by Susan Tepper
Pat Pujolas is the author of jimmy lagowski saves the world (Independent Talent Group, 2012). Nominated for a XXXVI Pushcart Prize, Pujolas has also been published in Outsider Writers, Connotation Press, Jumping Blue Gods, and ManArchy magazine. He’s credited with two episodes of MTV’s animated series “3-South.” (from Goodreads)
Susan Tepper: Your book cover immediately captivated me. I thought of those ‘protests’ outside the NY Public Library on Fifth Avenue, years ago, where a dummy with a similar head piece was displayed to bring public attention to human rights issues in third world countries. What is the metaphorical significance of this ‘covered head’ for your book?
Pat Pujolas: The cover of jimmy lagowski saves the world (Goodreads, Amazon) was designed by Steve McKeown, who insisted on reading the entire manuscript before he began creating the art. In his words, “The image of the inhaler represents all of Jimmy’s insecurities/awkwardness/life barriers. It replaces his head because that’s either how Jimmy sees himself or how he feels the world sees him.”
As the author, I chose that particular design (and image) for similar reasons: as you mentioned above, the replacement of the human face and/or head is a powerful metaphor for dehumanization. In this case, Jimmy imagines himself as a monster or an alien who must hide behind a mask. Note too, the placement of Jimmy on the cover; he is quite literally being marginalized (or oppressed) while the book’s title represents “the weight of the world” pressing down on him. I love it.
Two days before he was scheduled for jury duty and/or to commit suicide, Jimmy Lagowski received a postcard in the mail; the handwriting was feminine, in red looping ink, with no return address. All it said was, “Jimmy Lagowski, have you saved the world yet?”
ST: This novel startled and amazed me. It’s quirky-quirky. Characters appear in early chapters, do their thing, disappear, only to reappear as an important part of previous character’s life but at a much later date. It’s most definitely what Malcolm Gladwell has termed “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” meaning (I think) that if you get enough people-connections, the variables can become practically infinite in terms of who has intersected with who’s life. You pulled it off flawlessly in this book.
PP: Thank you. That’s definitely a theme here. And unfortunately, those intersections can result in positive or negative outcomes. The tragedy at the center of this novel is an accident, the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And so I wanted to create a scenario equally “accidental” where the result is positive, and deeply rooted in what makes us human beings. With 7 billion people in the world, it’s easy to feel insignificant at times. But as Gladwell theorizes, with all those people interacting with one another, paths begin to overlap, and stories begin to emerge. Sometimes, those stories give us that wonderful human invention we call hope.
ST: So would you say that Jimmy Lagowski (or jimmy lagowski as in lower case for your book’s title)— would you say he is the Kevin Bacon of this book? Overall, what makes Jimmy tick?
PP: Jimmy is definitely the Bacon, but so much more! He’s a lightning rod, a catalyst, and he might just be our next prophet. After all, he does speak to the sky (and in Chapter Four, “the sky” speaks to him).
What makes Jimmy tick is a tougher question. He is an anti-hero, and as such, is motivated toward inaction rather than action. I believe his greatest desire is to escape: from his appearance and from reality. If you asked Jimmy though, he would probably tell you that his greatest desire is to find Dagmar again. She represents his life before the accident, before our collective innocence was lost, and therefore she embodies that same escape.
ST: Did you story-board this novel in order to keep the characters in a type of ‘return/comeback’ placement, or did you keep it all in your mind and just let it spill out? Your characters drift in and out so effortlessly, as if you know them and their situations personally. It’s impressive.
PP: For longer works I like to create the outline and structure first; this novel was a challenging and complex idea to execute. From the beginning I envisioned the plot structure as a rope with frayed ends and a knot in the middle. The frayed ends represent the different voices/people coming together for the trial (the knot), then going their separate ways— for better or worse. Over the previous few years, I also had amassed a collection of voices in my head; when I looked around that fictional jury box, I imagined a face for each voice, then a character, then a history. The hardest part was deciding which parts NOT to tell.
ST: Which character (s) did you miss most of all when the writing was completed? And why? Because I could see you have so much empathy for all of them, despite their human flaws.
PP: Of course it would be Jimmy Lagowski. For 18 months I had the amazing opportunity to live through him, think his thoughts, feel his pain. I would like to be there to see the look on Jimmy’s face when we tell him that we found Dagmar. That chapter is still un-written; the message here is one of imperfect or fractured hope. And, besides, as Jimmy would tell you, “The best stories are those left unfinished.”
Susan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2013, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com