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Reading About Other People's Lives


SS: Do you ever wonder about the question of authenticity, as far as either creating an authentic persona online or having your writing represent you authentically?

TL: I don’t think I go for authenticity, but what is most artistically satisfying to me. But what is most satisfying artistically does include not just lying to everyone. In terms of the difference between what I express to people and how I am in my private life, I feel like it is sort of satisfying to have that be exactly the same, because whenever I read a biography of some writer it seems like what they say to people is the exact opposite of what they write in their journals. For example, John Cheever would support John Updike a lot and say nice things about John Updike in reviews, but in his journals he would shit-talk John Updike all the time. It seems like many writers are like that, so it would be satisfying to me to not be like that.

SS: To what degree do you think your writing, at least autobiographically, is about self-exploration?

TL: I would say it’s not at all self-exploration, but more like how, if a family goes on vacation, they’ll videotape it or take a lot of pictures. And when they do that it’s not really to figure out what’s happening in their vacation — it’s just so later on they can re-live the vacation. And that’s how I view Shoplifting From American Apparel. I’m not trying to write it down to gain some kind of insight, but, instead of laying down in bed and thinking back and remembering things, I can pick up the book and read it and experience a more intense version of remembering things.

SS: Following that analogy: It makes sense that you would enjoy reading about things you did as if you were looking at pictures of your own family vacation, but do you think it’s odd that other people are interested in that same thing? Looking at other people’s family pictures is kind of weird and boring most of the time.

TL: Yeah, I would agree that it would be boring, at least for me, to watch other people’s home videos. But my book also has another aspect where I crafted it and worked on it as if it was a work of art. So when I’m writing it, I don’t have a standard of just, like, a diary — my standard is of a novel. So it has aspects of both someone’s home video, and someone’s home video edited into a documentary.

SS: Do you think that you play to people’s voyeuristic tendencies — to people’s longing to see into the life of another person?

TL: I think almost all the books that I like have that quality — where it seems like the main character is the writer. So when I write I want it to be like that because it’s what I like to read. But I don’t think that being aware that people would want to read about my life is what motivates me at all to write autobiographically. I just like reading books like that. I like reading about other people’s lives.

SS: What were some of the things that you wanted to accomplish specifically with Shoplifting From American Apparel?

TL:  I think my main two goals were to have it be tight enough that I wouldn’t lose interest at any point, and not to write any lines that I would feel embarrassed to read aloud. I feel like in all of my other books there is a lot that.

SS: Like what?

TL: Any time I use a word that I never use, or the sentences are so long that I have to change my pitch to make them comprehendible, or lines that I feel are really dramatic, or really violent lines where I talk about wanting to kill something. I wanted to avoid that in just one book, so if I met someone I could just tell them to read this book, and have the feeling that they’ll know who I really am.

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