A Conversation with Lavinia Ludlow
Lori Hettler interviews Lavinia Ludlow about music, life/work balance, things she’d rather not be asked, and her latest, ‘Single Stroke Seven.’
Staff Interviewer Lori Hettler sits down with LAVINIA LUDLOW, musician and writer born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her debut novel, alt.punk (2011), explored the ragged edge of art, society, and sanity, viciously skewering the politics of rebellion. Her sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven (2016), explores the lives of independent artists coming of age in perilous economic conditions. Her short works have been published in Pear Noir!, Curbside Splendor Semi-Annual Journal, and Chicago Literati, and her indie lit reviews have appeared in Small Press Reviews, The Rumpus, The Collagist, The Nervous Breakdown, Entropy Magazine, and American Book Review.
Lori Hettler: Congratulations on the release of your sophomore novel, Single Stoke Seven! I get the feeling this release had you more nervous than when alt.punk dropped in 2011.
LAVINIA LUDLOW: This book took 6 years to go from a flash fiction narrative to a full-length hard copy book. I wrote it while editing alt.punk for publication back in 2011, and because of the extensive journey and re-writes, I didn’t want to fuck up something as important as the launch.
I also had a keen understanding of what I was unleashing into the world. This book is an honest reflection of my life and many of those I care about, and when it went public, I wanted to make sure I respected the content as much as possible. The global issues in this novel such as unemployment, eviction, poverty, hunger, and suffering for one’s art took down many of my friends, and at times, myself, in our twenties. Together, we flailed in the same sinking ship for years before realizing we had to make drastic changes to our thinking, approach, and bad habits in order to save ourselves.
I don’t think you have much to worry about now! The book is accumulating some wonderful reviews and seems to be hitting home, on many different levels, with those who have read it. For those who haven’t read them yet, how does Single Stroke Seven differ from its predecessor?
If I could sum up alt.punk, it would be: “I’m pissed off and don’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about what I have to say.” The content was raw and dark, the writing fast-paced and disorienting, and the tone cynical and angry. One of the reasons I started writing Single Stroke Seven was to escape the defeating whirlwind of editing alt.punk. That book kicked my ass every single day I opened the manuscript or even thought about it. In retrospect, I felt it disrespected itself, me as the writer, and at times, the audience. Although I am proud to call it my debut novel and I highly encourage people to read it before reading Single Stroke Seven, it is no longer a reflection of who I am as a musician, writer, friend, or partner.
I love how you incorporated so much of yourself and your experiences into both of these books. Looking back at them now, how have these two books changed you as a writer?
Today, I am more responsible with my words and writing style. Instead of driving off the road, plowing over trees, and mowing over livestock and pedestrians, I pick up passengers, exchange genuine conversation, and really try to contribute to the indie lit community with quality content, be it in the form of a book critique, culture piece, or interactive interview. I hope to be operating in this field for a very long time, if not the remainder of my life.
You are a tireless supporter and participant within the indie lit community! What drew you in to that culture? What do you enjoy most about it?
Five years ago, I was an unknown and unpublished writer, and the honest people at Casperian Books took a leap of faith with my rough and unpolished writing. There were also countless writers, editors, and journal publishers who gave me a platform for my work, whether flash fiction, excerpt, culture piece, interview, or review. I have in so many ways wanted not to merely pay back my dues to the community but also to “pay it forward” in the way these writers, editors, and publishers have done for me.
The small press world and indie lit scene are laden with a wealth of content, a rainbow of perspectives, and people working really hard to highlight great work. I’m honored to have been as involved as I’ve been over the years, and I hope to continue contributing for as long as I am capable.
Speaking of paying it forward, which small press publishers and authors should people be keeping an eye on? Are there a few in particular you find yourself drawn to?
Steve Karas recently released his short story collection, Kinda Sorta American Dream. I’ve never read such simplistic and straightforward writing that packs a sucker punch to the gut that leaves you stunned and aching for hours after. Maudlin Bronwyn wrote a phenomenal book called Love Songs of the Revolution. She did a phenomenal job with the male protagonist point of view, and the prose was so unapologetic that it still resonates with me. Tom Williams also released a short story collection, called Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales. I enjoyed his use of bizarre settings and conundrums to tell stories filled with emotions common to the human condition like loneliness, identity crises, and being the odd man out.
I can’t help but notice two of the three books you’ve mentioned are story collections. And as you’d mentioned, Single Stroke Seven started out life as a series of flash fiction narratives before it developed into its current state. You seem so fond of the format — Do you think you’ll ever release your own collection of stories?
I enjoy reading story collections but not necessarily writing them, and vice versa. There were a few times publishers have come to me stating they would be interested in taking a look at a collection if ever I put one together, but I spend the majority of my time focusing on full-length works. Much of it is personal preference, but mostly because I’ve not ever felt I truly knew how to operate within the constraints of flash fiction. Quoting Lisa McInerney, “Short fiction leaves its author nowhere to hide.”
You seem to have your hands in so much at any given time. Between writing your own stuff, reviewing other authors’ stuff, writing culture pieces, managing your social media presence, touring for the book — how do you manage a healthy work-life balance?
I admit I haven’t had much of a balance since the beginning, but the opportunities are just too interesting and fun to pass up, many of which are fleeting. There are days (and nights) when I am in while everyone else is out and about. On occasion, I’ve hurt feelings, strayed from friends, and maybe even strained a relationship or two. For now though, this is my world, and of course, the music. Always the music. Can I throw this question back at you and ask how you balance a full-time job, a household, and all your PR and TNBBC work?
Much like you, there really isn’t much of a balance. I tend to focus on one to excess while the others wait patiently for me to turn my attention back to them. On workdays, since I put in such long hours, nothing else gets done. On my off days, it tends to teeter — mornings ensure the kids get off to school, late morning/early afternoon gets PR if I have freelance gigs on the hook, TNBBC stuff happens toward evening, and if I have time, the household might get a little attention. I’m not much of a cleaner or cooker, so it’s easy to let those go till last.
But enough about me! Let’s get back to you and the music. Single Stroke Seven is very heavily oriented toward music. Lilith, god bless her little soul, tries to balance her time between two distinctly different bands AND manages to find time to perform with a street ensemble. What about you, Lavinia? How does music play a role in your life?
There was a time I was involved in many ensembles, and my social life was heavily intertwined in the scene. It’s been a few years since I’ve been as active as Lilith. A combo of life, heavy travel, serious work, and of course, launching the new title, has kept me focused more on solitary activities than communal. Although I am not as musically prolific as I used to be, the art itself still plays a large role in my life, whether inspiring my writing or enabling me to work on side projects with close acquaintances. As I’ve aged, I come to find myself more comfortable in supporting roles than I do in front of an audience. Perhaps I’ve become more of a private citizen than one who has to be the center of attention.
Okay, time for the lightning round! Please list the Top 5 —
1. First-drafting without pressure to edit any of it. Ever.
2. 18+ single malt scotch.
3. Procrastinating on review writing.
4. Kale salad laden with dressing and a side of fried Brussels sprouts
5. Intimately discussing my writing process in unique columns such as Necessary Fiction’s “Research Notes,” MonkeyBicycle’s “If My Book…,” Real Pants’ “Table of Contents,” and TNBBC’s “Page 69 Test.”
Things you wish people wouldn’t ask you:
1. Are your eyelashes real?
2. Is one of your parents white?
3. Polyamory? Is that where you let a guy tag-team you and another girl?
4. Why haven’t you ever made it to AWP?
5. I have never researched you or your tastes; I didn’t even know you were a writer until you called me out for it, but I need you to review my book in [insert ridiculously well-known literary journal or news site]. You’re into reviewing sci-fi fantasy vampire stories that take place in Appalachia, and are spread across a three-volume series made up of 150,000 words, right?
Interview originally published on 5/27/16.