Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Q&A with Céline Keating


Photo by Alexa Brandenberg



Céline Keating is the author of the new novel The Stark Beauty of Last Things. Her other books include the novel Play for Me. She has been a resident of Montauk, New York, for many years.


Q: What inspired you to write The Stark Beauty of Last Things, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: It was a mixture of the love of nature and a fear of losing the landscape of Montauk and other wild places that prompted me to write The Stark Beauty of Last Things


I grew up in Queens, Long Island, during a period of rapid population growth, and the natural world around me, woods and even small untamed lots, disappeared before my eyes.


I found these changes painful, because like many children I was very attuned to nature and enjoyed roaming outdoors, climbing trees, hiding in bushes. Above all I loved the ocean and beaches.


As a young adult I discovered Montauk on the very tip of the island and it was the thrill of a lifetime when my husband and I were able to buy a tiny studio apartment there. I would spend days alone writing. Montauk was my muse. It was wild and unpopulated and absolutely perfect.


Having seen from my childhood what can happen with overdevelopment, when this began happening in Montauk I feared what might become its devastating future. The consequences of climate change were apparent, too.


So my novel grew out of my passion for Montauk’s natural beauty and my fear of changes that would spoil its specialness. I also wanted to convey a sense of urgency that we need to act now: Once a landscape is lost it is lost forever. 


As for my characters, each of the female characters is wholly invented but to some degree based on women I saw in the area – tough women who worked on boats and at the docks; or as wait staff or bartended, as well as the middle-class women who had come to Montauk as children on vacation or who had had inherited small shops or motels.


I also drew heavily on my experience with the environmental community in my depiction both of Julienne and the second character Grace. Clancy, on the other hand, was invented out of whole cloth – the novel only gelled when I understood that I needed an outsider to help frame the story.

Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: In my title I wanted to convey a sense of the beauty of nature and what’s lost when we as human beings lose our connection to the natural world. The poet Edward Hirsh used the phrase in a book review to mean that beauty can be present even in death.


The words struck me as perfectly capturing the elegiac mood I intended for my novel, and how we often don’t appreciate something until it is gone. 


Q: The Tucson Festival of Books said of the novel, “In vivid, memorable prose, Keating evokes the beauty and fragility of Montauk and its residents. The work speaks to the pressing issues of our time, especially the loss of wild places.” What do you think of that description, and how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: I was thrilled with that description and that it captures Montauk but also refers to the effects of climate change.


Setting is one of, if not the most, important things to me in fiction – I gravitate to novels with a strong sense of place. I work hard to convey the physical worlds of my stories, and in the case of this novel, it was a joy to convey the gorgeous coastal landscape and to share my love of it through my writing.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I definitely didn’t know how the book would end. I used the novel to explore my own thoughts and ambivalences about the meaning of land and the best uses of land, and there was a point where I had no idea how to resolve the many contradictions I’d set up in the story.


In terms of the specifics of the lives of each of the characters, I was sure about Molly and Julienne, but up in the air about Clancy and Theresa. Overall I waffled a lot and I wrote several different endings before finally landing on what felt right and feeling resolved that I had the ending most authentic to the story and the characters.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a novel set in Bristol, Rhode Island, where I currently live, that deals with adoption, identity, and the slave trade. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My website is and my substack, Still Blooming (, has some of my writing, including craft essays, novel recommendations, and a few short stories.  


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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