Smoking With Robert Lopez

Read the Story March 15, 2006
story art

In Of Mice and Men, George perhaps confronts the tragic trap that the only way he can assert his humanity in the face of a world hostile to it is to destroy the very thing that evoked the humanity in the first place. Huh? Well, it sounded better in my head. What choice does society have with those who don’t fit in?—and what are the consequences of (1) destroying such people and/or (2) making a place for them? And (3) what’s this have to do, if anything, with your amazing and brilliant story?

I suppose society either ignores those who don’t fit in or puts them all under one roof. Depends on the malady. Unlike Thoreau, I don’t have a third chair for society in my cabin. There’s one chair for the narrator and another one for me. Though I try to keep mine in a separate room for as long as I can.

Crazy Janey, Wild Billy, G-Man, Hazy Davy, Killer Joe—these characters inhabited Springsteen’s world on his Greetings from Asbury Park, an album I listened to throughout my, shall we say, formative years. The names and Beats-influenced
staccato evoked a world that existed on the edge of my own, one I lacked the vision to grasp except in too-small glimpses. Your world—populated by Blind Betty, Pregnant Janie, Pity Jimmy—evokes what, Robert? What relationship does this world have with ours?

Seems like we label people an awful lot. Not sure if there’s any way around it, though. Makes it easier to keep the books. That said, I haven’t spent any time thinking about why the narrator does this. He called Blind Betty Blind Betty and Pity Jimmy Pity Jimmy from the start. Seemed right to me at the time and it still does. I imagine the way these characters interact with each other bears a strong resemblance to what goes on in the world. Again, I try not to think about that stuff.

Tell us all you can about the orgin and continuing development of the blindsters.

The narrator of a story I’d done a few years ago turned up in this place surrounded by these people. For whatever reason language comes to me and I go where the language wants to go. After writing a few “Blindster” stories one after another I thought maybe I could do a few more. I had my good friend Peter Markus’ Brothers in my head and figured it’d be a good thing to do. It’s since turned into a short novel with something like a novel’s arc and trajectory. I think it’s almost finished.

Your bio is bound to create much jealousy in those writers who read it. (Fortunately, I’m above such pettiness—you maddeningly successful writer, you). Your work is truly wonderful. What do you think is the key to breaking into these “top tier” journals?

Luck and persistence. Helps if you listen to your own page. Or maybe it doesn’t. Hell if I know.

The New School’s writing program has a fantastic reputation. Talk, if you would, a little about the program itself and, especially, your experimental fiction workshop. What are the essential skills you can teach students who want to get better at writing experimental fiction?

There’s a lot to the New School’s Writing Program, which is a good thing. Plenty of fine and different writers on both sides of the desk and no one way to approach the work. I tell students to cultivate and exploit their own weirdness, perversions, etc. Use it all, make it different. Read everything and when you’re done go back and re-read it. Don’t explain anything in a story and always render the objects and actions. Fiction begins and ends with language. The “story” is trivia. We all know the stories.

About the Author:

Robert Lopez has had fiction in dozens of online and print journals, including BOMB, American Letters & Commentary, New Orleans Review, New England Review, The Barcelona Review, 5_Trope, Nerve, etc. Other "Blindster" stories can be found or will turn up in Unsaid, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Small Spiral Notebook, Elimae, Eclectica, and FRiGG. He teaches an experimental fiction workshop at The New School and is co-editor of SleepingFish.