The Fine Art of Fucking Up: An Author Spotlight on Cate Dicharry

Written by Nicole Horowitz

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Following the debut of her first novel, The Fine Art of Fucking Up (The Unnamed Press, 2015), I caught up with novelist Cate Dicharry to talk academia, Jackson Pollock, and all things writing.

 

What’s your background as a writer?
I’m from Iowa City, Iowa, originally, but grew up admiring the West Coast, which is why I went to school at Louis and Clark College [in Portland, OR]. Though I was always a reader, the idea of being a creative writer never seemed realistic to me. I also didn’t know if I had the aptitude for it; I studied political science instead.

 

What changed your mind?
When I was twenty-three years old I spent a year in China teaching English. And while I didn’t really have a computer or a cell-phone, I found myself writing longhand letters to my family—I composed them into stories about what I was doing and would go type [them] up at an internet café. I also found an English language section at the university bookstore so I was reading constantly; that’s what I spent my free time doing. After a year, I realized that I had spent a year reading and writing—writing non-fiction, obviously. But, it was the first time that I thought maybe I could give writing a real shot. From there I went to graduate school and it took off. I started this book my first day at UC Riverside’s Low Residency Program and finished the first draft towards the end of my time there.

 

“If this sort of title offends you, this probably isn’t a book you’re going to enjoy regardless.”

What made you want to tell this story in particular?
Having worked at the University of Iowa School of the Arts, I was really inspired by an academic setting, as well as an artistic one as a good potential setting for comedy. There are a lot of strong personalities in an art school and there’s this idea of tenure that goes along with it—that it’s really hard to punish the tenured even when they might be acting in really off-the-wall ways. I wanted to explore that in the book through the environment that Nina [the protagonist] is in and the people she deals with. I also wanted to write a comedy. I think there’s a difference between a book that’s funny and a book that’s aiming to be a comedy and I really wanted to do the latter. I think there isn’t as much intentional modern comedy out there as there could be, especially among women authors. I just wanted to do something different.

Cate DicahrryCate Dicharry

Maybe that explains your choice in title?
Exactly! That was originally a joke title I mentioned to my editors but they immediately loved it and wanted it. I was like “you can’t really name a book that,” but of course you can! I think the title really says a lot about the type of read you are in for; it captures the feel of the book but also gives me permission to speak freely about everything I’m writing about. And if this sort of title offends you, this probably isn’t a book you’re going to enjoy regardless. With this, you really know what you’re in for, one way or another.

 

Lastly, what’s your advice to young writers?
I’d say I could only give someone the advice I give myself: that is, you only hurt yourself with doubt. When you’re doing what you’re doing, try to give it the best, most heartfelt shot you can. Worry about the end game later.


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. You can purchase the novel here and visit her at catedicharry.com.


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Edited by FORTH Nonfiction Team.


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