Adrift in The Artist's Studio

Adrift in The Artist's Studio
"More Color! More Color!"

Friday, March 13, 2009


now available on in trade paperback and in Kindle format!

What follows is an edited transcript of an interview conducted with George LaCas, the author of The Legend of Jimmy Gollihue. The interview took place live on and was conducted by author and poet Laura Lascarso, with an appearance by James Hagen

Laura Lascarso:

Hi, George. Welcome to the show.


Your book, The Legend of Jimmy Gollihue, is a loose interpretation of The Odyssey. My first question to you is, which came first? The character of a pool-hustler named Jimmy, or the idea to give a new spin on an old classic?

George LaCas:

They said you were a tough interviewer.

Jimmy was always supposed to be a hero—bigger than just a winning pool hustler. There was, from the beginning scenes that I wrote, an element of epic heroism.

As I explored the character, and as he moved through the events in the novel, I began to realize that in certain respects he echoed major heroes from the classics: Odysseus, Beowulf, Don Quixote. And others.

So, to answer your question, both. But it was only later in the process that I chose The Odyssey to use as a framing device.


How familiar with The Odyssey were you, when you chose it? And how did that affect the story after you'd made the decision.


I'd read The Odyssey in college, in a verse translation, but back then it was just another book you have to get through. So you might say I had to take some refresher courses.

And I've got to hand it to two of my early manuscript readers. Both of them recognized the elements of The Odyssey before I'd even told them (like it's a dirty secret!).

But about ten months ago, I got ahold of two other versions of it and studied it: the Introductions, the storyline, and I looked for things I could use. I did not do what James Joyce did, but then who could?

It affected my story after I made the decision, mainly, because with the Prologue and Part Four my book is unmistakably a tribute to The Odyssey. Before that only a few people might recognize it.


I admit it has been awhile since I've read The Odyssey, but the compulsion that Jimmy feels, along with the disorienting effects from his travels on the road, are really reminiscent of Odysseus and his wayward ship. And then there's the Cyclops....

Where did you draw inspiration for the bewitching, emerald-eyed Iris?

Iris is the Penelope figure, of course, who weaves tapestries and puts off suitors while her man is on the road.

But inspiration for the character herself? My first impulse is to tell you Iris is based on a girl I used to work with (though I don't remember if her eyes were green). The build, the short blond hair, the country-girl sassiness, and a strange way she had about her. As I wrote, when I needed to picture Iris, I pictured that girl.

But the whole Iris character (and the green eyes) was one I had to invent, because she's a witch, and also it's implied she was a foundling child left by fairies on her aunt's doorstep. She took on superhuman proportions once I was in the final drafts of the book.

Let's talk about the poolroom. It's rumored that you spent countless hours and thousands of dollars on research for Jimmy. Tell us about that.

I started that rumor (or as they say here, "rumour"), so I know it's true.

But I'd say, more than three thousand and less than nine thousand. Who the hell knows?

As for the pool room itself, I've been going to pool halls since 1989 or so. That's not counting bar pool. There's a dividing line between casual bar pool, and serious pool played on regulation tables in pool halls, pool rooms, nightclubs, etc.

In other words I was a serious player there for awhile, but never really great. I went through a couple thousand dollars in pool cues alone, and compared to some players that's pocket change. Table time and/or membership fees costs, also, even if you pay by the year ($400 or so).

My research included casual pool games, gambling for cheap, not-so-cheap, playing in tournaments (beginning/intermediate, and advanced). I frequently played in local tournaments where, most of the time, professional players would take first place. I took lessons from a former snooker champion from the UK who'd gone pro in American nine-ball. When working 40 hour weeks I sometimes played pool for 25 hours a week, and sometimes more. Twice I spent paid vacation time in the pool room, playing and gambling and goofing off, sometimes for 12-16 hours. I would have slept in there if they'd allowed it.

I read extensively: instructional books, billiard magazines, online research, nonfiction books. I talked with professional players, pool hustlers both big-time and two-bit, and with the makers of pool-related equipment. With pool room owners and all levels of staff, even those who spoke little English.

Pool was my life. It wasn't just "research". Pool was my lover, my drug, the world that took the place of the sun, which I didn't miss.

Along the way I wrote little vignettes about a pool hustler, and thankfully through all the hard knocks along the way I kept my notebooks. Always intending to make them into a book. And I did.

Tell me about Old Sheldon and One-Eyed Brock. Are these composite sketches of players you knew?

Yes. Neither of those characters is based on actual people, but they are inspired by many, and then highly fictionalized.

And Brock has two eyes! Why'd you take away his eye? Are you trying to sneak in a Cyclops question?

It's One-Pocket Brock!

One-Pocket, by the way, is a pool game.

Sorry, sorry, my mistake.

Jimmy does battle with quite a few characters in the poolroom, sometimes getting away with only his life.

What's the hairiest situation you ever found yourself in, in a poolroom?

I got pretty lucky. I've been bounced out of a couple of places for gambling, but mostly for doing it in such a way that it drew attention. I can get a little excited.

I never got in a fight in a pool room, or outside of one.

The hairy situations happen when you square off against some drunk at the bar (a swift and immediate ass-kicking), but in the pool room itself it comes from dishonesty: gambling when you have no money ("playing on your nerve") or other forms of cheating.

And that's one thing I would never do, is cheat. So I stayed out of trouble. When you lose you pay off, and that's it. You play fair, you gamble honestly, and you're usually OK.

What's “the shot the Devil don't know about”? [Here Ms. Lascarso is referring to a plot situation in Part Four of the novel]

Laura, you promised!

My answer: I can't tell you, for the same reasons Old Sheldon can't tell the reader. Because the secret would get out, and the Devil would get wind of it, and then damnation for all.

Hint: "the shot the Devil don't know" involves making the ball spin in two different directions at once, a physical impossibility.

Then there's the symbolic aspect of it: a bit of forbidden knowledge used against evil (like Iris would!), hidden even from Satan, hidden from us all.

I know, I know. I just had to throw it out there.
Q: What does the side story of the hound dog represent and how did that come about?

An incisive question, about the hound dog.

That one's no secret. It all goes back to a talk Jimmy and One-Pocket Brock have, in which One-Pocket tells Jimmy: "Fear is your hound dog". And then goes on to tell him that fear has to be dealt with and put to good use, for it will always be there.

From that point on, the reader is given a symbolic anchor for all appearances of the hound dog, a few of which take place in dream sequences before that point, chronologically, in the story. I made it very easy for the reader, because The Legend of Jimmy Gollihue is literary fiction for everybody. "HOUND DOG" = "JIMMY'S FEAR"

The hound dog has no actual existence in the story, until... well, no plot spoilers. He is metaphorical in nature, a figure who even pulls free of Jimmy's dreams and Iris's visions. His battle of the monster in the fog, his determination in the face of overwhelming discouragement, parallels exactly Jimmy's battle with the red-haired man. The hound dog, having become transcendent, enables Jimmy to do the same (i.e., rise above fear and act according to his mission, which is greater than himself).

It was some pretty weird shit, writing that.

I really liked it, the weird shit. I also loved your colloquialisms. Where did you learn all those backwoods expressions? Or did you make them up?

One or two expressions, I made up. But I grew up in various locales in the Deep South, and my mother and her people came straight out of Appalachia.

I'm no linguist, or dialect expert, but I grew up hearing that kind of stuff. Those few things I made up are nothing compared to some stuff you'll hear.

The colloquial speech/dialogue, I feel, is pretty realistic (as opposed to mimicry), and true to the real rhythms. It shapes the rhythms of the narrative, also.

Yes, and your use of color was wonderful as well. The attention you gave to detail is to be admired, the chalk stains, the grit and grime of the road, the bankroll growing like an erection, etc, etc.

What's your favorite scene and why?

Jim Hagen:
Keep him on his toes Laura! Reading this has triggered a few questions of my own so if you like we can double-team him.

Ask away!

Ooh boy. Do I have to pick one single scene?

I don't know if it's my favorite (or if I even have one), but one stand-out scene is the first road scene. That's the one where Jimmy, unprepared, gets off the bus and finds a pool room, goes in, and even though it's loud and rowdy, he gets into a money game with a couple who are holding money for drug dealers. They're drunk and high, he hustles them out of all their money, and they come and pay him a visit in his motel room. (again, no plot spoilers! you know what happens!)

That scene was a breakthrough. That was a scene I wrote after practically nothing for about six miserable months. Then I sat down and opened a document and that scene came out. I let go. I took my character and let him go where he wanted, or where his stupid head led him.

I have other favorite scenes, like with Jimmy and Iris, and Iris alone.

You mentioned The Odyssey—did Joyce's Ulysses have any influence on Jimmy?

A very astute question.

I read Ulysses while I was writing my book. It's such a monumental piece of fiction that I don't think it influenced me (except maybe that I had to rewrite an extra three times or so!)

But of course Ulysses is based on The Odyssey. Joyce used it as a template, but the creatures from The Odyssey were expressed in Irish life. For example, the Oxen of the Sun, Lestrygonians.

My version of The Odyssey is different, and more loosely-based. No one can touch Joyce.

But if Ulysses influenced me, it was in my language. And in that department, Joyce is also untouchable.

My book is a tribute to Joyce, as well as a tribute to The Odyssey. At the same time, because of that, my book is an act of literary hubris, one which has been punished, and will be punished further, if I escape obscurity.

But Jimmy is not Leopold Bloom. He's a pool-shootin son of a gun.

1 comment:

john said...

Good to know the discussion in an interview which had a lot of useful information which I like it. Recently I visited a site which is similar to it.