Lynn Lurie is the author of three novels, Corner of the Dead (2008), winner of the Juniper Prize, Quick Kills, which Brian Evenson describes as "filled with quiet menace" and Museum of Stones, which Noy Holland writes "a dreamy, haunting, clamorous book but one of the bravest souls anywhere." Her short fiction has appears in Vol. 1 Brooklyn and Midnight Breakfast.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
My first book gave me reassurance I could write. This allowed me to work on the second, which, because of the subject matter, was a more difficult project. I might not have attempted the second without the sense that people I respected had praised my work. My fiction circles around a few central questions I have been working and reworking throughout my life: the capacity and depth of human cruelty, the ways in which we manage grief and how we cope with personal failure. While the subject matter may be similar in my novels, each has challenged me to write differently. I am most interested in words. The subject matter is secondary.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Fiction makes most sense because I am not relegated to the facts. It allows me great latitude to reconfigure memory in the hope of creating something that is emotionally true but not necessarily factually accurate.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It seems to be a five year or more process to write a novel. I need to live with my characters and allow them time to develop. I do not have an outline or an idea of the structure until I am well underway. It is a bit of a mosaic where I am looking for the right spot for a fragment and then a way to link them into something whole. This was especially true of Museum of Stones, where I often was a moving around of index cards.
4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
A book, in that I am not good at the pacing requirements of a short story. I like the length of a novella and the idea that the work is best read in one sitting. A story might begin with an image, something I have seen either in life or in a book, or something I have heard, a conversation or parts of conversations. The beginning is something like scaffolding or a nucleus. From there I build the story.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I do enjoy reading my work to others. Listeners tend to see or intuit something in addition to or different from how I think I saw it. The immediacy of the interaction provides me with an opportunity to see how the work is perceived. Etruscan press has a very successful outreach program, which involves bringing books and authors to underserved high schools. I have also been able to work with incarcerated men and women who have, through Etruscan, received my book. These readers are the most diligent. I do not think the writer needs to have a larger purpose, but for me, attempting to bring reading and literature to groups who have never owned a book is an honor.
6. Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
An outside editor I trust is essential. I am not a generous writer in that I want to provide the minimum of information and my hope is it is enough for the reader to become a part of the story. This requires the writing to be precise, almost exact. A close reader/editor gives me confidence that I am conveying what I intend. The process of writing is a solo venture, and I am a hermit so it helps a great deal to circulate pieces of my writing as it is evolving.
7. When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When stalled I will read go out into the world and listen to regular conversations on the street, or go to a museum. The books I read when I am stuck vary although I think it is fair to say that I gravitate to writing for its style rather than its content. The other day I wandered into a gallery and the installation was a film in black and white of two pairs of hands creating a scene from tin foil. This led me to remember a story I had heard read about a waiter in a restaurant who made a foil dinosaur for a child’s leftovers. In the story he kept going back to the kitchen to make more and different forms. In the end he created for the child an entire universe. On the day I sat in the gallery foil took me in an entirely new direction—it seemed to represent our craving to communicate, to transcend the usual, and in doing so it allows us to witness, if not implement, incremental change.
8. What fragrance reminds you of home?
Eucalyptus. I lived in rural highland Ecuador for a number of years and every evening and morning there was the smell of the villagers burning Eucalyptus branches for their cook fires. I will never smell Eucalyptus without feeling I am walking down the path to the barn where I once lived. Even in the daytime when no fires were burning the wind passing through the Eucalyptus trees created the scent of Eucalyptus. Although Ecuador was never formally home, it is the place where I learned what links all of us.
9. If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? What made you write?
I have had a lot of different occupations in my life. They all add up to a whole. Each occupation has been important to my writing. I am grateful to have done other things. Writing is so personal and often harrowing. I didn’t begin as a writer but came to it because I needed to make sense of things that had suddenly overtaken me. I was working as a lawyer and when I found myself writing briefs with descriptions and emotions I knew it was a sign I needed to write about something that was far more important to me at that moment in time.
10. What was the last great book you read?
In Our Mad and Furious Cityby Guy Gunaratne is on the list. Lately there is a group of books by respected authors who have attempted to describe the immigrant experience. He goes to the heart of the grief of the immigrant experience and through his use of dialect he brings us along. His placement of words, his sentences are breathtaking. David Chariandy’s Brother is very beautiful as if all of Miriam Toews’ work.
11. What are you currently working on?
Currently I am reading. I haven’t felt the need to write.
12. David McFadden once said that books come from books but are there any other forms that influence your work?
I began as a black and white photographer. All visual arts remain a source of influence for me but it is language that most moves me. Translating has also been something that has made me linger over each word and meaning. Music less so, but the speaking of voices, hearing conversations, the cadences of conversation are something I listen to and appreciate.