An Interview with Livia Llewellyn
Livia Llewellyn‘s brand-new collection, Furnace, drops this week, and we couldn’t be more excited. The first review of the book hit over at The Conqueror Weird last Thursday. Spoiler alert: It’s a rave one! So we figured we’d bring you something special this week to celebrate. Here’s an exclusive interview with Livia, conducted by our own Sean M. Thompson…
What do you feel the role of genre is in fiction?
I honestly don’t know. It’s really just a device the writer uses to help tell the story. I know, I know, it’s a marketing device used by the publishing and bookselling industries to target customers and create more sales, but it’s also a reflection of the writer. Beyond that, I couldn’t say – it’s not something I think about, because I honestly don’t care.
When you’re putting together a collection, do you view it as like an album, or do you have another analog?
I do see it very much as like putting together an album. Each piece of fiction or song is a story unto itself, but the entire collection or album is also a story, an emotional narrative that you want the listener or reader to experience. You want them to come away thinking that they went through something, that it was a journey with a beginning and an ending, not just a random jumble of art. So your first piece has to be saying something very specific, it has to invite them in, give them a taste of what’s to come but not send them off in the wrong direction altogether; and then as you go through the collection, you put stories together that maybe have similar themes or settings, you have an interlude or two where your reader can catch their breath with a piece that isn’t quite the same as the rest, and then you have a final stretch of your most intense work, ending with the story that you hope (I hope, anyway) encapsulates all of the themes of the entire work and leaves the reader in an emotional place that hopefully isn’t the same as where they were at the beginning. The best albums have that ability to guide listeners through that kind of an artistic and emotional journey, and so do the best collections and anthologies. I can only hope that Furnace can do the same. Time will tell.
Do you have cats that tend to hover around you while you try to write? (asking, uh, for a friend, (get out of here kitty-))
I can’t afford a cat on my salary, but if I ever do get to the point where I can have an animal in my life, it’ll be a dog.
You seem to be pretty up front about the fact you don’t consider yourself a weird fiction writer. Do you think the label of being “weird” is kind of like tacking on that a horror film is a “thriller” when it starts to do well, or do you genuinely think the weird is its own thing?
I think weird fiction is genuinely its own thing – I just don’t think that I write enough of it to be called a weird fiction writer, anymore than I should be called a Lovecraftian writer. My writing branches off into so many areas that I think “dark fiction writer” is a better umbrella for me to stand under.
Your last collection was Engines of Desire, and your new one is Furnace. What is about imagery with machinery that you find yourself drawn to, or does it just make for a cool-sounding story collection?
It didn’t occur to me until this question that I have two collections with machinery in their titles. That’s interesting – I have no idea what it means. Since I was very young, I’ve found engines and machinery fascinating and alien and exciting, but I think I’d need a psychiatrist to tell me why. I don’t really need to know why. Maybe in twenty years I’ll look back at my body of work and the light bulb will go on, but until then, I’m happy to work it out in my writing.
Do you have a set amount of time you usually can write for before you have to take a break?
I can write for maybe ninety minutes before my mind starts to wander. But in my defense, I’m usually writing in the evening, after an 8-10 hour work day, so I’m already tired and a bit frazzled to start with – ninety minutes on weekdays is my limit because I need at least part of the evening to wind down by reading or working out or just listening to music and staring into space. On weekends, I write maybe three hours at a stretch, and then I have to walk away from the computer screen to recharge my batteries.
Coffee, tea, or the lightning juice?
When I’m writing, I prefer either coffee or tea, depending on the time of day. I really don’t like to drink when I’m writing – alcohol makes me lose my concentration, so I save that for after I’ve finished for the day.
Would you ever write a science fiction novel, fantasy novel, anything like that? Or do you just start a story, and whatever it is, it is?
Do you mean story? I’ve never even managed to finish writing a horror novel, let alone a novel in any other genre – but as for stories, I do tend to just start writing and not worry about what genre it is. I have no interest in writing SF or Game of Thrones-style fantasy, though. It’s just not my thing. I suppose if I ever did, the science fiction would look a lot like Alien or Event Horizon, and the fantasy would look like… Alien vs. Conan, which is not a real movie but absolutely should be.
My cousins live in Long Island. (Oh shit, wait, that wasn’t a question.)
You’re still in NYC, how’s that going? Has anyone at Starbucks really f-ed up your name again?
I’m not a big fan of the big city – I’d really prefer to be in a smaller city somewhere near mountains – the cultural experiences here are amazing, but the housing situation is something of a nightmare (for anyone who’s not quite wealthy, that is), which makes it a constantly depressing and demoralizing situation for me. But the job is here, and my friends are all here, so until I can retire, I cope as best I can. And, I’ve largely stopped going to Starbucks for coffee. I did enjoy the very creative misspellings of my name (Libba, Navan, Lil’diq), but the coffee is way overpriced, and more and more the baristas were getting my orders wrong and then treating me like shit when I complained. We get free lattes and cappuccinos at work, so I just make my own coffee and misspell my own name nowadays. Hello, Liveria!
Your prose hits like a lead pipe to the teeth. Do you ever write anything, and go “oh, whoa, I should probably tone this down a bit.”?
Yes, I’ve thought that a couple of times. Whenever I have that reaction, it’s not because I think I’ve gone over the line, but because I think I’ve gone over the line for the intended market. I do have to take into consideration the anthology or magazine, and what kind of audience the editor is targeting with my and the other contributors’ stories. A number of stories in Furnace are quite sexually explicit or graphic in their depictions of the female body, and I thought perhaps they might be rejected. Amazingly, they weren’t. The editors probably knew readers would just skip over my story, so it didn’t matter that they weren’t appropriate – most people pick up anthologies for the much bigger names! But if asked, I would certainly work with the editor to change the story, if I felt some of the content wasn’t the right fit for the market and if I felt I could make the changes without turning the story into something I wasn’t happy with. I’ve had to completely tear apart stories before, and it’s always a bit painful, but the end results have so far resulted in much better stories.
Thanks for taking part in the interview. Please, tell our fine readers what they have to look forward to from you, in this, the dawning of the age of Word Hordius.
I have a number of short stories that will be coming out later this year and in 2017. I’m also in the middle of putting together a collection of extremely fantastical and dark erotic stories over on Patreon, called Tales of the Dark Century – that should be finished this year, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll find a publisher for it, as it’s definitely not the kind of erotica that currently popular. Maybe Chuck Tingle can give me some self-publishing tips…