Monday, April 18, 2011

You must read Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle was our author guest for #blacklitchat last night on Twitter.

If you haven't read his work, you really must. Smart, funny, surprising, challenging. We focused on his novel Big Machine which has been described as horror, satire, fantasy and includes heroes, religion, and evil beings.

I had not read any of his work before. And I am going back to get both The Ecstatic, his previous novel, and Slapboxing for Jesus, a collection of short stories.

We were very lucky to have Victor join us. He has a Twitter account, but isn't active on Twitter and made an exception to join our chat. Which is very interesting as well because he is so good and, judging by the novel, would have us cracking up (and thinking) with tweets.

But if he is going to put all his typing energy into writing more stories and novels - it's all good.

So, usually I post a link to a transcript. But the site I've been using can no longer provide a transcript - some TOS thing with Twitter. I'm sure there's another way to provide a transcript that shows everyone's comments (lots of folks joined us - yay!) - but I don't have it today. [Edited 4/18 - What did I tell you about Dee Stewart? Of course she has a transcript link!]

Instead I grabbed the questions to Victor and his answers. Here's the Q&A (led by Dee Stewart - who shouldered the work for this one and did so with very little notice. Appreciate my co-host always.)

Oh! And Carleen Brice, author of Children of the Waters and Orange Mint and Honey, hosted a giveaway on her blog to help promote the chat. That was a surprise from her (though it's no surprise that she supports the chat - she was one of the first people to do so!). Thanks, Carleen.

Q1 - In your words, in less than 150 char, what is Big Machine?
A1:Big Machine is the whole United States today shrunk down to one easy to swallow capsule. Easy-ish.

Q2: Scary description. I know you intended to write a horror novel, why should we be frightened with Big Machine?
A2: Evocative sewer landscapes, homeless terrorists with bombs on their chests, monsters, and, of course, the specter of love.

Q3: There are so many nuggets to get. I've (@deegospel) reread chapter 55 too many times. What's your process?
A3: I'm pulling the book down now. Let me see what chapter 55 says!
A3: Chapter 55 - the wasp larva and the needle. Good times.

Q3b: I don't want to share any spoiler, but did you know before you wrote the story Ricky [would] be in that situation?
A3: Funny, but that's one thing that was there from the start. I couldn't get rid of it! I wrote the rest to find out why.

Q4: Did you build Big Machine differently than the Ecstatic? If so, what was different, if not how do you do it?
A4: The ecstatic was built on voice and personal history. Big Machine was built on old school narrative. That's the difference.
A4b: When I wrote Ecstatic I didn't understand what a plot was. Not really. With Big Machine I learned.
A4c: The big thing: the first third of book is only about posing questions. Different from stories!

Q5: When you decided to write Big Machine, you used narrative voice to write Ricky's story or you wanted to tackle nv?
A5: I felt sure about voice so it was about plot, pacing. I went back to classics to keep readers turning pages.

Q6 via @sweat_btwn: What is your inspiration to write? What’s in your room? Any ritual or routine?
A6: Right now I'm still inspired by Thom Yorke's dancing in lotus flower video!
A6b: By which I mean pure abandon.

Q7: via @carleenbrice There has been word that you're writing a screenplay for Big Machine. What is that process like?
A7: I'm writing it for sure. It's been an education. Learning to switch from written language to visual language. Tough as sh*t.

Q7b: How much of a challenge was it switching from short story to novel?
A7b: Very tough. Story is abt. problem on p1, solution on p.25. Novel is problem on p1, solution on p400!
A7c: So in novel you have to come up with many other questions/answers so you can put off the big answer til the end.

Q8: via @EvelynNAlfred Which classics did you read to help you with plotting Big Machine?
A8: Moby Dick. Narr. of Olaudah Equiano. Various Jane Austen. Bible. For reals!
a8b: Jane Austen was an atom smasher!

Q9 Big Machine has been described as horror, fantasy, satire. How (if u do) wld u categorize? Is it limiting to do so?
A9: I really think the best books are the hardest to categorize. What's Gayl Jones? Literary? Horror? Feminist? Poetry? Yes!
A9b: not really the humblest answer, was that? Oh well.

Q10 via @conniebriscoe Are you teaching yourself to write the screenplay? Or working with someone?"
A10: tried to teach myself years back and FAILED! Took a great course at a program: @BingerFilmlab. Amazing.

Victor (at the end): Thanks again for having me. Hope you had as much fun as I did.

We certainly did!


Dee S. said...

Thank you for sharing last night's chat. Here is the link to the transcript.

Karen L. Simpson said...

Darn missed the chat. Thanks for the transcript. As a writer I found his explanation about how his novels and stories worked inspirational and instructive.

Anonymous said...

I think it's interesting that Blogspot won't let you use its service to promote Twitter but the link to promote Blogspot on Twitter still works. Nonetheless, I'm glad you found a way to share the coversation. Very interesting!