Talking with author, blogger and small-press advocate Karen Lillis about her new novel. | Book Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Talking with author, blogger and small-press advocate Karen Lillis about her new novel.

"The narrator is trying to write a biography, but a relationship novel is sneaking in there."

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Author and blogger Karen Lillis is a keystone of Pittsburgh's underground literary scene. The Virginia native, 41, moved to Pittsburgh in 2005 after 12 years in New York City. She blogs about small presses and indie bookshops at karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com and organizes readings by visiting authors.

Lillis, who works in the University of Pittsburgh's Cultural Studies department, has just published her fourth full-length work of fiction, the novella Watch the Doors as They Close (Spuyten Duyvil). She next reads at 4 p.m. Thu., April 5, in 2201 Posvar Hall, on Pitt's campus.

What's Watch the Doors about?

It's being written right after a very intense affair. The lover has come and gone in a matter of three months. [The narrator is] left with a lot of questions, so she's processing who he was at the same time she's processing the relationship. The narrator is trying to write a biography, but a relationship novel is sneaking in there. 

It's set in New York?

I really wanted a chance to describe Brooklyn, and a chance to play off Brooklyn and Southwestern Pennsylvania [where the lover lives]. This is a sort of ode to Greenpoint.

Have you set fiction in Pittsburgh?

No. I really like to write about things in the past. Moving here really opened something up in me. I liked the idea of starting over, but I hated the idea of closing the door on New York. Everything in New York is now in the past. It's encased in amber and just looks like something I can write about.

How are small presses faring in the Internet age?

The small press and the very small press, they always adapt. I think there's a large number of people who are really harnessing the Internet; the recession doesn't seem to be really touching a lot of the small presses.

What are you writing now?

The adventures of my life during the eight years working at [New York's famed St. Mark's Bookshop]. Not only working at the bookstore, but seeking out used books at junk stores, and reselling them at various bookstores, and trying to sell them on the street.

I also want to go into my relationship with my friends via books. Bookstores and physical books mattered so much to my friends and I, that I just want to describe that, as opposed to just editorializing about it.

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