new england writers at work

For Kate Christensen, getting down to work takes effort

Kate Christensen collects little good luck charms.
Fred Field for the boston globe
Kate Christensen.

Portland-based writer Kate Christensen made her debut in 1999 with her novel “In the Drink.” She is best known for “The Great Man,” her 2007 Pen/Faulkner Award-winning book about art, self-actualization, and the sex lives of the elderly. Her most recent book is “Blue Plate Special,” a memoir of food and other appetites.

CAN GET THERE FROM HERE: I left New York in 2009 when I fell in love with someone who had a farmhouse in New Hampshire . . . Portland, Maine, felt like the inevitable place for us. We finally got a house in November of 2011 . . . In Brooklyn, I had a studio outside of the house. That was when my life was a lot crazier. But now it’s so calm, I can just come upstairs with my coffee in the morning [and work].

LUCKY CHARMS: My little setup for writing includes all my little amulets, all these little beautiful things, which are good luck [and] imbued with the power to help me write. They’re on the bookshelf right by my desk so I can see them . . . They’re all smaller than a square inch; that’s my size requirement. I’ve collected them over the years, and I don’t remember where I got some of them. They’re all beautiful, and they’re all odd little things. There’s a little pink Japanese owl I stole from a restaurant. It activated my inner klepto — shame on me — but I had to have it and have had it for many years. There’s a mute from an old violin, and a piece of amber, and an old medicine bottle that looks like it’s made of mother of pearl, and a pillbox, and a shell, and a little Buddha or elephant god. Over the years, I’ve had a rotating cast of amulets. They rotate in, and then I give them away when I’m done with them.


DELAYING TACTICS: I procrastinate all morning. That’s when I get my office work done and answer e-mails and see what’s on the Internet and do laundry. It’s really hard for me, every day, to confront my writing. It never gets easier over time. I walk my dog at 11, and then I come back and start to panic because the day is getting old and I haven’t written yet. I don’t know why it surprises me every day, but I think I’m going to write in the morning, and I usually don’t get down to it until around 3 o’clock. That’s when panic sets in: If I don’t do it now, I won’t have done it, and I’ll hate myself. I was just talking to my boyfriend about how the fear of failure is so much stronger than the fear of success for both of us.

Fred Field for the boston globe
Christensen collects little good luck charms.

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FALSE STARTS: I’m concurrently writing two books, and they’re both due imminently. I know there must be a reason I’m writing them both [at the same time]. One is a nonfiction book about food in Maine that’s kind of a memoir . . .  and the other is a novel that doesn’t have a name or a shape yet. The early stages of a novel are so [hard]. I make about four false starts, and often these false starts can be as much as 125 pages. Finding my way into a novel is always half the battle.

BOOKSPIRATION: I have my books on a shelf that I can look at for inspiration. I had them in boxes in my cupboard, but I found that it’s nice to look up and see them, especially when I think I can’t do this. There are times when I feel just as flummoxed as I did when I was writing my first novel. It’s nice to look up to see the things I’ve actually finished and published.

Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson