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Posts Tagged ‘editing’

Lauryn’s got pizzazz that many would covet. She’s a talented young writer and editor with pixie-good looks and an incomparable sexy voice. She is a literary princess with the brains and intellect of a Columbia College Chicago graduate in Fiction Writing. Her writing has appeared in Dogzplot Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Knee-Jerk Magazine, and Curbside Splendor. Not only is she an assistant editor and regular contributor at Barrelhouse Magazine and Literary Chicago, but she regularly hosts all-night dance parties in her kitchen. Recently, she debuted a chapbook called The Beauties, an artistic venture of hers that crosses fiction with imaginative design. Today, I sit down with Lauryn to chat about writing, The Beauties, and other things like beer bongs.

Lauryn, your writing has been described as “dark” or “sinister” by some. I am also referencing your opening lines, “Mrs. Waite’s face appeared in the wash bucket and told me to hide from my father. The ripples of his monstrous butcher’s apron swirling around my chapped fingers in the cold, greasy water arranged themselves into the almond shape of her eyes, her gaping mouth and its message: Your father is coming to kill you, Opal. Hide! Hide!” which to me, seems quite the opposite of what we’d expect from something titled The Beauties. Where does your literary inspiration come from?

Beauties is a direct reference to the family in the story; Jerry, Opal, Fern, and Enid Beauty. It’s also meant to be a counterpoint to the story, an ironic twist in a way. Each of the Beauty women grapples with what some might consider a physical mutation, or anomaly. But it’s the way they pull through it, strive to overcome these challenges, which makes them true beauties.

One of the characters, Fern Beauty, is very lost to herself and others, she has a beauty which she refuses to recognize, but which the audience can see.

I’ve also heard that the cover art really throws people for a loop. The art on each book cover is unique, no two the same. They’re very vibrant, glittery, sequined even. I can’t say that my choice to make the covers this way was meant to intentionally throw readers off course, but I do like the thought of making the book truly something one can’t judge by its cover.

What is the writing process like for you? Do you start with bits of a concept and let it grow, or do you hash out an ending and write toward the beginning? Lay it out for us.

I’m often struck by a tiny fragment of story or a flash of a scene, something I just can’t shake, which is eventually how I realize I’m supposed to write it down and expand upon it. I get a ton of ideas from my dreams. If I could make a living out of dreaming, I’d be a wealthy woman. It’s strange because I actually have a hard time surrendering to sleep, it feels like such a waste of valuable time. If it weren’t for dreaming, I’d never sleep.

I’ve read of and talked with writers who plot out their story endings and work backwards; Amy Hempel (one of my favorites) does this, I hear. For me, so much of what’s fun about writing is being lead down the strange, winding path toward discovery. If I knew the ending before I’d arrived, I don’t think I’d bother making the trip.

You’ve studied fiction writing at Columbia College Chicago, and have immersed yourself in the literary works of many contemporary writers. What is your favorite style of writing out there today?

Oh, gosh, this is a toughie. The style I favor–tight, vibrant, quirky–is not exclusive to contemporary writers, though I do think writers of our time often do a better job of it, perhaps because we’ve gotten very good at being economical in our writing as well as our processes.

This has a lot to do with how much there is to do in a day and how inundated we are with the technology that’s supposedly helping us to simplify our lives. There’s just not time enough for most of us to dedicate twelve hours a day to our craft, to crank out these epic, massive tomes. Okay, maybe superstars like King and Franzen, but those are freaky exceptions.

I love writing in which emotion and gesture and human nuance are distilled and brought to the forefront, which can often be accomplished in beautifully stunning and subtle ways. I’m thinking of Ann Michaels’, Fugitive Pieces, but also the short stories of Colette, Andre Dubus, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Miranda July and Aimee Bender. I love writing that’s not afraid to get awkward and messy. Life is awkward and messy. I love stories that look to the tiny things to explain the huge things and vice versa.

Quick, without putting too much thought into it: what are a few of your guilty pleasures? Are you a closet Intervention fan?

Haha! No, though for a while I was watching Deadliest Catch with a religious fervor that was starting to worry my family. I love to cook and bake, which I’m only considering a “guilty” pleasure because I sometimes use it as an excuse to avoid writing. Bacon is guilty pleasure number one. I put bacon in everything. I love bacon so, so much. Also, I check Missed Connections on Craigslist a dozen times a day. It’s so interesting to me, the things people will confess under the protection of anonymity.

Pull out your iTunes/iPod, or other non-commercialized medium for playing music. What are the top five bands or music artists wearing out your stereo speakers?

I listen to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album an inordinate amount. I don’t know why, exactly. Something about it connects me with my childhood, and the violins just break my heart, they’re so beautiful. I can also easily visualize the stories he’s telling, and see the way he’ s moving his listeners through each season. It’s old fashioned, but I really love it. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, I really love Jay-Z. He’s just so cocky, so, “how you like me now?” Another standby is Otis Redding, whose music just melts something inside of me. Obi Best, whose songs remind me of myself and the way I write. And Joe Tex. Find “The Love You Save” and make it a part of you. That song has transformational properties.

Who would you most like to sit and have a cup of coffee with, and why?

My great grandmother on my dad’s side. She was fiercely independent at a time when women’s independence was extremely unfashionable. She earned a law degree and concurrently, was also the first woman in Illinois to divorce her husband. My mom tells this story a lot: when I was just a few months old she used to go over and spend time with my great grandmother who lived alone in a rambling house near the river. My parents had absolutely no money at the time, still both really young and in over their heads. When my mother hinted at how dire things were getting, my great grandmother patted her on the hand and said something along the lines of, “don’ t worry dear, I’ll see that you pull through okay.” My mom went home and later that afternoon, a man came to the door with a gigantic black wool rug. It was from my great grandmother. Apparently, a gigantic black wool rug was her solution to my parent’s money troubles. I’d just really like to meet any woman who thinks in such a way. I’d have a few questions to ask her, for sure.

Who would you most like to sit and have a beer and/or beer bong with, and why?

Living? Sugar, who writes the Ask Sugar advice column for The Rumpus. Mainly, because I need a lot of advice and she’s got a way of delivering it that just flays open the soul to let the truth pour in faster.

Dead? Anais Nin. My favorite quote of hers: “Good things happen to those who hustle.” I can relate to that so much right now. Also, I suspect she’d drink me under the table and then chide me for not being more tough. I could use a little more of that, every once in awhile.

If you had to pitch The Beauties in one sentence, what would it be?

Ultimately, The Beauties is a study of secrecy and the magnificent power one can achieve by breaking rank and rejecting shame for truth and sincerity.

The life of an indie writer is challenging. What advice and strategies do you have for writers entering the market today, especially in an economy like this?

First: stop strategizing so much. If you’re calling yourself a writer, then your first responsibility is to your writing. If you came to writing nurturing the belief that it might make you wealthy, I’m so sorry; you’ve been horribly misled. Either toss that out and keep going, or choose another profession. This has to be a love-before-money life choice, because if the love’s not there, the money’s never coming. Marketing is the cart and writing is the horse. Just write. Write at the absolute top of your ability. Write what you’re afraid to write and what others are afraid you might write. Become so incredibly incredible at what you’re writing that when the time does come to think about marketing, you are ready to step into it and be successful. Success can be scary, especially for writers whose day-to-day professional lives are so often defined by rejection. Practice crafting for so long and so hard that success can’t help but find you, and so that you can feel deserving of it when it does.

Get creative! Text is everywhere, stories can be everywhere too! There’s no law stipulating that stories must be read in books, or in Nooks, or on stages. If you want people to read your stories, if that’s really the most important part, leave them lying around.

Get up, get out, get away from your desk and meet other writers. Find a solid group to keep you grounded and sane.

What’s next? Where will we see Lauryn Lewis in 3 years?

Hopefully on a beach somewhere. French Polynesia, maybe? But probably I’ll be right here, keeping busy. There’s a little publication buzz around the novel-length version of The Beauties. I’m not going to say more than that because I’m incredibly superstitious, but I hope to have it out for the world to read and bashing out my next big idea by then. Even though it can be stressful at times, I love doing this so much. So if I’m right here on a different day with a different project on my plate, I’ll be a very grateful girl, indeed.

I thank Lauryn for taking the time to chat with me. Without a doubt, she has a cutting edge niche advantage on the market with her darkly unique anthology. Below is an excerpt of The Beauties available for purchase at LaurynAllisonLewis.com

    And then.
    And then.
     Fern is falling away. Out into blinding blue light and beyond the reaches of her farthest vision. And something massive cups her body, so that she does not fear the falling. She sees stars. Fern is a star, shooting. She is a hot bullet, shot from a cold gun. And she is power. And she is free. She has time enough to think that this is what the button does, causes her to feel this way; whole and perfect and safe. And she thinks that now that she knows this, there is nothing to fear, and she will go home and hug Enid. And she will show Enid the button. And that will make everything right. And that will explain so much. It is not death like she’d expected. There is time enough for her to wonder how one minute she was standing in front of a train, and now she is floating out toward the home where she grew up, out toward Country Road K, and the mock blackberries growing alongside it, and how they are just darkening and perfect for jam. There is a pop of white light, like from an old fashioned flashbulb, and it rocks Fern’s teeth loose, and she feels them sliding around in her mouth, and the feeling is joy, and loose limbs, and wings for arms. She is winging her way out over the elms and then she is gone. Just like that. 

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I feel it’s worth mentioning here a resource I have found valuable for several years. Anne Mini (see her bio–she’s already led a really interesting life) keeps up admirably with a blog on writing, called Author! Author! One glance at the blogroll speaks volumes about the expertise and subject matter contained here. It’s a site I visit often, especially when I need an answer to something writing-related. Read about writing, editing, formatting, submitting to agents and publishers, et al. Her fictional “Millicent,” an agency screener who is alternately angry, irritable, teeth-on-edge, and hoity-toity (just like you’d expect an agency screener to be) is a running persona throughout Anne Mini’s blog posts. The site is great for anyone involved in writing and publishing, on any level.

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