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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interview Series: Lauryn Allison Lewis

Now, for a second round of questions and answers, Famous Writer welcomes Lauryn Allison Lewis, who writes fiction, essays, interviews, and bakery reviews. Her writing has appeared at Dogzplot Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Knee-Jerk Magazine, Curbside Splendor, and others. She regularly hosts all-night dance parties in her kitchen and has just published a haute chapbook of her story collection, The Beauties, available for purchase at LaurynAllisonLewis.com. She is an assistant editor and regular contributor at Barrelhouse Magazine and Literary Chicago.

JK: Tell me a little about where you grew up and what you do/have done besides writing.

LAL: I grew up about an hour’s drive west of Chicago. I also briefly lived in Washington during high school. At fourteen, my first job was as an ice cream scooper at a soda fountain. But I’ve had all kinds of wacky jobs. Floral designer, chocolatier, barista, personal assistant. The worst job I ever had was at a toy store. The owners were really mean, especially considering they worked around toys and kids all day.

JK: What is your favorite book? What other things influence your work? 

LAL: My favorite book is whatever I happen to be reading whenever someone poses that question! Right now it’s My Sister’s Continent, by fellow Chicago writer, Gina Frangello. She is so incredibly brave and emotionally intelligent.

I’m hugely influenced by my dreams. The fantastical, magical, and odd elements of my prose reveal that. I love changing or shifting the rules of nature, logic, and physics in my stories, and then following the story thread as it plays out. I’m a big fan of unreliable narrators, I think because in my dreams, I become my own unreliable narrator.

JK: Are dreams also a source of inspiration for you?

LAL: I take inspiration from everywhere; what I’m reading, eating, dreaming, and who I’m spending time with. For The Beauties, specifically, I tapped into feelings from my childhood and my memories of early motherhood. None of the events in the book actually happened to me in real life, but the emotional base is there; the feeling of pubescent awkwardness, the alienation I think all new mothers feel on a certain level.

JK: How much time a day do you devote to fiction writing? What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to other writers? 

LAL: I don’t have any hard, fast rules regarding how much or how often I write, other than writing every day. I aim for 500 words a day, but most days I manage more. I used to wait until very late at night when the house was quiet to write. Nowadays I’m not so precious about when and where I write, though I still prefer a quiet space. I turn the ringer on my phone off and often forget to turn it back on. I’m bad with the phone.

If I’m having a hard time getting started, I’ll usually read a page or two from an author I love to get motivated. I also never hem myself in with rules such as: begin at the beginning, or, write full scenes. The most important thing for me is just not slowing down once I start, and not getting too caught up with thinking. If that means I have to pick up in the middle, then that’s what I do.

JK: I’m sure your natural approach contributes to the rhythm and flow of your writing. When and why did you get started writing? What characteristics from your first efforts survive today?

LAL: I was tiny, probably first or second grade when I first started writing little stories. I was an only-child, so writing as a solitary endeavor fit in perfectly. Even as a kid, I can remember putting emphasis of the emotional dynamics of my characters, the things they felt but perhaps did not or could not express directly; the things revealed through body language, internal dialogue, and gesture. I still strive to do that today.

I’m an unabashed people-watcher. That is definitely a holdover from my childhood. The best is when you can’t hear what two people are saying, but can still discern what they’re talking about by their body language, a subtle angle of one’s jaw, the hands pressed into one’s lap.

JK: You observation skills serve you well in your chosen career. What about language? Do you have a favorite word? How does language figure into your writing?

LAL: I’m often struck by the lyricism of our language, even when we’re just using it to give directions, or commiserate with a friend over coffee. The narrative style of The Beauties really taps into that; the inherent poetics of the language we use to discuss everyday events and feelings.

Each of the characters in The Beauties has her/his own unique way of speaking and thinking the thoughts they think. Enid, being the youngest, uses a lot of youthful, ambivalent tags, such as, “whatever” “so what” and “who cares”. Fern is very uptight and her cadence and the economy of her voice reflects that. Opal, being the oldest, has a way of speaking that is very unhurried, thoughtful, and strives for clarity.

I don’t have a favorite word, per se, though I do love words so, so much. The bookshelf beside my writing desk is crammed full of dictionaries, thesauruses, and books of idioms and palindromes.

JK: If most of my books weren’t in storage, that’s what my desk would look like, too! Lauryn, thank you very much for coming by my blog and sharing some of your writing secrets.

LAL: Thank you so much, Jessica! It was fun.

Again, you can take a look at (and purchase) The Beauties here. Find Lauryn on Facebook here