Intervju med forfatter Robert Lopez

En ung manns besettende utsyn på verdenfra en fengselscelle der han gjennomgår endeløse målløse tester. Hans enestekontakt med verden er en telefon som ikke ringer ut men som av og til ringerinn og avbryter den sterile stillheten og hans evige interne dialoger foret avminner fra en barndom i Injury Alaska. Et mentalt landskap tvunget ned irommet mellom ordene. En meditasjonover isolasjon.

N&D: Hi Robert, first off, tell me a little about your novel Kamby Bolongo Mean River. How did youend up writing the book?

Robert Lopez: Kamby Bolongo Mean River started a short story andstayed that way for about a year. I was intrigued by the narrator’s voice andpredicament and thought there might be more to the story. I found another tenor so pages to add but had to stop working due to other circumstances. A yearor so later I went back into KBMR and the rest of the novel poured out in onesummer long breath.

N&D: What was your writing process on the novel? Also compared to yourdebut novel Part of the world.

RL: Part of the World took years to assemble and I worked on itsteadily over that period of time. It’s a very intricate book where scenes andlanguage seem to repeat over and over again but always with some elementchanging the context. It took a long time to figure out how these repetitionsshould work, how they should be paced, etc. I remember giving myself a quota -600 words – every day when writing the first draft of POTW. I wanted to pushthe story forward and get the pages down. This wasn’t the case with Kamby. OnceI started working on Kamby in earnest the pages poured out. However, I did useolder stories that didn’t quite work for one reason or another in both novels.I’d rework the voice and situation to fit the novel, of course. I feel like Ihave a finite number of stories in me, so I try to steal from myself as much aspossible. If I went through both Kamby and POTW I’d find snippets of dozens offailed stories.

N&D: I read in an interview that you, as opposed to many writers, was not abig reader as a kid and teenager. So how did you get involved in writing in thefirst place? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

RL: I was a communications major in college and as seniors we hada semester-long project as our final assignment – producing our own televisionshow. Constructing the sets, lighting, casting, directing, editing, all theelements that go into television production. I volunteered to write theteleplay. I think I knew I was going to be a writer at that point, even thoughI’d written nothing and, worse, read nothing at that point. Hearingprofessional actors perform the lines I’d written was a thrill and I washooked. That summer I was determined to write a play but wound up writing about100 horrible poems and three or four horrible stories. I’d finally cracked thebooks and started reading all kinds of Lit anthologies and was on the path.

N&D: You also you teach a fiction workshop at The New School. We have veryfew writing classes here in Norway. How do you teach students to write fiction?What is the main advice you give aspiring writers?

RL: Actually I teach fiction at The New School, Pratt Instituteand Columbia University. As most writers will tell you, you cannot teachstudents how to write. All you can do is look at their work and tell them whenthey’re getting it right and when they’re not. We try to get students torecognize and avoid cliches and pick out the fresh way to render objects andaction. Avoiding explanation is always good, too. And I try to get them to usetheir own preoccupations, fears, peccadilloes, perversion, as a way of makingthe work unique or as unique as possible. The most relevant advice is to readgreat writers. No one can expect to write anything at all without seeing whatgreat writers have done and are doing.

N&D:The narrator of the book is a very intriguing lonely person with adisturbed consciousness. How did you come into this character?

RL: I always start with language, voice. A line comes to me and ifthat line is intriguing and has enough going on inside of it a second line ismost often borne from it. And from there the next line and so on. So I neverthink in terms of character – I only concern myself with language and voice. IfI can come up with an interesting voice somehow character emerges. And I usewhat I encourage students to use – myself mostly but also those around me. Itake this predilection or that one and maybe amplify it or not depending onwhat seems appropriate for the voice/character.

N&D:You have probably gotten this question many times, but why didn’t you use anycommas in KBMR? I guess itslinked to the previous question.

RL: It became clear right away that thisnarrator’s voice, his manner of speech was not at all measured or ordered. Thesecond sentence — “I will say the hello how are you …” presented itself as oneuninterrupted phrase, as opposed to “… the hello, how are you …” There was anurgency to his language, the syntax and diction and lack of punctuation allcame together at once. After that there were a number of places where commaswould ordinarily go, but it didn’t fit his voice or the tone of the piece.

N&D: You have painted this bleak landscape, exploring madness,abuse and psychological trauma. What is your relationship to violence inliterature?

RL: Again, I rarely think in these terms. To me there is no violence,only language. Now, my tastes are such that I usually respond best to theunderstated. Subtlety works for me in almost every case. While there is noobfuscating in the book and the goings on are dealt with in a frank and honestmanner, I don’t think the book is graphic at all. I imagine there is someviolence in Kamby but it never seems to me like a Tarantino movie. I like itbest when violence is left slightly off screen, we know something awful ishappening, but we can’t quite see it. That seems to me to be the most effectiveuse of anything horrible.

N&D: So you don’t think in terms of subjects, ideas, themes that you wantto explore with writing, with your work?

RL: As you might guess the answer to this is no. I only concernmyself with language and never think in terms of subjects/ideas/themes. Now,it’s no coincidence that certain situations and predicaments keep coming up inthe work. It seems that the novels and many of the stories deal with people whofind themselves in circumstances beyond their control. They have no idea howthey’ve arrived in this place and are unsure as to how to deal with it. Most ofthe narrators/characters/voices are confused but this isn’t premeditated. Inever try to address these issues but in the course of following the voice(s)these concerns seem to come up over and over again. I suppose this sayssomething about me, but I try not to think about it.

N&D: What are the similarities and differences for you as a writer workingon a novel or story? How do you know what’s a story and what’s a novel?

RL: I’ve written two novels and both started with a singlesentence. There was something about those sentences/voices that felt biggerthan a short story. It felt like those voices needed more time and space to gettheir stories told. For me most often the story itself determines its ownlength. With novels there is room for sideways movement. Pacing becomes animportant element when constructing a novel, but pacing isn’t really part of astory. The pace of a short story, regardless of length, needs to be breakneck.A story has to open up at the end of it whereas a novel must close. whenwriting a novel you have to keep the whole in mind and it’s a lot to keep inmind. There’s no such concern in a story. Past that the similarities are many.You’re dealing with language and you’re trying to arrest the readers attentionand have an effect on them.

N&D: In your opinion, who are the most interesting up-and-coming youngwriters today?

RL: There are a lot of writers doing very interesting things. Writerswho will have books coming out soon and who readers should keep an eye on areBlake Butler,Shane Jones, Joseph Salvatore, Kim Chinquee,Matt Bell, Lindsay Hunter,Molly Gaudry. There are more but that’s agood start.

N&D: Finally, what’s next for Robert Lopez? What are you currently working on?

RL: The finishing touches on a collection ofshort stories, Asunder, that will be published by Dzanc Books in Nomber, 2010.Also working on a play I hope to finish at some point.