This week, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Lu Livingston, the author of Macaroni & Cheese, a Shorts On Survival piece from the current issue. And Lu had the great idea to mix up the format of the blog this time and instead of talking about herself (she’s very modest), she preferred to talk more about the writing process. So I happily conducted a little mini-interview that I’m pleased to include below.
Mary Akers: Thanks for the great interview suggestion, Lu. I’m interested to hear your answers. I’ll start with a very basic but important question: What does “story” mean to you?
Lu Livingston: Sorry, but I’m a traditionalist when it comes to what “story” means. X wants Y, but Z is in the way. Tell me a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end (the same thing Aristotle wanted); give me an imperfect protagonist who wants something hard to get and is capable of change. I like a ground situation with plenty of potential for screwing-up and a monumental barrier to attaining the goal. Whether X gets Y isn’t as important as realizing the potential for change, even if it’s small. This may come from my instructor David Payne brow-beating into me “What’s cranking this story?” Or maybe from parents who read to me every day. I’m sick to death of postmodern and ready for literary gears to shift.
MA: I’m with you on that score. In terms of inspiration, do you find that you mostly read the kind of work that you write? Or do you mix it up?
LL: Do I read the kind of work I write? I try to always read very much better, don’t you? There’s too much really good stuff out there to waste on consumer fiction (although [don’t tell a soul] I was mad about The Girl Who—trilogy). Lately I’m reading all the Icelandic sagas and reread Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. I’m trying to read all the Man-Booker award winners, too. I get on one writer and try to read everything I can get hold of, like Eric Linklater, James Robertson, or Neil Gunn, or currently, George Mackay Brown. Interesting now that I look at it—those are all European or Scottish writers. To make me think I (try to) read the theorists. Of course that makes writing fiction nearly impossible, but the literary theories are fascinating. Theory is integrated into the college English curriculum very early now, so to teach it, I always have to think it.
MA: I know you like to travel. How have your travels influenced your writing and/or your career?
LL: Yes, I love to travel, and it certainly does influence my writing. I’m studying the notion of “narrative” time and place right now in the poetry of Meg Bateman (from Skye) and Robert Alan Jamieson (from Shetland), and I am astounded at how complicated a concept “place” can be. My sister and I go to Scotland about every other year for a month in the summer, and even though I can get around and have friends and haunts there, I will always be an incomer, and even though that’s an uncomfortable “place” to be when you’d love not to be ridiculed for the East Tennessee accent, it’s exactly where you want to be as a writer in order to see place from the edge. I want to master “place” as not just setting, but as time/space interaction of people with the potential for relationships materializing, disintegrating, or just brushing elbows in the crowd on a train platform. When I travel, I’m quicker to sense potential. Now, that makes no sense whatsoever, does it?
MA: Oh, I don’t know. It seemed to make pretty darn good sense to me. But the idea of the mutability of place fascinates me, too.
LL: Well, Mary, it has been delightful chatting with you. Must go feed the horses now!
MA: Thank you, Lu! It was a pleasure to talk with you. And to the r.kv.r.y. readers, thanks for checking in. Keep Lu Livingston on your radar screen–she’s a name to watch!