Ludlow Press Interview
Check Out Richard Perez's New York Times article:
the East Village, the new adaptation of "Rent," the death of bohemia....
Losers' Club Author
copyright © 2005 all rights reserved
Jun Da: In the cut and dry—sometimes, very “dry”—world of publishing, it’s all about genre and category. Where would you say The Losers’ Club fits in? How would you categorize the book?
Richard Perez: The novel is comic—by that, I mean a comedy— in the classic sense. It has a happy ending, which of course is a big no-no in “serious” writing. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said, “Every true story ends in death.” But he was just trying to sound like a modernist when he said that. Anyway, I guess that makes me a less-than-serious author.
JD: So the category?
RP: You might say it falls under both romance and comedy, although I didn't intentionally set out to write a “genre” book; the story evolved—then evolved, again—and took it’s own shape. It diminishes the book to some extent to toss it under a simple category. To say “romance,” or even “lad lit.” I hate all those terms; they’re just fake marketing terms.
JD: The first question that comes to mind about the novel, of course, is the title. What did you mean by it? Everyone asks this.
RP: Well, there are some obvious clues about its meaning (pages 52 and 257 of the book). But, aside from that, it just seemed appropriate to the material. It’s also a play on the culture and time depicted in the book: the pre-9/11 era, the looser, more playful 1990s. (Remember the popular Beck tune from that time?). Also, the story, as most everyone knows, is about an unpublished writer who is addicted to the personals. So he’s what you might tongue-in-cheek call a loser on various counts: he’s a “failure” professionally (which is not uncommon among writers, poets, painters, et al.), a “loser” in love, since he can’t seem to maintain a meaningful, long-term relationship (again, not uncommon with artists: a side-effect of the calling), and he’s in effect spiritually lost. The main character of The Losers’ Club is essentially looking for an emotional and spiritual connection, like so many of us—and not just with his lost family, although that’s obviously part of it—but a connection with the world at large. As I see it, his predicament, his loneliness arises because of (a) his calling (which keeps him in a personal and financial hole), (b) his disassociation with a “supply and demand” culture, the American culture of materialism. He feels he knows what he should be doing, “following his bliss” (to quote Joseph Campbell), being true to himself, being creative—writing—and yet the wider culture conspires against this and, for it, treats him like, well, a loser. Now if he found a way to make big money doing the same thing—that would be different. Success is a measuring stick in abnormal psychology—as it is in our culture at large. What determines if you’re crazy or not—boils down to this: whether you make money doing it, whether you can “move product.”
JD: On a personal level what is the book about?
RP: He’s searching not only for love—through the personals—but searching for who he is: his roots, you might say. Culturally and spiritually. He lost his culture (his heritage) and family at an early age, which left a deep emotional and psychic hole in his life. Is he his mother’s son? He still hasn’t totally come to grips with who she was—and with what happened to her, which remains purposefully obscure. He’s almost re-treading her fatal steps—taking a deliberate path to permanent obscurity, her path—in an attempt to connect with her. As a boy he hates poetry because his mother wrote poetry, but as an adult he finds himself not only writing it, but in effect sacrificing his life for it. I find that theme endlessly fascinating: what lengths a person will go to connect with a disassociated part of themselves, what lengths a person will go to please an “internalized” parent, if you will.
JD: While being lively and funny, the book also has an odd, dreamy—some might say, fatalistic view of life.
RP: Well, the main character, I guess, is a little bit of a fatalist and a romantic and, yes, even a masochist—which frankly, as I mention elsewhere in the book (page 97) are qualities of most creative people. Artists are not people who treat themselves very well. But in Martin’s case, he’s still in mourning for his absent family, and he has virtually no friends, except Nikki. This hole—this alienation he feels—is a need he tries to fill by immersing himself in the cultural life of the East Village, the club and bar scene, and surrounding himself with other “misfits” and, of course, indulging in the downtown personal ads, which takes him deeper into those lively, noisy, and dark recesses.
JD: What’s your obsession with the East Village, anyway?
RP: I can’t tell you. Like the character in the book, I’ve actually sold my own collected poetry on St. Marks Place. I’ve been to the clubs and bars while they were around, been involved in a lot of craziness with a lot of odd people, had my heart broken, etc. But, ultimately, the East Village represents some kind of fantasy world for me, which I’ve recreated in the novel. A place of re-invention—physically and psychologically. In some ways, a dream world. The East Village depicted in The Losers’ Club is not the East Village of real life—it’s the East Village of my mind.
JD: Like Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind” from the Henry Miller quote?
RP: That’s it: the East Village is my Coney Island, it’s what Alice—in her need to belong—finds down the rabbit hole, which is what’s inside her own psyche. And speaking of Henry Miller—he’s a major influence on me, too. Not stylistically, but spiritually. He’s kinda like my spiritual creative writing teacher.
JD: What precisely have you learned from Henry Miller?
RP: Just that, it’s okay to be passionate about life. I see Henry Miller as being in the Transcendentalist tradition—utterly “trusting” and open to experience.
JD: What other authors do you admire?
RP: As far as inspiration? Bukowski on one end and Nabokov on the other.
JD: Talk about polar opposites.
RP: Yet both authors are outsiders.
JD: It’s surprising to hear you mention Nabokov.
RP: Is it? Lolita remains probably my favorite novel. I love the first part of the book, in particular. And I make references to it in this novel. When Nikki first kisses Martin (page 26), it’s on the ear, just as Lolita first kisses Humbert (page 133, Lolita [Vintage International publishers]). And there are echoes of Lolita all throughout The Losers’ Club: like, Oh Nikki: Oh Lolita; in my mind I saw the parallels of a kind of doomed romance. These parallels though have been sort of scrambled in my subconscious and, in some cases, not even deliberate.
JD: Now Bukowski was a big influence on you, obviously. He’s sort of the fatherly “ghost” or mentoring spirit of the book.
RP: Shades of Obi-Wan. It’s a great conceit, a bit theatrical: rather than have the character talk to himself, which quickly gets dull, why not have him talking to a projection of his own psyche? I like that idea; it’s always fun. William Kennedy also does it quite a bit in Ironweed.
About Bukowski—he was—and is—even now, a big spiritual influence on me. Whenever I lose confidence in myself, feel like, “what’s the point?” I turn to Bukowski and find solace. Bukowski addresses isolation, disappointment—and, of course, rejection. And he’s not intimidating like some authors are. Reading Bukowski makes you want to write. In some ways you think, “if this fucking drunk can do it, so can this fucking drunk (me).” (Laughing.) “I love playful writers—talented authors, who—because of their great sense of humor—make me feel at ease. I’ve already mentioned Henry Miller. His Paris books are important: Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn and Black Spring. Other books I love are Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson and The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle. Goofball books that take a leap of faith—that have energy and are funny. Humor is really important to me. And I don’t find a whole lot of humor in most recent books of “serious” literary merit. I used to despair and force myself to read all sorts of things that were considered “important”—that The New York Times Book Review called “essential reading.” But now I only read books that I want to read—and I stopped reading The New York Times! Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be reading—or let anyone define your culture!
JD: Getting back to Bukowski—why do you think he’s so reviled—or simply ignored—in Academia?
RP: ‘Cause he’s blunt. He refuses to be “formal” or “genteel”; he’s a vulgarian. He shows up at your tie-and-jacket affair wearing a soiled T-shirt and dirty underwear. He doesn’t give a fuck. And not giving a fuck—not caring “what others think”—is really important to an artist: it liberates you creatively. And until you cross that psychological line, you won’t accomplish much. Because you can’t be self-conscious; you need to create a safe place to play and lose yourself in the moment. I mean, Bukowski is very punk. And he inspires me the way punk rockers of their era inspired musicians who didn’t feel secure enough to make noise because they weren’t technically “proficient.” Bukowski gives you honesty and he gives you shit. You pick and choose. You join in and want to fuck around. Bukowski is important because, for me, he challenged the status quo, he redefined what a writer is “supposed to be.” A writer doesn't need to be from New England, or a refined white southerner. Or need an MFA from NYU. A writer can be anyone. Any bum can stake a claim to it; stand up and howl.
JD: Is it for more obvious “technical reasons” that Bukowski is dismissed?
RP: You can’t apply the same criteria to Bukowski as you would say, Nabokov. It’s like comparing a folk artist to a fine-art painter. Folk art falls under the province of “outsider art,” which is definitely where Bukowski belongs, while fine-art falls under the most established rules of academia. One artist (Bukowski) was self-taught, spottily educated, while the other (Nabokov) was highly trained and hyper-cultured, a university lecturer and professor. There’s a snobbishness that runs both ways: on the part of the more genteel, academic-based side, (fans of magazines like The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly) to denigrate or ignore the marginalized work of outsider artists, like Bukowski or Fante or Hubert Selby Jr. The other side of it is people who love Bukowski—and denigrate all “serious” literature in the same way that punk rockers spit at classically trained musicians. Another consideration is that Bukowski represents a lost strain in American literature: the proletariat tradition. In many ways he’s writing for the underclass just as writers in the 1930s did, authors like Tom Kromer (Waiting for Nothing), Meridel Le Sueur (The Girl)—these weren’t exactly “polished” writers, either. It’s a point of view that needs to be appreciated. And we need to make room in the American “literary canon” for outsider, disfranchised artists like these, if it’s to be truly representative. “Outsider authors” should be part of every college curriculum—and I wouldn’t be surprised if most middle-class or lower middle-class students would relate more to these artists.
JD: Any other author influences, apart from Nabokov and Bukowski?
RP: Sartre, believe it or not. Mentioned directly by Nikki when she’s teasing Martin.
JD: Early in the book (chapter 6, page 21).
RP: Sartre’s novel, Nausea, somehow lodged itself in my mind many years ago. In fact, right at the beginning of Nausea (page 2, Nausea, [New Directions publishers]), there’s a part where the protagonist mentions watching children playing with “ducks and drakes,” and wanting, like them, “to throw a stone into the sea.” In my version the protagonist tries to skip a stone; in Sartre’s version, the protagonist doesn’t even risk it: he just drops the rock, walks away—to the ridicule and laughter of the kids playing there. Another part that stuck with me, a line that I remember is, “I don’t know how to take advantage of the occasion. I walk at random, calm and empty, under the wasted sky.” (page 70, Nausea) A kind of Pruffock/T.S. Eliot thing. Another line from Nausea I recall is “Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.” (page 133, Nausea) There are echoes of that line in The Losers’ Club, particularly when Lola is talking to Martin (page 102)—and at the end of the book…. Elsewhere I read that Paul Schrader reread Nausea, too, right before working on Taxi Driver—and it shows. Schrader read Sartre and Thomas Wolfe. “God’s Lonely Man” is actually a quote of Wolfe’s. (Check out The Hills Beyond.) In my novel, the phrase becomes “God’s Lonely Woe-man.” Taxi Driver was an important early inspiration for The Losers’ Club, because (a) the film is about loneliness—particularly loneliness in New York City, (b) the film was actually shot in the East Village, the location where my book mostly takes place (on 13th Street primarily, where the character of Lola resides). And, of course, Schrader also wrote and directed Mishima, another one of my all-time favorite films, which I also directly allude to in the book.
JD: We’re running out of space, here. Any closing words? Any advice to authors out there?
RP: Not really. Read what you want, write what you want, make up your own rules. Stay alive. And don’t forget to laugh. Laughter is more important than sex!
“A story of youth, very well told, and it dwells
in the mind long after a reader finishes it.”
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
“I was hooked. I couldn’t put it down until I finished…. I was simply impressed that these were real, instantly recognizable people…poor lonely bastards of every stripe resorting to utter humiliation and personal endangerment in the barest hope of hooking up with a kindred spirit.
It’s a brave book with a great deal of heart.”
Poppy Z. Brite
“A very beautiful valentine to a time and place almost faded from existence.”
Bad Behavior, Because They Wanted To
“Funny and endearing—and wisely not so hip as to avoid
a good grab for your heart.”
Safe in America, Tales of the Master Race
"The Losers' Club is a vibrant and hopeful anthem for all of us 'losers' who choose not to wallow (for too long!) in our despair and who find the will to keep searching.”
— Heather Lowcock, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington KY*
BOOK SENSE 76 TOP TEN PICK!*
It is a book to be savored!
Sorrow Floats, Social Blunders
The Losers' Club: Complete Restored Edition!
by Richard Perez
Original and highly entertainingMidwest Book Review
“A story of youth, very well told, and it dwells in the mind
long after a reader finishes it.”
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
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