LYN COFFIN – Author of AFTERMATH
1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
When I was a little kid (4? 5?), my three older sisters said I could get anything I wished if I got salt on a bird’s tail. So I spent the better part of a day chasing after birds with a saltshaker. My wish was to be a boy- Stands to reasons when you’re the fourth girl. Luckily, I grew out of that wish.
Also, the first poem I can remember was this: “It’s not the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin they carry you off in.” Gender and Death are big topics for me. (For a lot of people.) Also also, I don’t like journal-writing. I know people swear by it, and it seems to work for them, but (personally)- I think part of the reason I tend to be prolific is- if my subconscious doesn’t seem to feel like expressing itself, I respect that. (I also strongly dislike writing “prompts.”)
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you
My first story came in response to a teacher’s asking the members of my class to describe myself. My story essay began something like this: “I am rectangular and made of wood. There is a hole on my top where people pour in ink…” I was describing myself as a desk, the old-fashioned kind with a little in-built cup for liquid ink! The other kids found this hilarious in a not completely kind way, but my teacher was ecstatic and said I had a great future as a writer. This was in first grade. I wrote my first poem in college- It was pretty short: “Beyond night’s harvest/ moon-scythed/ fierce tigers stalk.” I’m not ashamed of this first effort, though I do wish I’d had the good sense to excise “fierce.”
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
It is always hard (for me) to know where inspiration came from. The Aftermath is about a woman drugged and raped on New Year’s Eve. It probably had its beginning (spoiler alert!) in my having been raped years ago, but the actual rape and the fictional rape are very different. I’m not sure why that is. I have written and had published (in addition to The Aftermath), short fiction, poetry, plays, essays, children’s stories, non-fiction, etc. I like exploring genres. The only thing I don’t like writing is autobiography or memoir- Even interviews are semi-uncomfortable. When I first sat down to try answering the questions here, I had this impulse to turn it into a play: a writer is being interviewed by someone and as the interview proceeds, the writer realizes the interviewer is a robot- Then, after being recognized as a robot, the interviewer begins to break down and asks questions like “What is the turban of your lustiest book and what infested it?” (Luckily, I abandoned this idea.)
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many
I am horrible about time. I can’t remember dates, except for my children’s birthdays and the date Mussolini came to power. (This was because, as I was studying for my boarding school senior year history exam, I bemoaned out loud my inability to learn dates. My roommate said- “Dates are easy. Give me one date you want to remember.” “Mussolini came to power in 1922,” I said. “Easy peasy. You just–” and my roommate put her hands on top of her head like horns and started running around the room going “Mussolini… Twenty two… Mu… Two… Mu… Two….” I’ve never forgotten it.) Anyway- I started The Aftermath years ago- It took me a year and a half maybe to write. I was living in Ann Arbor with my best friend who had stage IV unknown primary cancer. He died a couple of years later. I remember we were picking out an apartment and we were choosing between three- The best apartment, the largest one with the most light was at first rejected by my friend. “Why?” I asked. “Because I don’t like the number- It’s 108,” he said. “Eight is the number of death.” “That’s ridiculous,” I told him. “We’re not going to go to a smaller, darker apartment because of some silly number business.” And then he died on January 8th a year and a half later…. Anyway, I never keep track of how many words I write. Some days, many many. Some days, few. Once in a long while- none. (Unless you include messaging on social media.)
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
The only thing unusual is maybe that I don’t have writing habits. I try to stay away from writing habits– I don’t keep a journal, I don’t have a set time to write- nor a set place- Nothing. Nada. When I feel like it, when I can, when I have something to express, I write…. Sometimes I write things I like and have no idea what it’s about or (god knows) what it means.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your
creativity than just writing?
Well, I object to that “just”- Shakespeare’s creativity was limited to his writing. But I do play classical piano (Bach, Mozart) and I used to do wood sculptures (mostly madrona, which is difficult to work with because of the chucks). I am a fairly experience actor. I love to draw. When I was in high school, I think I had a fair amount of talent, but I became discouraged, and gave up drawing. Now, I’m terrible at it. (When I try to play “Pictionary” people will be so baffled by the chicken tracks I make, that they don’t suggest anything.)
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
It’s easier to talk about the influences on my poetry- Jiri Orten, a remarkable Czech poet who was Jewish and died in the holocaust. Frost. (I once got a letter of congratulation from Sandburg and didn’t save it because I blamed Sandburg for not being Frost.) I don’t know who has influenced my prose. I would love to say Faulkner, but I’m not sure that’s true. I would love to say Dostoevsky, but I’m not sure that’s true, either. I hope people will read The Aftermath and find resemblances. My favorite stories (if that’s any indication) are Borges’s “Signs and Symbols” and Updike’s “Should Wizard Hit Mommy.”
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
Well, I’m translating a Georgian poet (working with a native speaker)- His name was Razhden Gvetadze and he was a member of the “Blue Horn,” an early 20th century group. I am also quite active as a poet and recently taped a lecture on Vegetarianism for University House, where I live. As far as fiction goes, I am revising and trimming my autobiographical novel Tinder so I can submit it to Adelaide or others very soon.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
Who reads my books? Not very many people. Who should read them? Many people. I don’t think much about this- I pretty much write what I write and hope it will connect with someone out there. When I was young, I thought I could make a fortune writing for True Confessions readers, and I tried to write “to” that market audience. The result was a disaster.
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Give up writing if you can. (If you’re meant to do it, I don’t think you will be able to give it up.) Don’t worry about your family or friends’ reactions. If you need to, you can disguise your Aunt by changing the character to an uncle. The kind of people (family members, usually) who will see themselves in what you ahve written are the kind of people who will see themselves everywhere in your work. I remember when I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan. I gave a poetry manuscript to a male graduate student and he said he’d let me know his reaction. A few days later, my manuscript appeared in my mailbox with no comments A few weeks after that, I saw him tending bar at the University Club and went up to speak with him. Before I could say “hi,” he said, “I know who I am.” “Okay,” I said. “Who are you?” “I’m the frog with the box of kleenex,” he told me. One of the poems in the collection was about a frog who went to parties with a box of kleenex and “ladeled them into everyone’s arms.” “I wrote that poem years ago, long before I knew you,” I said. But he didn’t believe me.
11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Don’t write to be a writer. (Write because you have something you want to express.)
12. How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite
How many books do I read annually? 60.3– No, actually I have no idea. I read a lot, but mostly non-fiction these days- Non-fiction, poetry, then fiction I just finished Julian Barnes’s Arthur and George. I liked it a lot. I am currently reading Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. It was sent to me by my son-in-law. I like it, as well. Recently, I find I start a lot more books than I finish.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be
remembered by readers?
I don’t understand the question. What do I deem the most relevant to what? The most relevant to today? What is the most important thing? idea? passage? to be remembered by readers? I would hope readers of The Aftermath would be interested in the fact that the Prologue is written in the 3rd person and the book itself is written in the 1st person, though it takes up where the prologue left off, in terms of time. I could say that “the most important to be remember by readers” is my name, so they can buy more of my books. The Aftermath is about trauma- childhood trauma, adult trauma- and the need to look back, to understand. It is about the importance of the “families” we construct for ourselves, our drive to heal, the importance of a woman “learning to be brave.”
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can
best fit into the new trends?
The book publishing industry today seems to me a mess- It is rapidly disappearing, the market for it is drying up, or drowning in self-publication. I have no idea what the new trends are, so I wouldn’t know how an author could fit into one.
What do you, as an author, want?
I want people to read my books and discuss them, think about them. I love it when readers of The Aftermath ask me how David and Susan met, or where they went to school, or ask what happens after the book ends?
I have been writing all my life and there were moments when it seemed my writing would “catch” (like a fire)- When Joyce Carol Oates chose a story of mine for Best American Short Stories 1979, for example. It seemed as though it would, but it didn’t. The best criticism I ever got was from a reader who complained (after reading my novella, Tinder) that I made her burn her lunch, because she got caught up in the story and “had to” read to the end.
It would be nice to make money, but what I really want is to be known. IronTwine Press called me “The most accomplished writer most Americans have never heard of.” Assuming there is some truth in that, I’d love it if that would change.
Please read The Aftermath and tell me what you think.
Now let me ask you- “What is the turban of your lustiest book, and what infested it?”
What do you hope reviewers will notice and remark on?
What I hope reviewers will notice:
The change in point of view from the Prologue and then the Rest of the Novel. I need 3rd person for the beginning because this is where an author has the best chance of being believed, being perceived as the fountainhead of the truth. Then I switch to 1st person in Chapter 1, because I wanted to get at what the character was thinking and feeling, to express the subjective truth of her experience as best I could. I don’t know of any other work of fiction that shifts personae like this, though I’m sure there must be some.
What do I think is the main weakness in the novel- Well, you know, it’s like criticizing ones child. But I think something that was necessary but still off-putting is that Susan is limited when the
novel begins. She is not terribly sympathetic, because (I think) she is not fully alive. She has been victimized as a child and learned from her mother not to look back. It’s not exactly Churchill’s “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, but it’s close.) So she
has money but she apparently has no friends except 1 prospective boy friend and she doesn’t
Want anything by her own admission. She thinks there is something wrong with that, and I think I do, too.
The most delightful thing about the book’s having been published is this- When I was first writing the novel, which must have been in the early 1990s, I sought the counsel and expertise of a member of the Milwaukee police department. I met Officer Ferrier and he was kind enough to answer all my questions about fingerprints, rape kits, sperm identification, interrogation techniques, everything. I modeled Adam Ferrier, the main romantic lead- whom Laureen has called “a knight in shining armor” after him. When the novel was published last month, one of
my first thoughts was to let him know. So I started on an investigation of my own. I remembered that Officer Ferrier had been one of the first into Jeffey Daumer’s apartment, that he told me he had seen in Jeffry’s freezer “what no human should ever see.” So I put Jeffry Dahmer and Officer Ferrier (still not sure how to say it) into the search bar and out came his name. He had contributed photographs from the Dahmer case. He was listed in the Milwaukee
Departments 1996 bulletin but not 1997. So he had retired- I couldn’t find a phone or email. He wasn’t listed on facebook. I didn’t want to buy a subscription to TruthFinder to try to look him up. So I called the Milwaukee Police Department’s p.r. office and spoke to Sargent Efraim about
my quest. On Saturday- 2 days ago- I had 2 wonderful texts. One was from Sgt. Efraim saying he had tracked Officer Ferrier down and given him my information. The other was from Officer Ferrier himself, giving me his email address and phone number. I called him right away. He told me he had lost his right leg and gets around now with a prosthetic device, a walker and a wheelchair. He seemed a little down and I felt my phone call cheered him up, especially when I told him he was the hero of the novel and people said “he” was their favorite character.