Monday, September 5, 2011

[Interview] Lorette C. Luzajic

Lorette C. Luzajic lives in Toronto, Ontario where she works as an artist and an author.

Her books include The Astronaut’s Wife: Poems of Eros and Thanatos (Handymaiden Editions, 2006); Goodbye, Billie Jean: the Meaning of Michael Jackson (Handymaiden Editions, 2010) and Fascinating Writers: twenty-five unusual lives (Idea Fountain Editions, 2011).

In this interview, Lorette Luzajic talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

The cliché but true answer is that there was never a time I didn’t write. I started making up stories and researching projects as soon as I could read, which was very early on. There was never a time for me outside of that identity.

I was very earnest in my childhood, dutifully preparing my double-spaced typewritten poems for submissions to literary journals, complete with the obligatory self-addressed stamped envelopes, in the days before email submissions.

It never dawned on me that submitting my youthful-hearted works to adult literary journals was a waste of time. I saved each rejection and kept track of what pieces were sent where. Many editors kindly took the time to encourage my talent and direct it to more appropriate venues – for years I treasured these handwritten rejection slips as meaningful.

It wasn’t all for naught, however - quite a few childhood poems made their way into the pages of small zines and journals, and I wrote a few religious articles for magazines that had no idea I was a teenager. I won a contest in a Christian magazine when I was twelve. Since adulthood, hundreds of poems, stories, and articles have been widely published in zines, journals, blogs, magazines, anthologies - from Modern Poetry to Dog Fancy.

My colleague, writer Crad Kilodney, who is brilliant, once wrote that getting accepted by a magazine or publisher at a young age is the worst thing that can happen to a writer. Ever after that, they are sure they have what it takes and don’t prepare for another life.

How would you describe your writing?

Right now I am wrapping up a collection of short fiction stories.

I also just released a collection called Fascinating Writers: twenty-five unusual lives.

The topics I write about range extensively, but I think what my favourite and most inspired works are people stories. The best response from my audience so far has been about my Fascinating People series - which are subjective, experiential essays about interesting personages throughout history, especially artists and writers. People who are curious about culture and history and people are the readers who most appreciate these pieces.

I confess that I go about everything backwards.

To be successful, you should probably decide on your audience and write for them. I tend to write what interests me most and hope for an audience. I don’t recommend this approach to writing or art, not unless you are independently wealthy or have a day job.

Which authors influenced you most?

Isabel Allende was a true inspiration in her way of experiencing the magic of life.

Ray Bradbury inspired me because he has written every single day for some eight decades, and striving for this kind of tenacity has helped teach me great discipline and focus, which are not in my nature.

I admire the way different authors use language, from e. e. cummings to Donna Tartt to Haruki Murakami - I am given permission to use the language I see fit and see if I can’t create something of my own, something original.

I read Oscar Wilde when I need to regain a caustic sensibility and a dose of courage. But by and large, I devour non-fiction on nearly every topic under the sun... Mark Kurlansky, Camille Paglia, Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer, Thomas Moore... I believe in unlimited thinking.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I have lived a life of great passion and intensity. I think those things come through in my work, both my writing and my visual artwork.

Since I am quite averse to wasting any part of my life doing something banal that I don’t wish to do, my concern is how I can find my own place in the business of art and publishing. I don’t play the game well. I want complete creative control. I studied journalism in university but I have no interest in strict reporting. I am impatient and want to write about what I want to write about, as opposed to following a reasonable plan. It would have been much easier if I had just gone to work for a single newspaper or if I followed the advice of a literary agent who sought me out. But I didn’t want to stop all the things I have going on in my head to try to adhere to the tried and true methods of working as a writer.

I don’t want to wait or switch gears. I’m not saying this is wise, but it has made me incredibly innovative. I rose to the challenge by creating a creativity portal, the Idea Fountain, which combines my work as an artist and as a writer, along with my pet cause, freedom of expression.

Since I feel so strongly about freedom of expression being the fundamental human right, the foundation of all freedoms, and so grateful for my own freedom to write and paint, I tied all of this up as “fiercely independent.” Now I run the whole show.

I started Idea Fountain Editions for my books and for other people’s books in the future. I sell my art online and promote my ideas independently. I welcome buyers and sponsors and patrons. And I pledge ten percent, a tithe of my product earnings, to promote freedom of expression.

My biggest challenge is that when you do it all yourself, and you don’t play the game, then you actually are on your own. It can be scary. I take credit for everything I do - and that includes the mistakes. I am responsible for every aspect of my work, which includes the stuff I’m not very good at, like promotion and administrative work. But I’m learning, and I’m so happy and so grateful. And I feel a sense of authentic connection with my small but loyal fan base. Those who enjoy my work don’t want me to be anybody but myself.

Do you write everyday?

Yes. Around seven a.m. I bound out of bed and leap to the coffee machine. I can’t wait to wake up and get to my desk, starting even as I wait for the coffee to brew. I work for several hours on a particular project, determined in one of my many lists of things to do. Important emails and interviews and research are all part of it.

Then I spend several more hours working on a bunch of different projects for a half hour here, ten minutes there, an hour here. There are always many things underway. I thrive when working on fifty things at the same time, but each one advances slowly.

Deadline items take front seat in the morning. I also work in my studio in the afternoons, often moving back and forth from my desk to my easel in half hour shifts. I only stop working when my carpal tunnel syndrome forces me away from my desk or I have a meeting or some other obligation or commitment.

I try to take walking or stretching breaks and get a bit of exercise since the work is sedentary.

In the evening I make plans with family and friends, get some exercise, cook, and sometimes I stay home to read and to keep working. I am totally obsessed with creating. I can’t seem to create enough. I am trying to make up for lost time when in the past, I was not focused or disciplined or didn’t know how to go about what I wanted to do. But I remind myself that the well will run dry if I don’t get out and live, too.

How many books have you written so far?
How long did it take you to write Fascinating Writers?

My latest book is about fascinating writers, exactly as titled. I get to know 25 writers and share my experiences in a gossipy, personable style that invites everyday readers into literature, rather than limiting enjoyment to a more scholarly crowd.

Technically it has taken about three years to compile the 25, since I am never working on one thing at a time.

How did you find a publisher for the book?

As I mentioned above, I started my own publishing company, Idea Fountain Editions, as an initiative of Idea Fountain Productions.

The advantages of small press publishing include creative control, expediency, and innovation.

The disadvantages are stigma and the lack of marketing support. The stigma that self-publishers or small presses have is the idea that someone couldn’t find a traditional publisher because the books are sub-par or unprofessional.

This stigma is often founded in reality - there is a veritable sea of bad books drowning the populace with atrocious poetry from hopefuls everywhere.

With small presses, there might be only one or a couple of people working on everything from overall design to proofreading, so there might be errors that companies with millions of dollars to work with won’t make. But it’s all relative, since the independent press is also highly innovative, offering more variety since its investments and expectations are not necessarily to hit the New York Times Bestseller list (though no one would scoff at making it!).

Creative control in my small press means I get to decide what goes in and what goes on the cover - frankly, I can’t believe the terrible cover art of the vast majority of large press publishing.

Also, bad books are not exclusive to the small press. The vast majority of books are forgettable, and the vast majority of books are poor sellers. But to me, that doesn’t matter. If someone puts themselves out there, I admire that. Only a few people will have a million fans. Only a few books will be brilliant enough to transcend history as classics. And who cares if someone wants to share their bad poetry with their friends and family? We sneer at the gall of someone who dares to put their stuff out there, when we don’t have to buy it. But we all pay taxes that go into grants that pay for so-called legitimate writers to write boring books that no one will read.

We just as often sneer at the big best-selling writers for their mass-manufactured approach to writing - but it is these few who allow the industry to exist, since nearly every writer, old and new, loses money for its publishers. Publishing is a losing game.

I try to accept all of it, and believe there is room for all of us. This doesn’t mean that I think all literature is equal - quite the opposite. I think literature serves many different purposes. No one is forced to be an audience to what they don’t like - but I can’t see any harm in people expanding their horizons in different directions, either. Academic readers might do good to relax with sentimental mush from time to time - and readers who are intimidated by the elitism of classicists shouldn’t be discouraged from trying to experience the joy of hallmark literature. Everyone can benefit from reading from the opposite end of their political spectrum and learning something about their own confirmation biases.

I work hard at my art and writing. I try to find an audience that appreciates my work. I live humbly thus far, but I live in a “room of my own” and spend each and every day doing what I love.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is a collection of short fiction stories. It will be out this year. My second poetry collection is also pending and will probably be out this year, too.

The companion to Fascinating Writers is underway - Fascinating Artists: twenty-five unusual lives. I’m hard at work on it, and hope to see its completion this year, but it takes a considerable amount of time to write each piece and I don’t want to rush them. I want them to be inspired.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

The Idea Fountain, which merged my visual art work, my writing work, and my passion for freedom for all people - freedom of expression - is my most significant achievement.

The Fountain will, I hope, continue to flow with new ideas and generate new ways to work, to market myself, and to support creativity and freedom for people who live under tyranny. Through the umbrella of the Fountain, I want to continue to learn about history and politics and promote the art of people who are not as fortunate as I am. It is a tremendous blessing to be born free, to 20th century Canada.

I used to feel guilty for “frittering” my time away on art and writing when I should have been doing useful tasks - “real” work. Now I know that it is a privilege wasted to not pursue my creative potential when historically I wasn’t allowed to do so. I would not have the same privilege if I were born into socialism or theocracy. In a way, I feel committed to making the most of my writing and art because it is a privilege few have.

I hope for the day that all men, women, and children will be free. And I’m optimistic, despite the atrocities and censorships and torments and war that people endure. The Idea Fountain is about my hope and optimism, and finding that place of gratitude is my most significant achievement thus far.

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