The subconscious is sometimes smarter than the conscious mind: An exchange with author Reggie Lutz

Reggie Lutz is an old friend of mine. We ran in overlapping circles when we were in college, being weirdos in our own rights. Back then, I was writing music, immersing myself in Mahler and Penderecki and writing fiction. She was a DJ on the Revolution and was writing plays and fiction I thought were from the nether world and otherwise mind-bending. At some point we were did some thing called The Juicebox Project. It must be buried somewhere on the internet.

In the nearly 20 years since we’ve met, things changed and stayed the same. She has gone back to radio and I did a stint on the radio. She has published Haunted (available on Kindle also)and a book of stories, Aliens in the Soda Machine. As it turns out, she has maintained a mind-bending lens for readers though not far from our lives. I think like most of us, she is seeking to make sense of this world but with an imagination that takes a view lots of us just wouldn’t consider, like the ghost of a deceased sister in Haunted. How does this mind work?

Since I’ve been writing fiction again, I wanted to ask her about what makes her tick. Below I paste my email to her followed by her response. Enjoy!

Dear Reggie,

We’ve been friends for almost 20 years. Over that time, a ton has changed in the world and we’ve both come into some sort of adulthood as writers. You’ve been published and I’m about to have my first book of poetry released this fall.
So I want to know a few things: what’s moving you, how does your experience shape your writing and what are you itching to write about in five or ten years? Here’s a little more meat on those questions.

What’s moving you to write these days? I know you have an endless imagination compelling you to write all the time. That’s just you. But what is that imagination grabbing onto for a ride, where’s it going and how’s the direction going?
Writers and artists are so different about how their lives get into their writing. Five of my favorite authors/poets put their lives into their work in different ways—Tim O’Brien, Jerzy Kosinski, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver and Arundhati Roy. But you write these wild imagination stories. Does your work bring in your life? That’s getting personal maybe but it’d be cool to read.

We think about places to go with our writing. Where do you want to go in ten years? What’s on the horizon, out of reach but possible?

I’ll look forward to reading!

Peter

Dear Peter,

20 years! Wow! You know, most days I still can’t believe I’ve been alive long enough to say I’ve known anyone for 20 years. But it’s true! And a lot has changed in that time. Including, and maybe particularly, life directions. I can remember thinking about what an impossible task it seemed to be to write a story or a novel and now I can’t imagine not doing those things.

Hmmm…What moves me to write? That’s a tough question for me to answer. It might be easier to ask what doesn’t move me to write, at this point. I do have a sort of relentless imagination, and by relentless I mean that random things spark ideas constantly. Although that isn’t quite enough to explain the form the creativity takes, is it?

I think, speaking in very broad terms, that telling stories is a way to create order out of that internal chaos, but that tired phrase, “It’s how I make sense of the world,” really rings true for me. It’s through thinking about different things that impact us humans and imagining what a lived experience of someone who is not me under those circumstances might be like. That’s probably a long-winded way of saying that it’s an exercise in expanding empathy. If my fiction is informed by anything serious, it’s how larger events impact individuals, small groups, families, etc. But that’s speaking in broader terms.

Sometimes I’ll write something just because I think it’s a cool idea, and as I uncover what the narrative is really about there will be something bigger embedded underneath. One Hundred Eye Curse, in the short story collection was a simple re-imagining of a minor story from Greek mythology through the many eyes of a character cast, originally, as a sort of flat monster, with no motivations of his own. It’s a fun story, not particularly serious on its surface, but it established empathy for an unexpected character, I think.

An image, phrase or even a face will pop into my head and I’ll start writing to that before I really understand what it is that I find so compelling about it. In this way I am a big believer in the notion that the subconscious is sometimes smarter than the conscious mind. Eventually that thing will connect with a set of notions or concerns that are larger in scope than the characters, or even the plot, on the page. It sounds like magical thinking, but it really isn’t. Nothing comes from any of it without showing up at the page every day and teasing out the story that’s there. You can’t access all of that good stuff without applying pragmatic discipline, also.

A good story always takes priority over the larger themes. I’m working right now on a futuristic dystopian novel that takes on problems of overpopulation, but also examines the sort of assumption that a rebellious youth culture should always include sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. There’s a nostalgia of the late 60s inherent in the ideas about what youthful “rebellion” looks like that seems to me kind of tired. Not that rebellion itself is tired, and of course I love me some rock ‘n roll, but it seems like a codified idea about rebellion in the U.S, which suggests that none of those things, are in fact, rebellion, and that’s minus the decades old critique about rebellion being commoditized and sold. So one of the questions posed in this novel is what does rebellion look like if it isn’t that? I’ve also been intrigued by some of the ideas to come out of psychedelic counterculture so there are explorations of that in this piece. There are some ideas that are at war with each other in this book, but none of it works without interesting characters and a compelling plot. It’s early days on this draft and I sometimes feel like my reach exceeds my grasp. Not everything I’ve talked about here will make it in, but it’s all part of what’s fueling the story, however it shakes out.

I don’t bring much of my life into my fiction. I’ll use details about something that I’m familiar with sometimes to help anchor me in the story I’m writing. A character might work in radio, for example, another one might have a friend’s distinctive laugh. It probably shows up in weird, subconscious ways that I’m not even aware of, though.

Ten years from now, I’m hoping to have ten novels out there in the world. My writing crosses genre, because I read across genre, but also the characters and ideas that poke me often call for something different. I would describe my first novel as contemporary paranormal fiction. The work in progress above is firmly sci-fi, but I’m also working with Devon Miller on a trilogy that falls under epic fantasy, though there are elements of science fiction and it deals with climate change to some degree. Some of the world-building I think came out of a brief exchange you and I had on social media. Ah! So there’s a way that life breaks in to my fiction!

Okay, Pete! Your turn!

What brings you back to fiction writing? What are some of your goals where that’s concerned? Do you draw from your life in your fiction? Here’s a question that comes up in essays and interviews a lot, and I want to ask you because I have a suspicion that you’ll have an interesting answer… What do you think the most important role of the fiction writer is in modern culture? I’m also curious as to how you find transitioning from poetry to fiction in terms of process. Does the poetry feel as though it comes from a different headspace than fiction? Or is it simply a matter if refocusing the same creative elements to a different form? What are some of the themes and ideas driving the piece you are working on now?

I’m really excited to see what happens with the fiction! And congratulations on the poetry book!

YOU’RE ONE OF US, NOW, PETE.

I respond to this tomorrow morning.

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