The Sweetest Debut: Daniel Lowe on Dreams of Teeth, and Electrocuted Genius

Welcome to The Sweetest Debut, a regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies. Today: Daniel Lowe, on his debut novel All That’s Left to Tell.


What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book?

All That’s Left to Tell is a novel about a man who is held captive in Pakistan shortly after his daughter is murdered back home in the States, and the story-telling relationship that develops between him and the woman who is his interrogator as they reconstruct his daughter’s past and create for her an imagined future.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

Believe it or not, a more rambling version of the above.

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

Around two and a half years, though forms of marinating sometimes predate my writing of it by many years.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

That’s a tough one. I love Joyce, but with Finnegan’s Wake — well, I’m sure it’s brilliant, but I’ve never been able to force myself past the first fifty pages or so. It’s a monument of language by a “genius electrocuted” (Faulkner’s words), attended mostly by devoted scholars.

Name a book you’ve read more than twice.

Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano — which is likely on other people’s “totally overrated” list.

Name a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project.

Ian McEwan’s Atonement

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I could binge watch Breaking Bad at any time, but that’s had its run, so I’ll settle for House of Cards.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

If you don’t count The LEGO Batman Movie — and you should — it was Manchester by the Sea.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

On the rare occasion when I have, it’s been any music without words, most likely classical.

Who is your fashion icon?

I confess I couldn’t name one. Does Michael Jordan count? [Yes — Ed.]

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

Perhaps a cliff in Scotland looking over the North Sea.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

An astronomer. I still look at the night sky with wonder.

Did you have a new years resolution for 2017? If so, what?

Eat better, reduce stress; it’s been the same since 2007.

What freaks you out the most about four years of Donald Trump as US President?

His resolute refusal to see complexity in anything.

Do you prefer a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

I can write in either, but I’ll take the library.

Do you write at a desk, bed or couch?

An armchair, usually.

Is morning writing or late-night writing your go-to-time?

Got to be the morning when the mind is fresh.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

I almost always perfect it as I go — I have a hard time letting go of unresolved problems.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

I teach writing at a community college in Pittsburgh.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above? 

It isn’t easy. I try to schedule my classes later in the day as well as teach online to open up hours. But when student essays accumulate, I’m sometimes down to writing two to three days a week.

If you could write fanfiction about any pop culture character, real or imagined, who would it be?

Another tough one. Maybe Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead?

Care to give us a few sentences of micro-fiction about that character?

Rick Grimes wants to stop dreaming of teeth. He remembers a time before this, when in a natural history museum he saw the half-jaw of an Australopithecus, how benign it looked across a span of ages. In another version, he wakes one morning, his year-old daughter beside him. She smiles, and bites his forearm, just above the wrist. He does not flinch.

Daniel Lowe portrait by Claude Hurlbert.