Louis Lowy: Die Laughing

Louis Lowy’s work has appeared in Coral Living Magazine, New Plains Review, The Florida Book Review, Ethereal Tales, Bête Noire, Pushing Out the Boat, and The MacGuffin Magazine, among others. His short story, “The One Cupper,” has been sent to Best American Mystery Stories for consideration.

Lowy is a recipient of the Florida Individual Artist Fellowship, and his poem “Poetry Workshop” was the second-place winner of the 2009 Winning Writers Wergle Flomp Contest. He is currently working toward his MFA in Creative Writing at Florida International University, where he is on the staff of Gulf Stream Magazine. He lives in Miami Lakes, Florida, with his wife, daughter, and two cocker-terriers.

Lowy’s novel, Die Laughing, was recently released by IFWG Publishing. It is available in e-book as well as hard copy format.

Lowy was interviewed by Corey Ginsberg for Sliver of Stone Magazine.

CG: Die Laughing is a book that pushes and blurs the edges of established genres, such as sci-fi and humor, and even employs fifties pop culture references like The Steve Allen Show. Can you discuss how genre awareness plays a role in the writing of a novel, and how it informed your creative process?

LL: I set out to write a tale of someone struggling to find their sense of self-worth. Everything in between was what that person—Sam E. Lakeside—had to go through to reach his conclusion. I knew that if I wanted my tale to be entertaining it would have to be told in a manner that would keep the reader turning the pages. I purposely used a lot of elements from different genres to do that, specifically science fiction, humor, suspense, horror, mystery, and everything in between, but I never thought about one genre over the other. That’s why there is that crossover.

To answer specifically the question of genre awareness and the role it plays in writing, I would compare it to the writing of a song. There are certain pre-conceived notions when you listen to a particular type of music.

Because my novel takes place in the 1950s, I’ll use rockabilly as an example. If I were to write a rockabilly song, I would expect my beat to be fast and to have a swing feel, the drums to be based around a snare that mostly pounds out what’s called the backbeat (the 2 and 4 of the measure), a bass pattern centered around the root-third-fifth of the chord, a fairly clean, slightly country-sounding guitar, and the vocalist to be singing as opposed to rapping. As a listener, if I purchase a song labeled “rockabilly,” it better have those elements or I would feel cheated.

The same goes with writing. If you’re telling a murder-mystery, Harlequin romance, or YA story, each one of those has certain elements that encompass that category. As a writer, if you’re writing in a certain genre, the reader expects (though they may not always be specifically aware of them) those elements. You have to be aware, and utilize them to deliver the goods. And if you want to stretch the rubber band, so to speak, you can’t do it unless you’re first aware of the rules.

CG: Pulling off humor in writing is hard. In the words of Herman Wouk, “I regard the writing of humor as a supreme artistic challenge.” Many of the scenes in your novel are laugh-out-loud funny. As you wrote and revised Die Laughing, how did you anticipate what the readers would find funny? Do you have any advice you could offer to those writing books with a humorous slant?

LL: I had no idea if anyone would find the humor amusing or not. My criterion was if I thought it was funny I’d use it. I think one of the keys to story humor is not to try too hard. Don’t force it. My funniest moments came when I let my characters banter between themselves. I could feel when they were on a roll and I let them go with it. Later, I’d edit and refine. Another key is it’s always easier if you know where you’re going with the scene (or the entire story for that matter.) Of course that wasn’t always the case, but when it was I could throw out lines that I knew were going to boomerang back in an unexpected and amusing way. It gave me the ability to shape, misdirect, mold and build to the payoff.

CG: Can you speak a bit about your writing and revision process? Did you outline the book before beginning? How many drafts of Die Laughing did you write? Between drafts, did you set the novel aside or keep steadily revising?

LL: At the start, I didn’t specifically outline the book, but I had a general sense of where I was going. One rule I had in the initial draft was that if something seemed as if it was heading in a perceived direction I would turn it the opposite way. For instance, if I had a person dressed in a bathing suit running toward the beach with a surfboard in her hands, I’d try to think of another reason why she was carrying the board other than to go surfing, and have her not end up in the sea. It was a strange and sometimes difficult way to go, but it was also a lot of fun and led me to unforeseen places.

After I finished my first draft, I was introduced to Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I picked up a lot of pointers from it and drastically altered my second draft to utilize the mythological lore. A good example would be that in those types of stories, the protagonist is reluctantly called to action. I altered my second draft to fit that. That also led to my character becoming more proactive. On the flip side, it also caused me to start from scratch and write the entire story over again. It was frustrating and grueling, but I knew it was the correct decision. In the end I was glad I did because it made for a much more compelling story.

I did two more complete drafts based on the revamped version, polished it numerous times and was never long periods away from the novel, though there were a few breaks here and there when I was writing, or revamping short stories.

CG: One of my favorite parts of Die Laughing is the ending (which I will not give away here). When you wrote the book, did you know from the beginning how it would end and write toward that? Or was this something you discovered as you went along?

LL: I knew the ending about quarter way through the initial draft. That was a huge advantage because, as was the case when I was speaking about humor, I could use everything in my power to achieve maximum results from that point forward regarding the finale. An interesting note is that I changed my ending after the second draft and wrote an alternative one. Because the original ending seemed so unconventional, I was concerned about acceptance from agents and publishers. After much contemplation it hit me that the most important thing wasn’t what others might think, but that I was happy with my story. With that perspective I knew my first ending was the one that had to be in there. And again, I was glad I made that decision because it made the story more powerful.

CG: In addition to full-length novels, you also write short stories. In what ways do you find writing in the shorter form to be similar to writing a novel? How do the two differ?

LL: I’m going to use a metaphor again and compare both to a spider web. The center, or orb, is the focal point of a web. In a short story, I think you concentrate on that orb—which I equivocate to the story’s main idea or purpose—and maybe branch out to a few surrounding weaves. In a novel, you still concentrate on that central idea, but you also have the ability to branch out far beyond to the outer reaches of the weave. It allows for more thought patterns: some that interconnect, some that seem to connect but don’t, and others that appear to have little relation but when followed long enough eventually come together.

Now, this isn’t a cut-and-dry rule. A given short story can be more complicated than a given novel, but in general, that’s how I view it. I think the key in either one is to have that strong center. What was the idea or purpose behind that particular short story or novel? How well did the author convey it? Without a well-constructed core, no matter how large or small the weaves are, the more likely they are to falter.