[Interview] L. Lee Lowe, author of ‘Mortal Ghost’


Short story writer and novelist, L. Lee Lowe holds an M.A. in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Heidelberg.

She publishes her short stories on the blog, Into the Lowelands.

Her debut novel, Mortal Ghost, is also available in a variety of formats online. Readers have the added options of being able to listen to podcasts of the novel or to download it as a PDF file or e-book.

Lee Lowe was born in the United States but now lives in Germany. Before that, she spent 18 years in Zimbabwe. Currently she is working on a second novel, Corvus.

In this email interview, she talks about her concerns as a writer.

Do you write every day?

I write every day unless ill, or when family events make it impossible.

I begin with checking my email and a few blogs, then reading a new or favourite poem and one entry from an etymological dictionary.

After that, I revise what I’ve written the day before, sometimes more, then write till I’ve at least reached my daily quota, which at the moment stands at 500 words. I never stop unless I know what I’m going to try to write the next morning and will often break off in the middle of a sentence so I don’t have to face a blank page, so to speak.

I’m a slow and painstaking writer and cannot just let the words flow, but rewrite and revise each sentence obsessively.

How long did it take you to write Mortal Ghost?

Mortal Ghost is the story of a homeless lad with certain uncanny gifts and a past which he’s trying to escape.

It took me two years to write it, after which time I cut it to less than half its original length on the advice of my former agent. When we couldn’t agree any further, I decided to publish it online, which I’ve not regretted. Though there’s a stigma attached to this sort of literary endeavor, and the disadvantage of not having an editor, I find myself quite happy with my independence. No one tells me what to write! Undoubtedly the novel is flawed, but the flaws are at least my own, and I hope to become better at self-editing in time.

The other major disadvantage to this form of publishing is developing a readership. I don’t have a publisher or publicist behind me and am obliged to do all my own ‘marketing’ — not easy for someone like myself, who dislikes any form of self-promotion.

How many books have you published so far?

I’m not a published writer in the conventional sense of the word, since my fiction is only available online. I prefer to leave writing careers to those who are younger. And as far as I’m concerned, the only real satisfaction is in the process, not in number of books sold or prizes collected or dollars earned.

My young adults’ fantasy novel, Mortal Ghost is available online.

With the help of theatre student, Bill Uden, and the staff of Carmarthenshire College in Wales, the novel is also being podcast as an audiobook.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on the novel?

I’m weak at plotting, since I don’t plan my novel in detail — only a few scenes and a general narrative arc — before I begin to write.

With my second novel, Corvus — I’ve tried to plot more carefully, but it seems that I can’t write this way. So I now look at my first draft as a beginning and rewrite from there. Very inefficient, but the characters and their concerns need to grow in some sort of organic fashion. And I find that I like to live with them for a long time.

What did you enjoy most?

Honing phrases and sentences. I enjoy playing with words, and there is no high like the high of getting it right!

What will your next book be about?

Corvus is a science fiction/fantasy hybrid set in a slightly alternate future in which the minds of teen offenders are uploaded into computers on the pretext of rehabilitation — a form of virtual wilderness therapy. The novel is part thriller, part love story, part riff on the nature of consciousness.

The first chapter, subject to revision, is available online.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing off and on since childhood — poems, school plays, stories — but only began to work in a disciplined manner when my children were starting to leave home.

I had taken a job in public relations at the University of Bonn, which I detested. It soon struck me that it was a ‘now or never’ situation — either fulfill my lifelong dream to write properly or see ‘office drone’ carved on my tombstone.

How would you describe your writing?

I write fiction, both short stories and novels. If I had a true poetic sensibility, I would love to write poetry.

Who is your target audience?

Though I have termed my first novel a young adult fantasy, it’s a category I’m uncomfortable with. I don’t ever think of my readers when writing, just the text itself.

Genre is more about marketing than literature.

Who influenced you most?

In my personal life, I’d have to say my father — and not necessarily in a positive sense. It’s very difficult to grow up the child of a brilliant and impatient man.

In terms of writers, there are too many to list, though at the moment I’m particularly fascinated by the work of Breece D’J Pancake, Amy Hempel, and poet Ron Slate. Next month you’ll probably get a different answer!

Also, living overseas — in self-imposed exile, so to speak — means that I have neither home nor language in which I’m entirely comfortable. Who am I? Where do I belong? Which English is truly mine? are questions that underlie all my attempts to find an authentic fictional voice.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Writing beautiful and authentic sentences.

How do you deal with these concerns?

Read and read and read; write and rewrite.

The biggest challenge, of course, is to write well, but I find it very difficult to battle envy — not of material success, but of the skill and gifts of others. I’m easily depressed by the huge gap between how I’d like to write and how I actually do. And I’m lazy as well!

How do you deal with these challenges?

Discipline has been hard-won, mostly by viewing my writing as a job and setting myself daily goals: so many words before I leave my study.

A sense of inadequacy is far more difficult to cope with, and my husband and children are very supportive in this regard. Still, I’m often frustrated and depressed.

More at Conversations with Writers.

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