Ahead of the premiere of A&E’s six-part docu-series “Who Killed Tupac?”, I spoke with New York Times best-selling author Lolita Files. In part 1 of my in-depth conversation with Ms. Files, we discussed everything from Greek mythology to rebelling against rough drafts in grade school.
Check it out and stay tuned for part two as we prepare for the “Who Killed Tupac?” premiering November 21st.
M: When Jared approached me with the idea I immediately started doing my homework. One of the things that stood out about you is that you were really into Greek and Roman mythology. Could you speak on how you got into that?
L: Sure, I was an eggheaded kid, you know, I read a lot. My parents made sure that me and my brother always had access to a book. You know, he and I loved going to the library, so they would always take us. And I use to like a lot of the movies that came out years ago, like “Jason and The Argonauts” where it talked about the Golden Fleece. So, the more I read those stories as a kid, the more fascinating they became. They’re like origin stories. The same way with like the Marvel Universe and the DC Comics Universe where you find out the origin of how something happens. That’s what the stories were to me and I love that.
M: I found myself interested, even though I didn’t do a real deep dive, I was very into the story of Achilles. Like, just the concept of the story, you know what I mean? I feel like that can be a metaphor for life in general. As invincible as you think you are, everyone has that one thing making them vulnerable. Like people can get to them. Did you ever find yourself relating to any of the stories or carrying a message from those stories with you?
L: Absolutely! That’s perfect that you give the analogy of Achilles because it gives you a metaphor for something you can apply to real life. We all have a weak spot. And here you have this warrior who was practically invincible except for this tiny area of his body. If you got to that you could take him out.
L: We all can apply that. We can apply that in one way or another. We could be really strong in one area, but if the right kind of person knows how to get to our heart, they could take us out.
M: Did you ever approach your writing with the concepts you learned from these stories?
L: Yes, actually it informs my writing on every level. My favorite writer of all time is Shakespeare because his stories are timeless. His lessons are timeless. So, I actually have a book “Child Of God” that’s probably my most beloved book; I always joke that book used me to get here because people know my name from that book. And I can have a FedEx person delivering a package and they’ll go “did you write Child Of God”? And I’m like “Yea!”, you know. That book is kind of a tip of the hat from me to the writer and writings that influenced me the most. Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is referenced in it, I love Tony Morrison, but the biggest part of all was from Greek mythology. There’s a story in Greek mythology about the fall of the House Of Atreus.
It goes through these generations where the patriarch does this ONE thing, and that one thing crushes the whole family. And it goes all the way down the line until ultimately it turns out where the head of the family, the patriarch, Atreus he’s like the ‘Gods are so smart…I’m gonna prove they’re not smart…I’m gonna invite them to dinner and serve them my son in a pie. And they won’t even know they’re eating my son.’ So the Gods come to dinner, and of course they know his son is in the pie, they’re Gods. It’s part of the legend that one of the Gods ate a piece of the pie, which he ate the part that was his shoulder but then put the shoulder back together. The biggest rule of law you could break with the Gods was the law of hospitality. So he violates the law of hospitality (and I’m sorry his name wasn’t Atreus, it was Tantalus the head of the family, Atreus was down the line)..so he’s condemned to hell. And his punishment in hell is that he’s to forever serve and forever be hungry. So there’s a tree of fruit hanging above him, whenever he reaches up for a piece of fruit the wind blows it out of the way. He’s standing in a river. Whenever he bends down to drink, the water drains away. And that’s actually where the word penalized comes from.
Anyway, in my book “Child Of God” I wanted to do something like that with a southern family, where one terrible sin keeps playing itself out throughout the family. And that’s what I did with that book.
“I don’t do notes, I don’t do outlines (laughter)..honestly, truthfully I think the reason I don’t is because I’m naturally resistant to authority. Even my own authority”
M: Speaking of “Child Of God”, I read that once you were able to get it on the desk of Nancy Coffey and she said your writing leapt off the page. I read your website, and even from that; not even a book or anything, before I even read her quote I had that same exact feeling from your choice of words and how they’re used. As a writer, if I feel when I read something, I like it. Is that just an extension of you naturally or is it done on purpose when you write anything?
LF: I think it’s natural at this point. The reason I use words the way I do (I wasn’t kidding when I said I was an egghead at the beginning)…I had 8 years of Latin.
M: Oh wow.
LF: Right! Exactly. All I can do is laugh about it, and so if you know the stems of words from Latin stems, you know Latin is the foundation of the Romance languages. So I can pretty much figure out a word in any language if it’s a Romance language based on my knowledge of Latin. And because I had so much Latin, i have an enormous vocabulary. And I’m not walking around just firing words off at people, but the way my brain is set up it kind of knows exactly what word to pull out exactly at the moment I need it to convey exactly what it is I’m trying to say. I can’t explain why it’s like that, I guess because I put those words in the practical application, I don’t just have them stored up there I use them. So they kinda know when to come out at just the right moment. And I do, as a writer, always wanna make sure I evoke something from the reader whether it’s some sort of connection on some level. I always want that connection to be there.
M: Makes a lot of sense why you said it comes natural, though. Like an athlete who makes a play on the fly and people are like “wow how did he do that?” and it’s because you’ve been doing things for so long when the moment comes you just know what to do even if you’ve never done it before.
LF: It’s a muscle, you’re flexing a muscle. And the more that muscle is flexed, the more natural it becomes.
M: Keeping with writing, is there a certain process or progression you go through when you start to write? Or do you kinda just sit down and….like my method is I’ll have a thought in my head and just jot notes until I go back later to piece it all together. Do you have a certain approach you use every time?
LF: I tend to have an idea if something inspires me or comes to me like the seed of something I want to turn into a story I’ll sit down…I don’t do notes, I don’t do outlines (laughter)..honestly, truthfully I think the reason I don’t is because I’m naturally resistant to authority. Even my own authority.
M: That’s amazing!
LF: This is the structure and you’re ordered to do this! So even if I do it, I’ll buck against it. Ok isn’t that crazy?!
M: No, that makes sense! You know what, when I was younger in school and we had assignments due in the form of papers, they would always ask us to turn in rough drafts and my rough draft would just be the final copy.
LF: That’s what I did! The rough draft was an order, that meant..you know..turn it in and you’re giving me an advance copy of what you’re gonna turn in. No! You get what I give you when I’m finished! I never turned in rough drafts. So I completely feel you on that! It’s like asking me to do a paper twice.
M: It’s like you’re telling me to mess up the first time, and I just want to make it right the first time. I thought it was just me!
LF: It’s not just you, we have that in common. And to take it even further, not only would I not do rough drafts. I would…I had this thing where I would put pressure on myself and that way I would have to perform at peak level; otherwise, I’ll be embarrassed at failure. And so I would wait until the eleventh hour, I’d be up doing papers like right before it’s time to go to bed. That put the onus on me..it had to be on point.