I want to thank Lavinia Ludlow for answering my questions. Ludlow is a musician, a book reviewer at The Next Best Book Club blog, and the author of two novels and several short stories. You can learn more about her work on her website, or meet up with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. I will be reviewing Ludlow’s book Single Stroke Seven this summer.
Grab the Lapels: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Lavinia Ludlow: I recall feeling powerless and belligerent at fourteen, the typical age when every adolescent is snarled between the unyielding desire to be independent from authority yet lacks all capability and rationale to take intelligible action. I wanted to run away from home, drop out of school, wander all night drinking Slurpee and vodka slurries, and spend every day playing drums. Had I done so, I probably would have ended up a D-picture movie-of-the-week story on the Lifetime Network.
Thankfully (I think), my hypercritical and smothering helicopter parents kept me from seeking reprieve in in drugs, sex, or other forms of self-destructive delinquency. Locked in my bedroom, I found solace in the written word. Images, scenes, dialogue, and characters rebelling in all the ways I wanted to poured out of my number 2 pencil and onto dollar store binder paper. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll galore, anarchy and rising above “the man” were amongst my most popular narratives. Once I was legal, I lived many of them out and realized how overrated they were and how dangerous they could have been to an impressionable kid.
Stumbling upon a newfound form of expression fueled by classic teenage angst is bound to create some fucked up shit. I wrote without respect for the art, I wrote without responsibility. Most of my early writing contained nothing more than blaming rants riddled with profanity aimed at nothing and no on specific.
Since then, I’ve matured as both a human being and writer. Over the years, writing has filled an emotional void that no other artistic expression or indulgence (physical, emotional, or other) has been able to fill. It’s also a perfect medium for a hardcore introvert who hates talking to people yet always has something to say or a story to tell.
GTL: How have you developed creatively since then?
LL: When I read my work from the ancient archives, I cringe at how senseless and ridiculous the content and writing style. As a kid, I was naturally and constantly pissed off at the world and looking for a reason to fight, argue, or go off on someone just to release steam. But I like to assume that all painters were once kids coloring by number, and writers were once shelling out literary detritus as they discovered their true narrative voice.
Throughout the years, I’ve been an active participant in the small press community and have had the opportunity to work with talented writers, editors, and publishers. These experiences have shown me how to direct negative energy into a positive outlet. I outgrew my insatiable appetite to destroy, and my works have become more insightful, responsible, and culturally relevant.
GTL: What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?
LL: “Percentages,” a flash fiction about being a mostly straight woman in a homosexual union with another mostly straight woman, and the typical relationship issues they encountered on top of the complexities brought on by both women keeping one foot in the straight world. I’ve adored women in my past, but as clearly stated in the narrative, being “mostly” straight causes problems for me. This amuse-bouche narrative effortlessly fell out of me in few minutes and required very little editing before it was swiftly accepted into a progressive print journal called Pear Noir! (2010). “Percentages” was not only the first piece of writing I was proud of but it was also my first published piece. 6 years later, I wrote a follow up piece called “Filtering Grace,” published in Chicago Literati. Most assume train wrecks of men have played a role in the conception of my novels, and that may be true, but the quaint and humble works in between have all been influenced by the female form. I think there’s something very telling about that.
LL: Many things, but most important: the pursuit of art should never be “all or nothing.” In alt.punk, Hazel abandons her identity and other responsibilities to focus on her writing, which is derailed by her codependency on a heroin-addicted egocentric manic depressive. In Single Stroke Seven, Lilith abandons her music, the channel keeping her connected to her best friends, to focus on conventional responsibilities under the belief that if she finally gets all of her shit together, artistic success will follow. These extreme approaches fail, and our adult subjects find themselves alone, and more lost and confused than ever.
What many don’t know is that these two books loosely represent who I was (alt.punk) and the person I’ve become (Single Stroke Seven). Today, I live a more realistic lifestyle by trying to maintain a balance between the pursuit of art and the pursuit of life. This balancing act must also be recalibrated from time to time, especially with the addition (or subtraction) of major stakeholders.
GTL: What is your writing process like?
LL: I chase the emotional high that first-drafting evokes and, often, find myself addicted to the irresponsibility of planning and organizing as I go. I wrote the first draft of alt.punk in 9 days, and the first draft of Single Stroke Seven in less than 30 days; however, I spent years seeking feedback and revising the texts for submission and, finally, publication. Despite these intense and lengthy experiences, I still underestimate the importance of revising until I step back and truly understand how polished work exceeds the book’s original potential.
However, editing is a process that I loathe more than root canals and pelvic exams. I loathe it so much that I often abandon projects in their first draft stages as I foreshadow what a pain in the ass they will be to edit. Call it a mix of laziness, restraint, and accountability, but if I adamantly dread getting something through the editing process then that means I’m not emotionally connected enough to the content, and if I can’t connect, the audience won’t either, and no writer wants to circulate mediocre unpolished work.
GTL: How has your writing process evolved since you started?
LL: I’ve learned not to disrespect or insult the reader by describing things to death. It’s important to “write between the lines” so that the audience has an opportunity to read between them. Messaging should be artfully woven into the text to create a global declaration that is greater than the sum of its parts and, left up to the reader to decipher, maybe even debate.
Innovative storytelling is not only a difficult art to master, but a subjective one. At times, finding my own narrative flow and voice associated with a particular work seems elusive, but I welcome the challenge and the unadulterated high I experience when I am in my element.