Lynne Tillman



Clip, clop, clip, clop – BANG.
Clip, clop, clip, clop – BANG BANG.
Clip, clop, clip, clop – BANG.
Clip, clop, clip, clop – BANG BANG.
What’s that?
I don’t know.
An Amish drive-by shooting.

They were just fucking around. They yelled and ran. They overturned all the garbage cans on her block. They were probably going to the park. They were methodical. They turned them over, one after another, and bellowed. They leaped around, up and down, and the one of them – four males and a female – threw a garbage can at a first-floor window. He missed. Then he and another guy aimed garbage cans at a car, which they hit. Any moron can hit a car with a garbage can.
            Car alarms went off. No one could sleep. Windows opened wide. People hung out their windows. Their mouths hung open too. It was pathetic.
            Elizabeth was looking out her window.
            Everyone was asleep and in messed-up T-shirts or ratty robes, tied strangely at the waist. They all looked strangled. It was the middle of the night or the morning. It was hot. Only people with air conditioners on ever slept through the night. That’s how the block divided in the summer, with A/C or without. It was pathetic.
            Elizabeth wanted to kill them. Someone should kill them. She wanted to use a crossbow and a steel arrow. Much easier to than buy a gun, entirely legal, no waiting period. But crossbows had just been on the news, and she suspected that everyone would be buying them, the way everyone suddenly bought red eyeglasses. Maybe she was too exhausted to be unique, but she would take severe satisfaction in shooting an arrow right into a guy’s head – right through the middle of it, between his eyes or from one ear to the other. He’d look like a comic book character sporting that goofy toy parents bought for their kids years ago. Made them look like they had their skulls split in half.

From ‘Night and Day’, No Lease On Life






A while back, I watched a pair of mourning doves in their nest every day, watched as one then the other sat on an egg: saw their baby emerge from the egg, watched its being carried food and fed, saw them all fly away one late summer morning, never to return, I thought. But there are many mourning doves around my neighbourhood and maybe those three are back.

Every morning, right to the window; every afternoon, come home, open the door, right to the window – I witnessed the entire cycle of a nesting mother and father, a chick’s beak cracking through the egg-shell, the baby’s care, its parents’ nurturing it, the baby’s first flight.

The mother and father took turns sitting on the egg, and I was informed by a genuine birder, a nature writer, that this behavor was unexpected and unusual. One bird sits, the other flies away and returns with food, the sitter flies off, then the food gatherer guards the egg, mother and father switching roles to protect the egg, that was unusual, I was told.

The nest rested in an empty planter on a windowsill on another building directly across from my window; I strained to see it, a city backyard away. I thought about getting a telescope, but in the city – remember Rear Window – that can be dangerous or at least provocative. I would have to train my sights carefully and somehow declare my looking benign, when most looking is not. As far as I know there is no gesture, like waving a white flag, to signify a lack of aggression in looking.

From ‘That’s How Wrong My Love Is’, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?





Lynne Tillman is a novelist, short story writer, and cultural critic. She is currently Professor/Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at The University at Albany and teaches at the School of Visual Arts' Art Criticism and Writing MFA Program. Tillman is the author of five novels, four collections of short stories, two collections of essays, the most recent WHAT WOULD LYNNE TILLMAN DO? a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism (2014), and two other nonfiction books.

Tillman's novels include American Genius, A Comedy (2006); No Lease on Life (1998), Cast in Doubt (1992), Motion Sickness (1991), and Haunted Houses (1987). Absence Makes the Heart (1990) is Tillman's first collection of short stories. The Broad Picture (1997) is a collection of Tillman's essays, which were published originally in literary and art periodicals. In 1995, Tillman's nonfiction work, The Velvet Years: Warhol's Factory 1965-1967, was published with photographs by Stephen Shore; it presented 18 Factory personalities' narratives, based on interviews with them, as well as her critical essay on Andy Warhol, his art and studio. Tillman is also the author of the nonfiction book The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. (1999), a cultural and social history of a literary landmark where writers and artists congregated for nearly 20 years.

Her other story collections are The Madame Realism Complex (1992): This Is Not It (2002), stories written in response to the work of 22 contemporary artists, and SOMEDAY THIS WILL BE FUNNY (2011). A reissue of her novella, Weird Fucks, was published by New Herring Press, in 2015, with paintings by Amy Sillman. She is currently finishing her sixth novel, MEN AND APPARITIONS.





What are you currently working on?

A novel, MEN AND APPARITIONS, I’m calling it. My sixth. It’s taken me years, but I’m nearly done. Fingers crossed.

Your practice is primarily in writing short and long-form fiction, but you've also written for independent film, and you write critical pieces for the art world, for artists' catalogues, and for collaborative projects.

That’s why, in part, it’s taken me ages to finish this novel and the last one. I want to be writing novels. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to do everything. It’s impossible to do everything. I gave up some of it — directing another film, say. But it’s hard for me not to engage with work and ideas in other forms. I studied studio art in college, did some painting, learned a lot about it, and made film and showed it in a cinema in Amsterdam. Also I’m lucky. People offer me tantalizing projects, and I can’t say no. I try, but it’s hard. Visual art is another way to think, and I try to find narratives as analogues to art.

Your writing principally engages with a central female figure, often as narrator - do you have trouble with these many, and very different voices, being seen as autobiographical? In interviews this seems to be a default question - where do you end and the characters start...

Many of my short stories have male protagonists, especially in the last ten years, and my third novel, CAST IN DOUBT, was told in the first person by a man called Horace. The new one, MEN AND APPARITIONS, has a male narrator, Ezekiel Stark.

Madame Realism was a kind of game with this perhaps?

A fictional character can be any gender, sex, race, class, religion. It’s how you do it. I’ve never been interested in “normal” anything, I’m interested in events and people, all kinds, and I write what I want to see and who. I write what I want to read, or put another way, what I’d prefer to happen, or hear, in a day or night. 

Your characters are often at serious odds with their worlds. In No Lease on Life, Elizabeth wrestles (brilliantly) against every aspect of her day. In the novella (in 13 chapters) 'Weird Fucks' the narrator is urbane, but also naive. There's a sense of hindsight, of reflection here. In American Genius, A Comedy, the character reads and rereads things, situations, associations. Many of the characters seem to glance real trauma. It's almost a tactical approach?

Tactical? I never thought of it that way. In AGAC, there are implications, a sense that the past was very troubling, and that the protagonist needs time to get over it, and move on, somehow. Trauma, perhaps. I see No Lease on Life as a really bad day, more about the conditions of daily life. I just learned that Chekhov said anyone could handle crisis, it’s daily life that’s hard to get through. Weird Fucks is less about sex itself than the moments and the environments, the craziness and ambiguities, in which it happens. Is she traumatized? There is maybe some repetition compulsion. Ha! 

No Lease on Life was partly a rejoinder to Joyce's Ulysses. American Genius, A Comedy has a filial relation in Mann's The Magic Mountain. One substantial difference is a gender switch. Is this a corrective?

When I was writing AGAC, in the middle of it, I mentioned what it was about to a friend, and was told “it sounds like The Magic Mountain.” I’d never read it, though I read several books by Mann, and at a pretty young age. So I picked it up, began reading it, and had to stop about 60 pages into it. Because I saw resonances. I still haven’t finished it. I don’t think of the gender/sex change, in AGAC, as a corrective, more like a retort or response. Also, I’ve always felt immensely annoyed in how Molly was represented. I’m not keen on Earth Mothers or Woman as Eros. I think it’s pretty funny, though. So I had Roy lie in bed or be asleep in much of No Lease on Life. A long joke.

Your central characters (in your novels) have a very singular, highly developed - and sometimes a very insistent - interiority. How much does writing cost you in terms of dedication, effort?

That’s impossible to answer, in a way. Or very hard. Not to be dramatic, but to keep that going, those voices, their interiority, requires a certain kind of solitude and peace of mind I often don’t have. Teaching is almost the opposite of writing. Teaching, you’re giving out all the time, being external to yourself, if I can put it like that. Writing makes you, me, live inside my mind. It’s all happening there.

Posters in Manhattan asked 'What Would Lynne Tillman Do?' You have a significant body of work, and it's being republished, is there a sense of arrival?

Not really. Where’s the station? I feel grateful to have Richard Nash as my publisher, the relationship with him, writer/editor, writer/publisher, is unique. Right now he’s pubbing no one else. And I trust his responses to what I’m writing, completely. He’s extremely smart and gets IT, fast. I am also grateful for the readers I have. They seem to feel my writing gives them something, and I know how that feels on the other side. To be felt about like that is crazy good.

In an interview with the Paris Review you state that your stating point for writing fiction is about finding a voice in which to write about questions that you have. Is this grappling with questions still a central motivation for the work? Given that (from the same interview) you also state that there are seldom answers.

Yes, I start that way, and I believe I ask myself impossible questions, and then try to find my way. The voice I settle down with, it’s key, though, to how the story plays out.

Given that the work is being republished have you revisited older work?

Yes, in away, because I’ve been asked to read from, say, Haunted Houses, Mothion Sickness, and also from WEIRD FUCKS, which was reissued with beautiful paintings by Amy Sillman, the publisher is New Herring Press, and maybe I shouldn’t say “reissued” because it never was pubbed correctly. I meant it as a short novel, a novella in chapters, and finally it’s been done like that. So I’ve read from it lately, and doing that brings back a lot, especially about how you wrote it and why.

You're often presented as an experimental writer, but you reject that definition as being unhelpful.

I keep saying, if it’s an experiment, it’s to prove what? And if immediately one sees that it falls into a genre called experimental, what is the experiment? 








On Lynne Tillman, Colm Toibin, The New Yorker

US publishers: New Herring Press, Red Lemonade, Semiotexte, Soft Skull Press, D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc

Lynne Tillman author page, Amazon