Interview with novelist William Luvaas

My special author guest
today is William Luvaas and we’re
talking about his new literary satire, Welcome
to Saint Angel.

William Luvaas has published three novels, The Seductions of
Natalie Bach
(Little, Brown),
Going Under (Putnam),
and Beneath The Coyote Hills (Spuyten
Duyvil)—a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award—and two story collections: A
Working Man’s Apocrypha
(Oklahoma Univ. Press) and Ashes Rain Down: A
Story Cycle
(Spuyten Duyvil), which
was The Huffington Post’s
2013 Book of the Year and a finalist
for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His new novel, Welcome To Saint Angel, comes out with Anaphora Literary Press on
March 15, 2018. His honors include a National Endowment for the Arts
Fellowship, first place in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open Contest, The
Ledge Magazine’s
Fiction Contest, and Fiction Network’s 2nd
National Fiction Competition. His work has appeared in dozens of publications. Luvaas
has taught writing at San Diego State University, U.C. Riverside, and The
Writers Voice in New York, and is Online Fiction Editor for Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts. He
lives in Los Angeles with his wife Lucinda, an artist and film maker.
Welcome, Bill. Please tell us about your current
to Saint Angel
a story of development gone mad. In the bucolic So-Cal valley of Santa Rosa de
Los Angeles (Saint Angel), townsfolk split into warring camps. Developers want
to turn the valley into a sprawling bedroom community and appropriate its
meager water supply to grow lawns in the desert. Al Shar­pe and his allies want
to preserve its natural beauty and rural character. He
and his scrappy friends halt development with their madcap high jinks and the
help of local Indians, ancient demon Tahquitz, and Mother Nature.
T­­he battle between
them is both comic and tragic. The story of one man’s fight to save the place
he loves and a rural community’s struggle to preserve its way of life and
tight-knit community­, the novel speaks to the impact of unbridled development
and suburban sprawl on the natural environment and on people’s lives.
I would call it a
“comic, environmental novel, with a flavor of the apocalyptic.” My favorite
blurb for the book comes from author and grizzly bear defender Doug Peacock:
“In the mildly
apocalyptical near future, a community of colorful high desert characters fight
off developers and water thieves during CA’s worst drought, a danger as recent
as last year and as old as Chinatown. These decent whackos are often shot in
the ass with human frailty but transcend their flaws with hilarious courage. SA
is a painful, redemptive belly laugh and well worth it.”
            Doug Peacock, Environmental
Activist, Author of Grizzly Years
Welcome to Saint
comes out on March 15, 2018 from Anaphora Literary
What inspired you to write this book?
I was living in the high desert in Riverside
County, California and writing short stories focusing
on the scrappy, inimitable characters that often
occupy desert country, who are as rugged as the environment itself. I’ve always
been attracted to outsiders and social rebels in my work, and they abound in
the high desert. Moreover, I often set books and stories in places where I am
living when I write them, which have included Oregon, New York City, Upstate
N.Y., Mendocino, CA, San Diego and recently the SoCal high desert. In a sense, my
work grows out of the local soil and is compelled by the people and issues of
the region. I wrote the first draft of S.A. during those lunatic years of the
subprime housing boom; Riverside County was one of its epicenters. Heedless developers
were throwing up houses all sides without a thought for the local people or the
fragile environment, turning the chaparral country into a suburban nightmare,
with huge, ugly houses crowded together cheek by jowl where had once been farms
and orchards and open country, guzzling up our meager water supply. I was angered
and heartbroken by this intrusion and felt compelled to write about it. Mankind’s
threat to the environment has long been a major theme in my work—and here it
was happening around me. Moreover, at that time I was engaged in an effort to
stop greedy developers from building a huge housing tract in our neighborhood,
which would destroy its rural character, chase off the owls and coyotes, and
knock down palms and olive trees. We successfully fought them off. That effort,
too, helped inspire the novel and provided grist for the mill.
Excerpt from Welcome
to Saint Angel
, Chapter 8:
Pulling up to Sam
Jenson’s place off Indian Springs Road, I heard 
the whunkety-whunk of well-drilling rigs
nearby. Three giant new water 
tanks stood atop rocky knolls behind his place. Two bedraggled palm trees at top of his drive were generally
decorated with Christmas 
lights by now, as were the chain-link
fence and junker cars, and white 
and blue icicle lights usually outlined
the chassis of a ‘37 Chevy flatbed 
and his decrepit trailer. Not this year.
Generally, the lights summoned 
gawkers from town, and Sam bitched,
“You’d think I was Santy Claus.”
After he left the
hospital, one or another of us stopped by daily to 
check on him, brought him casseroles.
Sam complained that we were 
coddling him and threatened to shoot the
next person who stepped 
on his property uninvited. Likely meant
it. With Sam, you never 
knew. I was yelling from the moment I
parked in the dusty yard and 
approached his trailer on foot. “It’s
me, Sam, don’t shoot.” No sign of 
him. Odd. Sam always heard and
recognized cars the moment they 
turned off Yucca Road into his long
drive, would be awaiting you on 
his front porch with your own
personalized coffee mug in hand, filled 
with java boiled at five a.m., black and
tarry as used motor oil.
“You hear me, Sam? I’m
not here about your heart. As far as I can 
tell, you don’t have one.” Approaching
the trailer gingerly. “I’m here 
about your well.”
Another thing: curtains
were drawn. I heard a frenzied electrical 
buzzing as I stepped onto the porch and
feared Sam had electrocuted 
himself via the ancient toaster which he
regularly washed with other 
dishes. “You home, Sam?” I called
softly. An odor of putrefied flesh 
chased me off the porch. I feared I’d
find Sam covered in a glistening 
carpet of blow flies. Fucking doctors
had sent him home with a bad 
ticker. But it wasn’t Sam I was
smelling, rather rotting jack-rabbit 
carcasses pinned by their veiny ears to
a clothesline. Flies roiled over 
them, flashing silvery blue in
turmoiling light. “Crissake, Sam—” I 
stepped back onto the porch and rapped
on the screen door “—you 
plan to eat those, you old bastard?”
I couldn’t make out much in the dark
interior, only a bare foot extending 
stiffly off the sofa, artificial and
ghostly, illuminated by a shaft of light in 
which dust motes danced and spun.
“Sam!” I called imperatively.
No answer. Sam in one of his
misanthropic moods.
“I’m here, Jenson, you just as well get
used to it.” Stepping inside, 
I let the screen door
slam behind me. Sam lay stretched out on the 
couch in khaki shorts and shirt, one arm
thrown across his chest, a foot 
splayed awkwardly on the floor. I
prodded his arm. “You got rabbits
rotting on the line and a world of
opportunity passing you by.” His 
pale eyes stared past me into space.
Death’s feel is as unmistakable as its
smell: Sam’s arm was cold and 
wooden. I leapt away. “What did they do
to you, old fellah?” Then I 
remembered his bad ticker and heard
Sage’s water baby, that whimpering 
pa?akniwat. I couldn’t bring
myself to close his eyes. I worked a slip of 
paper out of fingers which clutched it
in a death grip. A penciled line: 
Don’ dring the water. A nauseating
rotten-egg smell lingered about him, 
protecting Sam’s corpse from predatory
flies that covered the screen 
door in a fierce, buzzing pellicle. At
the hospital, he’d asked me, “Have 
you smelled your water lately?” I
smoothed that note across his chest.
They’d killed the old
bastard all right: Cal, Ches, TexHome, one or 
another of them.
Driving into town to
inform Charlie Haynes, I saw a white van 
trailing me in the rearview, keeping its
distance. Though I couldn’t 
see them, I knew there were two faces
watching me from beyond the 
What exciting story are you working on next?
Something altogether
different. A woman and her adolescent son escape an abusive husband and flee
from place to place across country, staying just ahead of him. He is a Deputy District
Attorney in L.A. and has all the surveillance capabilities of local police
forces and the FBI at his disposal—in this age of GPS tracking, CCTV cameras,
license plate scanners, facial recognition software, and all the other hi-tech tools
of personal invasion when it has become nearly impossible to get off the grid,
as they must. They have many adventures along the way; her husband just misses
cornering them a couple of times. But I don’t want to give it all away. She is
also battling depression and opioid addiction that so often accompanies it. I
started writing this in early 2016 before the “Me Too” movement and in the
midst of the debate about high-tech invasion of privacy and opioid addiction. For
whatever reason, I often find hot button issues creeping into my work,
sometimes just before they become popularized.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote a little poetry
in college—awful stuff! Didn’t start writing seriously until I was well into my
thirties, although I did write a dreadfully long, terribly flawed novel in my
late twenties about a group of hippies living in the redwoods in Mendocino
County, CA, a picaresque book that a NY agent actually showed an interest in—if
I could cut it by 2/3rds. I had no idea how to do that in those early years, so
it died and remains a corpse buried at the back of my manuscript closet. It
wasn’t until I was well into my first published novel, The Seductions of Natalie Bach, that I dared call myself a “writer.”
It is always a huge leap to make such a declaration. You ask yourself: Am I
really? Will I be able to pull it off? Will I stick with it?
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not,
what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am able to write
full-time now as I could not for years while I was teaching, although I always
kept the work going, mostly on days when I didn’t teach and wasn’t overwhelmed
with class prep. or other matters. In my early days as a wanna-be writer, I
became friends with Frank Dunlap, a Chicago writer who’d moved to Northern
California and the first real writer I’d ever known. Frank gave me some much-valued
advice: “Always put your writing first.” I have tried to do that, but it hasn’t
always been easy.
I am something of a
workaholic, as is my wife, an artist and filmmaker, so that works well for us. I
can’t imagine sharing life with someone who doesn’t understand artistic
obsession and doesn’t realize it’s not just that we “want” to create; we “must”
create. For both of us, it is a passion. Other than this, I work out, love to
hike, love movies, travel some, visit friends; I always have some project going
around the house. I worked for years as a carpenter and like to keep my hand
in. Next comes landscaping our new place in L.A.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Likely my wacky
characters. I love to write what my father called “oddballs.” Those who live
outside the mainstream and face the challenges of an idiosyncratic life. Glimmer Train editor Linda Swanson-Davies
has said of them:
“Luvaas manages to make
such swerving and impossible lives feel utterly true and real and
maybe–incredibly–even normal.” Then,
too, I have an imagination that refuses to behave itself. It seems there is no
line it won’t cross, no place it won’t take me.
As a child, what did you want to be when you
grew up?
I had no idea. Rather I
had no interest in growing up. Growing up was for grown ups, who didn’t seem very
contented to me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until I had
passed through my tumultuous youth: working as a VISTA Volunteer in Alabama,
living in the redwood forest, traveling around on the cheap, making soapstone
hashish pipes, living in a refurbished chicken coop, doing odd jobs, trying my
damnedest not to get stuck in the grind. This was the Sixties, after all, the
Age of Aquarius, when anything seemed possible. John Lennon’s “Imagine” was our
national anthem. Then, in my early thirties, my wife and I moved to New York
where she grew up, and I was forced to decide what I was going to do with
Anything additional you want to share with the
My work, as agents and
editors have often told me, isn’t easy to classify; it doesn’t fit into any
particular genre. It does what I suppose I have done in my life: wanders along
back roads, trying to find its way. There is no fixed itinerary, no reliable
map, no certain destination. There is just the journey.
Thanks for being here today, Bill.

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