Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Where Writers Write: Chin-Sun Lee

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Chin-Sun Lee. 

She is the author of the debut novel Upcountry (Unnamed Press 2023), and a contributor to the New York Times bestselling anthology Women in Clothes (Blue Rider Press/Penguin 2014). Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in The Georgia Review, The Rumpus, Joyland, and The Believer Logger, among other publications. She lives in New Orleans. More at www.chinsunlee.com

Where Chin-Sun Lee Writes

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I always wrote at my desk—a thick piece of curved glass I splurged on and placed in a tiny nook in my entryway. In 2016, I moved to New Orleans, and though I still have that desk, now I change things up and write in different spaces depending on my mood. I think I became averse to writing at that desk because, for the first few years living here in Nola, it was my daily station where I worked a remote job moderating a virtual writing room. Thus, it became associated in my mind with that job and not my creative work. I also find that now I dislike facing a wall (though that was never an issue in New York), and even putting up a mirror didn’t really help.

So, nowadays, if I’m home, I usually write at my dining room table, where I can spread out all my notes and reference materials. I tend to do my serious drafting at that table, and sadly, when I’m under a deadline, I also eat there as I continue working. When I’m just editing or revising, I prefer a more relaxed space, so I’ll often sit on my daybed cross-legged, with my laptop on my knees, or on the sofa in my front parlor—unless it’s summertime, when that room becomes too warm.

In the last few years, I’ve found when I write at coffee shops, I can be really productive—which is funny, because in New York, I had the opposite experience, where the ambient noise, music, and conversations would distract me. But now I just wear earplugs or headphones, and I can totally tune out everything else. It also gets me away from all the distractions I indulge in at home: checking social media, digging in the fridge, playing with my cat, and so on.

My go-to spots in my hood are either the Orange Couch, which has a minimalist office vibe, or a newish place near me called Baby’s, for its chill retro ambiance and fantastic coffees, teas, and snacks. Both of those places also stay open later than most coffee shops here, which close at 3pm (I am not an early riser, so there’s no way I’m getting out of the house before 11am, unless it’s Mardi Gras). And where I do really get work done? On airplanes and trains! Having nothing else to do and nowhere else to go just allows me to hyperfocus. I don’t travel as much as I’d like to, but when I do, I always get a ton of work done.




A middle-class ex-Manhattanite, a cash-strapped single mother, and a young member of an obscure religious "sect," become entangled in a Catskills town.

Claire Pedersen and her husband are relocating from NYC to the Catskills--they have found a terrific deal on a property in foreclosure. The house has been in April Ives' family for three generations, but the single mother of three children from two different fathers needs the money. Claire and April are instantly antagonistic, but the sale proceeds, and renovations begin.

Soon after, Claire's husband develops an erotic fascination with Anna, a young member of a nearby religious community called The Eternals. Two marriages--and one pregnancy--swiftly and dramatically end. Claire is left to finish the renovation and salvage the life she had imagined. April, meanwhile, is dealing with her ex who has just been released from prison on a drug charge and the decision of whether or not to let him build a relationship with the son he has never known.

Life "upcountry" means close encounters between disparate social classes: Claire and April navigate mutual dislike and unanticipated empathy. The house remains a sore point for both. Anna is the unhappy fulcrum between the two older women. Shunned from The Eternals since the incident with Claire's husband, she yearns to return to their protection. Anna's strict views on transgression and penance are baffling to April; for Claire, Anna remains the embodiment of her ruined marriage.

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