LA Fiction Anthology Interviews: Zachary Locklin
An Interview with Zachary Locklin
What role does Los Angeles play in your fiction?
Growing up LA-adjacent (in Long Beach, a suburb on the farthest south reaches of LA County), Los Angeles has always occupied a weird place in my life. It’s both exotic (that distant place you go to for an art exhibit, a play, or a concert) and home (I would defend Los Angeles furiously in college in the Bay Area when my friends would criticize it). Because I’ve always lived at a remove from LA and thus knew it only as a visitor, I didn’t really start writing about it until a few years ago. By then I’d spent two years commuting there for graduate school and another several years visiting my friends who lived there. I gradually developed a sort of outsider’s insight into the way LA works, how people live there. One thing that fascinates me the most is the variety of the cultural landscape; Los Feliz and Silver Lake are far removed from Downtown or Santa Monica, and that’s not even bringing Pasadena into the picture.
So as I’ve started writing more about Los Angeles, it’s been from that outsider’s perspective: I inevitably bring an ironic tone to my descriptions of the peoples and cultures. Unintentional, at first.
To what degree do you think place shapes fiction in general?
Well, I never start a project without thinking at great length about where the story will take place. Often my fiction takes place in one of the three cities I’ve spent the most years living in: Long Beach, Santa Cruz, and San Diego, CA. Each of those locations has a specific set of ideas attached to it: Long Beach is “normal,” plain, and thus a good place for existential despair; Santa Cruz has a varying climate, shifting from dark and cold to brilliantly sunny and hot, making it ideal for all kinds of angst; San Diego is sprawling (very like Los Angeles, actually, in its multiplicity of locales and cultures), and its uneven topography, with its hills and canyons and shifting coastline, makes it oddly appealing for a horror story.
We write what we know, but that also means we are driven to write by what we know: our landscapes are our societies and cultures; just as a writer like Bukowski or Faulkner doesn’t work without Los Angeles or the South, someone like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, or Graham Greene is defined by the sense of homelessness, the outsider’s view of a world.
In other words, it seems to me that in many ways, the place builds the story more than anything else because the characters are born out of it, and the story or plot is a function of the possibilities of the region.
Do you see your work as coming out of any traditions of LA fiction or poetry?
For a long time now, I’ve been interested in 1930s–50s crime literature, particularly the non-detectives like Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich, and Patricia Highsmith (none of whom are particularly associated with LA). For Los Angeles, that has translated, of course, into an interest in the LA crime writers like Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. What has always attracted me to Chandler in particular is the roving, almost aimless wandering around the city and its environs. Bukowski has that, too, of course, as does Nathanael West: more than the mystery, what I like about LA noir is the roving, homeless feeling: these people who live here, in this tradition, are all nevertheless outsiders. That’s a theme I can identify with.
How does being a writer affect your work as a teacher and how does your work as a teacher affect your writing?
Stephen King says that teaching may actually be the worst career for a writer, and he may be right. The summers are great except that by the time you get to the summer, you are so burnt out that you spend a month just recuperating; then you start a project, and a month later you have to put it aside because you need to start preparing for the fall semester. If you try to write during the school year, either the novel suffers from a lack of attention or you fall very far behind in your grading (which is where I am right now). (All of this, of course, is a lecturer’s perspective; I like to dream that those of us lucky enough to get tenure-track positions have a little more time for their writing, but it’s probably not true.)
However, teaching also means that you come into contact with a never-ending supply of new people, from whom you learn new ideas, new stories, new problems. Teaching provides an endless source of inspiration. I’ve always said that the thing I like most about being a teacher is getting to know all of these people (although I’ve also always said that the worst thing about being a teacher is having to meet all of these people—but that’s social anxiety for you). Teaching can humanize you, can help you learn empathy, and can broaden your perspective, if you let it: all things I think are necessary for being a real writer.
What is your current project?
I don’t like to talk too much about a project while I’m working on it—a superstition—but I will say that it is a Long Beach–based lesbian Gothic suspense novel: think Carol meets Crimson Peak. It’ll probably turn out terrible, but them’s the breaks.
Bio: Zachary Locklin is the author of My Beard Supports Nothing: The Facebook Poems. His work has been published in Pearl, Poetic Diversity, Magnapoets, Re)verb, Freefall, Beside the City of Angels, Slagdrop, Beggars and Cheeseburgers, Weekly Weird Monthly, Cultural Weekly, and a slew of other places. He is a graduate of the Master’s of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California, and he teaches English composition, creative writing, and literature at California State University, Long Beach.