Buzzwords: You’ve recently had two serialisations — The Creek in Five Chapters and Happyland in Harper’s — and last time we spoke, you were finishing up a literary police procedural. On top of this, Inverse Room is also bringing out a new CD. How on earth do you find time to blog on Ward Six? And how’s that going?
J. Robert Lennon: I’m teaching too! Actually, the blog isn’t taking up much time… Rhian and I talk about books and writing every day, and we figured that maybe some people might be interested in what we had to say…it’s just a process of typing out what we were thinking about anyway. We’re both writers but have never collaborated on anything, and on that level it’s been a real treat.
Buzzwords: Inverse Room‘s Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Songs was a companion piece to your book, and was (in your words) “63 minutes of listening agony.” I liked it, it was a bit like They Might Be Giants. What will the new CD sound like, and when did you get interested in DIY musical instruments?
JRL: The new album consists of 14 regular-length songs — I’d say it’s largely the product of my affection for the juxtaposition of natural and synthetic sounds. Almost every song has acoustic guitars and synthesizers on it. I got into DIY back when Happyland was going through what I thought were its death throes, and I wanted some tangible, tedious non-literary thing to keep my mind occupied…as it happens, I’ve learned a lot about how electronic instruments work, and this knowledge has made playing music more enjoyable. Rhian’s worried the solder fumes are killing my brain cells, though.
Buzzwords: You were the first writer in 50 years to be serialised in Harper’s, who stepped in after Norton shied away from publishing Happyland. You’ve already talked of the reasons why but do you think Happyland will ever appear in book form?
JRL: I hope so. Publishers have been shy, but my agent is working on it. There’s about 30% more to the book than Harper’s was able to run — entire additional characters, and greater elaboration.
Buzzwords: The blog, Ward Six, takes its name from a Chekov story. In So, What Kept You? New Stories Inspired by Anton Chekov & Raymond Carver, you chose from Chekov’s notebooks (When I married, I became an old woman). Would Chekov beat Carver in an arm wrestle? (That is, is Chekov the better writer for you?)
JRL: Carver was a wonderful writer, but I’m a Chekhov man for sure. Rhian and I have been reading Constance Garnett‘s translation of the notebooks for years — it’s amazing to think that these hilarious and brilliant observations were the ones he didn’t use in his stories and plays. Oddly I never thought to steal one until someone asked me to do it.
Buzzwords: Finally, what’s next for you?
JRL: The crime novel’s in limbo at the moment, and I’m about a third of the way through a new book that, though ostensibly about a man who discovers an abandoned castle on a plot of land he has bought, is really about the psychological damage I fear that the Iraq war in general, and Abu Ghraib in particular, has done to our society. Oddly, the castle part of the book was Rhian’s idea which she let me have, and it happened to dovetail with the Iraq stuff I’d been turning over in my mind. So maybe Ward Six isn’t the only thing we’ve been collaborating on.
First posted: Friday, February 2nd, 2007.