Bryan R. Monte
Vita — An Interview with Susan Lloy
Susan Lloy is the author of two books of short fiction, But When We Look Closer (2017) and Vita: Stories (2019) both from Now or Never Publishing. Her fiction has been published in Avalon Literary Review; Lock Raven Review; Beecher’s 4 Magazine; Donut Factory; The Literary Commune, UK; Literary Orphans; Jumblebook; PARAGRAPHITI; Penduline Press; The Prague Review; Revolution House Magazine; The Roundup Writer’s Zine; Scarlet Leaf Review; Toronto Prose Mill; Transportation Press; The Writing Disorder; and Revolution House as well as in Amsterdam Quarterly and in The Neighbours Anthology, (Zimble House Publishing).
Bryan R. Monte: How does it feel to have two collections of short stories, But When We Look Closer and Vita: Stories, published in the last two years?
Susan Lloy: It feels like an accomplishment. However, my audience is very limited. It has proved difficult to find ways to broaden the scope of readers.
BRM: Well, you should be very proud of these two books, not only for their contents, but also for their design. Their typeface, cover art, size and bindings make them very attractive. I especially like both books’ eye-catching cover art. Were you also involved in these books’ design?
SL: Only with Vita. I chose the image for the front cover and the book’s cover font.
BRM: What is your academic and professional background, and how has this influenced you as a writer?
SL: I have a Bachelor’s of Design in Communication Design from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University. I did a study exchange at Parsons School of Design and Cooper Union for the advancement of Science and Art in New York. I studied graphic design at Parsons and the history of experimental film at Cooper Union
BRM: That must have been an interesting and educational semester.
SL: Obviously, New York was a great influence. It was an exciting, fruitful time and it fuelled me with a lust for creative endeavours. I have always been interested in the arts and originally wanted to be a painter, but studied graphic design instead.
BRM: Do you make your living as a writer and as a graphic artist?
SL: No. I work full-time as the unit coordinator on the Cardiac Surgery Unit at the McGill University Health Centre. This takes a lot of energy, so my creative output is quite dependent on what is going on at work. Working in healthcare is an entire trilogy on its own. Maybe someday….
BRM: How long have you been writing?
SL: As far as writing is concerned … I have written from an early age. But I took a long absence from writing when I had my son in the 1990s. I did, however, write a children’s story for him during this period. Currently, an illustrator and myself are seeking publication for this story. All of my work is dedicated to my son, Nicolas.
BRM: How long have you been writing short stories?
SL: Seriously, for about the last six years.
BRM: How long have you been sending them out?
SL: Since the beginning.
BRM: Would you call yourself a disciplined writer? For example, do you have a regular schedule for writing, editing and submitting your work?
SL: When I have an idea for a piece of fiction, I get busy with it immediately. Yet, if I’m in between stories, I can be unproductive. I do, nonetheless, keep a notebook of thoughts and ideas for future tales.
BRM: I believe that what Jacob Appel does with plot in his short stories, you do with character in yours. How do you ‘find’ these interesting characters that draw the reader in and power them through your stories — through experience, observation, or pure fantasy or perhaps a combination of two or three factors?
SL: A combination of all three, as I think this is true for most writers. We all reflect, subtract and bend reality to create.
BRM: Could you be more specific? For example, how did you create the voice of the main character from ‘Mean Waitress’ and some of your other stories?
SL: The voice for ‘Mean Waitress’ is my own. I was that mean waitress. Layla in ‘Layla Was Here’ is pure fantasy. I wanted the verse to portray the uninvited person in her head. The short story ‘Vita’ is an observation in the process of an individual’s death.
BRM: Do you share some of your characters’ obsessions with Amsterdam in your short stories such as ‘Dutch Lite’ in But When We Look Closer and ‘Invisible Matter’ and ‘The Little Bang’ in Vita?
SL: Yes, I can be obsessive. I like to expand on these traits. I find it makes the characters multi-layered.
BRM: How often have you visited Mokum?
SL: I have visited Amsterdam more than 15 times.
BRM: Have you ever lived here?
SL: Yes, from 1987 to 1990.
BRM: More specifically, have you ever sat in a Jordaan café as your character in ‘Invisible Matter’ in Vita waiting to meet an ex-?
SL: Yes. Every time I visit.
BRM: What originally drew you to Amsterdam from Canada?
SL: Initially, I came to Amsterdam to take part in a three-month internship with a renowned design firm. At the time I was at a crossroads in my life following the death of my parents in a car crash. I wanted a change geographically and personally.
BRM: What made you stay?
SL: Love and friendship. Although I knew no one when I arrived, I was fortunate to meet some very good people. From previous visits, I could imagine living in Amsterdam and I thought that I would stay.
BRM: What are three of your favourite places in Amsterdam?
SL: The first place would be the Café de Klepel on the Prinsenstraat, when it was a bar. This was the place where I met most of my friends. Next, would be the Jordaan. It’s the neighbourhood where I lived. I love its beauty and its village vibe. And lastly, the harbour. I come from the sea, so I am partial to ports.
BRM: What made you decide to leave?
SL: My younger sister. It was just the two of us and she was living in Montreal. She suggested I return to Canada as I had lost interest in graphic design and I was unsure of what I wanted for the future. Sadly, my sister died from cancer not long after my return. And though I have remained in this northern land, I travel to Amsterdam in my mind each and every day.
BRM: I am very sorry for your loss.
SL: Thank you, Bryan, for your condolences. They touch me deeply. I have had a lot of loss in my personal life. I often write about this theme. Loss is universal. Everyone gets it.
BRM: Mental health issues are very important in Vita such as in ‘That Screaming Silence’ (anti-social and homicidal behaviour), ‘Voices’ (suicide), and ‘Layla Was Here’ (a woman whose artistic identity was repressed both in her life and in the record she leaves behind) and ‘Mademoiselle Energy’ (schizophrenia). Could you share how and where you found the inspiration for the characters and situations for a few of these stories?
SL: I believe these often, marginalized individuals have a purer truth and also deserve a voice. Mental health is close to my heart. Something innate. In reference to ‘That Screaming Silence’, I have always lived in noisy, urban flats. I wonder what I would do if I finally invested in a home and discovered such noisy neighbours. As far as my other stories linked with mental disturbances, they are completely imaginary, although, I may have chatted with these characters somewhere along the way.
BRM: Rebellion is also a theme in Vita’s stories. To what extent were you a rebel in your teens, 20s or later, and to what extent are you still?
SL: I was a rebel in my youth. And yes, even though I’m longer in the tooth at present, nonconformity remains inherent.
BRM: Structurally, what is the function of the shorter, poetic vignettes between the longer short stories in Vita?
SL: I find that they serve as compact, cinematic breaks between the larger stories.
BRM: Was that arrangement your idea or an editor’s?
SL: This arrangement is my own.
BRM: You prove your versatility as a fiction writer in Vita not only in your shorter pieces, but also in the characters and situations of two longer stories, ‘Layla Was Here’ and ‘California Reelin’. Did they take longer to write than the others?
SL: Yes, longer.
BRM: How long?
SL: It took me a couple of months with each of these stories.
BRM: ‘Layla Was Here’ is written in the form of journal entries from two different people, one who writes the text and the other who finds the text buried in his back garden and his response to it. The story brings together the buried narrative of a seemingly failed, psychologically unstable, female artist and the man who unearths her diary in his back garden. When did you come up with the journal format for ‘Layla Was Here’, at the beginning, or is this something that came to you as you worked on the piece?
SL: The journal format was the idea from the get-go. I also knew the ending from the start. The concept was like the discovery of a diary.
BRM: ‘California Reelin’ takes your characters out of their usual Canadian or Dutch settings. Have you ever lived or vacationed in California in the middle of a cold, Canadian winter? How did you come up with this story?
SL: Yes, I have visited California a couple of times, long ago. It’s beautiful. The inspiration for the story came from a reality show where buyers pay cash for extremely expensive properties. I thought: ‘What sort of mischief could my character get into if she went to work for one of those brokers?’
BRM: In ‘California Reelin’, your protagonist meets a man who convinces her to break into the exclusive Bohemian Grove in Northern California to learn about its secret rituals. How close is this story’s setting and characters to your own experience?
SL: Bohemian Grove is a real place, so I planted my characters into a situation that only those in Bohemian Grove can know the outcome of, whether its based on fantasy or not.
BRM: Did you find it more difficult to write these two longer stories, or did they just seem to flow once you get started?
SL: Once I moulded my ideas for these stories, they flowed rather easily.
BRM: ‘Capture’ is also a departure from your other stories because it is an account of a kidnapped, baby elephant in the voice of that elephant. What inspired you to write this story?
SL: ‘Capture’ is inspired from a photograph I saw in the Guardian International. A young elephant was captured for a Chinese zoo. It broke my heart.
BRM: Do you think you will attempt other non-human narratives in the future?
SL: I can’t confirm that at this point.
BRM: With two books of short stories to your credit now, could you share with AQ’s readers perhaps a bit about some ongoing or future projects? What are you working on at this moment?
SL: Currently, I’m working on a themed collection of stories. These stories are about retirement. Yet, the characters find themselves in unconventional situations. One marries a polygamist. Another murders her husband on a sailing trip around the Mediterranean. Someone else moves to Abruzzo, taking up the violin only to spoil the olive harvest with her inferior playing.
BRM: Susan Lloy, thank you for taking part in this interview.
SL: Thanks, Bryan. I’m honoured you asked. AQ