Quarantine: The Loners by Lex Thomas was one of my favorite YA debuts of 2012: your basic we’re-all-stuck-inside-this-high-school-and-will-probably-all-kill-one-another-before-it’s-over thriller lifted to giddy heights by remorseless plot twists and a refusal to stop making the absolute worst thing ever happen over and over again. Its inglorious glories were enough to land it on our 2012 Editors’ Choice List.
Of course, that was before the airwaves exploded with scandal. Lex Thomas is not one brilliant, aristocratic weaver o’ words. Nay, he is two different guys: Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies. I know! That’s practically cheating! One guy does the nouns, the other does the verbs. Why not add a middle name so you can get a third guy to do the adjectives? Where does the madness end, “Lex Thomas”? Where???
Just who do you think you are?
LEX: A selfish prick who lives as an upstanding family man; a redneck slob pretending to be a city-slicker; an old grump in the body of a younger man. The list goes on. I’ve never been one thing, always one thing flirting with another. Gradually, I’ve been able to dial it in, crossing the experimental identities off the list. I’ve always admired people that could nail down their persona early on and really work it. I think when I’m… forty-nine, I’ll know exactly who I am, and the rest of my life will be perfecting whatever that is, making it vintage.
THOMAS: I’m a writer and a painter, and a comedy fan, and I’m constantly watching movies and TV, and I like to joke around, and sing karaoke with friends in those little private booths, and maintain a steady intake of cookies. I also like to keep the heat cranked in my apartment, and I think better with the lights off.
Where do yo get off?
LEX: By myself. I grew up an only child, in the country. My nearest friend was maybe a three-mile walk away, down a road I perceived as dangerous as the one in Pet Sematary. I remember spending a lot of time alone, making things up for entertainment, occupying my brain with fantasies that could make the forest around me feel exciting. I was kind of like Will Ferrell in Elf. Since then, life has gotten a lot busier. I think I craved that, given my roots, but inspiration, the fun stuff, still comes when things get quiet and I can ignore all the crap I’m supposed to do. I should put that on my To Do list: make more time to get off.
THOMAS: I get off on staring at 19th-century paintings and wishing I lived inside them.
What’s the big idea?
LEX: You think I’m gonna tell you, pal? Why don’t I just hand you a briefcase with ten million dollars in it? No way. I’m gonna retire on the big idea.
THOMAS: To write something cool that feels true.
What is your problem, man?
LEX: I work too much. Other people in my life would say that’s a problem, and when I’m a slave to it, beaten down by it, I’d agree with them. But when a story pays off, it’s such a high. It validates why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. Shit, I guess that means I’m a workaholic. My problem is my pleasure. Oof, I’m working out some issues here. Is this Hostile Questions or Intervention? Why ya gotta make me feel like crap, man?
That makes me think of this interview Vice did with Karen Black. They asked her if she’s a workaholic and she says, “I sincerely dislike that expression. It’s a way of making less of someone who likes to create… It takes something that is very natural, almost native to a person, and makes it a slightly ignominious thing to be.” I remember breathing this huge sigh of relief when I heard her say that. But if you can’t relate or I’ve bored you with my answer, you should still watch that interview. It’s… weird.
THOMAS: Writing is too hard, that’s my problem. At least if you want it to be good it is. And it definitely is under deadline. At dinner the other night my techy brother and uncle were trying to convince me that soon computers will replace human writers, since there are only so many plots, and so many story moves you can pull, and writing, like all jobs will eventually be handled by technology instead of people. Don’t worry, I told them they were wrong, but there are definitely times I wish there was a program that could figure out the problems for me, because once I want to turn an idea into something concrete, there are always problems upon problems upon problems. I guess it wouldn’t be as hard if I had lower standards for the rough draft, but I’m not into writing a flabby rough and shaping that into something later. I want it to be pretty close to the finished form in its initial conception, and for every part of it to be there for a definite reason. That attitude tends to make the work intensely unpleasant, but who said making art was supposed to be fun?
Haven’t you done enough?
LEX: Never. But I guess you saw that coming.