Alexander Chee: How Should My Novel Be Structured?

Many people have been talking about this powerful, intriguing interview with Alexander Chee, in which he describes the 15 years it took him to write his new novel, The Queen of the Night.

So how do you pull a novel just a few months before publication? That’s kind of a big deal.

At first I thought: OK, you really can’t delay things more than you have already. That would be a horrible thing to do to yourself at this point in your career. But the more I thought about it, I realized I would never forgive myself if I let the book go out and did not include some kind of redramatization of Lilliet’s relationship with Pauline. So I made the case to my agent. She made the case to my editor. We pulled the book back and I wrote somewhere between 70 and 100 new pages altogether. I was so in love with Pauline as a character. I felt like after finding all this new material that if I didn’t use it in the novel, I would just end up publishing some kind of novella about Pauline independently, which would be a shitty consolation.

Back in early 2013, you’d recently completed a new restructuring, and you weren’t totally comfortable with it. What was going on before you handed it in that first time?

The structure was basically the hardest part of the novel. I thought I was going to lose my mind making it all fit together. Sometimes I was sure I actually had lost my mind. There was an especially bad winter I was living in Leipzig, where I spent a lot of time walking around feeling like I was never going to finish and everything was hopeless. It was a very difficult time. The longer the novel was unfinished, the more it endangered my ability to keep teaching, which was a large part of my income. It endangered my ability to get further grants. It endangered my relationship, because I had been working on the novel so obsessively for so long that my partner felt widowed by the project. Everything in my life felt like it was being crushed to death underneath this problem: How should the novel be structured?

Read the whole thing.