Alexander Laurence talks about his book
FIVE FINGERS MAKES A FIST
By Pauline Angelique
I met Alexander Laurence almost twenty years ago. He was a rebel and a poet
who I met in college. He was very enthusiastic about writing and literature. I
say that now because it was rare back then and even rarer now when hardly
anyone reads and hardly anyone gives a damn about real art or politics. We had
some classes together. Alexander introduced me to some writers who I had never
heard of. We took a fiction writing class together. That was when I read one of
his first stories that was included in Five Fingers Make A Fist.
“Monsieur Untel” was unlike anything else people were reading and writing in
those days. Most of the stories were these realistic stories about
relationships and sexual awakening in the suburbs. “Monsieur Untel” was like a modern
day Rashoman, written in a different age. We were both published in some of the
student magazines and we did some readings together. Alexander even published
one of my stories in one of the literary journals that he worked on after
college. Alexander’s interest in literature was passionate and sincere and seemed
to carry on throughout the years. He had am appetite for art and fiction that
That was at least fifteen years ago. Many of us who were aspiring writers and
artists then, got jobs, went to graduate school, taught classes, and had
families. Alexander Laurence continued on writing. He published about one hundred
poems and a dozen stories in some literary magazines around the world. He
interviewed many authors including Martin Amis, William T. Vollmann, Bret Easton
Ellis, and JT Leroy. He interviewed many authors who he had told me about in
the 1980s. Alexander met all his writing heroes. He lived in Los Angeles, San
Francisco, and New York City. He worked at many odd jobs: waiter, deliveryman,
magazine shops, bookstores, telemarketing, cafes, proofreading, tax reports,
the morgue, and art gallery assistant. He also visited Mexico, Canada, and
England over the years. During most of 1990s he worked as a journalist for a number
of magazines and wrote book reviews for newspapers and weekly magazines. He
was also a key figure in the Bay Area spoken word scene. He hosted four
different poetry series in San Francisco from 1991 to 1994. National attention came
during his stint at the Blue Monkey Café in 1993, during the poetry license
In 1992, Alexander finished an early version of Five Fingers Make A Fist that
was slightly different. It was after a few years of inspiration where he
found his own voice. Most of this book was written then. Alexander had retired
from the poetry scene and was committed to fiction. He worked on a few novels
during the 1990s. In 1994, Five Fingers Make A Fist was going to be published by
a new press dedicated to experimental works. A year later, the press had
organizational problems and the book never was released. By this time Alexander had
moved to New York City. He had written another novel and had collected his
poetry into a volume and had some interest from the publishing world in his
In 1996, an agent had shopped around his books in New York. A year later the
book was shelved due to corporate takeovers and less interest in new authors.
By 2002, Alexander had been involved in rock criticism for a few years.
Fiction was hardly on his mind. A few manuscripts of Five Fingers Make A Fist had
been circulating for years. At the beginning of 2003, one found its way to the
offices of Pollinator Press, a new publisher based in San Francisco. Alexander
now lives in Los Angeles where he is writing his next novel and playing music.
Pollinator Press is a new press that has published a few books. Five Fingers
Make A Fist seemed like the perfect book to begin its fiction line of books.
So finally, years after most of it was written, here is a great new book, that
hasn’t lost its bite. It is a comic novel that explores the underground and
extreme situations. Author Blake Nelson says: “Alexander Laurence is a true
explorer of the underground and the underworld. No one knows these worlds better
than he does. I am a huge fan." Five new stories have been added which were
written over the past three years. Alexander is now working on a new novel, which
was started in late 1999. What follows are some comments by Alexander about
each story and when it was written.
A Story of My Life (1992)
I wrote this immediately after “My Birth” as part of a trilogy. It seemed
like one of the many monologues that I was writing in the beginning of 1992.
Since I wasn’t writing poetry anymore, monologues seemed like the next thing to
do. This is like some resume of a character’s life looking back. When I was a
kid I had a bunch of theories about how my parents met. I made them up. They
were all pretty funny. All of this is pretty straightforward. It could have been
longer, but the idea was to be quick and entertaining. People always ask me
if my work is autobiographical. No, it’s fiction. It’s not like the guy who
wrote Lord of The Rings wrote about his life.
My Birth (1991)
I took a class with the writer Kathy Acker at the end of 1991. I was also
reading a bunch of birth narratives around that time. The beginning of Harold Brodkey’s “A
Runaway Soul” was one of them that came out that year. They all bothered me. They
kept me up at night. I thought it was impossible to have a birth memory. It
seemed silly. After a while of firmly rejecting this, I changed my mind, and wrote
this story. I read it aloud to the class and Kathy Acker thought it was the
best thing I had done for the class. We did a reading with Acker as a class and
my story was one of the highlights. I have a videotape of it. The story was
published a few times. There is another version where the writer, Eurydice, is
As part of the opening trilogy, I thought there should be another type of
early childhood narrator. It’s more like retelling events that did and did not
happen to me during the ages of two and seven. The conceit is that it’s like the
narrator is struggling with language because he is too young. It’s like this
fuzzy version of childhood, pre-language, sort of influenced by comic books
like Gahan Wilson. This is the end of the beginning. The original book was
arranged differently. These three stories being here seemed to make more sense.
They are all first person narratives. They are character studies.
Monsieur Untel (1987)
This is the earliest story I have written which is represented here. It was
also part of a novel that I never finished. I was really into French novelists
like Maurice Blanchot and Alain Robbe-Grillet. I was really into anything
French. Even the title of the story is a French joke. I guess that I was somewhat
influenced by Monsieur Teste by Paul Valéry, although this is nothing like
that. My story is a detective novel told from three opposing points of view. It’s
a literary story in a way, but in another way, it’s okay if you have never
heard of Modernism too. I was trying to be unlike Charles Bukowski in every way.
Not really sure when this story came about. I don’t really remember writing
it. I remember being impressed with all these magazines that were geared
towards girls who were thirteen years old. I thought that was innovative. I tried myself to
write letters and poems to gain entry into Sassy Magazine, but they never did
accept them in their shit poetry section. So I wrote this story instead. I
was thinking about my own childhood in San Francisco in the late 1960s. I had
just moved back to San Francisco in 1989 a month before the earthquake. In 1991,
I lived with all these German artists in the south of market area of San
Francisco that was very trendy. That was very hip and much like Williamsburg and
Silverlake at that time. I was sucked into that hole for a few years.
I lived in a lot of apartments in San Francisco from 1989 till 1992. This is
my tribute to all the horror stories that I heard about and experienced
myself. In an earlier version, this story was a footnote of another called “I
Remember Jeep” which I thought was too complicated and unable to read. There was
still a feeling of bohemianism in San Francisco as in other cities in the early
1990s. All that died around 1995, with the booming economy, and the
disappearance of a real subculture. I am hoping that some of those times will come back.
I Grew Up Listening To It Backwards (1991)
This is a nostalgic piece of the 1970s when your interest in music seemed so
unique and important. It was very much more political. All music now seems
like fashion and there is too much of it. There were fewer bands back then and
everyone was much more informed. Led Zeppelin started when the Beatles were
still around. Every gig and every album seemed special. Now you can see one
hundred bands a month and buy one hundred CDs and be only scratching the surface.
This story is more like the story of Michael Whitton, who was a convicted
murderer I knew when I was younger. He would talk about Led Zeppelin nonstop. When
they reformed in 1985, it was the highlight of his life. I was more into Kiss
and Ted Nugent. And then Punk Rock came along, and things changed for me.
Crack Whores (1993)
This was part of a novel that I never finished. I lived a lawless existence
for a while at the end of 1990. Running into an old friend who was a successful
businessman led to some destructive behavior. We spent much time together for
about a year. This story is fairly autobiographical and represents part of
the problems with San Francisco at the time. It is like a documentary of the
underground and the lowlifes. Not much has changed in that area. I had written
some arty stories, I thought at the time, and I wanted to write some realistic
things. This was the beginning of that.
Memoirs of An Electroshock Therapy Patient (1992-2003)
This is a collection of monologues. It is sort of like the Wandering Rocks
part of Ulysses. I wrote most of the first version in 1992. The second part was
influenced by the comic book Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, by Ben
Katchor. It was being published in the NY Press in 1991 when I first lived in
New York City. The second part is like a monologue by the main character of
“Frankie.” The part “Mertz” was the central piece. It was supposed to be a
satirical piece about Ross Perot. I decided that the other two parts were not very
good. I added ones about the internet and love, which I thought were more
The Ideal Copy (1993)
The title comes from a song by Wire. After I had written a story where the
footnotes were longer than the story, I decided to write this. It is supposed to
be a factual, documentary type of story. It is supposed to be a satire about
realism. The “Laura” of this story is based on my friend Otter who was
roommate at the time. “Laura” is just a name for a bunch of girlfriends I had
during the time. I sent a copy of this story to the lead singer of Wire, Colin
Newman. He apparently liked it.
The Next Story of Laura (1992)
After writing “My Birth” I decided to write a bunch of stories about weird
sexuality. Much of this story was suggested by my daily chats with Otter and a
weekend of hanging out with her Italian friend, Anna Maria. Once I was taking
a nap in my room and I had a sexual dream. The walls started shaking. I woke
up and someone was having sex in the next room and my bookshelf was rocking. It
turned out that Otter was having sex with another girl while a guy was
watching next to them tied up. Also I guess that I read Eurydice’s F/32 at some
point. This was my response. Some of the other stories I wrote like this didn’t
work for me. I wrote one called “Story” that is not included. I read this on a
radio show in Los Angeles in 1992, and most of it was bleeped off the air.
The Seasons (1991)
I was reading a book about Japanese culture at this time. I had a dream that
was like the end of this story exactly. I went to Seattle and British Columbia
with me girlfriend at the time. That whole summer trip where I spent a lot in
nature in Salt Spring Island. On the way back I started to write the first
draft of this story. German writer, Arno Schmidt, influenced the form of it. I
submitted this story to many magazines and everyone wanted to publish it. After
finishing this story, I probably started thinking that I was going to do a
book of short stories because it didn’t fit in with anything else I was doing.
At the time I was still influenced by Modernism and Victorian novels. I
decided that I wanted to write more about music, pop culture and modern life. Most
of my stories up to this point seemed like they took place in any century and
there were no modern references. No one would ever make a phone call or log on
the internet. I felt like this was the first time that I hit upon the style
that most of this book is written in. It is a mix of high and low culture,
realism and surrealism, comedy, with the occasional philosophical reference. I
wrote this way before I ever knew who Mark Leyner was. Actually Frankie is a real
person who I used to run into at LA Cafes. I wrote this at some point right
when I moved away. Many cultural things happened at that time. There was an
interest in tattoos and piercing that started about then. People were really into
comic books. I felt alienated from that whole post-punk thing. It was a
The Story of My Wife (1992)
This is mostly a spoken word piece. It has that Beat Poet repetition thing
going. It’s my “Howl.” It’s also sort of the third part of a trilogy, where
“The Ideal Copy” is the first part, and “The Next Story” is the second. I wrote
it very fast and read it with some visiting poets. It made an impression. It
was taking all aspects of past girlfriends and putting them into one person. I
had written “My Birth” and “My Death” and this was another chapter.
Stay Hungry (1992)
I felt like I should write some real stories with a plot and characters at
some point. This is one of them. It was based on some real stories I heard when
I lived with these strippers in San Francisco. I knew that I wanted to write a
story that lead to a big fight. I wrote a lot about what was going on in my
life at the time. Plus my friends Otter and Simone added some details. This was
published in a few magazines.
The Coffee, Bread, and Salad Tour (1990)
This is one of the early stories. I had a bunch of early stuff that was weird
and strange. This is like a mini-detective novel. I tried to include as much
of my experience as possible. I think that what made this different from my
other stories was that it represented what I was into at the time and based on
places that I lived. Harry Mathews and Vladimir Nabokov also influenced me. The
French writing group Oulipo was a big interest to me at the time. So there
are many rules and restraints that I had devised in the writing of this story.
The Cannibals (1991)
Someone had given an idea to write a play. It had to be something about The
Donner Party. This is what I came up with. We were going to perform it on
several occasions but people would drop out. It ended up us just doing a few
readings. There was also interest from some indie filmmaker in doing a film version.
I never heard back. I am not sure if it ever happened. This play was included
in the first version of Five Fingers Make A Fist. I took it out and made the
book shorter. At the last minute I decided to bring it back because I thought
it was still very funny.
Nestor Burma (1993)
After I had finished the first version of this book, I started to write a
novel. After that I became really interested in drugs. I read a book by Terence
McKenna who I later met. Some Japanese friend showed me some videotape about
DMT. I thought it was very provocative although I had never tried it. I read a
lot at that time about libraries and cultures.
I wrote a few stories based on my Dad. When Eurydice asked me to write a
story about O. J. Simpson, this is what I came up with. I couldn’t really think of
anything fictional. Since I had really met in person and he was like the
first famous person I had ever met, I thought that would be a good story. This is
Audrey Hepburn (1991-92)
I spent most of the time in my fiction class with Kathy Acker writing this
story. I began by writing some pieces about Audrey Hepburn. I chose her because
I was a fan of My Fair Lady and I saw it about twenty times when I was growing
up. I have seen most of her films and read five different biographies. A
quote from my book review was used on the back of the Alexander Walker biography.
The Howard Hughes biography by Noah Dietrich was one of the first real books I
sought out and read. Howard Hughes was one of the most important people who
have ever lived in my lifetime. If he would lived and done the things he did
today, he would have been on cable TV news all day. He was far more important
than Princess Diana or Michael Jackson. I sort of consider myself apolitical,
but this story turned into one of the most political things I had ever written.
It written during the whole time of Anita Hill, George Bush, and the Iraq War.
It was about the time of the Rodney King riots. I was involved in a
demonstration in San Francisco that became very violent. I visited Los Angeles a few
days after the lootings and burnings. Also at that time, I had a chance to meet
Audrey Hepburn, who made an appearance at a store in downtown San Francisco. I
forgot about it and didn’t go.
Five Fingers Make A Fist (1992)
More monologues. They take place in the Lower Haight. That was ground zero
for bohemianism and bizarre theories. I was trying to take some things written
in tabloids and making stories out of them.
Black Box Recording (2000)
I hadn’t written any stories for a few years. I was trying to write something
short for the Chick For A Day anthology, edited by Fiona Giles. I guess that
she wanted some sexy stories. I thought it would be better to have a story
without sex. I tinkered with this story for years. Changed the point of view so
it sounded more like the other stories, and became like another portrait of a
"Theatre of Death" (1992)
This also began with my first visit to New York City. Veselka is one of the
first places that I ever went to in New York. I had an idea about a story of
two men go to a café and talk about a book they read. Most of this story is
based on the photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin. There were also some gothic novels
that I had read at the time. I think there are a few references to the poetry
of Norma Cole. I had a bunch of disparate elements that I wanted to include. I
think it’s like going to a museum and looking at paintings.
Undiscovered Country (1991)
This was called “My Death” at first. It’s the most abstract piece in this
book. It is the most like “Childhood” which is like prose poetry. In fact the
main influences on it are Carla Harryman, Lautreamont, and French Poetry. It is
like a dream journal. I wrote most of it during the class I had with Kathy
Acker. It is very arty and pretentious in a way.
The Black Sun (2001)
Since this book has an epigram by Georges Bataille, I thought maybe I should
include this story, which is much like his novel, The Blue of Noon. I also
read Literature and Evil and that was inspiring. I wrote an earlier story, “The
Story of Bliss” which is based on the same character. This is like a look back
to the failed relationship, whereas “Bliss” was like a story that took place
at the time. I also thought that there was not much love and feelings in this
book. I hope that this was more sincere.
Deathwish II (2002)
I was influenced by film and indie film in particular. I remember going to
see this film with my friends. We were drunk so I don’t remember much about the
film except Charles Bronson blew away a bunch of people. I was really into
early indie films like Slacker, Reservoir Dogs, and El Mariachi. I grew up in the
1960s and 1970s and films and music and TV influenced me as much as Flaubert
The Ballad of Nariyama (1991)
I saw this Japanese film in 1991 when I was in New York City. I only saw it
once. I wrote a different story based on it. There are a ton of references in
this book and “Nariyama” and “My Fair Lady” and “Alphaville” are probably
the ones dealt with in a lengthy way. There is my fake film in “Frankie.” All
these films deal with love and acceptance.
Having Nothing To Do With You And
Being Invisible (2000)
Another part from an abandoned novel. This was published a few times. I won a
fiction contest held by Astralwerks and The Chemical Brothers. It’s like a
nameless character from my early novels that have given up on life. I was
reading some of the early novels of Georges Perec. I felt like this was a good place
to end. It is open and leads to the strange characters of my next novel.
FIVE FINGERS MAKES A FIST comes out on October 1st, 2007
If you want to obtain a copy of FIVE FINGERS MAKE A FIST (Pollinator Press
2007) please write to Alexander Laurence or Pollinator Press.
If you want to send money through Paypal or stock this book in your store.
You can contact the author, Alexander Laurence, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or send a money order or check of 14.95 plus 1.50 postage to:
PO Box 78351
San Francisco, CA 94107