Interview: Lou Beach, Author/ Artist

by Joshua Goldfond

Lou Beach is a veteran artist and newly-published author who has worked for several decades in illustration, collage, and assemblage. His surrealist artwork has appeared in galleries, collections, and festivals around the United States, while his commissioned illustrations have been used by magazines (Forbes, Wired), book publishers (Houghton-Mifflin, McGraw-Hill) and newspapers (NY Times, Los Angeles Times). Beach has also worked extensively in the music industry, creating album covers for bands like The Carpenters and Blink-182.

Already accomplished in his field, the German-born, Rochester-raised, California native saw his creative career enter a new act with the 2011 publication of 420 Characters. This anthology of hypershort stories, each of which does not exceed the length denoted in its title, began as a writing exercise that Beach created for his Facebook status updates. With a profound imagination and economy of language, Beach crafts micro-tales that are sometimes fantastical, occasionally grim, and always intriguing. The author’s surrealist artwork appears throughout the collection, punctuating an overall tone of mystery and strangeness.

420 Characters has earned praise high praise from publications like Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times, among others.

Lou Beach spoke with me about his work in April of 2012.

 

How long had you been creating these stories before deciding to make an anthology? All told, how long did “420 Characters” take to compile and edit?

Probably about six months before the idea of putting them in one place, a website, was hatched. It took perhaps nine months to compile and edit and another year to publish…it’s a slow process.

Do you view any of the pieces in “420 Characters” as seeds for a larger story that you might want to explore? Or, are they stand-alone works?

They are all stand-alone pieces, though there are themes that I keep returning to, even with the longer pieces I’m writing now – alienation, disfunctional relationships, crime, settings at sea or in the West.

Who are some of your literary influences? Was writing prose something that you had always cultivated as a side interest?

Oh man, I hate that question…the “Which 10 books (records, movies, et.al.) would you take to a desert island?”…I always feel that the 11th or 43rd choice is being slighted by not making the list. Also, whichever author I’m reading with enthusiasm at the moment is the new favorite. It ‘s not that I have fickle tastes, it’s just that there are so damn many terrific writers. I’d always wanted to write but for whatever reasons, I gravitated to visual art. I don’t think of the writing as a “side” interest, just another aspect of my need to create narratives, visual or literary.

Social networking sites can be rather murky when it comes to questions of content ownership, with status updates and photos often being stored indefinitely. Was there ever any concern that Facebook might try to assert some sort of control over the material?

No, that never occurred to me. If that were the case, I would have stopped posting and gone elsewhere, a blog perhaps, to make the stories public.

I was hoping you could talk a little about your artwork, which you have stated is strongly influenced by the Surrealists. Were there any particular artists or works that stuck with you during your formative years?

Ernie Kovacks influenced me as much as any “museum” artist did. His sly and comically surreal view of the world just felt right to my young mind.

When working in surrealism- in fiction or in drawings- are there particular motifs or ideas that you set out to explore, or do you tend to work “on-the-fly” and let your unconscious mind work more actively?

Yes, I tend to follow the subconscious and once it’s laid the groundwork, the more conscious aspects such as editing come into play…then it’s work. I don’t particularly view myself as a surrealist, though the influence is obvious. I think most of the stories are grounded in a naturalistic style.

Do you have any forthcoming work that you’d care to mention? Any new fiction?

I’m writing daily, teaching myself how to write longer pieces; reading and absorbing how other writers work and I’m about to jump back into some new collage work.

 

Lou Beach’s website can be found at http://www.loubeach.com/

The 420 Characters website can be found at: http://www.420characters.com/.  It features sample chapters, as well as recorded readings  by actors Jeff Bridges and Ian McShane.