Here's just a piece of an interview conducted by Jim Cihlar for Etruscan Press's upcoming anniversary brochure/catalog. Later, it shook loose a memory, which I'll mention afterward--
J.C. In your new novel, The Burning House, a coastal New Jersey town battles encroaching development. Narrator Isidore Mirsky, an unemployed auto mechanic, knows the score: “But look, those ranch houses with their clerestories, open rooms, tongue-and-groove ceilings, and pocket doors were exactly what serious architects were aping these days, even as the dodos in our zone were tearing them down.” With your previous memoir titled Famous Builder and an upcoming collection of essays called Unbuilt Projects, architecture and civic planning appear to be abiding concerns in your writing. What fuels this?
P.L. I wanted to be a developer, city planner, architect--all of that--when I was a kid. I was pretty passionate about it. I spent the better part of my pre-teenage years designing developments on posterboard, filling up notebooks with house plans, drawing advertisements.
It's probably impossible and ultimately futile to explain desire. I was sick a lot as a kid. I had one illness after the next, so I spent a lot of time at home, by myself, away from school. I knew, as early as I can remember, that I needed to make things or else I'd go crazy. Maybe I didn't feel in sync with the world I was in, so I needed to conjure up worlds of my own--that might explain a little of it. All of that replica-making also seems to me like an excuse to name things: project names, street names, model home names. Repositories of names: it was the beginning of my attachment to words. I learned that a name--or a cluster of names--could create an atmosphere or texture. So through these books, I'm probably furthering the unrealized dreams, the unbuilt projects, of that lost kid.
So here is the memory. I'm down on the floor, drawing one of my new cities I talked about above, and I say to my mother, I need an A-name. (Meaning: street name beginning with A.) She lifts her head and says, Artica. She goes back to sewing a button back on a blouse. A minute later, I say, I need a P-name. And without a blink, she says, Princetonia. Artica, Princetonia: where did she come up with them? Distinctive names, not like any names I'd ever seen on a map or a street sign. They seemed to come from thin air, and how did I know she wasn't going to say, I don't know, Pinewood? Small evidence of a original mind that often didn't know how original it was. And, after two years, I'd almost forgotten she could do things like that.
Speaking of Artica, which inevitably conjures the Arctic world: the view outside our kitchen window at 6:30 this morning.