One Futurist Speaks: Interview with Writer William Lessard

by Julie Chibbaro

Bill’s stuff makes me laugh. You can’t say that about all his work, since he writes in various styles, but Lessard is an expert in writing the absurd in a way that somehow makes sense.

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Take this, from his piece entitled: “Alternate Careers for House of Cards’ Frank Underwood” published in McSweeney’s:

“There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”
— Frank Underwood, D.D.S.

“There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.”
— Frank Underwood, Junior Plumber, Fred Smith Plumbing and Heating Company

“Nobody can hear you. Nobody cares about you. Nothing will come of this. Why don’t you let these nice gentlemen take you home?”
— Frank Underwood, SVP Franchise Development, Uber

“I’m the only person who believes in you, Peter, but maybe that’s one too many. The hot water will open up your capillaries. The aspirin you just took will make your blood thinner. It’s up to you, Peter. Oh, and if you do decide to take the coward’s way out, cut along the tracks, not across them. That’s a rookie mistake.”
— Frank Underwood, Volunteer, Samaritans 24-Hour Crisis Hotline

First published in 2015, this piece now has a particular creepy relevance after the #metoo movement, during which actor Kevin Spacey (who plays Frank Underwood) was implicated in sexual abuse.

I wanted to get underneath what drives Bill Lessard to write the way he does, so I dug in and asked him a few questions (which he so graciously answered):

GLB: You write poetry, articles, book reviews, interviews and creative nonfiction. You’re also a PR guy. Do those things conflict with each other in any way? Do they get mixed up in your head, or do they feed each other?

WL: I do a lot of things. Sometimes it gets mixed up in a bad way. But most of the time confusion is what I need. There is a cult of solitude around creation, especially for writers. Going to a farm in Vermont might help some people. But the rest of us need stress and deadlines and everyday life. What I do for a living feeds directly into my work. I’m not just a publicist, I’m a tech publicist, which gives me a front seat to the fundamental ways our lives are changing. Reading most new poetry these days you would never know it was written at a time when people are walking around with supercomputers in their pocket. I don’t know if it’s because these writers are just writing things that will get them published in prestigious magazines or they aren’t going deep enough in their work.

 

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I just got back from a trade show where a client of mine was demonstrating technology that allows you to do real-time motion capture right from your iPhone. I am not saying we all have to become Futurists, but the ability to mirror one’s face onto a character on the screen seems to warrant poetic investigation. Being a person whose job is to pitch tech to the media also reminds me that using common objects in our work makes it relatable. We are all Pop artists, or should aspire to be. All writing, even the most challenging work, is about communication.

GLB: You ran the Cool as F*** series in Brooklyn for the past few years. Now you host readings for visiting writers and writers who can’t make it to New York. Why do you do this?

WL: Hosting, like being an editor, which I also do, gives other writers space. After getting words down on the page the best way you know how, it’s the most important thing writers can do. It is an act of love. And it creates the community that writers need to get outside their own heads, meet other people and road-test their own work. I can’t tell you the number of times I have gotten insight into something I’ve been struggling with after reading it in front of a crowd. That’s the kind of gift that a series like yours gives people. I view hosting as returning the favor. It’s also a great excuse to meet folks and get hip on writers coming up.

GLB: How does humor/irony play into your work?

WL: Humor gives me access to subjects I find hard to approach any other way. It’s also a way to keep myself and the reader entertained. Taking oneself too seriously is a major problem for a lot of creative people. It makes them unpleasant to deal with. And it gives their work a one-dimensional quality. Humor also allows me to access the humanity of people I despise. A few years ago, I had some poems in Hyperallergic based on samplings from a tech-bro podcast. When a friend of mine sent me the link to the podcast, initially, I wanted to punch those guys right through the screen, but after seeing the absurdity in what they were discussing, and after starting to make fun of it, I was able to get beyond my initial asshole reaction and create something fun and hopefully worthwhile. I also didn’t hate these guys anymore. Reprogramming our worst inclinations is art’s function.

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William Lessard has written for such venues as McSweeney’s, Hobart, Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic. He is the President of PR with Brains.

 

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