Lou Mathews, "Crazy Life"

It's December 11. Lou Mathews, author of L.A. Breakdown, has a getaway driver around back, just in case.

How would you describe your story?

LOU MATHEWS: I side with Flannery O’Connor, who said, “When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing to tell him is to read the story.” My version of that is, If I could say what the story was about, I wouldn’t have written it. If I’m forced to answer, I have an all-purpose reply that I developed for my first novel, L.A. Breakdown, “I think it’s about life and death and love in the streets of Los Angeles, but everybody else seems to think it’s about illegal street racing.”

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

LM: “Crazy Life” was written in 1986. It started with a voice in my head, Dulcie Gomez’s voice, and for most of the first draft, I felt as though I was taking dictation.

What kind of research went into this story?

LM: I like Carolyn Chute’s line, “This story was involuntarily researched.” Dulcie is based on a couple of amazing high-school girlfriends, the rest on how and where I grew up. I knew a lot of Chueys and Sleepy Chavezes, growing up, and if I’d come along a decade later, when the weaponry became more lethal, I probably wouldn’t have survived it.

What, to you, makes the short story a special form? What can it do that other kinds of writing (novels, poems) can't?

LM: I don’t think any other literary form can touch you the way a great poem does, but a great short story can come close. A great short story holds a kind of magic, the kind you might feel if you were around a fire, deep in a cave, ages ago, listening. I also like St. Flannery’s line, “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way…”

Where can people go to learn more about you and your writing?

LM: You can find stuff on Google and there’s a Wikipedia page that seems to think I’m primarily a playwright and that I vanished around 2001. I probably need to update that. I’m not very good at promotion, I just like to write.

What's on your Christmas list this year?

LM: A bottle of forgetfulness. It’s been a tough, divisive year in the U.S.

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Michael Hingston