Interview with author Libbie Hawker, aka L.M. Ironside

Image courtesy of Libbie Grant

Image courtesy of Libbie Grant

Section 1:  YOU + SEATTLE =

How long have you been living in Seattle, and why?

I grew up in eastern Idaho, in an environment that was considered a “town” by Idahoan standards, but is definitely “rural” by Seattleite standards.  My parents divorced when I was eight, and my mom, my sister, and I moved to Seattle.  Since then I’ve considered Seattle my hometown, although over the years work has necessitated my living in Bellingham, Tacoma, and Salt Lake City.  I keep coming back to Seattle, though.  I love it here, and I can’t really imagine living anywhere else – especially since the literature world seems to be narrowing its focus on Seattle.  We’re kind of the new New York now, as far as writers are concerned.  I think that has a lot to do with the presence of Amazon.

 

 What’s your favorite local dive bar and/or coffee shop, and what’s one of your favorite memories of being there?

Well, I wouldn’t call Cooper’s Alehouse in Lake City a dive bar – it’s pretty nice.  But my weekly writers’ group meets there, and has for as long as I’ve been a member (over three years now)…and in fact they were meeting there for years before I joined.  The food is great and the cider is even better, and it’s nice to go to a place where all the staff knows you and what you like to eat and drink.  I have so many great memories there of just spending time with my writer friends.

As far as coffee goes, I have to say the best I’ve had is consistently Urban City Coffee up in Mountlake Terrace.  I used to work near there and got used to going there for my coffee and scones, and now I try to make it up as often as I can when I need something sweet and some caffeine (which is most of the time…)  No specific good memories, but again, it’s worth a lot when the staff is friendly and welcoming and knows you well enough to chat with you about your personal life.  They’re a great bunch of people, and their caramel sauce is the best in the region, I am sure of it.

 

 If you could commit one crime in Seattle and get away with it, what would it be?

I’d unscuttle the Kalakala and turn it into my spooky pirate ship, and use it to menace other ferries.

 

Section 2:  WHAT YOU CREATE

How would you describe your passion in ten words or less?

I write.  A lot.

 

When did you realize you had to do this?

I always thought, my whole life, that I didn’t HAVE to write, and I confess I got a little eye-rolly whenever I’d hear other authors saying (usually in a very dramatic voice) how they HAAAAAD to write.  (My least favorite and most often-heard variation on this is “I bleed ink!”  I still roll my eyes when I hear that one.)  I always thought I just wrote because I knew I was good at it, and I like doing things I’m good at.  Who doesn’t?

However, in 2012 I hit a very serious depression and it happened to coincide with some rough times with my writing.  I found myself in probably the worst crisis state I’d ever been in before.  It was really awful.  I felt I was in constant psychological pain, this intense, sharp, unspeakably bitter self-loathing that just HURT.  I hurt all the time; I felt this dragging weight in my chest all the time, and it was becoming unbearable.  I somehow decided that my writing was the cause of it all (instead of, you know, my family’s long and illustrious history of severe depression) and I declared to all the world that writing was making me miserable, and I would never, ever write again.  Ever.

Well, the pain only got worse.  I knew I was at the breaking point, and it wasn’t going to be pretty if I broke.  In desperation, I hid in a dark room with my laptop and wrote, “The first hop was easy.  The train lay quiet on the tracks, as still as a dead cow.”  The first lines (at the time) to a new novel, Tin Moan, which I hope to have finished up and published in late 2014.  As soon as I wrote those two simple lines, that intense pain I was feeling vanished.  I stopped, sat for a while, and it came back.  So I typed a few more lines.  As long as my fingers kept moving, the pain receded, and I could cope with my depression and back myself away from that breaking point. 

However, I’d told everybody I knew, including my husband (then my fiancé) that I was never going to write again, so I worked out a significant portion of the rough draft of Tin Moan hiding in a dark room, writing in secret.  Eventually I realized I was being needlessly melodramatic, so I started writing in the light again, which didn’t surprise my husband at all.  Or anybody else who knew me.  So far everybody has had the grace not to remark on my “I’LL NEVER WRITE AGAIN!” moment.  I am grateful for their tact.

So I guess that was the first time I knew that I HAD to write.  Prior to that, I just did it because I’m good at it.

 

Do you consider your art-making a spiritual activity?

I don’t know.  I never really know how to respond to questions about spirituality, in any form.  I don’t believe in spirits or souls – I’m an atheist and very much motivated to believe in a thing based on the evidence I see for it.  However, there’s no doubt that human beings have a sense for what Carl Sagan called “the numinous” – which for atheists like Carl and me doesn’t imply religiosity but rather a certain warm, throbbing thrill up the spine, a sweet vibration in the blood and bones and tear ducts.  Sometimes my own writing gives me a sense of the numinous.  I try very hard to produce that feeling for readers, as other authors and artists consistently produce it for me: Vladimir Nabokov, Annie Dillard, Michael Ondaatje, Andrew Wyeth, Neko Case.  I do my best.  Sometimes I stick the landing, with some of my best lines.

It feels good, and I feel right doing it: I know that much.

 

Describe one specific moment when making art changed the rest of your life.

I thought about this question for a long time, and it’s a tough one for me to answer. 

I grew up in a family of artists.  My father and grandfather were both fairly well-known painters (within their genres), and two of my uncles are professional painters now.  My sister is a fiber artist who’s won numerous awards (literally numerous – I don’t think even she knows how many at this point.)  I was raised at painting workshops with Sergei Bongart; as a kid I ran through the Altermann Galleries with my sister.  When I was a teenager, I got into a small experimental public school program that focused all education on the performing and visual arts.  I have been very fortunate to have grown up immersed in art, and as a consequence I have a hard time picking out a single moment that changed the rest of my life.

But one moment has stuck with me very strongly.  My father was friends with Sergei Bongart (a name your readers will recognize if they’re fans of impressionism), and I recall one time when he and my dad were walking through a garden – I think they were taking photos to use as painting references later.  My sister and I were playing the garden while they worked, and for some reason Sergei looked at the two of us playing and said to my father, “Look, Douglas!  It’s Creation!”  He said it so rapturously, and the memory of that sweet old man’s passion and enthusiasm has stuck with me all these years.  I think it was my first inkling that people had a sense of the numinous.

The idea of Creation with a capital C has stayed with me, and I’ve thought a lot about what Creation with a capital C means to an atheist.  It’s an idea I explored in my novel Baptism for the Dead.

Section 3:  THE STRUGGLE 

How do you balance making art and making money?

I’m only human, so making money comes first.  I’m still at a day job (something that will be changing soon, although I love my day job and will be sad to leave it!)  I love writing literary fiction best, but it pays miserably, so I also write commercial historical fiction under my other pen name, L. M. Ironside.  I write three or four Ironside books for every Libbie Hawker book.  That’s the balance I have to make in order to pay my bills.  I also went into self-publishing because the money’s better there (a surprise twist in the story of the publishing industry; this has only been the case for a couple of years now, and nobody saw that one coming!)  The trade-off for better pay is that the book world – critics, publishers, and readers – hasn’t yet begun to view self-publishers as “as good” as traditionally published authors.  But the money is much better as an indie, so here I am.  Things change so fast in this industry, I have no doubt that within a few years we’ll see a self-published author take the Pulitzer, and then the final barrier to full acceptance for indies will be down.  Maybe that author will even be me.  Stranger things have happened!

 

What do you think when I say the term “art school”?

Will your readers come after me with pitchforks and torches if I admit that my first thought was “unnecessary”?  That’s my bias showing; none of my family members went to formal art school.  They all learned by doing, and by taking intensive critique workshops with established artists.

However, education is never a bad thing.  Usually.

 

What is your definition of “success”?  

If I’m totally honest, it’s money.  Sorry; I know that’s terribly unromantic and very unartisty of me.  But having grown up in a family of working artists, I am devoid of a considerable amount of the romantic notions people often have about artists and a career in the arts.  If I can’t live comfortably and relatively stress-free, I’m doing something wrong and I need to re-evaluate my habits and my methods.  That’s the bottom line for me.

But in truth, I also count it a pretty big success if I can induce The Numinous in anybody else.  I think it’s a worthy goal and a sensible goalpost.

 

Section 4:  GOSSIP 

If someone had to be under the influence of a substance while taking in your art, what would you recommend it should be?  What should it definitely NOT be?

Pot!  It’s legal now, so enjoy.  I suspect that nothing goes so well with a nice, wordy, cinematic literary novel like a big fat J.  I don’t smoke it myself, so I can’t say for sure.  As for what it shouldn’t be, I’m voting for meth.  I’ve never met a meth-head who appreciated a contemplative read.

 

When is your next show/exhibit/performance/gig?

Well, I’m always publishing more books!  I’ve got another historical novel coming out in February 2014 – the conclusion to my moderately popular ancient Egyptian series.  Then I’m scheduled to release two more historicals in the spring and summer of 2014, before I put out two literary novels that same year: the aforementioned Tin Moan, a story about a guy who mistakenly romanticizes the hobo life, and Sugar House, a rather experimental collection of linked short stories.  That one I’ll be launching with a somewhat unusual promotional push, which will incorporate some filmmaking…something I’ve never done before, and am pretty excited to try.  (Fortunately my husband has some connections among the indie film community, so I’m not going into this totally blind.)

 

 How can people view more of your work or contact you?

You can find links to all my books, as well as my rather boring and neglected blogs, at my two web sites, one for each pen name:  LibbieHawker.com and LMIronside.com.

 

Who should I interview next?

Ingrid Ricks is an indie author who tore up the NYT Bestseller list with her memoir, Hippie Boy.  It was recently picked up for a print deal with a major publisher.  She’s a Seattleite, one of the many fantastic writers living among us who is contributing to Seattle’s identity as the new New York.  Plus, she’s really nice and interesting.

I also really love the paintings of local artist Nick Orban, although I don’t know anything about him, other than that he’s a wonderful plein air painter and I want to buy all his paintings.

tsbsmall.jpg

How do you balance making art and making money?

I’m only human, so making money comes first.  I’m still at a day job (something that will be changing soon, although I love my day job and will be sad to leave it!). I love writing literary fiction best, but it pays miserably, so I also write commercial historical fiction under my other pen name, L. M. Ironside.  I write three or four Ironside books for every Libbie Hawker book.  That’s the balance I have to make in order to pay my bills.  I also went into self-publishing because the money’s better there (a surprise twist in the story of the publishing industry; this has only been the case for a couple of years now, and nobody saw that one coming!)  The trade-off for better pay is that the book world – critics, publishers, and readers – hasn’t yet begun to view self-publishers as “as good” as traditionally published authors.  But the money is much better as an indie, so here I am.  Things change so fast in this industry, I have no doubt that within a few years we’ll see a self-published author take the Pulitzer, and then the final barrier to full acceptance for indies will be down.  Maybe that author will even be me.  Stranger things have happened!

 

What do you think when I say the term “art school”?

Will your readers come after me with pitchforks and torches if I admit that my first thought was “unnecessary”?  That’s my bias showing; none of my family members went to formal art school.  They all learned by doing, and by taking intensive critique workshops with established artists.

However, education is never a bad thing.  Usually.

 

What is your definition of “success”?  

If I’m totally honest, it’s money.  Sorry; I know that’s terribly unromantic and very unartisty of me.  But having grown up in a family of working artists, I am devoid of a considerable amount of the romantic notions people often have about artists and a career in the arts.  If I can’t live comfortably and relatively stress-free, I’m doing something wrong and I need to re-evaluate my habits and my methods.  That’s the bottom line for me.

But in truth, I also count it a pretty big success if I can induce The Numinous in anybody else.  I think it’s a worthy goal and a sensible goalpost.

 

Section 4:  GOSSIP 

If someone had to be under the influence of a substance while taking in your art, what would you recommend it should be?  What should it definitely NOT be?

Pot!  It’s legal now, so enjoy.  I suspect that nothing goes so well with a nice, wordy, cinematic literary novel like a big fat J.  I don’t smoke it myself, so I can’t say for sure.  As for what it shouldn’t be, I’m voting for meth.  I’ve never met a meth-head who appreciated a contemplative read.

 

When is your next show/exhibit/performance/gig?

Well, I’m always publishing more books!  I’ve got another historical novel coming out in February 2014 – the conclusion to my moderately popular ancient Egyptian series.  Then I’m scheduled to release two more historicals in the spring and summer of 2014, before I put out two literary novels that same year: the aforementioned Tin Moan, a story about a guy who mistakenly romanticizes the hobo life, and Sugar House, a rather experimental collection of linked short stories.  That one I’ll be launching with a somewhat unusual promotional push, which will incorporate some filmmaking…something I’ve never done before, and am pretty excited to try.  (Fortunately my husband has some connections among the indie film community, so I’m not going into this totally blind.)

Baptism for the Dead

Baptism for the Dead


 How can people view more of your work or contact you?

You can find links to all my books, as well as my rather boring and neglected blogs, at my two web sites, one for each pen name:  LibbieHawker.com and LMIronside.com.


Who should I interview next?

Ingrid Ricks is an indie author who tore up the NYT Bestseller list with her memoir, Hippie Boy.  It was recently picked up for a print deal with a major publisher.  She’s a Seattleite, one of the many fantastic writers living among us who is contributing to Seattle’s identity as the new New York.  Plus, she’s really nice and interesting.

I also really love the paintings of local artist Nick Orban, although I don’t know anything about him, other than that he’s a wonderful plein air painter and I want to buy all his paintings.

Thank you for sharing your wit and wisdom, Libbie!

Catch more of Libbie's art and insight over on her blog, LibbieHawker.com and LMIronside.com!