J. Robert Lennon is the author of Pieces for the Left Hand. He lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches at Cornell university.
Although his book Pieces for the Left Hand is fiction, the journalistic tone makes it read as nonfiction. In one hundred anecdotes, the narrator walks us through life in a small town in upstate New York, revealing the unsettling and strange in everyday life: questioning memory through a boy’s false recollection of his father’s chopped-off fingers, measuring loneliness by a deceased mother’s collection of teabags, exploring the bizarre tragedy of students trapped in a water pipe. Through these anecdotes inspired by the fictional narrator’s daily walks through town, Lennon adds an eerie yet philosophical layer to the flatness of everyday life. Parallax staff members Linnea Zagaeski and Evan Lytle discussed the writing life over email with Lennon.
Why did you choose the story “Lefties” to base your title off of? Are you yourself left handed?
Why did you write the introduction in third person? What effect did you want it to have?
Are some of these entries directly from a personal journal or diary, or based on true stories encountered personally or through friends? If so, what was the process of developing them into fictional anecdotes like? Are any of the anecdotes nonfiction?
Walking is introduced as part of the narrator’s writing process in the introduction to Pieces for the Left Hand. There is a long history of writers who found walking integral to their creative process (Thoreau, Wordsworth, Joyce, Woolf, Stein, etc.), and recent studies reveal the benefits of walking for one’s creativity. What kind of role did walking play in your creative process as you worked on Pieces for the Left Hand? Did you always see walking as integral to this narrator’s storytelling, or did you develop that idea after you had already started writing the anecdotes?
What kind of relationship do you want your reader to have with the narrator?
Did you want to raise certain questions with this work? If so, what kind of questions? What questions were raised for you either while writing or when you went back through the collection?
How many drafts did you go through on average for each anecdote?
Did you have any more anecdotes that you cut out during the editing process? Why did you decide to organize them into the seven sections that appear in the book?