Luke's piece "Defunct Girl Gangs of North American Drive-Ins" was published in the October 2011 issue of The Collagist. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Jabberwock Review, Regarding Arts & Letters, Quick Fiction, and other journals.
1. What was your inspiration for "Defunct Girl Gangs of North American Drive-Ins"? What was on your mind while you were writing this piece?
I was trying to capture the style of voiceovers from trailers of juvenile delinquent films but in a more poetic kind of prose, I guess. I’m not one for writing exercises but the story sort of started as group of little pieces I worked on when I felt stalled in my other, more substantial stories. I tried to let the language lead each piece, which is something I don’t often do and that I’m not that comfortable with.
What was on my mind while I was writing it was mostly along the lines of: “This is stupid. Why am I wasting my time? I hate myself. I wish I was dead.”
I’m happy with it now, however, and I’m incredibly grateful that Matt Bell and The Collagist saw enough value in it to publish it.
2. I'm interested in the shift to second person at the end of this piece, Hellcats in Hotpants. Why did you decide to end the piece this way?
I think Hellcats in Hotpants was actually the second or third piece that I wrote. I wasn’t thinking ahead at all, so it was more a matter of what order the disparate pieces should be in than a deliberate decision to end with a major shift in one of the story’s established mechanisms. When I had enough little pieces to form something whole, I felt that there had to be something different about whatever came last or there’d be no cohesion or structure to the story. But I don’t know, I didn’t really think about it that much. It just seemed like the right place for it. Which is very lame answer, I know.
3. Can you tell us about the naming of the girl gangs—did they just pop into your head and their stories evolved from there, or was it the other way around?
Some of the names I took from old B-movies. Some of them I think I came up with myself. I kept a list of potential gang names in the margins of the pages as I worked on the story. I know that I tried to match the names to the gangs in a vague sort of way, but I don’t really remember much about what I was thinking at the time I wrote the story. It sat abandoned and unexamined for many months after it was finished. Like most things I write, I didn’t think it was any good at first, and it took me a while to come back around to it.
4. In a Contributor Spotlight post over at Hayden’s Ferry Review earlier this year, you discussed the writing of your story “Surfer Girl”, and this excerpt caught my eye:
“During childhood and a good chunk of my adolescence, I watched about eight hours of TV a day, even on school days. It’s actually helped me as a writer more than you might think. It taught me about clichés, for instance, which is why I can’t stand to watch even a minute of most sitcoms—I’ve heard all the jokes before.”
What are some other things you’ve learned about writing from TV, and how have those things changed as you’ve grown as a writer?
TV exposed me to so many storylines, and delivered them with such efficiency, that by the time I became seriously interested in reading and writing literature, I found myself burnt out on plot. As a result I became very fixated on voice, which is something that most TV shows—at least those like the bland sitcoms and cheaply produced cartoons I used to watch—lack. Lately I’ve been trying to be a little more embracing of plot, not that it shows in “Defunct Girl Gangs.”
But really, I’m probably just trying to impose meaning onto my ill spent childhood. I still remember, almost exactly, my TV watching schedule circa seventh grade: Alvin & the Chipmunks and Dennis the Menace before school, Kids WB cartoons when I got home, a couple episodes of The Cosby Show, a Seinfeld or Home Improvement, a couple episodes of The Simpsons, primetime sitcoms till 9, MTV or Comedy Central till 10 or 10:30, one more Seinfeld or Friends before bedtime. I had a TV in my room and put it on “sleep” mode every night and let the disembodied laugh track lull me to sleep. I would also eat, while watching television, 2 or 3 fun size bags of “Cooler Ranch” Doritos a day, examining each individual chip before I put it in my mouth so that the side with the highest volume of flavor specks was facedown on my tongue. Living like this taught me how to feel lonely and miserable, which was important training for being a writer.
5. What writing projects are you currently working on?
I’m putting together a collection of stories, all of which have to do, at least marginally, with teenagers and midcentury popular culture. The title will be either The Teen Age or I am a Magical Teenage Princess. Also, I’m working on a novel that will almost certainly be a complete failure.
6. Are there any recent publications or upcoming releases that you’re particularly excited about?
I always have my eye out for upcoming releases by Starcherone, FC2, and Dzanc, which I will promptly put on my Amazon.com wishlist and forget about buying until I’m at the AWP book fair. Also looking forward to receiving the new issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review in the mail. New to me is David Bowman’s Bunny Modern. It depresses me greatly that Bowman hasn’t published any fiction since its 1998 release.
But to be honest, the book I’m most anticipating is Fantagraphics’ Nancy is Happy: Complete Dailies 1943-1946, a collection of Ernie Bushmiller’s weirdly minimalist comic strips.