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May We Present… Casey Plett’s A Dream of a Woman

May We Present… Casey Plett’s A Dream of a Woman

Author: Willem Finn Harling

October 8, 2021

Welcome to May We Present…, a column from Lambda Literary that highlights authors with recent or forthcoming publications. We’re back with a feature of Casey Plett and her story collection, A Dream of a Womanreleased on September 21st by Arsenal Pulp Press. Plett, author of A Safe Girl to Love and Little Fishcenters and explores the lives of trans women in this marvelously complex assemblage, consisting of five short stories and two longer narratives. 

The stories in A Dream of a Woman are pleasantly gritty. The characters’ many-faceted personalities are left exposed in a way that refuses a trifling read and defies monolithic conceptions of the trans experience. Plett swiftly immerses readers into stories of love, sex, addiction, friendship, family, and identity, saturated with hauntingly realistic dialogue. Shifts in narrative voice, changing pronouns, and stories that reappear throughout the collection are just some of the aspects of A Dream of a Woman that make the collection an engaging and visceral read. 

Below, Casey Plett compares story collections to concept albums and ensemble movies, offers advice on writing difficult and authentic dialogue, and reveals that escapism for her includes Paramore music videos. 

When did you realize you had to write A Dream of a Woman?

I finished the first story, “Hazel & Christopher” in the spring of 2019. I had written a couple of other stories by that point, including “Couldn’t Hear You Talk Anymore” which appears in A Dream of a Woman, that focus on trans women in romantic and sexual relationships. The rest of the book started percolating around then.

a dream of a woman

Your first publication, A Safe Girl to Love, was a short story collection. You then published a novel, Little Fish. Why did you return to the short story form for A Dream of a Woman?

With short story collections, I think you get to have your cake and eat it too. The individual stories can be spare or lengthy, detailed or minimalist, but then can collectively build to a larger whole that might hold similar weight to a novel. I like to think of story collections as concept albums.

A Dream of a Woman contains individual short stories, as well as two narratives that reappear throughout the collection. In your experience, what is the effect of breaking up a narrative and threading it amongst other stories?

This is my first experience in doing so, so I guess I’ll find out, ha! But I envision it as maybe an ensemble movie or a TV show with a large cast. People flit in, people flit out. You spend intense time with this one couple then go hang out with this other woman for a bit and then later you’re back to the couple. I love that effect on screen, which feels very true to having disparate, recurring interactions in real life, and the hope was to mimick something like it in the book.

Certain stories in A Dream of a Woman shift in narrative voice. What is your relationship to writing in the different narrative voices?

More having-my-cake-and-eating-it-too, honestly. Characters come to me in both first and third-person, and I often feel like I’ve lost something when I finally choose one. So with some of the stories in A Dream of a Woman, I didn’t choose, and I shifted according to what felt compelling.

Many characters in A Dream of a Woman engage in frank conversations about things like consent and identity. What is one piece of advice you have for writing authentic dialogue between two people having a difficult conversation?

Such dialogue needs to accomplish two things. First, it should sound exactly like what these actual characters would say. Second, the dialogue should communicate some truth of the subject discussed (which isn’t to say the characters can’t engage in obfuscation or lies as they do so; indeed, that’s often necessary to do the first thing).

In my experience, if the dialogue doesn’t meet both of those criteria, the cracks usually show.

Your stories are rooted in realism. Where do you go for escapism?

Paramore videos. Running to Against The Current songs. Fantasizing about running to a Paramore song while watching an Against the Current video.

Can you describe your ideal writing environment compared to your ideal reading environment?

I don’t like to do either in the house, honestly. I like a nice cafe or a diner booth.

What are some LGBTQ+ short story collections you would recommend to readers?

Chandra Mayor’s All The Pretty Girls is depressingly out of print but it’s 100% worth your time to hunt down a copy. Calvin Gimpelevich’s Invasions is also a total knock-out.

Lastly, what’s the one line from A Dream of a Woman that you just can’t get out of your head?

“They were very concerned, when I was growing up, that I wouldn’t take things if I wanted them.”

Photo credit: Joanna Eldredge

Willem Finn Harling photo

About: Willem Finn Harling

Willem (he/they) is a student at the University of Chicago studying Gender and Sexuality Studies and Performance Studies.

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