Questions for Steven Lewis

Author of Take This

Q: What gave you the idea for Take This? Why a divorce and a road trip?

Steven Lewis (SL): There was no preconceived idea or plan for the writing of Take This. The process of composition-without-plan (i.e., writing “drunk,” editing sober) had begun years before as I recognized

  1. that the works of literature that moved me most deeply were not written in formulaic ways—and as often as not, defied the “traditional” framework that the professorial class deemed worthy.
  2. that the degree to which I learned something of importance about humanity—and my humanity—was proportionate to the degree to which I got out of the way of the stories I was writing.

As above, the idea for the title—and the subsequent story—came from overhearing someone at a convenience store on Hatteras Island, NC, say to her friend (or boyfriend or husband) “Take This.” It struck me as the core exchange each of us experiences with the universe. We take—or do not take—what we are given by chance or by a design we do not understand. We do not create our fate.

As for the road trip, the easy or pat answer is all life is a journey. But for Robert—as I now see in retrospect—leaving Elting may have been the only way he could have escaped his former self and availed himself of the sacred and profane opportunities the universe offers any individual humbled by life.

 

Q: Why did you write the dual stories of Marion and Robert? Why not just pick one character to follow through?

SL: Because as much as we consider our lives as “suis generis,” our stories are always formed and informed by the family with whom we live(d). There is no escaping love or blood.

 

Q: Any thoughts on the idea that your book has a theme of loyalty vs. betrayal? Was this intentional?

SL: I’m intrigued that you arrived at that theme—and would love to hear how you came to it—but for me the issues of loyalty and betrayal were marginal (if at all existent) in my exploration of Robert’s (and Marion’s) journey(s) of redemption. At the heart of it all is the inevitable humbling we all experience in life—and the sometimes remarkable gifts that come to us after we’ve been brought to our knees.

 

Q: You repeat the phrase “take this” throughout the work, did you come up with the phrase before the book? Why “take this”?

SL: See Question #1.

 

Q: Is there any other genres you wish to work in such as poetry or memoir?

SL: I have been writing and publishing memoir, creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry since the mid ‘60s. Over the past few years, though, as I’ve come to realize that in literature less is often more … and that fiction often contains more essential truth than nonfiction, I have grown increasingly interested in micro or flash writing. I presently find myself moving toward what might be called a tight hybrid of fictional forms driven by an associative or poetic engine.

Q: Advice for budding writers?

SL: Ass in the chair, ink on paper. Every day. (Or as close to every day as you can manage.) See what comes. That’s it. There are no muses, There is no such thing as inspiration. Or writers block. Writers write.

From Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried: “Whenever he told the story, Rat had a tendency to stop now and then, interrupting the flow, inserting little clarifications or bits of analysis and personal opinion. It was a bad habit, Mitchell Sanders said, because all that matters is the raw material, the stuff itself, and you can’t clutter it up with your own half-baked commentary. That just breaks the spell. It destroys the magic. What you have to do, Sanders said, is trust your own story. Get the hell out of the way and let it tell itself.” This advice is especially helpful for war stories, when there is such a temptation to give it a cautionary or uplifting moral.”

 

Q: What do you most want readers to take away from your story?

SL: I hope this doesn’t come across as glib, but—as above—there are no pedagogical or cautionary or moral intentions behind this novel. I simply want the readers to allow the characters in Take This to take them on a journey beyond their borders.