Monday, September 12, 2011

Interview With Author Louis K. Lowy

Lowy: Penning a mid-50s riff on flying
saucers and commie paranoia

If I’d been an agent pitching Louis K. Lowy’s novel Die Laughing, I might have called it Mad Men meets King of Comedy meets The Outer Limits. As Lowy notes in this interview, he spent a lot of time researching his 1956 setting for his first novel, and the period details—from the “burnt orange cigarette slacks” and black beret of his leading lady to his main character’s quest for TV fame (Sam E, a stand-up comic, is slated for “The Steve Allen Show” when things start to go downhill fast)--are exacting and very, very entertaining. Lowy’s work has appeared in, among others, Coral Living Magazine, New Plains Review, Ethereal Tales Magazine, Pushing Out the Boat, The MacGuffin Magazine, and The Chaffey Review. He’s been awarded a Florida Individual Artists Fellowship, and he lives in Miami Lakes.

Lowy will be participating in a panel sponsored by Writers' Network of South Florida
Author Publicity: Promoting Your Book
Yay You're Published! Now Comes the Hard Part

Wed. Sept 21, at 6:30pm
Broward County Main Library, 6th Floor, 100 S Andrews Ave.,

Fort Lauderdale, FL 

On Oct. 17 at 6:30 p.m., Lowy will be reading at
Park Road Books
4139 Park Rd., Charlotte, NC
(704) 525-9239

Questions for Louis K. Lowy:

You were a firefighter turned fiction writer, is that right? Had you written fiction before, or were you really a newbie?

That’s kind of the story. Besides being a firefighter, I played in bands nearly all my life, mainly original music. I wrote a vast majority of the lyrics to the songs we played, so I was always dabbling with words. I also studied film a bit, too. I wrote a couple of short screenplays and one feature length. As far as novel and short story writing goes, yes, I was pretty much a newbie.

How did you settle on a genre? Did humorous science fiction call to you, or did you consider and discard other genres before settling in with alien abductions and stand-up comics?

I’m not sure that I did settle on a genre. Die Laughing has many elements in it, including humor, noir, mystery, and suspense. Because it also has aliens, it’s easiest to label it sci-fi. I’m okay with that because labels help to settle things easier in a reader’s mind.

Why’d you decide to set Die Laughing in the 50s? The period details are fabulous. What kind of research did you do?

Thank you for the compliment. To answer the first part of your question, it has to do with my love of sci-fi and horror flicks from that era like the insanely bad ones like Robot Monster (shot in 3D!) and the insanely good ones like The Day the Earth Stood Still. I also consider the 1950’s to be an exciting era, what with the Joe McCarthy communist witch hunts, the Little Rock High School racial showdown, the threat of the atom bomb, the birth of rock ‘n roll, and the golden age of live television. I thought it would be intriguing to try and capture all those elements.

To answer the second part of your question – I did a heck of a lot of research. I started by listening to rockabilly and rhythm and blues recordings from that period to get in the mood. I also purchased a slew of fashion books that delved into ’50s dress. Of course I researched the vernacular, which was coolsville, daddy-o!

My story takes place in 1956 so I had to be sure that every item mentioned existed in that time period, and not in 1957 and beyond. I’m the type of writer who doesn’t like to ‘fill in the blank’ and come back to it later after the story is finished. I’d literally stop my story to research, say, what a TV station looked like in 1957 if my characters were about to enter one, or if someone was shaving, what kind of razor and shaving cream they would have had in 1956.

Because my characters do a lot of traveling I was lucky enough to have found a 1954 road atlas on Ebay. It became my best friend when I was mapping their course out.
It was a meticulous process, but one that was at the same time interesting.

Is Die Laughing the first of a series, or a stand alone novel? What's your next book?

I plan an eventual sequel to Die Laughing, though most people who’ve read the book can’t see how.

My next novel, which is a couple of revisions away from completion is a complete turnaround. It’s about a 49-year-old fired music teacher who struggles to get her life back through bicycle racing. I’m also working on a third book, this one’s another sci-fi, but it’s still a bowl of pasta. It jumps in time and place.

Do you plot in advance or write seat of the pants?

Will Sam E meet
Steve A?
Both. Die Laughing started without a concrete plot but with a general idea, though about a quarter of the way I knew my ending, which helped a great deal. As I wrote on I solidified the plot. My second novel about the school teacher had a solid outline. The third novel – the one jumping time and place – started as a discarded short story. When I picked it up again and decided to make it a novel, I wrote a couple of weeks, hit a wall, and spent another week or two working out an outline. Given a choice I would much rather work with a plot or outline than by the seat of my pants. It’s difficult to work them out in the beginning, but once you have direction the writing goes quicker, smoother, and is a lot less stressful.

What’s your revision process like? Have you ever tossed out a whole book, or a large part of one? How do you judge what’s not working?

Yes! The first draft of Die Laughing I pretty much ditched because after I completed it I was introduced to Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. In it he outlines characteristics of the hero mythological stories. Some of those things I knew needed to be in my story. Once I started to add them, it changed the way my own protagonist behaved. He became more proactive, which was good but which also caused my first draft to fall apart. It was hard to abandon something I’d worked so hard on, but in my heart I knew it was the right decision, and in the end it was the correct thing to do.

Do you read a lot of sci-fi? Who inspires you as a writer?

I read a lot of sci-fi in high school and college. I was also a huge comic book fan and grew up on sci-fi, horror, and super-hero stories.

What piece of advice would you give fiction writers hoping to break in? What piece of advice helped you the most when you were hoping to break in?

The best advice I can give to anyone trying to achieve their dreams is to work hard, have a thick skin, and believe in yourself. "One piece of advice that I always remember was given by a college instructor who was teaching screenwriting, she said, “A writer writes.”  It’s simple, but speaks volumes."
I know you’re participating in a panel this month about self-marketing for fiction writers. What sorts of self-marketing do you do, and what form works best for you?

Because this is my first novel, it’s been a great learning experience. Specifically, I’ve been doing the gamut, from online networking through Facebook, blogging, Goodreads, and my personal website. I’ve been making contact with reviewer and interviewer sites.
I’ve also discovered that – given a choice – there’s no substitute for face-to-face contact. Reading before a group of people or walking into a store that sells books and introducing yourself and your novel goes a long, long way to establishing a relationship. With self-marketing, I think the author is the best weapon in a writer’s arsenal.


  1. Hi, there ...readerly, writerly peep of Louis's here, and happy to make a comment. Great interview, Gail! I so agree that nothing beats face-to-face contact with readers, even in this age of online everything. PS: Wonder if Louis is the world's first firefighter turned sci-fi writer? Now, that's something you could put on a jacket to promote! Congrats, L, and welcome to the club.

  2. "A writer writes." Love the simplicity and truth in that.

    Thanks for the great interview!!!

  3. THIS WAS MADE OF ABSOLUTE AWESOME. As is your blog. I'm loving the header... you're like my new favorite! Loving it!

    This interview was fab, and the book sounds so good! I love how you described how you'd pitch it to an agent, that left me in giggles!!!

  4. Well thanks, Jen. I just checked out your blog, too--You are a blogging beast! I'll be back over there in a bit.

  5. Thanks Gail for allowing me to be a part of Paradoxy. And thank you all for the wonderful comments!