She thinks it’s fucking great.
I know her a little, I have a hard time believing that.
My mother may be mannerly but she’s an innovator. She has no trouble finding ways to boast without actually having to say the title of the book. When she tells family, friends, strangers at the grocery store that her daughter has this terrific novel out and they ask the title, she says, “I’ll send you the link.”
The drama in the book centers partly on Jackson Pollock, the famous American supercentenarian who lived to be 128 years, 314 days old. Did you have to do a lot of research to write accurately about him?
None of that is true. Well, it’s true, but it has nothing to do with the book. The action in the The Fine Art of Fucking Up involves a daring and blunderous escapade to rescue a painting by the second most famous Jackson Pollock.
That makes more sense.
It kind of seems like you haven’t read the book.
Oh god no. I have these two really little kids, I haven’t read a book in years. If you could just give me the general idea that’d really help.
It’s a comedy, a romp. It’s one part earnestness, two parts shenanigans. I agree with my (Facebook) friend Gary Shteyngart, that we as writers are here to have fun. He said, “I want fiction to remain a vital force for entertainment and not just for contemplation. Both things can exist.” I think that idea is apropos. For me, being a writer is about a lot of things but above all, it’s about joy.
And fucking up.
Absolutely. The book is as advertised—it’s about the ways we fuck up our lives. I was interested in writing about the very moment when things fall apart, and how everything immediately preceding that moment tends to be a complete shitshow. I wanted to depict the way it looks and feels when a person realizes she’s not happy. And that she did it to herself.
I like a good shitshow but am I going to need to know art stuff to understand what’s going on?
Not at all. There is a little art in there but the book is more about sorting through personal identity, creative and otherwise. As I was writing I kept recalling the many conversations I’ve had around the question, ‘when does one become a writer?’ Is it the moment she puts pen to paper? Is it when she publishes her first book? Is it when she publishes her first successful book? Who knows the answer.
You were recently on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Book called Perfectly Flawed so I feel safe in my assumption that your central character is personally defective in one way or another. That’s convenient because I’m mandated by the Society of Pretend Journalists Code of Conduct to ask about your concern over the likability of your female character, and whether or not you think she’d make a good real-life BFF.
What a boring, bullshit question.
Whoa. You’re not allowed to be rude to the interviewer. That’s also in the Code of Conduct.
Well, you’re not supposed to insult the author. When you ask that question it’s like you’re saying, How did you manage it, writing an imperfect female character that is actually sort of like a real human person? Incredible!
I would never say incredible! like that, with an exclamation point.
Look, if I address likability the way you’re asking about it then I am affirming a demented conceit: interesting, complex, flawed female characters are categorically unlikable.
I don’t agree. I know these women. These troubled, promiscuous, dishonest, foul-mouthed, emotionally warped women. I am these women. These mothers. These lovers. These drinkers. These depraved mistake-makers and overreactors. These constitutionally perverse, hard-hearted, full-blooded, life-livers. I like them plenty. And, by the way, it’s not that I dislike conventional, unimpeachable women, and it’s not that I find them dull. It’s that I don’t find them at all. Literally. They are nowhere to be found. Which is, of course, because they don’t exist.
Well that wasn’t funny at all. I thought you said you wrote comedy.
It’s an important issue because it’s not benign. The stories we produce and the characters therein are necessarily tied up in a broader, consequential, often vile, cultural directive: here is what acceptable women look like. Behave accordingly.
Ok, you know, I think people just want to know where your ideas come from. Outer space, I assume.
The book was inspired by my time working at an art school. There are people out there, dear people whom I love for their understanding and forgiveness, that will surely recognize parts of the book. One of the first agents to read it said, “So you knew somebody that was in love with a model, huh?” Yes indeed. I knew her. And she made me laugh and she broke my heart. So I wrote about her.
Well that’s super creepy and invasive. Let’s talk about something a little less potentially libelous and a lot more fascinating. According to the old adage, a single picture is valued at 1,000 words. Assuming that’s true, make the case for Kim Kardashian being more prolific than Ernest Hemingway.
Well that’s just the stupidest, I mean, I won’t even dignify that…
[ED. NOTE: At this point Cate Dicharry stood, huffed, and left the room, effectively concluding the interview.]
CATE DICHARRY graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR with a BA in Political Science in 2003. Cate moved to China to teach English at Dalian Nationalities University and discovered a love for creative writing. Cate went on to earn an MFA in Creative Writing from the Low Residency Program at the University of California, Riverside. Cate lives in Iowa City with her husband and two small sons. The Fine Art of Fucking Up is her first novel.