Lacy Lalonde lives in Montreal, but I know her from Halifax where we met in a Classical Egyptian course in university. She is one of my favourite people, and has recently started sending me short samples of her writing. You can read her blog here.
Joey: I've known for a while now that you were writing stories, but it was only recently that you sent me any. You told me you were embarrassed to show people. I have a hard time relating to that, because I was so shameless about wanting people's approval even when I just started. But also, it seems hard to reconcile with the Lacy I know in the real world, who is brash and intelligent and confident. I guess it can be a problem when someone is too confident at something new. Over-confident! Nobody ever really interviews people who are just getting started at a career, but I think it's interesting. What is the process like, and how is it different for you. When you sit down to write, what goal do you have in your head? What do you want to create? And why can't you do it? When you doubt something you've written, is it a specific doubt or general? Do you have an idea what your stories are lacking, or do you just generally worry that you aren't a good writer?
Lacy: I have never thought of writing as being goal oriented. For me it is just something that I like to do. I have been writing for a while, I only recently started being serious about it. I have a crazy mind that never turns off, especially when I am sleeping. Plus, I do this thing where I constantly think of "what if" situations. Sometimes I turn my thoughts into stories, sometimes I just scare the shit out of myself and try to think about other things. I donít know if you remember but I asked you once where you got your ideas from. My head, you said. My ideas are usually spawned from a random experience. Is it the same with you? Do you let your ideas sit for a while before you start putting them on paper?
When I write I donít know that I sit down to create anything in particular; I donít think I am evolved enough as a writer to be able to do that. When I write, this picture forms in my head and it is so clear it is like a memory. If I donít get it out I keep going back to it in my mind. I still think about stories that I wrote when I was in elementary school. I think about stories that I never finished.
When I doubt my writing, which is often, it is usually specific parts rather than the whole piece. Like a paragraph that just doesnít sound right, or a description that isnít clear enough. However, if I canít fix that one thing then I wonít like the piece in its entirety. Sometimes I will look over something I wrote a while ago and hate it. That gets me down. It makes me worry that all my writing is shit and it just took me longer to figure out. Do you ever feel that way about stuff you wrote when you were first starting out? Do you ever look back on your earlier work and cringe?
My writing lacks experience and it comes through in my stories. I am still trying to find my niche. I donít think I am a bad writer, I think I am new at this and it shows. I hate that the most. But I see myself getting better and that gives me incentive to keep at it. You mentioned once that your work still gets rejected. Does it discourage you? Or make you question your ability as a writer?
Joey: I do let ideas sit a while before I write them. I didn't at first. I had so many ideas and loved them all. I loved crazy ideas. I still do. I wrote a story about aliens that kidnapped people and only spoke through sock puppets. My very first published story was about a spaceship crashing into an old brownstone apartment building out in the middle of deep space. When I look back on that story, I feel stupid in a lot of ways. The relationships in that story are horrible and lazy. The narrator's wife cheating with his rival? I want to go back and slap that younger Joey in the face. But as I wrote more and more, I started to figure out the traits of ideas that made for better stories. I started to appreciate the relationships in stories as much as the weird ideas. And, of course, I learned more about relationships in my actual life.
But, while my stories still get rejected sometimes, it doesn't make me question my abilities as a writer anymore. It's not rejections that make me question myself. I know that the books I put out are good. They are the stories I had in my head, and I'm proud of them. But I worry about what else they could have been. It's not easy making a career writing short novels. It sometimes feels like half the reviews I read online call one of my books a rip-off because of the length. And I can be frustrated at this kind of thing, like maybe they should be buying encyclopedias if all that matters to them is how many words they get per dollar. But I doubt myself, too. I feel lazy, or impatient. When I write something I want to publish it right away. And I revise and edit until it feels perfect, but then after I publish something I always think - that could have been better. Not what's there, but what could have been there. It could have been more fleshed out. It could have had more characters, more subplots, been twice as long. That could have been a real novel-length book, the book where nobody complains about the length. The book that a major publishing house might have been interested in, that might have had a chance at real commercial success.
But I am writing the stories I want to, at the scope I want to, and I've been lucky enough to get away with it for this long. And really that's the important thing. Some people connect with the books, and that is the most satisfying thing in the world. What about you? What draws you to writing? Are you writing because you have a message that you want to express, or because you like the idea of being a writer? I'll be honest, initially it was the idea of being a writer that attracted me to writing. I read biographies and how-to book after how-to book. Do you read book after book of writing advice, even though you know they're cheesy?
Lacy: I have no message for the world, not yet anyway, and I am kind of embarrassed when people find out that I write. Like when my partner told you, after I specifically asked her not to, I wanted to punch her in the tit. I really enjoy writing and I want to be good at it. By never showing anyone I never have to worry about my work being shitty. I want everyone to read it and love it without ever having to read it. I am working on being brave.
I loved that Stephen King book you got me, On Writing. It was the first book about writing that I ever read. It gave me so many great tips; I pretty much dog-eared every other page. What advice would you give me, or any other fledgling writer?
Joey: Early on, I started doing the exact opposite of what you describe. I showed my work to my friends constantly. I still do. And I ask for their feedback. Do they think this part works, or that part. Do they like this character? And some of my friends like what I've written, and they say so, and that's nice. But I've found over time that the friends I keep asking are the friends who don't say they like it. Who are honest even though it might hurt my feelings. Sometimes they're wrong, and I won't change anything, but more often they're right. They bring up problems that never occurred to me. They bring a fresh perspective to some element or relationship that lets me see a bigger picture. After talking to those friends, the book gets better, and at the end of the day I'll gladly have my feelings hurt to make a better book. So, don't think of showing people as being brave, think of it as a price you have to pay to improve.
That Stephen King book is wonderful, and one of the only writing books I read that wasn't complete garbage. Which makes me wary of trying to give advice to other writers. Because I don't know what makes a good writer. I have a personal taste and a style that I think works for me, but when people send me their work and ask me to take a look, I have to say no. Because all the fixes I see when I look at something are fixes that would make their writing more like mine. That's not very helpful. The Stephen King book is great because rather than just a bunch of rules about writing, he fills it with stories about how things were for him, problems and doubts that he faced. There are no good catch-all rules to becoming a better writer, but it helps to know that someone like King went through the same doubts, and relied on the people he loved in the same way I do. It helps to know that he wasn't brilliant right from the get-go, that he grew as a writer and was often just as frustrated as me. And he talks about the importance of reading. That's huge, I think. People don't need rules to learn to be a better writer. Because no set of rules is going to match every sensibility. But when we read books, we notice the things that are great about that book, or about that character. We make rules in our own heads based on the things we've seen and loved in other books. We build our styles like that.
Do you get inspiration that way? Reading something great makes me want to write. Watching a great movie. What are the books you've read, where you put them down afterward and wished you had written them? What are the books in your head that you've never come across in the real world? The books that you want to make exist? And how much of yourself do you let into your writing? Do you think that's important, for the things you know about the world to be a part of the story or the characters? Or do you think that everything has to be made from scratch, that it's only fiction if you keep yourself divorced from it? Or somewhere in the middle?
L: I definitely get inspiration from reading books, especially if I really like the writing style. Anything that bends the rules inspires me; it doesnít even have to be good. I take a lot from the books I read, some more than others. I try to apply it to my own writing in my own way. I am interested to see the way an author describes something or writes out their dialogue, their style and format. I look for guidance in the writing of others. Books that remind me how writing can be anything are the most inspirational. Do you have a book, or type of books that you find particularly inspirational? Is there an underling theme?
Genre writing frustrates me. I want to write queer fiction, but I suck at it. It doesnít ever seem to be queer enough to fit into the genre. Maybe I am not gay enough, or maybe I donít read enough queer fiction. One of my favourite short story collections, that I always recommend to anyone, is Skeleton Crew by Stephen King. I am jealous of those stories. I want to write stories like those. I love stories that are bizarre and imaginative.
I put a little bit of myself into everything I write. I have to. I don't feel a connection to the story otherwise. I think that is why I like writing so much. The parts of me I put into a story are usually perverse or dark, things that I wouldnít necessarily share with other people. In that way writing for me is therapeutic. I get to explore the parts of my mind that society would most likely deem deviant. I think adding a little bit of personal truth to a fictional story gives it that ring of realism. Besides, nothing fictional is derived completely from scratch. How does that saying go? There is a hint of truth in every lie. Do you put traits of yourself in your work?
Joey: I certainly put my own interests into my work, I don't know if I think it adds realism exactly, but it is what I want to write about. The books that inspire me the most are the ones that remind me that you can do anything you want! The same as you! Except I can't make the same exception for bad books that you seem to make. I don't have time for bad writing.
I used to feel guilty about not reading the classics. I would sit down to read one, and get bored and set it aside, and then feel like I was failing at an obligation. But there are so many more good books out there than I will ever have time to read. I can't afford to waste time on something boring. So why feel bad?
Biographies of writers inspire me, too. And books about science that remind me how small we are and how dead we're going to be soon. Anything that reminds me that people can be good. And, even now, anything that gives me a crazy idea. Do you think writing can help us figure out what we are really like?
Lacy: I donít know if writing can help us figure out who we are, but I do think reading other peopleís writing can. Remember the time you told me about reading that Patricia Highsmith biography? How much it meant to you afterwards, how much she meant to you. I want to say something cheesy here like a book like that is what writing is all about, because it is, but it isnít.