L&L: How did “Action Adventure” come about?
JPL: The story started as two writing experiments. I’d written a bunch of stories where protagonists were 50-year-old white guys. I was in a rut, looking for another kind of narrator, and I was reading an Elmore Leonard novel that opens with a shooting in a video store. Being Elmore Leonard, he follows the criminals, but I wished we’d stayed in the video store with the victims. In the first draft, Kimmy was the only narrator, but, as the draft progressed, I realized that the story needed an element to balance Kimmy’s story. Bay Ridge was an old Irish-Italian neighborhood, and about half the residents are still third, fourth, or fifth generation, but there’s been an influx of people from all over the world. There’s a large Chinatown, for instance, and so I recognized that this gave me a chance to have Kimmy, who is Korean, representing this new population.
L&L: The victim’s infidelity and abandonment of his family—what’s the story behind that? JPL: I was close to Kimmy, who was close to the shooting, but not close to the character who got killed off. I thought about how he had a family. And I just didn’t want to write the typical grieving widow character. So I thought, OK, what if I had another kind of widow? I was intrigued by the notion that this second character was already grieving him [because he was planning to move out] and she thought, “Now I don’t have to live in the same neighborhood and see him all the time.” Some of her motivations weren’t all that noble. That made her more complex.
L&L: The story has multiple narrators. How did you decide to write a point of view outside your ethnic group? JPL: This idea of writing outside your ethnic group comes up in my classes. We talk about the boundaries of cultural appropriation. I think it’s important—the issue comes down to cultural power. If the Kimmys of the world had the right to tell their own stories, then having someone outside the ethnic group write from that point of view comes as an unalloyed good: It lends more power to them. I am not convinced that my telling Kimmy’s story is the issue – it is more whether the Korean American community gets to also tell its own story. That’s one of the points I like about writing: I can examine my own consciousness and relationship to the world, but I can also get out of my consciousness and imagine what someone else’s world is like. Kimmy is partly me in that she comes out of my admittedly limited experience. And, of course, my imagination has been enormously helped by Chang Rae Lee, Young Jean Lee, Han Kang and others. There’s a way in which I’m trying to bridge the gap [between cultures.] To be able to do that without stealing someone else’s experience is really important. Certainly, in the course of my reading and coming to love literature, there were books from other perspectives that spoke to me. Many books by African American authors have spoken to me. I wouldn’t necessarily claim that those books are about me, but recognizing that connection [between humans] is important.
“The issue comes down to cultural power. If the Kimmys of the world had the right to tell their own stories, then having someone outside the ethnic group write from that point of view comes as an unalloyed good: It lends more power to them. I am not convinced that my telling Kimmy’s story is the issue – it is more whether the Korean American community gets to also tell its own story.”
L&L: How do you introduce a gun in a story? JPL: I can’t think of another story I’ve written with a gun in it or even a story with the level of violence in “Action Adventure.” I have a story that ends with a brutal punch, but it’s two middle school kids, not murder. When I stumbled into the story, I was influenced by teaching: When you’re bringing a story to students, they’ve got to like the first page. If you’re bringing it to a group of 15- year-olds, the gun has to go off in the beginning.
L&L: How familiar are you with guns? Did you grow up hunting or handling guns? JPL: I grew up with a close friend whose father was a New York City police officer and avid hunter. I grew up on Long island. We used to go up to his hunting cabin in the summer. My father was not remotely interested in guns or hunting. But I’d go up to this friend’s father’s hunting cabin, and when my friend was twelve, his father bought him a .22 caliber rifle. We’d go into the woods and shoot cans. Sometimes his father let us shoot his police revolver. I was just re-reading Mary Edwards’s story “The New Pistol” (in Lock & Load.) It reminded me of this police officer taking us shooting. We each got to fire six bullets. I had become a really good shot with the .22 rifle. But a .38 pistol is a whole ’nother animal and it terrified me. I was 12 feet away from this can and after I shot, I knew I’d missed the can, but I had no idea where the bullet went. I was immediately terrified. The father did what he thought was the right thing, which was to encourage me to keep going. I shot and shot but with no idea where the bullets were going and the kickback was so strong. After that, I never wanted to fire a gun again.
John P. Loonam’s fiction has appeared in The Madison Review, Modern Shorts (an anthology from Fiction Attic), The Santa Fe Writers Project and many other publications. His short plays have been featured in The Mottola Theater Project’s Cherry Picking Festival and appear in their anthology Cherry Picking. A teacher in New York’s public schools for over thirty years, Loonam received an MA in Creative Writing from City College, CUNY, and a doctorate in American Literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY. He has lived in Brooklyn with Maria, John James, and Joe long enough to be considered a native by anyone but his neighbors.