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Lance Reynald, author of POP SALVATION

by Susan Henderson on July 8, 2009

Most regulars of LitPark know Lance Reynald, who is an integral part of this place – not just for his interviews, but for helping to build and maintain a community of enthusiastic readers and supportive writers.

Now it’s Lance’s turn to be front and center with his gorgeous debut novel of outcasts in search of love and identity. POP SALVATION is set in Washington DC during the MTV generation, with its emerging punk scene and long lines at the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and features a boy who dresses like his hero, Andy Warhol, and struggles with the courage to be himself. Please stay and talk with Lance; and thanks to everyone who buys his book!

Talk to me about freaks. Just riff, if you would.

I don’t really see them. I know that it seems that the general public does… and that seems to be something that I don’t really have, or just didn’t pick up. Throughout life there have been times that people have questioned my judgement when it comes to the company I have kept. My outlook is pretty simple; we’re all these beautiful creatures, each and every one unique with boundless potential. The error of society labeling anyone a freak is that it dismisses an opportunity to see beauty that is greater than we could ever dream.

Let’s talk about Caleb – a boy who never felt good enough, whether it was being smaller than the other kids or having problem skin or the way his accent and his walk and the feelings he had set him apart. What drew him to Andy Warhol as his hero?

Caleb and Andy both faced adolescence as outcasts. Warhol was a sickly effeminate child of immigrant Pittsburgh, nothing extraordinary really. But instead of trying to fit in and be just like everyone else he played up the characteristics that made him different… and the brilliant twist from that was he presented everyday objects as the art. Think about it for a moment. Here you have a man that looks like Andy Warhol telling you that the everyday objects you ignore in the grocery store are actually what real beauty is… everything that surrounds you is art. If you hold that thought you begin to recondition yourself and you might realize that Warhol isn’t so strange looking after all. Andy Warhol as an Icon is pretty damn empowering to a boy that feels he can’t ever fit.

I’d transformed myself into a grade school clone of my hero. A pint-size Warhol. My summer with the art school crowd had given me the confidence to not only be different, but also to express myself in an extreme fashion.

So shocking was the art I had made of myself that James and the other children dismissed me with just one word on our first day back at school.

Freak. (POP SALVATION, p. 23)

Do you have any heroes?

I used to.

I think it’s great to have heroes, icons or someone to emulate, but all of that should be a starting point. Everyone feels powerless at some point and you might need the thought of someone greater than you to use as a catalyst to make you stronger.

But those heroes out there are made of the same molecules and energy that you are. They love. They have insecurities, headaches and bad days. And no doubt that they have a part that hurts too. Their actions, achievements or the way they live has made them heroic to you. Your interest should be the point of inspiration.

I’ve noticed that lots of young writers travel down this road to our peril. They attach strongly to their heroes and icons. Everyone wants to be Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Burroughs or Thompson (the list goes on and on to tedious extremes) but imitation is just dull.

You have your own voice, it’s the only pioneering thing you can do (which brings me to the inevitable grab for some pop song wisdom…because borrowing lyrics is totally different…*smirk*):

I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day

-David Bowie, HEROES

I don’t recall when and where my mind changed on it, but I think it’s better to live heroically than to put being a hero on someone else. We all have that potential.

The love story in this book is beautiful, aching, and tragic, but most of it happens via the safety of artistic collaboration and voyeurism. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what’s gained and lost with being so guarded.

This part of the story is a direct riff on some of Andy Warhol’s musings on love, relationships and art written about in From A to B and Back Again.

Voyeurism provides a safe remove. Subject and muse don’t have to engage in a dialogue about rejection or disappointment.

In the Philosophy, Andy makes a point of stating that he preferred the idea of fascinations over love. He goes on to say that love affairs get too involved and aren’t really worth it, and that the version of love you see on the screen is better than anything that happens in real life… The ideas in the book are all the arguments of keeping relationships at a safe remove to both protect your own heart and create the conditions for absolute adoration of subject.

The downside? If you stick to that philosophy you consign yourself to a rather monastic life. Fascinations are but a substitute, not engaged love.

“Remember. Art is what you can get away with. Action!” (POP SALVATION, p. 100)

Riff for me again: Love.

If any of us ever claims to have that one figured out we’ll have nothing left to write for or about.

There’s a line in the book that says, “A full beating heart is the greatest happiness.” Tell me what a full beating heart looks like to you.

It isn’t in the grandest of overtures, it lives in the subtle moments that you can’t ever plan. It can be in the comfort of a reunion between great loves that find life too complicated to be together or in a partner that manages to look at you and smile first thing every damn morning. I’ve been learning that if you pay enough attention it can be found constant throughout life, you just have to look close because it might be hiding beneath feelings you aren’t prepared for.

Talk to me about the process of writing this book. I remember your photo of the pages tacked up on the wall. Walk me through the way you work, how an idea or an urge became a novel.

There is a phrase in a RHCP song (Otherside) that I think illustrates how my mind works pretty well.

I heard your voice through a photograph
I thought it up; it brought up the past
Once you know you can never go back
I’ve got to take it on the otherside

I’m very visual in the way my thoughts arrange. Perhaps this is the product of being the first generation MTV audience. Stories build and unfold for me once I’ve assembled enough raw material to build with. Sure, I tend to write out ideas and dialogues longhand in composition books but I also need things surrounding me as visual reference material. I tear pages out of magazines and collect postcards and snapshots of the world that causes me to imagine my characters.

To build Caleb’s world I had a base of snapshots of DC. The architecture, the cherry blossoms, a garden diagram of Dumbarton Oaks and a streetmap of Georgetown. To this base I added the art. Warhol postcards and prints, a NYC subway token, a copy of a Mapplethorpe portrait of Andy Warhol, a Rocky Horror Picture Show poster and a disco ball…

But, the last piece was torn from a magazine. A DKNY ad that picture a guy and a girl standing in a crosswalk in what seems a moment that could be a reunion of intimate friends. One of those subtle but seemingly true moments. A good reference point for a story.

With those visuals tacked to the wall and evolving I also add music. I load the hell out of my iPods. For Pop Salvation I had a steady stream of 1980s pop going. My ears were constantly filled with the songs the characters would hear on the radio and see on MTV. For me this was easy, it was a nostalgic journey back to my youth through music and I love me some BritPop!

But even with all of that, you have to allow the characters to speak for themselves. I wish I could explain this better, but I think every writer out there knows this in the abstract. You can create the conditions, but the characters come on their own when they’re damn good and ready.

Call it whatever you want; the universe, the muses, the divine or some form of schizophrenia. None of us really ever works alone. It is what it is, and if you think you have the stomach or the talent for the writing game you’d best come to terms with this thing being out there. It is in the realm of the unknown or the deeply felt just being the mysteries you really don’t have to answer for anyone. I resisted this notion at first, then a darling young girl by the name of Brit decided to show up and demanded to be written in. It was as though she stood in the office doorway and challenged me with a tap of her stilettos and the question, “You forgetting someone, fucker?”. She changed the pace of the whole thing and the story couldn’t happen without her. But, she was nowhere in the planning.

Ah, the wall era.

I don’t know if anyone else does this but it works for me.

In the final stretch of a manuscript I staple the whole thing from start to finish on to the walls. From that perspective I can survey the whole thing, get a sense of the size of it and see the holes. At first I just scan the whole of it. Then comes the red pen strike outs and margin notes. I can walk into the room and start reading the story anywhere without having to shuffle through pages to find where I left off or where I should go. I can even randomly go to a section just to see if it reads sharp and conscious in a moment. Once the manuscript is ready for the wall treatment I know I have something that can be an entity without me. Plus you get this really crazy juvenile rush of,  Ha. I did this much! That is a pretty rewarding simple pleasure. I find it important to remember such pleasures in the craft of writing.

Brian ran to a neighbor’s house and started to pound furiously on the door. His neighbor opened the door with a shocked look on her face as she tried to understand the sight of a young boy in a party dress with blood oozing from his chest. (POP SALVATION, p. 119)

There’s an interesting tension between you and your main character here. You’ve told a poignant story about a boy who struggles with the courage to be his true self. But to write this story, you as the author had to put something real and unguarded down on paper. How hard was that to do?

Hmm. The writing was actually easier to do than answering this question seems to be. I understand the question, people tend to think that writing in such a visceral manner is a very dark and taxing practice. Yeah, it is and it can be, but I don’t really know how to do it any other way. Stories of loneliness, outcasts and the struggles to be accepted and loved seem to come naturally to me. It is what I have seen in my family and friends through the years.

The parallel that people may see or presume between Caleb and I is two boys that have struggled with their relationship with their fathers. Sure, I spent most of my life feeling that I was overshadowed and that I might be a disappointment to my Dad. Perhaps some of this was imagined on my part. But, it was imagined under conditions of distance. Writing the narrative as I did allowed me to explore and exorcise some of those feelings.

As Caleb developed and observed his world I distinctly recall having to remind myself to let him feel the things as a boy would. As a child everything is so much bigger than you and you feel powerless. Sure, Caleb is precocious in some of his interests and he grows up a bit too fast at some things, but being the outcast still makes him want to die, and indifference makes him feel he can’t ever be good enough.

Taking that journey through the eyes of a child allowed me to think through my childhood and put a lot of demons to rest.

I was one of those people you ran into and wondered, What had he been before he gave up? (POP SALVATION, p. 204).

Scared or excited about going on your book tour?

Terrified? Prepared? Both!

Over the years I’ve struggled with mild to severe bouts of Social Anxiety. There are times when something as simple as a trip to the grocery store causes me to come unglued. I’m not even on display in that situation, it’s a totally anonymous everyday activity that no one is ever going to notice.

The only way I’ve found to express how I tend to feel about the whole thing is to say that if I had become an actor instead of a writer, I’d be the kind of guy that would never see his own movies. Since that isn’t possible with public readings I guess I’ll have to wing it.

But, when I remove myself from that whole mess I also accept the fact that I am the only person on the planet that can do this. Every moment, word and step has led me to being the last word on Pop Salvation and being Lance Reynald.

Are you the same person now as the guy who first started writing this book?

I don’t think I’m the same person that started this interview.

I think we as writers tune in to life at a different level than most people. Every moment is filled with details that we will draw on some day to fill out the narratives of our stories. In casual interactions here and there, people have commented on the details I note and remember. Life really is an ever changing journey, and all the moments you’re at it can hold entire universes of wonder, split-second opportunities to create new stories. The art will always evolve because of this simple fact. There could be some sentence I said up there a few paragraphs ago that launches another writer on to their debut novel and from that starting point they are the only person on the planet that can tell that story.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Ric July 8, 2009 at 8:39 am

Okay, then. Knowing you two are close friends, I expected a bit more of your irreverent humor. Perhaps the fact you didn’t insert it makes this a better interview.
To those of us who follow Lance (yes, you have stalkers – and, now, groupies), the journey is as important as the finished result. So glad you got Lance to let us see how that evolved.
And, worse, I now have to explain to my long suffering wife why there are staple holes in the paneling of my office….
This week at LitPark has jumpstarted my WIP. All my blogging buddies are getting published – it is time. Thank you to Susan and Lance for the wake up call.

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billie July 8, 2009 at 8:47 am

Wow! I came by on Monday but didn’t comment because I couldn’t really put my finger on a hero right now. There are so many people I admire. Many of them are not public figures. Funny and wonderful to read the interview just now and remember that for many years of my younger life, Andy was my hero. I can’t wait to read Pop Salvation!

I also love the idea of building the world of the book with photos and postcards. I do a similar thing, although usually I get a big blank book and tape all my stuff in there so it’s portable. I have never thought of stapling the entire ms onto the wall but the idea of being able to walk in and read it that way is quite exciting. There’s something about seeing the whole at once that is so powerful and intriguing. I guess the only way to ever accomplish that on the computer would be to make a slide show of the pages and have them constantly rotating.

Best of luck to Lance with the tour and the book’s launch – I hope it’s a wonderful part of this journey for you.

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Anonymous July 8, 2009 at 9:22 am

Nice, guys, I am so excited to read this, and congrats, Lance!

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 10:37 am

It’s a great read. If you like it, be sure to spread the word!

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 10:41 am

The mother of my roommate (at Carnegie Mellon) was good friends with Andy Warhol. I offered to introduce Lance to the mom when he was still writing the book, but he was too SHY!

So glad you liked hearing about Lance’s process – I did, too. Fascinating how he builds it like a collage, and how the process is so visual and musical. Really opened something up in me.

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 10:43 am

What’s the title of your WIP? I’m thrilled if this got you jumpstarted!

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass July 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

I’m thrilled that POP SALVATION is actually here. Seeing Lance get his opportunity as an author is like rooting for the kid from the sidelines who finally gets picked. And when he gets into play, he kicks ass. Go, Lance.

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 11:24 am

Even cooler when he gets picked to play and then surprises everyone by hitting it out of the park!

Great to see you here, Carolyn!

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Greg Olear July 8, 2009 at 11:27 am

Great interview, guys.

And Lance, I’m jealous that you have such awesome writerly pictures (not that this is surprising, given what I’ve read of PS so far). I’ve been enjoying your Twitpic posts, too.

< >

We do, and man, it can be irksome…

Greg

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Robert Westfield July 8, 2009 at 11:29 am

Great interview, fabulous insight, and a beautiful book!

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 11:31 am

Just want to share some good news about a former LitPark guest, the incredible Karen Dionne, empress of Backspace (http://bksp.org)… She and Sebastian Fitzek will be at my favorite bookstore, Housing Works (in SoHo), to talk about thrillers and sign their books for you.

Thursday, 7 – 8:30 p.m

Details here: http://www.housingworks.org/events/detail/sebastian-fitzek-and-karen-dionne-on-thrillers/

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 11:32 am

Thanks, Robert! It was so great to see you last week!

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 11:33 am

He takes amazing pictures. Glad you’re reading the book!

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Greg Olear July 8, 2009 at 11:40 am

Oops, it didn’t do the quote from the piece:

“I think we as writers tune in to life at a different level than most people.”

We do, and man, it can be irksome…

Greg

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Kimberly July 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm

The thing about Lance’s book that absolutely kills me, is its startling simplicity*. As a writer, he respects the reader enough to grant them access into the world he’s created without spoon-feeding them any more than is absolutely necessary – which allows us to become active participants in the journey.

It’s a bit like an extraordinary black and white photograph in that way: so vivid, that you can see every single color in the monochrome.

*which cannot have been anything but extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

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Lance Reynald July 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm

*grinning from ear to ear*

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Lance Reynald July 8, 2009 at 3:27 pm

thanks for coming!!! I promise I’ll have that thing out to you soon. been a hectic few weeks.
xoxo.

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Rebecca Adler July 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm

I agree with Greg re: your pictures. They’re amazing. Who took them?

Also, loved this interview Susan. And, loved the book Lance. I’m really going to try to make it down to San Francisco tomorrow after work. Hopefully traffic won’t keep me from getting there on time.

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Kimberly July 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Well… it’s true.

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Billy Bones July 8, 2009 at 6:56 pm

This is fascinating. Thank you.

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Ric July 8, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Working title – which won’t be on it when it’s done – is BLINK. About a newly married guy whose wife disappears, just vanishes in the blink of an eye, repeatedly, from the house, or the next room but is totally unaware she goes anywhere. And his quest to find out where she goes and how, and if he can live with it.

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Ric July 8, 2009 at 7:08 pm

well put, Kimberly.

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Lance Reynald July 8, 2009 at 7:56 pm

i didn’t even get to mentioning the solo dance parties in my garage with the iPod… lots of those too…

I know you have that secret garden cottage and all, crank up the jams and dance it out with your characters now and then. I’ve found they love it. Funny thing is, you don’t have to be the least bit self conscious with your characters… if you can share that much with them they’ll repay in kind.

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Lance Reynald July 8, 2009 at 7:58 pm

wow. I love that.

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Lance Reynald July 8, 2009 at 8:02 pm

and you fascinate me! I wanna be billy bones!

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Kimberly July 8, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Ooh! I’m so pissed! I just put this same review on Amazon and my glitchy mouse voted 4 stars, not 5 like I wanted it too, and now Amazon-bots won’t let me edit it! Boo, Amazon, boo!

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lance_reynald July 8, 2009 at 8:26 pm

um…would you guys hate me too much if I told you almost every picture of me is some form of self portrait or another.

I’m handy with a remote trigger.

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Ric July 8, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Yes, that would cause envy of the worst sort.

I figured Caleb was behind the lens…..

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 9:52 pm

He fascinates me, too. Plus, he has a nice skull.

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 9:53 pm

That’s gorgeous.

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 9:55 pm

So glad you loved the book, and that you’re here. Tell us how it goes in S.F.

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 9:57 pm

That is too cool.

And here’s the secret garden cottage Lance is referring to, except it’s not so barren now: http://litpark.com/2007/09/28/weekly-wrap-weve-been-busy/

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Billy Bones July 8, 2009 at 9:57 pm

You two have me blushing.

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SusanHenderson July 8, 2009 at 9:58 pm

I want to know where she goes, too.

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lance_reynald July 8, 2009 at 11:08 pm

maybe she just isn’t there to begin with…?

just saying… anything is possible with suspended reality in words.

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Kirk_Farber July 9, 2009 at 1:04 am

Great interview! Congratulations on your book, Lance. Can’t wait to read it.

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SusanHenderson July 9, 2009 at 10:15 am

You can get Lance’s book here: http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=9780061672972

And Kirk’s book, POSTCARDS FROM A DEAD GIRL, very soon: http://www.kirkfarber.com

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SusanHenderson July 9, 2009 at 8:37 pm

More updates on past LitPark guests:

Finally saw Pixar’s UP, with Ronnie Del Carmen as Story Supervisor (i.e. his name was written nice and huge this time)! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USpI6Jzl3No

And Jill Gurr from CREATE NOW! was featured in an exhibit at the L.A. Museum of Tolerance: http://www.museumoftolerance.com/

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Lance Reynald July 10, 2009 at 3:44 am

I *heart* Jill Gurr!

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SusanHenderson July 10, 2009 at 6:58 am

Me, too!

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jessicaK July 13, 2009 at 11:08 am

Another amazing interview. Wow, Lance. I love that you don’t see freaks. What a great state of mind. And your wall phase? Incredible. I’ve got your book on my reading list. Thanks to you, Susan.

Jessica

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SusanHenderson July 14, 2009 at 8:46 am

Isn’t his wall just amazing?

Here, let me link your new blog because it’s lots of fun: http://confessionsofahermitcrab.blogspot.com

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jessicaK July 14, 2009 at 9:00 am

Susan–Thanks so much for linking here to my blog: Confessions of A Hermit Crab–I started it for anyone interested in exploring the secrets of home. Next, I’m heading over to comment on your favorite spot.

Congratulations, again, Lance.

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Red_haired_Robin August 8, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Wow. Just started and finished Pop Salvation today. I was completely finished with it before I realized that “Caleb” was not the author’s name. I kept wondering how it could be that I didn’t know him or Brit or Sonia. I was so perplexed! I can’t tell you how many times I went to Rocky Horror and then to “the Pig’s Foot”, or how many times my friends and I sat on the “Exorcist stairs” (why didn’t you name them, by the way?). I kept waiting for Caleb to wander into Poseurs, 930 Club or the Back Alley (where I worked). I knew that these people could not have existed in that time frame without me knowing them or at least having seen them around! It was a relatively small community back then. Then of course, I looked at the cover and saw the word “novel” rather than “memoir” and put it together. You had me going though-a great (and sometimes sad) trip down memory lane. Great book-I hope you have great success.

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lance_reynald August 9, 2009 at 3:05 am

red haired Robin?

curiously, that sounds a bit familiar.

hmm…

the one I knew here and there was a bit of a fixture at Tracks… (a very popular venue for a great many LitPark folks)… But I’m so very dreadful at remembering names.

though a small scene DC has produced a great many stellar talents from our era.

a few of us just lurked in the shadows of Tracks, Mirage, Nation, Red, Dakotas, Fifth Column and such for a bit.

Hmm… Robin?

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SusanHenderson August 9, 2009 at 9:57 am

Ha! I used to wander those Exorcist stairs and Poseurs, too. Funny how many of us probably crossed paths years ago.

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SusanHenderson August 9, 2009 at 9:58 am

Tracks was the best.

Your book is still with me. Every few days, a line or an image from it will pop into my head.

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Red_haired_Robin September 25, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I can’t remember if I ever replied to this…You’re right about the talent coming out of DC from “our era”. My roommate Skeeter was in the band Scream w/Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and of course Henry Rollins, who has his own talk show used to work at Hagen Daaz (sp?)…I know there’s more, but they’re just not coming to mind right now…

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