Special guest, author S. Lyle Lunt
Today’s special guest on my page is author S. Lyle Lunt, whose short story, “A Guy Walks into a Bar,” was just published in the anthology A Contract of Words, which features 28 authors from all over the world, including my new short story, "Two Gunslingers." Here is what she had to say about life, writing, and her story:
1. Besides writing, what is one thing you couldn't live without?
Hmm...it's a toss-up between human companionship and champagne.
2. What was your inspiration for your story?
In college my best friend was a sports-loving, gregarious guy named Jim. We'd go to happy hour at a local bar that had a group of regulars--local, older men, some of whom I grew fond of. Once my friend Jim, sitting in this bar over a pitcher of cheap beer, told me that he'd always have "a bar". I was imagining Jim (who died young) as an old guy with a bar.
3. If a genie could grant you 3 wishes, what would you wish for?
I'm going to assume that peace on earth will be covered by somebody else's wish, and make my wishes selfish. 1. The time, ability, and ambition to turn all these ideas bouncing around inside my head into stories and novels. 2. The ability to eat whatever I wanted and not gain a pound. And I suppose I should give a gift to the world with at least one of my wishes--so 3, I'd wish for no mean people. Imagine what an awesome world it would be if there were no mean people.
4. How has reading influenced your decision to be a writer? What book(s) made you want to write?
It was the Dick, Jane, and Sally books that taught my generation how to read. When I learned to read them I realized: somebody wrote these! So I can write books, too! I wrote and illustrated my first book at age five, lying on my belly at my grandparents' farm. It was about Sally and was pretty much plagiarized. But it's what started me writing. A few years later my older sister and I set up a reading nook in a deep closet, and by lamplight she read The Velvet Room to me. It was magical, and, inspired by that book, I’d lie awake planning out my own stories.
5. How would you describe your writing process? For example, do you write in a specific place, have music playing or is that a no-no, lean toward outlining specifics, or are you a pantser?
I write in my office, surrounded by clutter, but with a lovely view to gaze upon while thinking. I'm easily distracted, so I prefer silence. Music with lyrics makes me think about the lyrics, so if there's background music it has to be instrumental only. I get ideas in my head, plot them mentally during sleepless nights, and then sit down to write.
6. When faced with the dreaded “writers block”, how do you push through and find inspiration? Is there a ritual or process you have to get yourself back on track?
Reading a big, fat, engaging novel can inspire me to write again. Or an assignment-- a writing prompt challenge in a writer's group, for example, or trying to meet a deadline for an anthology with a theme--something that forces me to think and write.
7. Did you know how your story would end when you started writing it? If not, did plans change while writing or did you improvise when you arrived?
For the most part my story was plotted out inside my head, but I wasn't sure precisely how it would end--who would say what, who would do what. The details of the ending were a surprise to me.
8. If a movie were to be made of your story and you were in charge of casting, who would play your characters? Who would direct?
The Coen brothers would direct. Robert Duvall would play Charlie, although he's a bit older than the character. I picture Mackie/Buster as looking like Kevin Bacon (although he'd probably need makeup to look older) and Mike would be played by Edward Norton, maybe, or Jake Gyllenhaal or Robert Downy Jr. I can't think of a single actor who seems right for Jimmy, so I'd go looking around at bars to find my Jimmy. I'd hunt for a drunk to play a drunk who plays a drunk.
9. How close did your story end up being to the original concept you had in your mind? What were the biggest changes? Why did you make them?
I'd had the idea for "A Guy Walks Into A Bar" for a few years, but in my mind it was a novel. I'd written the first pages for it a year ago or so that started with Charlie sitting at the bar. I wasn't feeling it, so scrapped that beginning but kept the idea in my head. I was happy that it fit the contract theme for this anthology, because I think it makes a better short story than a novel. The concept stayed pretty much the same; it just became lots shorter.
10. What book were you reading when you thought, This stuff sells??? Oh, hell, I can do that…
It wasn't a specific novel that made me think "oh, hell, I can do that" (although I've read a few that made me think, "seriously?"), but rather a Studies in the Short Story class I took in college. For the final exam we had a choice of either a traditional exam or writing our own short story. I wrote a short story, and its reception made me think, "Okay, yeah, that was fun. I'll do this some more."
11. Did you have to do any odd research for your story? How did you conduct that research, and then how was it used in your story?
My research for this story began when I was a kid and my father would on occasion take me into the bar with him, ordering himself a beer and me a 7-up. There I watched men just so at home and happy to chat with their bar buddies while drinking beer. I furthered my research drinking in my college town's bars and chatting with old local cowboys.
12. If you could pick one place to sit and write, where would it be?
Maybe England or Scotland or Wales--someplace with green, rolling hills and cloudy skies (sunshine makes me want to be out in it). Sheep dotting the hillsides would be a bonus. I'd have a wall of multi-paned windows above my desk. In this fantasy I'm thin and wearing gray cashmere, and the study has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and velvet covered overstuffed chairs. And my husband plays the piano. No, make that guitar.
13. How closely do you relate to/identify with your characters? What inspired them? Did they take over your story or did you direct them?
My characters were inspired by various people I've known in my life. I loosely directed them, but a couple of them--Mackie and Charlie, specifically--kind of did their own thing a couple times, and I just wrote it down.
14. What do you consider your all time favorite novel? One that you would read again and again.
I don't know if I can pick one all time favorite, but here are some of the books I've read again and again: The Secret Garden. Little Women. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Bell Jar. The Stand. Huckleberry Finn. The World According to Garp. She's Come Undone.
15. How much of your writing is outlined from the beginning and how much of it is ‘pantsed’ or written on the fly?
I've never outlined (although I wish I could); what I write is first plotted in my head--or, on a couple of occasions, I've sat down and started writing, having no idea what would show up on the page. I have a completed novel that began that way.
16. What are your favorite snack-as-you-write or eat-as-you write foods? How do they help your creative flow or process?
If it's cold, a cup of coffee or tea. If I'm hungry (or have the munchies), something that I can eat with one hand. Crackers are my go-to food. It hinders the process, because I have to periodically dump crumbs out of the keyboard. Now and then, though, the words will flow like magic and hours will pass without me noticing my gnawing hunger and dehydration. Shaky hands will finally alert me to the fact that I haven't eaten in hours.
17. How is your ACOW story typical or atypical of your writing in general?
"A Guy Walks Into A Bar" is fairly typical of my writing in general. A little bit of humor typically finds its way into even the most serious of subjects, and I usually include a lot of dialogue. I enjoy writing about ordinary people, quirky people, and disenfranchised people.
You can order on Amazon (worldwide), Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, or get a FREE companion soundtrack CD if you order through Scout Media’s online store here: A CONTRACT OF WORDS