Lavinia Ludlow’s second novel, Single Stroke Seven, is a tale of misfits and music in the Bay Area. Lilith, the 27-year-old drummer of the punk(ish) band Dissonanz, is down and out in San Jose, struggling to maintain steady employment at a crap job and to pay rent. She lives in stylish disarray with her band mates, who are constantly talking about life, music, sex, and how being alive is just too damned expensive. They get along alright–that is, when they’re not insulting the bejesus out of each other.
Lavinia Ludlow has been playing the drums since she was 13 and she grew up in the San Francisco South Bay, both of which are important influences shaping this book. Regarding other biographical detail, she writes, “I could say that I’ve dealt with a lot of strife as a bisexual polyamorous female part-minority, but in reality, no more than the average person.”
Last month, we did an email interview about the genesis of Single Stroke Seven and also how to rock out wildly on the West Coast.
Nathan Holic, who did the cover design for the novel, has also a rendering of the first chapter in a series of comic panels, which are included here, after the interview.
Alex Kalamaroff: Single Stroke Steven is a punk rock novel in a lot of ways. What got you into writing about Lilith and Dissonanz and their scene?
Lavinia Ludlow: When I was a teenager, I loitered at “band houses,” where musicians and artists cohabited to alleviate the rent burden and to be around each other as much as possible for spontaneous song-writing and rehearsals. These residences were rich in culture, liberal think, and ambition, but also high in daily strife in the form of, “how are we going to pay the water/electricity bill” and “you’re fucking late on the rent for the zillionth time and we’re days away from eviction” all the way to personal demons like addiction, apathy, and alcoholism (which I didn’t understand back then, but have since struggled with for eleven years and counting…that’s a story for another novel).
I wanted to bring forth these quirky stories, and pepper in a few of my own experiences for a personalized touch. No book will ever reflect my life more accurately than this one, from the tone to the content, the economic backdrop to the shitty jobs to the conservative nightmare boss to losing all sense of one’s self because of bad career choices, codependent relationships, and stagnant friendships. Ultimately, I wanted to tell a tale about how different the world is when you’re no longer eighteen but a late twenty-something still living in a shack, eating raw ramen, bandaging wounds with electrical tape to avoid fatty hospital bills. The world looks at you differently. You look at yourself differently.
AK: Music is a defining feature both of the characters’ lives and the book as a whole. How’d you get into writing about music and what role/connection do you find between good tunes and fiction writing? (Side note: The band name Joan’s Town is great!)
LL: My writing always contains some association to music, even loosely. The lives of musicians, their rise and fall (mostly the fall), and the challenges they face, are my main vein of inspiration. When you see your favorite indie/punk band in concert, you know nothing of their lives beyond the stage. Like any artist, they are complex creatures, many are tormented and/or have rich inner worlds. I enjoy coaxing these hidden worlds and agendas out of the wings and into the spotlight.
Logistically, writing is a solitary pursuit so it’s a helluva lot easier to manage than a band. Writing is free, I can say whatever I want, whenever I want, and wherever I want be it plane, train, or in bed, which you can’t do in a band with 4-5 other personalities trying to align schedules and get equipment together to song-write and rehearse. Oh, and don’t forget having to agreeing on a joint vision. Furthermore, writing doesn’t come with the baggage that a band does. A manuscript will never scream at me because of creative differences, and its psycho ex-girlfriend will never hurl a beer bottle at my face or storm a rehearsal to destroy my equipment in a jealous rampage.
AK: The fast-paced, biting, comic dialogue is a notable stylistic feature, with Lilith and her mom bandying put-downs back and forth, and with Lilith and her band mates in a never-ending rude joke fest. How’d you decide on this sort of dialogue-fueled narrative style?
LL: I was raised in a household of people who say exactly what they think whenever they want. Whether it was sensitive, appropriate, or timely was never taken into consideration. Sharp-tongued and witty, these minds fire faster than I can keep up. It’s like being in a room with verbal ninjas hacking me or some social issue to a pulp, and if I don’t come prepared to wield my own katana, I’ll end up minced to bite-sized pieces of tripe. Most of my friends and previous paramours are also whip-smart-asses, which leads to a roundtable of humorous banter and self-depreciating cracks. If I wrote dialogue any other way, I would feel phony.
AK: The egregious unaffordability of the Bay Area serves as the harsh backdrop of this novel. Even when Lilith isn’t directly discussing her and her friends’ financial situations, there’s always a sense that everything is just so ungodly expensive it’s nigh-impossible to live. How have these real, devastating economic factors informed your fiction?
LL: I wanted to explore how the extreme cost of living in the Bay Area affects those chasing their pipe dreams. Yes, it’s hard to pursue (much more profit from) your art anywhere in the world or to survive on minimum wage, but those in the Bay, in the shadows of the tech boom, are up against challenges faced nowhere else in the nation, not even Manhattan.
The explosion of the Bay Area tech industry has led to rampant gentrification. Recent figures just came out, evictions are at a 6-year high, dilapidated 200-square-foot studios in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of San Francisco are renting at $2300-$2500. Google employees have taken to living in their cars in the parking lot, and this guy tried living in a box for $500 (which I’d totally do for that price) before they shut it down due to fire hazards. Here’s something to laugh about: What $2,000 Rent Gets You in San Francisco Vs. Everywhere Else.
Numbers like this don’t make survival possible for even the gainfully employed, and this economic backdrop easily and effortlessly deepened the dimension of Single Stroke Seven’s “struggling artist” and “starving musician” motif.
AK: If you had to pick 5 songs to serve as the sound track to Single Stroke Seven, what would they be?
#1. The Pogues – “Boys from The County Hell”
On the first day of March it was raining
It was raining worse than anything that I have ever seen
I drank ten pints of beer and I cursed all the people there
And I wish that all this raining would stop falling down on me
#2. Rancid – “Journey to the End Of the East Bay”
all these bands and
all these people
all these friends and
we were equals but
what you gonna do
when everybody goes on without you?
it was just the 4 of us, yeah man the core of us
too much attention unavoidably destroyed us
#3. The Decendents – “Can’t Go Back”
It’s a filthy world and I can’t go back
I’ve been misused and I can’t go back
Everybody here is out to get me
Or at least that’s how it seems to me
Everybody here is laughing at me
But now I know my weakness is my strength
And I want to go back and I can’t go back
#4. Ludo – “Anything For You”
My ancestors planted some sequoias by a road
I’ve driven down that road since I was born
Oh, never have you ever seen so many perfect evergreens
but I would chop them all down just for you.
#5. PK [now Night Riots] – “1920”
Pretty soon boys, we’ll all go our own way
but for now all we need are good friends
cold nights we will not forget
The first chapter of Single Stroke Seven in comic form – by Nathan Holic
Nathan Holic is the author of The Things I Don’t See and American Fraternity Man. He is the editor of the 15 Views of Orlando anthologies, and the Graphic Narrative Editor at The Florida Review literary journal. He writes fiction. He writes nonfiction. He draws comics (and has also adapted the prose of Lindsay Hunter, Ben Tanzer, J. Bradley, Steve Himmer, and Alex Kudera into comic form). He teaches writing courses at the University of Central Florida. He enjoys pretzels. He often wanders his garage and wonders what he was looking for. He has three children under the age of four. Check out his web site at nathanholic.com to get handy links to his other published comics, fiction, nonfiction, and [insert whatever genre he’s forgotten about].
Lavinia Ludlow is a musician and writer dividing time between San Francisco and London. Her debut novel, alt.punk (2011), explored the ragged edge of art, society, and sanity, viciously skewering the politics of rebellion. Her sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven (2016), explores the lives of independent artists coming of age in perilous economic conditions. Both titles can be purchased through Casperian Books. Her short works have been published in Pear Noir!, Curbside Splendor Semi-Annual Journal, and Nailed Magazine, and her indie lit reviews have appeared in Small Press Reviews, The Rumpus, The Collagist, The Nervous Breakdown, Entropy Magazine, and American Book Review.