From Our Authors | December 08, 2020

Tim Loc’s “If You’re so Smart” captivated us with its sharp writing and  fresh subject: homelessness on college campuses. Recently, TMR staff member Eric True talked with the author about the genesis of the story, and about the racial stereotypes it interrogates. You can read the story here. “If You’re so Smart” is Loc’s first published fiction.



Eric True: It’s clear from the subject of “If You’re So Smart” that homelessness is a topic you are passionate about. What is your experience with this subject matter? Is there a personal element involved?


Tim Loc: I knew a couple friends who’d briefly slept in their cars. It was also something I’d encountered when I lived in the West LA area. I’d moved out there for a job, and on occasion I’d notice a parked car with someone in it, and the car would be there for the next two or three days. I can’t say for sure I know what their situations were, though. Also, in general, homelessness is a topic that’s been at the forefront in Los Angeles for the last few years, so it’s been on my mind.


ET: How did the character of Simon develop? It’s clear that you wanted to portray him as a sort of in-between character, but how did specific character traits emerge?


TL: I went into the story with a scenario, less so a character. Simon kind of developed through the circumstances that sprang up. I like the phrase “one thing led to another.” It’s vague, yet it’s extremely apt. It’s how a lot of things happen. Simon was just reacting to his situation.


ET: One of the most intriguing aspects of this story is the contrast between the characters of Simon and Wen, the Asian and Asian American characters. How do you think the concepts of race and homelessness connect?


TL: I think we make assumptions about who homelessness affects, and a guy like Simon isn’t at the top of that list. The assumptions are as wrong as they are pointless; we keep them around because they uphold our perceived order of the world. Unfortunately, race is something that factors into those assumptions.


ET: Was the racial aspect of this story one you knew you wanted to address from the start, or did that happen as you were writing the story?


TL: I don’t think I had an idea I would be addressing it. I just knew that the story would be a lot more interesting if Wen’s character was similar to Simon in some way; I felt this would draw more attention to the root issue. And when I put Wen in the story, it instantly felt like he belonged. His character forced me to confront this complicated topic (race and homelessness) head-on. It complicated the story for me, which I take as a good sign when I’m writing. I get suspicious when things are a little too easy.


ET: After the explosive climax of Wen and Simon’s final interaction, it is refreshing that the narrative wraps up on an optimistic and hopeful note. How did you arrive at that denouement?


TL: It’s interesting that you took it as an optimistic note. I’m not saying it wasn’t, but it’s not what I explicitly had in mind. I read it as a more downbeat ending, as if Simon was in a kind of delirium or shock. Your comment just made me realize that, for Simon, it is an upbeat moment, because he likely believes in this spark of confidence. As an observer, I’m more distrusting of it. Either way, you draw attention to the fact that he has hope. And I think this is a small victory in itself.


ET: If there is one particular discovery or understanding you want people to take away from this story, what would it be?


TL: I’m fortunate enough to say that I haven’t experienced homelessness firsthand. So I’m wary about teaching readers anything specific about it. But I hope the story shows that, on a broad level, the path to homelessness is complicated. I don’t think it’s something that can be traced back to one single decision.


ET: Is this story part of a larger project you are working on?


TL: I guess I’m working on a story collection. But I think about these stories on their own terms. I don’t see them in relation to the other ones I’ve written (or ones I’m thinking about writing). They mostly center around Asian American characters. But that’s the only through line.


Eric True is an intern at the Missouri Review. He is a senior at the University of Missouri, where he is studying American literature and creative writing.