OBS staff member, Annabell, had the chance to speak to author Louis K. Lowy about his 1950’s theme in his novel Die Laughing, the research he under took, and what will be instore for his future projects.
Read Annabell’s review of the book here.
Annabell: Why did you decide to set your novel Die Laughing in the 1950s, what appealed to you about that era?
Louis K. Lowy: First and foremost is my love of 1950’s sci-fi and horror movies. I’m a big fan of the really horrendous ones like Robot Monster and the really sublime ones like The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Another factor was that the 1950’s was in a lot of ways a volatile era: Senator McCarthy’s communist witch hunts were causing people to turn on each other, the country lived in fear of the atom bomb, and Elvis Presley and rock ‘n roll had burst on the scene. There was also the segregation battle at Little Rock High School in Arkansas. TV was becoming the dominate media. People were moving away from the city to the suburbs. There was a lot going on. I thought it would be exciting to visit that period.
Annabell: How did you manage to intertwine the 1950s with the idea of shape shifting aliens? What type of research did you do?
Louis K. Lowy: The shape shifting aliens came about because while I wanted my creatures to be powerful but more naïve than inherently evil. I thought a great way to achieve that was to give them the ability to morph. But because their morphing ability is intertwined with their spaceship monitors, and the monitors pick up TV broadcast signals, they can only shape shift into anyone who was broadcast on television. Being naive, there impression of earth is what they see on TV. It was a lot of fun having them take on the form of popular TV stars of that era like Lucille Ball and even Mickey Mantle.
Regarding research: It was exhaustive. I wanted my world to be as realistic as possible. Every time one of my characters dressed, drove, ate, shaved, made a phone call, or took a walk it had to be within the confines of 1956. Because Sam is trying to get from Las Vegas to New York City, one of my biggest assets was a 1954 Road Atlas I purchased on eBay.
As hard as all that was, probably my biggest challenge was trying to portray society in the 1950’s. Men and women’s perceptions were different during that period. It really was a man’s – specifically – a white man’s– world. Men could get away with being loose and treating women as objects. Sam reflects that at the beginning. Nearly all of his relationships are shallow because below his surface is a troubled man who doesn’t want to confront his demons. His encounter with the aliens forces him to face his problems and in a way it’s also a key to confronting the invasion.
Sam’s protégé, Cricket, on the other hand also leads a Las Vegas lifestyle, but because she’s a female she’s looked at as an object and treated in a lesser light. Despite that she perseveres and is the first one to say, “Hey, we’ve got to stand up against the invaders!” In a way what she’s really saying is, “Despite everything that’s wrong I still believe in mankind.” I loved that in her.
Another thing I had to decide was, did I want to deal with racial attitudes? Racial insensitivity wasn’t considered the pariah that it is today.
In the end I came to the conclusion that if I wanted this world to ring true I had to portray life in that period as accurately as I could, even though at times it felt uncomfortable to do it.
Annabell: Who are some of your favorite authors and do they inspire you? Do you think they help influence your writing?
Louis K. Lowy: All of my favorite writers inspire and influence me. Though I have a ton, some of my favorites are: James Joyce, Robert McCammon, John Dufresne, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Chandler, and on and on and on.
Annabell: Sam E. starts off as a not so stellar character but ends the novel with a much brighter outlook and healing. What are some of Sam. E’s traits that you feel you both share? Are you good at telling jokes?
Louis K. Lowy: Hmmm, regarding similar traits, that’s a really interesting question. I would say that we both tend to shy away from having to deal with our emotions. He uses one-liners as his cover; I tend to use wit or sarcasm. He constantly questions his sense of self-worth. I think we have that trait in common. He strives to be better than he is; I hope I do, too.
As far as joke telling, Sam beats me by a mile! I’m horrible. I usually putter around and by the time I get to the punch line it’s anti-climatic. On my behalf, I can be really good with instant quips.
Annabell: Do you think anything about your firefighter career prepared you to be a writer?
Louis K. Lowy: I haven’t written too much about firefighting in particular. I think it’s too close to me to get it right, if that makes sense. Being a firefighter did teach me about life and death, hard work, discipline, the importance of showing up on time, and humor (firefighters love playing practical jokes on each other.) Those insights are important when it comes to writing, so in a way, I learned a great deal from my firefighting experience.
Annabell: The cover to the novel is pretty dang cool! How did you come up with the concept and who designed it?
Louis K. Lowy: Thanks! I love the cover, too. As I said earlier, I’m a big fan of 50’s sci-fi movies. I also love the posters from those films. A lot of them center around a do-or-die moment. I wanted to re-create a 1950’s feel with something along those lines. I had in my head a vision of Sam and his two partners as the last line of defense between earth and its destruction. I wanted flying saucers and chaos – the destruction of NYC – in the background. Not being an artist, I scribbled a crude sketch out. My daughter’s friend who is studying art did a cleaner version for me. When my publisher, IFWG, contacted, Laura Givens, a wonderful illustrator (http://www.lauragivens-artist.com/) I sent her the drawing along with some character descriptions and such. She ran with it and created a terrific piece.
Annabell: What do you think Sam E. would say if he knew a book was written about him?
Louis K. Lowy: Probably something like, “What’s black and white and read all over? Die Laughing, a book about yours truly!”
Annabell: If you had the chance to shape shift into anything or anyone, who would you choose and why?
Louis K. Lowy: That’s another hmmmm question. Maybe an athlete at the top of his or her game, just to experience how a body performs when it’s at its pinnacle.
Annabell: Will there be more to Sam E’s story or will you be venturing into the world of sci-fi again with a different book?
Louis K. Lowy: Actually, I have in the back of my head a sequel. It won’t be for awhile because I want to finish up a couple of other projects first. My second novel – a complete turnaround from sci-fi – which is about a 49 year old music teacher who’s fired and tries to find redemption through bicycle racing, is nearly finished. I’m working on another sci-fi novel that jumps across locations, time, and characters. It’s still a jumble of spaghetti but I want to at least get to a first draft before starting on another project.
Annabell: What are some of your favorite 50’s slang?
Louis K. Lowy: Three of my favorites are You’re the most!, Daddy-O, and (don’t be a) square. I used them a couple of times in the book.
Annabell: Random favorites: Favorite type of music, favorite type of food, favorite era?
Louis K. Lowy: I love all types of music but my favorite is probably minimist rock/country/rhythm & blues. Early early Beatles, Ruth Brown, White Stripes, early Elvis and Johnny Cash. Anything along those lines. Favorite food – a good ol’ pizza usually hits the spot. Favorite era? The one I’m in – because I’m still around to enjoy it!
Annabell: What’s a really good piece of advice you could give to aspiring authors?
Louis K. Lowy: Work hard. Submit your stories! Have a thick skin and believe in yourself.
Thanks Annabell and Open Book Society for allowing me this visit!
Thank you to author Louis K. Lowy for the interview. To find more information on the author and his work, you can visit his various sites:
Louis K. Lowy website: www.louisklowy.com
Blog: The Writer From Haunted Cave: http://thehauntedcave.blogspot.com/
Louis K. Lowy Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Louis-K-Lowy/100001621851402
Die Laughing Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Die-Laughing/113682198720947