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Exploring Remains: An Interview with Lucy K. Shaw photo

I first heard of Lucy K. Shaw when The Shabby Doll House RE-UP issue came out. I was hot off the heels of some fiction writing workshop and just barely discovering any internet writing community at the time. I came in late. Well, I guess I mean that I came in new. I had just starting submitting my work to literary magazines in 2013, and as a result was just discovering the community that existed in support of literature on the internet. I had no idea. Like the narrator in Lucy’s new book, I had no idea writing was a thing you could just do. It never even occurred to me to even publish anything I’d written until I was 25 or 26 years old. 

At the time, I was working as a receptionist for a construction company, which gave me a lot of time during the day to browse the internet. So I spent it “working”: learning about the editors of these magazines, reading poetry and prose for hours at a time, and spending all of my disposable income on every small press book I could find. 

I bought The Motion (421 Atlanta, 2015) through learning about Lucy’s role at Shabby Doll House, which she started in 2012. I reblogged gifs of phrases from her book and images of the book in people’s hands on tumblr— it was so cool to me, this idea that there was a type of literature that could exist in a world run by people my age, run by people who just loved words and writing, and not by some untouchable illuminati-like structure represented by big publishing houses. Maybe that world just got less illuminati-like because I was learning more about it. 

Lucy’s new book WAVES (Second Books, 2016), released as a double feature with Sarah Jean Alexanders’ LOUD IDIOTS, follows the narrator as she moves through the streets of Toronto, dissecting a war within herself. What Lucy does with prose changed my world about how or what to write. What I love most about her work, and especially WAVES, is that we are introduced to a series of scenes that cements city as a museum of meaning— seeing Drake in a bar, finding a book about Barbara Streisand in the parking lot of a mall. It is as though each bar, each street corner is a staggered monument to a past experience of pain or euphoria. Through these moments and each detailed monument, a narrative is constructed that threads the reader through the process of what it is like to lose not only people in your life but also your sense of self. WAVES details a process of coming back to that lost self.

1. What was different for you when writing WAVES vs writing THE MOTION? In The Motion you talk about how Ginsberg did things in the very non-typical way— thrusting manuscript into people’s hands etc. What was the motivating factor for you in publishing WAVES through Second Books/on gum road? 

I think Sarah Jean and I just wanted to be in control. And having these books be in print didn’t really feel necessary or important.  We just wanted them to be available for people to read and we felt that we had the ability to edit each other's stories, and that we already had a following of people who would be interested in reading them, so why not try something different?

Working on anything with Sarah is my ideal situation. She’s critical when necessary but endlessly supportive and she has consistently great ideas. We just trust each other’s judgment when we’re editing.

In terms of what was different... The Motion took a couple of years to write and WAVES only took about three months. But I was thinking about WAVES the whole time that I was writing The Motion so... Who knows. I’m happy to have finished both of them. It feels like a relief to be free from those stories.

2. The other day I was humming “Come On Eileen” to myself and wondering how that song got stuck in my head. I realized it was because it played a significant role in WAVES, which I’d been reading, and then I started noticing when the song was on. I went to work at my job at Whole Foods and it was playing on the radio and I kept thinking about your book. Are there other songs you feel are burned into your memory, that have had a significant impact on your life? What is the story behind those?

Yeah, it’s funny. I never liked that song at all until I finished writing the book and now I feel like I’ve started to enjoy it in a sort of perverted way. 

As far as significant songs, there are so many. I’ve lived my whole life with headphones in. And I’ve spent a lot of time in unfamiliar places alone, so the soundtracks I have accidentally created always seem to stick.

I just recently thought of the name for the new Shabby Doll House issue when I heard a song I liked a lot as a teenager, Kinetic by Osker

There’s a soundtrack for The Motion here. I need to make one for WAVES too.

3. In the book, the narrator says, ‘Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being.’ Can you tell me more about that?

Yeah, actually that line is just straight up lifted from an Elvis Costello song, Lipstick Vogue.

What happened with WAVES is that I was retroactively making a story out of a time in my life when I was interested in writing, wanted to ‘be a writer’, but didn’t necessarily have the skills or direction to actually pull it off. In 2010, when much of the book is set, I kept a blog that nobody cared about and I updated it obsessively with notes and photos and songs I loved and outfits I wanted to copy from the runway and pages from books I sort of lived in. When I was writing WAVES, I had this incredible resource which I could go back to and look into the archives for the exact dates that certain things happened and how I had interpreted them at the time when they were happening, and then I could play with it all. I pulled all kinds of lines directly from the blog and weaved them into the book. There was so much stuff I wouldn’t have been able to remember otherwise. But yeah, that’s where that line comes from.

The writing of WAVES kind of brings to mind an image of someone going down to a shipwreck and exploring the remains with a little robot camera from the safety of their submarine. I felt like I was really down there, back in my old life, when I was writing, but I knew I had the safety of 5 years of distance and I could come up to breathe when I closed my computer.

4. How did it feel to be able to come sort of full-circle by pulling lines from your past you’d written when you were wanting to ‘be a writer’ but didn’t consider yourself one yet? What helped you to develop the kind of direction you needed? 

I think it just shows me that even when you don’t think you’re being productive or prolific or capable as a writer,  you can still do yourself a great service if you just pay attention to what’s happening around you and take notes. There’s no deadline for when you have to make use of your own thoughts. You can always develop them.

I think that when I started taking writing seriously, it was out of necessity for the possibility of my own happiness. I really needed it. But I’m sure I’ve only been able to sustain the commitment because I’m supported and inspired by my writer friends and contemporaries. I think it’s a kind of insane life to choose sometimes, and knowing other people who are also living it makes it feel more comfortable and more possible. 

Particularly, I can’t imagine what my life would look like if I hadn’t become friends with Sarah Jean. Meeting her was pivotal for me and we’ve collaborated consistently since we met. 

4.a - What was the collaboration process like for LOUD IDIOTS and WAVES? Both Sarah Jean Alexander’s and your first books came out from different publishers around the same time before, as well. What was the motivation in releasing it together?

I told Sarah Jean I wanted to do an ebook and she was like, ‘me too’ and told me she already had an idea for a story she wanted to work on. And then we both just started writing and sending pages back and forth. I think we were both able to write really quickly once we found a rhythm together. 

We’ve been editing Shabby Doll House in a similar fashion for the past few years so we’re very used to having periods of intense communication and creation periodically, and then we sort of go dormant for a while and just talk about our lives and have a regular friendship. 

We mainly wanted to release the books together because we thought it’d be more fun that way. It was a last minute decision to make it so that you could only buy them as a double feature. We just wanted to share our respective audiences with one another. But actually, a lot of readers have commented that the two novellas really complement one another since then, and I agree. I think it’d be cool if they were printed back to back one day, in limited edition, with the covers on either side. 

We’d also like to publish more things through Second Books in the future. It’s just a matter of finding the right stories.

4.b Speaking of friends and contemporaries, do you think a writer can exist in the world without the writing community? What is the role that community plays in the creation of literature? 

I think you need people. You need real friends. You need to be able to read work by other people who are alive at the same as you and to feel like you’re part of a dialogue... At least, if your aim is communication.

5. I have similar older blogs that I go back to often—it’s easy to spend hours going through each entry without really realizing it. Sometimes I miss the way that I used to write with abandon, without thinking about the ‘direction’ of a piece or how others might receive said piece in the context of literature. Do you ever write or blog now without thinking of the audience that might be reading it? 

Yeah, I can write without thinking of an audience. That’s what editing is for! But I usually keep new things to myself for long enough that by the time they’re published, I’m comfortably distant from whatever aspect of them makes me feel vulnerable. I do feel more protective of myself and my life now. 

6. How has it been to balance your role as editor for Shabby Doll House, The Reader, and releasing WAVES? I’m really curious as well about the release of the Kinetic issue of Shabby Doll House in two parts-- what was the motivation for that?

KINETIC was just too big to release at one time. It would have been overwhelming for readers if we had published it all at once. But of course, It was exciting to receive so many submissions that we really wanted to publish.

Also, I like on Destiny’s Child’s first album, (the self titled one) that they have a couple of songs (No No No and With Me) in two parts. 

As far as balancing anything, there’s this quote from 10:04 that I think about a lot, 

7. Are there any projects you’re thinking about next? 

Yeah, I’m writing some new stories! 

And I’m always working on The Shabby Doll Reader.

8. Lastly, what are you reading right now?

Favorite new things that I love include Chelsea Martin’s novella, Mickey, Stacey Teague’s ebook, not a casual / solitude, Michelle Lyn King’s story,  Ghosts You Loved More, Frankie Barnet’s story, A Plot of Ocean and LOUD IDIOTS by Sarah Jean Alexander! ;)








image: Photo courtesy Lucy K. Shaw