William Luvaas Interviewed by Kristen Fogle
William Luvaas, SDWI instructor and author of Ashes Rain Down, discusses some of his favorite distinctions, the evolution of a “story cycle,” and we can expect next from him.
KF: Currently, who are some of your favorite authors?
William Luvaas: My favorite writers have remained much the same over the years: William Faulkner, Dostoevski, Flannery O’Connor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Marianne Wiggins, James Joyce, Kafka…to name a few. These are the fiction writers I have learned the most from, thus have influenced my work. Recently, I have discovered the vastly underrated American writer Pete Dexter (author of Paris Trout, etc.), and I have read a number of Jose Saramago’s books. But I am also returning to some classics–for my own edification and as research for a memoir I am writing: Through the Looking Glass, Gulliver’s Travels, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot. Works by Moliere and Flaubert and others written by writers who were epileptics.
KF: You’ve won many awards and received many distinctions for your writing. Can you speak to a few that you are especially proud of?
WL: It was very gratifying to win an NEA Fellowship in Fiction a few years back, also to win Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open contest (for the title story in my new collection). And, of course, I was pleased to have my novels nominated for The National Book Award, The Book Critics Circle Award, The Pen Faulkner Award, et. al. I haven’t won one of the big ones yet, but I will keep at it.
KF: There are quite a few interesting characters in Ashes Rain Down. Are there any that resonate with you in particular?
WL: I suppose Lawr resonates for me. He is the character who more or less guides us through the labyrinth. He just popped into my head fully formed when I started writing the first story–a version of myself no doubt. And I am fond of Margie and Carlie who somehow manage to keep the Chez Amie Restaurant afloat in this strange new world. Impish Lester is, I think, one of the strongest characters I have ever written. I am considering writing a novel chronicling his and his family’s wanderings. Dee, too, in “Out There” is a favorite. Kind of a combination of my mother and my maternal grandmother. I like strong, plucky women, and they keep showing up in my work. And I can’t leave out Fred the Goat Man.
KF: Meredith Sue Willis recently wrote a review of Ashes Rain Down. She claims that at the heart of each story is “everyday comedy.” What made you want to capture that and where did you take your inspiration from?
WL: I know comedy is there, but I was a little surprised when I first read her review that Willis stressed the comedic aspect of the book. But since most other reviewers have, too, there is likely something to it. I find myself constantly ping-ponging back and forth between comedy and tragedy in my work. They often join hands and walk through the everyday together. Sometimes they seem like non-identical twins to me. Tragedy keeps life interesting, and comedy permits us to bear it. Moreover, I have always been taken with grotesque realism in fiction…and in life. The poor folks in Ashes Rain Down are in a grotesquely impossible situation (perhaps we are too), but they carry on because there really is no choice (just as there isn’t for us). Tilt your head a little and things become altogether distorted: our world seems an odd and preposterous zone. We maneuver through it as if things make perfect sense, when nothing makes sense at all. I find that both sad and funny. I suppose that is simply my perspective; I can’t begin to say what inspired it. Life no doubt.
KF: When you’re writing a “story cycle” like Ashes, what is your process? I know several of the pieces have won awards, so I assume they came together individually and merged somewhere?
WL: This is something I discussed with my friend Steve Minot, now sadly passed on. We were both fascinated with the idea of linked stories and couldn’t quite decide what such a collection should be called. (“Story cycle” seems a little academic). One of the compelling aspects of stories that are connected in some way–whether by repeated characters, settings, themes, events, challenges…or several together (as in my collection)–is that the stories both stand alone and form, as a whole, a kind of rudimentary novel. I realized as I was putting the collection together that much is implied/suggested without ever being developed. I barely even mention what horrors have happened in the world outside of Sluggards Creek. There are allusions, but nothing is spelled out. However, the characters know what is going on, and it is assumed the reader will know, too. The situation characters are in suggests there is nasty stuff happening on the planet, and they speak of it without going into detail. I leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks.
Actually, the idea for the linked stories came to me as I was writing the first one. I was fascinated by the people and the situation and decided I wanted to explore it further. One story flowed into the next. Characters from an earlier story would pop up in a later one. It was great fun.
KF: Your first novel took us back to the sixties. Ashes takes us into the future. Where will you go next?
WL: Well, I am going to finish the memoir I started some years ago which has been through countless revisions. Maybe I finally understand what to do with it. (I hope so.) And I want to revise a novel that needs some reworking. It is not futuristic but it surely is grotesque. And I want to write a short novel or novella that extends the territory I explore in my short fiction, partakes more of the tone of my short stories than of my novels. I am not sure I can explain it, but I know what it is I am looking for. That prospect excites me quite a lot. Where/when it might be set, I have no idea.
To find out more about William Luvaas, visit his website here.
**SPECIAL EVENT: Please join us for a Reading and Q & A with William Luvaas at 4:30 pm on February 16 at The Ink Spot.
William Luvaas is an award winning fiction writer and writing instructor. His novels include The Seductions of Natalie Bach (Little, Brown) and Going Under (Putnam)–both out as Ebooks from Foreverland Press. His story collection, A Working Man’s Apocrypha was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His new collection, Ashes Rain Down: A Story Cycle is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press (Feb. 2013) He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Fiction; his story “Ashes Rain Down” won first place in Glimmer Train’s Winter Fiction Open Contest, “Out There” won first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction Competition, and “The Firewood Wars” was Co-Winner of Fiction Network’s Second National Fiction Competition. He has published over 50 stories in many publications, including The American Fiction Anthology, Antioch Review, The Calif. Desert Anthology, Confrontation, Glimmer Train, Grain Mag., North American Review, Paraspheres (anthology), Short Story, Stand Mag., The Sun, Texas Review, Thema, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post Book World. He has taught writing at San Diego State University, UC-Riverside, The Writers Voice in New York, and UCLA’s Writer’s Program.
Kristen Fogle is the Programs and Marketing Coordinator for SDWI. She is also a freelance editor, writer, instructor, tutor, teaching artist, and theatrical performer/director. Over the last decade she has been the Editorial Director for three national college entertainment publications (Warning, ForUs, and CLIQ). She earned a BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Northridge and MA in Rhetoric and Writing Studies (Teaching emphasis) from San Diego State University. She also recently received a Teaching Artist training certification from Young Audiences San Diego. You can find her weekly theatre reviews at www.sdtheatrereviews.com.