to be less hot messy, to mixed success.
I knew that going in. What surprised me, I suppose, is the degree to which A Dream of a Woman revealed itself to me as perhaps a closing chapter on that larger project. I think of A Safe Girl to Love, Little Fish, and A Dream of a Woman as a trilogy, maybe, a trilogy that this book closes.
I will always write trans characters; I can’t imagine I ever won’t. But I think if I write another book of fiction, it’s going to be part of a slightly different project. Who knows though. Of course maybe I’m wrong and I’ll be writing books like this for the rest of my life. That’s okay, too.
7. What, if anything, will you miss most about working on the book?
Nothing. It took so much out of me.
8. What is one thing you might change about the writing community or publishing industry?
I wish publishing could be both more humble and more responsible. Smarter people than me have made this critique, but like…publishing often wants it both ways: to be an exalted “good works” life-changing enterprise when that suits—#BooksAreEssential—but then whenever publishing gets criticism for being bad to its people or making unsavory bottom-line decisions, it can pivot and say, “Hey man, we’re a business, and it’s rough out here!”
I get it. Books can change lives. We know this. That’s real. And yes publishing is a rough business. I’m a publisher. I know the math is brutal.
And yet that wanting-it-both-ways culture endemic in publishing kind of stinks! I think we could all benefit from being a bit more humble—books can save lives, yes, that doesn’t make us ER docs—and a little more responsible. Working in a tough business is no excuse to treat people badly.
9. Who is your most trusted reader of your work and why?
Some secrets a lady must keep to herself.
10. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Don’t worry about writing every day if that doesn’t work for you. Or rather, to quote exactly, “Learn your own creative metabolism, and nourish it diligently.” That’s from Mike Barnes, who has a bunch of smart things to say in his “Top 6 Reasons to Beware of Top 10 Writing Tips.” The whole article is a good read. Check it out.