2016 Writing & Reading Series: an Interview with Robert Lopez

Interview conducted by MFA Creative Writing Graduate Student Lena Ziegler

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Lopez will be visiting WKU on Thursday, February 25th at 7:00pm in Cherry Hall 125.

This Thursday kicks off the start of the 2016 Writing & Reading Series at WKU with visiting writer Robert Lopez. Author of the novels Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River as well as multiple short story collections including Good People, released in January of this year, Lopez shared some insight on his creative writing techniques and reading experiences.

Q: Throughout your career you have published a great deal of fiction, between novels and short story collections. Do you write in any other genres? Are there any genres you have yet to explore that you would like to?

A: I’ve written the odd essay or two and years ago would scribble on poems from time to time. Not sure I’ll get back to poems, but I can see myself working on some essays at some point. I’ve written one full length play and adapted one of the novels into a one-man play. Might give that another go, too. I think I might like to try a television series. There is some great work being done in television and it seems like an interesting form. Not sure it will ever happen, but it’s a good fantasy.

Q: Are there any themes as a writer that you come back to time and time again? Why or why not? Are there any themes you are still hoping to explore?

A: I never think about theme as a writer. I never set out to explore anything in fiction, never have an idea of what exactly is going on until something is under way, and rarely then. I write sentences, try to have them feed off each other, inform each other, and theme happens naturally because I’m human and those human messes and problems come out.  

Q: Do you have any regrets with work you’ve written, but specifically work you have published? Does the thought of any earlier work make you cringe?

A: I guess I’m lucky in that I can answer this question with a clear, No. I’d probably edit some of the older fiction, perhaps, a word or two or a sentence or a paragraph. But I wouldn’t make any substantive changes to the work and I don’t regret anything I’ve published.  

Q: For the MFA course “Reading as a Writer” taught by Dr. Brown, students are asked to write an intellectual autobiography detailing significant experiences relating to reading, writing, and literature. Are there some significant experiences, or even just influences, that you could share?

A: Well, reading Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” made me want to write a story. Reading Raymond Carver made me want to be a writer. These days I’m afraid I don’t respond in the same way to either. But, I’m still grateful to them. Reading Beckett changed a lot for me, as did reading David Markson. 

Q: If you’re reading a new book, how many sentences, paragraphs, or pages do you give the book to hook you?

 A: It has to happen immediately. If I’m not drawn into the voice in the first sentence or two I surrender and move on with my life.

Q: What would you say to a writer struggling to find their voice, or even a character’s voice?

A: I would say keep at it. Try different voices on, radically different voices and see how they feel. I would say read a broad range of writers to see who you can steal from. 

Q: As a creative writing professor, what are some of the primary issues in student writing that come up again and again?

A: Some writers play it safe, they make things up. I don’t like to read fiction that feels like it’s made up. I want to read the blood and guts, I want the urgency. 

Lopez will be visiting WKU on Thursday, February 25th at 7pm in Cherry Hall 125.

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