Artists in their own words: Bill Loehfelm
Who: Bill Loehfelm
Where: Garden District
Q: What is difficult for you to put together?
BL: The first thing that pops into my head is that I’m terrible at spacial relations. Putting the leftovers away is hard for me. I have difficulty looking at the container and the leftover food and knowing if they are going to fit. My wife regularly has to coach me along when I ask, ‘Are these going to fit in here?’ It’s often that the container is too big because I always overshoot it.
When it comes to writing, the toughest thing for me is moving around the characters on the stage. If I have a scene that has a lot of characters--bigger groups of characters--I have to really think through where the characters are in relation to each other, the crime scene, etc.
I go over it again and again to make sure I have everyone, and I always have to be careful not to overwrite. My agent does some of the first reads of my manuscripts, and he’s always crossing out what he calls my ‘stage directions.’ He tells me that we don’t need to know all the details of where everyone is standing and how they’re standing, but I need that in order to see it. Then I can go back and take it out.
One thing you realize is that no matter how specifically you describe something in a book, every reader is going to see it differently anyway. You have to learn how to live with that.
Q: When do you find yourself focusing on details?
BL: When the big picture has been made clear, then you can focus in on key details, especially key details that are descriptive about the character. For instance, one of the key details of Maureen’s hair, the main character in The Devil’s Muse, is that she has cornflake-colored hair, and she wears it in a really tight ponytail. Rather than go over every detail about what she looks like in every scene, you use the hair as her definer.
She’s very impulsive, so she spends a lot of time reigning herself in and getting control of herself, and the ponytail is a visualization of that. Plus, a lot of people know that physical sensation--the feeling of the tightness on the scalp. Everyone has their ticks. When she gets ready to do something stressful, she tightens that ponytail.
It provides something relatable. Not just something visual, but a physical sensation.
Q: How do you like to approach new projects?
BL: You break it down into smaller tasks. My wife is also writer, and we talk about this. When you sit down and think about what you’re trying to do--write an entire novel that could be three or four hundred pages--it can be completely overwhelming. There’s this huge story to tell. It can feel self-defeating, so you break it into smaller tasks.
I think it was E.L. Doctorow who said, ‘Writing is like driving home at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ That applies to even having a really busy day or a busy week. You don’t have to do all of it, you just have to do one thing at a time.
Stop thinking about the ending. Stop thinking about the whole thing. Just nail the scene you’re working on.
Yet, I do the exact opposite with other parts of my life, especially with exercise. As I get older, I gain a little weight or miss the gym a few times, and when I tell my wife I’m going to start exercising again she says, ‘That doesn’t mean you have to run all the miles that you missed the last couple of days,’ because that is what I feel like I have to do. Then, inevitably, you pull something and you can’t run anyway. I am that kind of person, though--when I say I’m going to start running again, I want to run five miles right out the door.
Q: What always seems to be true for you?
BL: That’s one of those questions where I’m going to think of six great answers later in the day.
I would say...slower is better. Of all people, I remember that Bill Murray gave a speech and he said, ‘Everyone is at their best when they are relaxed.’ That seems completely contrary to how the world currently works, but I think it’s right. It’s another way of being present.
When I worked at a restaurant, I had a manager once who would tell me, ‘Slow down to speed up.’ If you are calm, you remember to accomplish four things in one trip rather than frantically taking four individual trips. Whenever I get stuck, my impulse is to double down and step on the gas, but usually the best strategy is to slow down.
It’s not so much a speed thing as it is an attitude thing.
Bill Loehfelm is the author of the critically acclaimed crime fiction series about New Orleans Police Department rookie Maureen Coughlin, featuring the novels, Let the Devil Out, Doing the Devil’s Work, The Devil in Her Way, and The Devil She Knows. He lives in New Orleans with his wife, AC Lambeth, a writer and yoga instructor, and their dog. The fifth Maureen Coughlin novel, The Devil’s Muse, about Maureen’s first Mardi Gras with the NOPD, will be published on July 11. To find out more about Loehfelm and his writing, you can check out his Facebook, Instagram, and website.
Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.