The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #47: Kevin Sampsell in Conversation with Gary Lutz


Gary Lutz, who in many circles is already known as a master of sentences, takes it to another level in his new collection, Divorcer (Calamari Press). Some of the sentences are so loaded and wild with commas and compound words, that they’re like an alchemy of what future historians will call the “Lutzian” style—emotionally dense, perverse, and grammatically audacious. It’s like Lutz has turned the volume on his style up to 11. The whole collection is like guitar amps catching on fire, like stereo speakers getting blown out, over and over.

Divorcer is a suite of narratives that are as refreshingly funny as they are emotionally eviscerating. Linked by themes of broken relationships and mistrustful lovers, Lutz’s newest stories are full of descriptions and observations so bitter and dark that they’re hilariously charred. This is a brilliant little terror of a book where almost every sentence is like its own poem, full of broken hearts and damaged people.

I sent the author, who also works as a professor of composition and English, a few quick questions via email.


Kevin Sampsell: I feel like there was a marked difference between your first two collections. Stories in the Worst Way had a lot of short-short stories and a lot of strange humor, and I Looked Alive had a lot of longer stories and denser emotional tones. Do you feel that your writing changes from book to book?

Gary Lutz: With each book, I try to smite the page with words a little differently. I try my best to vary the typographical bastinado.  I have a plumber’s snake to thank for much of I Looked Alive, though. That book came closer to saying what I have never wanted to say.  Divorcer was supposed to be a book to cuddle with, a body-pillow of a book.  I can’t help it if things worked out otherwise.

Kevin: Have you ever been asked to teach in an MFA program, or do you have any desire to teach writing at that level?

Gary: I taught in the MFA program at Syracuse University for a couple of semesters about seven years apart, and I believe I spent a semester presiding negligibly over workshops in an MFA program at an outlet of higher learning somewhere out in Arkansas or Kansas or Missouri—the paychecks were direct-deposited, so I forget. In those parts, the supermarket bagels didn’t even have holes, so you got more carbs for your dollar. And the days out there were as livelong as all get-out. I was also supposed to teach in some low-res program somewhere, too, though I backed out at the last minute. Sorry, but I never know how much to pack.

Kevin: Do you think it’s necessary for fiction writers to be guarded about their private life?

Gary: I’m not sure. I might not even have a private life. Or if I do, it’s not so much private as simply unwitnessed.

Kevin: You don’t seem to travel much. I’m trying not to sound like a shrink when I ask this, but is there a reason you might have a fear of flying?

Gary: I don’t like to drive, I get motion sickness on trains, planes are a little too aerial for my taste and neurology, and on buses I always get stuck next to the blabby and the fat.  The founding fathers could have done a better job of laying out the republic so that everything would be within walking distance.  I used to like paying visits to New York City back when it was still a great eccentric and sordid place.  Now it feels like the Mall of America with more floors. I got a nice Winesburg, Ohio, vibe while walking through Park Slope a couple of months ago, though.

Kevin: Do you drive? What kinds of cars do you like?

Gary: I hate all cars, but I drive a black Chevrolet Cavalier filled with trash. The driver’s side of the body has been keyed so intricately, so all-over-ishly (though perhaps keying isn’t quite the word; there might have been ice picks and chisels involved as well), that the vandal (should she ever get caught) might benefit as much from a gallerist as from a social worker.

Kevin: I know you’re a big fan of the movie Wendy and Lucy. Have you seen anything else that has thrilled you lately, maybe even on TV? Have you seen Dogtooth? (I only ask because I loved it and I think you’d like it.)

Gary: I haven’t watched TV in more than a decade, and I haven’t seen Dogtooth. My three photoplay faves remain Wendy and Lucy, Lilya 4-Ever, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. If the main character of a picture isn’t completely destroyed by the end, what’s the sense in watching?  Movies are supposed to reflect life.

Kevin: What has been your strangest experience at a literary event?

Gary: Falling in love.

Kevin Sampsell is the publisher of the micropress Future Tense Books in Portland, Oregon. His books include the story collection, Creamy Bullets, the memoir, A Common Pornography, and the novel, This Is Between Us. His work has appeared in publications such as Pank, Sixth Finch, Poets & Writers Magzine, Yeti, Fairy Tale Review, Tin House, Best Sex Writing 2010, and Best American Essays 2013. More from this author →