Welcome to the three hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with poet and literary fiction author Serge Lecomte. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Serge. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Serge: I grew up in Belgium and immigrated to the States with my parents in 1959. I grew up in Philadelphia and Brooklyn until I joined the military in 1965. I now live in Alaska. I began writing when I was fifteen and won my first poetry contest in high school.
Morgen: Wow. So many authors recently have told me they’ve been writing all their adult life (or longer) – I’m so jealous. 🙂 I fell in love with writing fiction in my late 30s when I went to a creative writing evening group (which I took over in 2008 and still run) but I guess it means I have more experiences to write about – I just have to write quicker to catch up. 🙂 What genre do you write?
Serge: I still write poetry, but I mainly write literary fiction.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Serge: I have published numerous collections of poetry, two of them in French. I am still looking for an agent to represent my novels. I will use a pseudonym for my novels.
Morgen: Authors do write under different names for different formats. I think it’s an especially good idea if you’re known for one style. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Serge: Plenty of rejections, but they give me the strength to go on. I love rejections. I just get up and keep writing.
Morgen: I think you’re the first author to tell me they love them but yes, many have said it pushes them onwards which is great. I haven’t had a huge amount (27 or 28) so I’m still not enamoured but getting more used to them, certainly. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Serge: I have won numerous poetry competitions in Alaska.
Morgen: Well done. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Serge: I have had a few agents but nothing came of it. I think a good agent can open a lot of doors since publishers now seem to require writers to approach an agent.
Morgen: Apparently it’s more difficult to get an agent than a publisher but yes, a lot of publishers won’t take direct submissions and most agents earn their keep. 🙂 I’ve tried (albeit not as hard as most) to get an agent but have gone the eBook route (with a freelance editor) as I get more freedom. Are your books available as eBooks?
Serge: No, they’re not. I have published two books on Createspace. They print each copy on demand.
Morgen: I’ve heard good things about Createspace. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works?
Serge: I go out and sell my books door to door, do book readings and bookstore signings.
Morgen: That sounds like hard work but it must be thrilling meeting your readers face-to-face. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Serge: Of my unpublished novels I would love to see Martin, a surreal story made into a film. The leading actor would have to be an unknown.
Morgen: Presumably using Createspace, you get the say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Serge: Yes. I think titles are very important because they set the tone for the works.
Morgen: They have to be representative, don’t they. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Serge: Right now I am resting from having finished a novel. My mind, however, is working subconsciously on an idea that took root years ago.
Morgen: I love that; that our minds keep going even when we don’t. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Serge: No, I don’t. I have never suffered from writer’s block because I don’t write about me. There are so any interesting people and characters. How can any writer have writer’s block?
Morgen: I interviewed crime novelist Mark Billingham back in November and he equates writing to plumbing – plumbers don’t have plumbing block so we shouldn’t. Fair point but then I don’t suffer from it either so it is easy for me to say. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Serge: Plotting would ruin the writing for me. I like my writing to surprise me.
Morgen: Me too. I plotted my first novel but it went off at a tangent (as I do) so I just let it and have been more or less like that ever since. I find it’s my characters that lead the way, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Serge: Names are usually symbolic for me. The characters come out of their names. Are they believable? That depends on the type of novel I’m writing. Satirical novels usually have less believable characters than realistic novels.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Serge: I edit a lot, a friend then does it again and sometimes I employ a professional editor.
Morgen: It’s always worth getting a second (and third) opinion. Do you have to do much research?
Serge: I write about what I know.
Morgen: Good plan. I’m not a fan of research but my first novel’s protagonist was a hitman so that would have stretched my knowledge a little too far. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Serge: First and third. Never tried second person.
Morgen: It’s great. I’d recommend having a go, although it doesn’t suit everyone. For anyone tempted, Wikipedia explains it well. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Serge: Quite a few since they are not commercial. My most literary pieces are probably my best.
Morgen: Maybe the non-commercial ones could become self-published eBooks. I’m convinced there’s a place for everything (that’s good anyway). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Serge: My favourite aspect is getting up early in the morning and putting words on a blank page.
Morgen: Me too, I’m a morning person. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Serge: Go to work in the real work, fall in love, travel, see the world, react with it and the people in it.
Morgen: Then write about it. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Serge: Mark Twain, Anna Akhmatova and Brigitte Bardot. Salmon and salad.
Morgen: Nice. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Serge: Mens sana in corpore sano.
Morgen: A sound mind in a healthy body (thank you, Google). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Serge: I used to edit a poetry magazine called Paper Radio.
Morgen: I love their website. 🙂 I’d not heard of them before but they broadcast fiction and non-fiction so I’m definitely going to explore… thank you. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Serge: I garden, build and fish.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Serge: You can find Lauren at Two a poetry book about my daughter who died of bulimia on Amazon books under Serge Lecomte. I also have a funny, satirical book entitled Letters of Misanthrope Dogood Goodman also on amazon books under S. Lecomte.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Serge: I want to thank you for this interview.
Morgen: 🙂 You’re so welcome. Thank you for accepting my offer. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Serge: When do you have time to write?
Morgen: <laughs> When I’m given a deadline. http://NaNoWriMo.org, http://StoryADay.org, Tuesday Tales and Indies Unlimited are great for getting me to knuckle down. I do write three or four exercises in my fortnightly Monday night workshops so overall probably a fair amount. I just tend not to write every day but I love writing more than pretty much anything else (just ask my friends!) and, like most writers, wonder why I don’t make more of an effort to write every day. Thank you, Serge. 🙂
I then invited Serge to include an excerpt of his writing…
The swans have left
on the frozen lake
images of summers
that may not come,
and it is that time of year again
when we are reminded of ghosts,
goblins, witches and saints
knocking at our door
for sacrifices for a trick
even though we have no neighbors,
or pumpkin lit like a severed head
on the snow.
Yet out here no man is an island,
and viruses do creep in
through the cracks of our cabin
in spite of the extra insulation.
You’re running a hundred and four
like a comet burning up,
your tiny body so much like the fledgling
fallen out of its nest this summer
when you and I nestled it on its branch
where it waited for its first flight.
Your mother’s mask of fear
wants to take you in,
while I still believe in saints to come,
the saints of my childhood
who will drive ghosts and witches back
underground where they belong
until next year.
Your smile reminds me of me,
your eyes heavy
and understanding what my father
must have seen before his deathbed,
what I fear for not seeing.
You seem willing to hatch out
into that netherworld
into the frozen lake.
I will not let it happen.
Prayers must still work
in these words that cannot be beautified.
Perhaps the day will come
when I can look into the lake
and see the swan
I once killed for Christmas dinner.
Smiling, I shall be ready
as you seem now,
to fly like a cygnet
on wings as white as light
and embrace It
as I would my mother
who too beckons in the distance
of this night.
Serge Lecomte was born in Wallonia, the product of a Ukrainian-Greek mother and a Walloon father. He immigrated to the States in 1959. After graduating from Tilden H. S. in Brooklyn, he worked for New York Life Insurance Company. He then joined the Medical Corps in the Air Force and was sent to Selma, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. There he flew helicopter rescue. He received a B.A. in Russian Studies from the University of Alabama. Earned a Masters and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Russian Literature with a minor in French Literature. In 1988 received a B.A. from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Spanish Literature. He has lived in Mexico, Spain, France, Russia, and even Texas. Serge worked as a language teacher at the University of Alaska (1978-1997). He was the poetry editor for Paper Radio for several years. He has worked as a house builder, pipefitter, orderly in a hospital, gardener, landscaper, bartender in one of Fairbanks’ worst bars, and other jobs. He currently resides on the Kenai Peninsula. He published in numerous literary poetry magazines: Oklahoma Review, Mairena (Puerto Rico), Chiron Review, Phoebe (George Mason University), Paper Radio, African-Hispanic Review, Permafrost (University of Alaska) and many more.
Poetry Books Published:
Crimson Rice (1990), Librado Press
Alaska The Last Frontier (1991) Limestone Press, Kingston, Canada.
Lauren at Two, (1991) Edwen Mellen Press
What Shall I Tell You, Nikos? (1993) Edwen Mellen Press.
Where do the Children Go? (1994) Kawabata Press, Cornwall, UK .
Mother Speaks (1997) Paper Radio, Portland, Oregon.
Poetry in Foreign Language:
Resurrection, French poetry (1993) Pensee Universelle, Paris.
Ou sont les femmes d’antan (1995) St. Germain des Pres, Paris.
Letters of Misanthrope Dogood Goodman, Createspace, (2010)
Lauren at Two (originally published by Edwen Mellen Press) reprinted by Createspace (2010)
Translations from Russian to English:
Notes on Russian America by Kirill Timofeevich Khlebnikov Limestone Press, Kingston, Canada, 1990.
The Biography of Fedor Litke, UAF Press, Fairbanks, Alaska, 1996.
Serge has also won several poetry contests with the Fairbanks Arts Association in Fairbanks.
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