Hello Mr.Barry, I was required to read your book Lexicon in my college literature class and enjoyed it very much. However, I’m forced to create a presentation about Lee Bob Black. So my question is: Who the hell is Lee Bob Black? All I’ve found is his website with a bunch of links to his blog. Which would have sufficed if my teacher didn’t think you were this ingenious wordsmith wizard or something. She thinks you made him up basically. Something to do with marketing and illusion. Can you help me out? Is Lee Bob Black a persona you made up or are we digging a dry well here? Thanks. Maybe.
Lee Bob Black is an actual person. Sorry. That website with
his work on it is completely legit, not a carefully constructed
piece of reality augmentation for the book. There are a few pieces of
reality augmentation floating around, but Lee isn’t one of them.
Basically I needed a lesser-known poet. In the book, people get poet names based on rank, so
Woolf and Eliot and Yeats are serious headkickers, while Lee Bob Black could be a younger guy working the streets. The real Lee I had
met in St. Kilda sometime around 2001 when his friend graffitiied my house. Artists. Anyway, we got talking and then he moved to New York and we lost contact,
but I remembered his great little poems.
At some point I emailed him:
You are in my novel-in-progress. I needed the name of an obscure
real-life poet and you sprang to mind. I was intending to change it, but
since here you are, I will ask if I can use it. Context: there are
characters in the book who adopt the names of real poets, and the one
who uses your name is cool but sleazy. So do not feel compelled to say yes.
I’m a little shocked by that now because I wouldn’t describe the character as “cool but sleazy.”
He’s outright despicable. He does things that you wouldn’t want to be associated with in any way. But Lee,
not knowing this, was
delighted and honored. And I was happy, right up until the book was published, when I suddenly realized I had
done a terrible thing and Lee was going to freak right out when he read it.
At a reading in New York, I looked into the audience and surprise! There he was. I had to stop and check whether
he was about to serve me with legal papers. But no. He was incredibly gracious about it.
I understand your teacher thinking Lee Bob Black must be fictitious, because no author would be stupid
enough to name that character after a real, living person. But actually I am that stupid.
SPOILER WARNING: Mild spoilers about Lexicon follow
I am currently enjoying reading Lexicon, however my pedantic nature forces me to question the storyline at page 190-191 where Emily sleeps with Harry then he is not there next morning.
How does she get home?
How does she get home in such a way that she has difficulty finding her way back?
I’ll be honest, Graeme: You are my nightmare. When I’m trying to move the story along while developing character and a satisfying emotional arc, blah blah blah, there is always a little voice in the back of my head that says, “You didn’t explain exactly how she got home.” Henceforth I will call that voice Graeme.
How did Emily get home? I don’t know. I never thought deeply about it. I presume it was somehow. She’s not that far from home; she is resourceful; she has feet; I just figure she gets it done.
But I know this isn’t a satisfying answer, because all stories are real, and real things have facts. So here is THE ACTUAL ANSWER that I just invented:
Her shoes were useless, of course, two-inch heels, so she carried them. She didn’t know the area but followed the dirt road in what she hoped was the right direction. It was an hour before she reached anywhere she recognized, which was another hour away from town. It would be less if a car passed by, but that would also mean she was recognized, and never live it down. So she walked with her head down. She was never going to see him again. She had already decided that.
Now I want you to bear in mind, Graeme, that rural roads are like rivers. There’s a main road, from which smaller roads branch out. If you start on a small road with a vague idea of the right direction, you can follow it back upstream until you reach the main road and there you are. But going the other way is more difficult, because you have to remember which branch to take. Right? And it’s dark when she returns. I hope we can agree on this.
I try to provide the minimum amount of detail necessary when writing. I think that’s my job: to figure out how to have the greatest effect in the fewest words. Because what amazes me over and over about novels is how much of the story is provided by readers. The page holds only the tiniest details, yet we conjure whole worlds. That’s the only reason novels work.
I don’t think they work when the author tries to explain every little thing. Or when they describe physical objects to death. I can’t stand that. It actually feels a little insulting, like they don’t trust me enough to share the story. Just tell me there’s a broken glass, dammit. I can do the rest.
Today I went looking for Lexicon covers. Usually I’m sent a copy when a foreign edition comes out, but not always. In those cases I just get surprised to discover that something like this exists:
This is Russian. I actually thought it was awesome until I noticed the handgun poking out of her mouth. That kind of took it over the line for me. It reminds me of a terrifying poster for some werewolf movie that used to hang in the window of a video store I had to walk past as a kid, where a wolf’s snout is poking out of the man’s mouth. That was really scary. I was about fifteen but even so.
This one is from Turkey. I didn’t remember any Moon references in Lexicon, so I checked. I did actually use the word “moon” twice and “moonlight” once, in sentences that were about something else.
That’s pretty great. Good job, Taiwan.
What? Come on, Greece. It’s like you tried to redraw the American paperback cover from memory.
This is from Israel. It strikes me as the philosophical opposite of the Russian cover. It’s funny how the same book says to one person, “Man in a suit walking up a flight of concrete steps,” and to another, “Woman shooting bullets out of her mouth.” And neither of those things happens in the story.