MORTAL GHOST and an interview with L Lee Lowe
Following in the wake of a new journal blog LOWEBROW, which hints at a life which involves some travel, Lee kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about MORTAL GHOST - as well as my usual run of questions about life in general.
CD: Why have you travelled around so much?
LLL: I never planned to spend more than half my life in foreign countries. Like so many things that happen to us, it just happened. Determined to become a poet (and undoubtedly under the influence of the exile generation of F. Scott Fitzgerald et al.) I went to Paris to study for a year after university and my first joblets. And one thing led to another, including two longish spells in Germany, where during the first one I met my spouse, and sandwiched in between, eighteen years in Zimbabwe.
But there is of course always a deeper reason for these life histories, and I’ve never stopped reflecting about my self-styled exile: not political, rather a need to be the outsider, the borderliner, perhaps the observer. I’ve decided that I need to write a novel about exile to work it all out for myself. It’s usually through fiction that I come a bit closer to self-understanding.
CD: Why are you interested in writing for young adults? What started off the interest?
LLL: I read very little YA literature as a teen – there wasn’t much of it, and I was more drawn to so-called genre fiction like SF and crime and romance, as well as the classics and a lot of poetry. Plenty of comic books too. And I’m not too proud to admit that I quite liked cereal packet and obituary reading as well. I had reasonably eclectic tastes, and to this day feel there are only interesting and less interesting books, books that are well-written and less well-written; not literary/non-literary ones. Whichever tools work. And throw out the rulebook! For each novel you forge the tools and make the rules you need for the particular challenge you’ve set yourself.
I really began to read and collect YA fiction at university. Adolescence is one of the most intense periods in a person’s life, and all teenagers are in some sense borderliners. Full of energy, full of doubts; full of sound and fury. Questioning, searching, rejecting. In YA lit circles it’s customary to speak of a search for identity – for agency – and while I agree that this is, in our cultural context, an essential part of the teenage years, at least ideally, I don’t like to set an age limit. Rather, I see it as a lifelong process: we all bear the infant, the child, the teenager within us.
That said, I find it’s the borders and crossing places which offer some of the richest soil for fiction.
And I don’t intend to write only for teens. Once I finish the YA novel I’m currently working on, I’m planning to do something quite different.
CD: How long have you been writing?
LLL: Essentially, off and on since childhood, but in the early years, mostly poetry like so many beginning writers. And a lot of fiction which I never had the discipline to finish.
CD: Do you have other employment? What is it?
LLL: Over the years I’ve had the usual liquorice allsortment of jobs that often seems to be part of a writer’s training.
CD: Where did you grow up and where did you go to school and college?
What did you study?
LLL: I grew up on Long Island, in suburbs of New York City. BA in English lit and philosophy from a New York state university – sorry, no Harvard or Yale to vaunt – and an MA from a German university (Heidelberg).
CD: Whereabouts in Germany do you live now? Are you likely to stay
LLL: In the hills above Bonn, near the Rhine River. Will I stay? Probably not.
CD: What initiated MORTAL GHOST? How much of this have you written already? How long is the finished work?
LLL: Initiated? A single image – a dream sequence – which became the first sentences of the first draft, long discarded. The novel is finished but needs certain revisions which I’ve planned but will undertake as the serialisation progresses. There are also certain scenes which I cut from the much longer original version and which I may decide to restore in one form or another. As it now stands, it’s about 350 pages in length.
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
LLL: We have a large garden, and in my feeble attempts to grow vegetables organically, I tried the method local gardeners here swear by to rid themselves of the seasonal slug infestation – beer traps (what else in Germany?). Unfortunately, though slugs and snails love the beer, and do crawl in to drown, we couldn’t understand why the plastic saucers were always empty. Until we discovered our dog Gypsy cheerfully draining the traps, slugs and all.
CD: What is your proudest moment?
LLL: No one single moment, many small ones regarding my children. As for myself, I don’t think pride is something which comes readily.
CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
LLL: The nearest I’ve come, was the suicide of my closest friend’s 15-year-old son several years ago. He’s the Jake to whom MORTAL GHOST is dedicated.
CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
LLL: Many in Africa: the first newborn who died of tetanus, the toddler daughter of a staff member badly burnt by an unattended paraffin lantern she overturned on herself, my own five-year-old daughter’s discovery of an abandoned newborn baby in a ditch next to our house, the disabled kids who could have avoided polio with simple vaccinations, the street kids, the hungry, the whole generation lost to AIDS. But you don’t have to go to Africa for sadness, it’s an integral part of life.
CD: If there was one thing you’d change about yourself what would it be?
LLL:Only one allowed? I’ve got a whole list. Ten years ago it probably would have been to rid myself of my terrible temper. Now it would be a greater gift for writing.
CD: What is happiness?
LLL: There’s no such thing. There are only happy moments.
CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
LLL: Pee and tea.