Claire Vaye Watkins’ I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness, is an immersive, transgressive and darkly funny work of autofiction. Its narrator, a writer named Claire Vaye Watkins, leaves her husband and newborn baby daughter to go on a book tour, which transforms into a wild romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and an unsettling journey into the past amid the undulating wilderness of the Mojave Desert. Weaving in extracts from her father Paul Watkins’ memoir about his involvement with the infamous Manson Family, and her mother Martha’s youthful journalistic ambitions and dabbles with drugs and sex, it’s a rollercoaster exploration of motherhood and madness, legacy and landscape – and an impassioned, clear-sighted reckoning with freedom, escape, rage and grief.

Where are you now?

At home in my cabin in the western Mojave Desert.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

Same place! I have a small, simple table beneath a window in the living room that I use as a desk.

How would you summarise your lockdown experience?

It’s changed me profoundly. The solitude has transformed my ideas about consciousness, spirituality and existence. At this point I can’t imagine being who I am without going through it.

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

I write in by hand a journal every day. The vast majority of this writing is private.

Full-time or part-time?

Depends on how you count it. Probably have to check with Human Resources.

Pen or keyboard?

Pen first, always – keyboards crush precious weirdness.

How do you relax when you’re writing?

I begin again.

Mojave by Michael E. Arth. Two-plate etching and aquatint, 1976. Wikimedia Commons

How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?

I would never “pitch” anything, ever, if it could be avoided.

Who do you write for?

Myself, to know myself, and whoever may need me.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My crushes.

Which literary character do you wish you created?

The sea in Moby-Dick.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

I’ve always loved ‘In the Desert’ by Stephen Crane, which I was made to memorise in high school:

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter – bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”

Which book do you wish you’d written?

The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

Enjoy is not the word, but the most illuminating and important book I’ve read recently is Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West by Sarah Alisabeth Fox.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

Death Valley in ’49 by William L. Manly, Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta, the Earth First! Direct Action Manual, and an encyclopedia of the supernatural I just bought at my local used bookstore.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?

I don’t believe in “ought to have read” but I would like to read more work in translation.

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

My copy of Great Expectations from high school and my copy of my Dad’s memoir.

What is the last work you read in translation?

Borges’ Everything and Nothing.

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

So many! Recent favourites are I Am an Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower, Middle Men by Jim Gavin, This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks, and the forthcoming Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin.

What will you read next?

How to Blow Up a Pipeline by Andreas Malm.

What are you working on next?

Top secret.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

Frida Kahlo, Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman and Sarah Winnemucca.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Less attentive.

If you were the last person on Earth, what would you write?

An apology.

How can we make peace with our planet?

See above.


Claire Vaye Watkins was raised in the Mojave Desert, in California and Nevada. A graduate of the University of Nevada Reno, she earned her MFA from the Ohio State University. Her writing has appeared in Granta, The Paris ReviewThe New York Times and elsewhere. Her short story collection Battleborn won five awards, including the Dylan Thomas Award. Her debut novel Gold Fame Citrus was published by riverrun in 2015. I Love You, But I’ve Chosen Darkness is published by riverrun in hardback, eBook and audio download.
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Author portrait © Heike Steinweg