Friday, August 2, 2013

FOUR FATHERS interview series: Ben Tanzer

It's the second installment of our four-part author interview series! We partnered with Cobalt Press, a brand spanking new small press publisher, to help spread the word about their kickstarter event for FOUR FATHERS, a collection of fatherly essays and stories by contributing authors Tom Williams, Ben Tanzer, BL Pawelek, and Dave Housely. (The kickstarter event closes on Monday. Feel free to check it out and if you are so inclined, throw a few bucks at it. You know you want to. Would I steer you wrong?)

Yesterday, we featured Ben Tanzer interviewing fellow contributor Tom Williams.

Today, Ben Tanzer tackles five questions from Dave Housley:

The Four Fathers Interview Series:
Ben Tanzer

Dave Housely: You're a very prolific writer, especially for a writer who has a full time job and two children. How do you do it?

Ben Tanzer: The simple answer is plastics. And ball bearings of course. But the more boring answer is a constant effort to schedule the opportunity to write on a daily basis, looking sometimes days ahead and figuring out where writing will fit and doing everything possible to stick to that opportunity. I also look to take advantage of opportunities where they didn't exist before. My wife and kids suddenly leave the house for an hour, and I grab it, and I write, immediately. I never wait for inspiration, sometimes I don't sleep, and I keep the more spontaneous fucking around to a minimum. All of which sort of makes me sound very boring, somewhat compulsive, and kind of like a dick. Was that your plan?

DH: In reading the pieces for this book, and in all of your writing, I'm struck by how honest you are about the daily frustrations, petty emotions, and all of the unattractive or ungenerous things that might go along with being a dude at a certain period in his life -- middle-agey, with responsibilities, frustrations, etc. In contrast, you're one of the most generous, positive, warm people -- especially writers! -- that I know. Do you worry at all about how your work will be perceived, especially by the people in your life?

BT: You're very generous and I completely retract that comment about your possibly wanting to make me look a dick. I do appreciate the kind words though, all of those traits are very important to me. As far the work goes and perceptions, that's a great question, and no, I don't worry about that. Not as a writer anyway. For the most part I don't walk around expressing those kinds of feelings, I find that embarrassing. But as a writer I feel permission to say what I want as long as I am not hurting anyone besides myself, and I work with the assumption that the people who read these things see them as a writer trying to say something they can relate to. I also don't mind if people think that maybe I'm more petty and frustrated than I let one, which I suppose is one advantage to being middle-agey, and married. That said, I also hope it sells books. Andrew, thoughts?

DH: Related to the question above, but something I've been thinking about a little as I edit my piece for FOUR FATHERS: what would you tell your kids if they were sitting down to read FOUR FATHERS? How old do you picture them being when you think about that (if, indeed, it's a thing you've thought about)?

BT: I have thought about this, and what I would like to tell them is that they will see slices of our lives, sometimes mine, or theirs, and that these slices were spun into something else, things I was trying to figure out, and stories that people can relate to. It also feels like there is a subtext to this question about whether I think they will be offended or upset by what they read. Which I guess is the subtext to my answer as well. I don't think these stories as a whole will be upsetting. They reflect more poorly on the protagonist if anyone, though as I re-read them, they are mostly about confusion and how we communicate, feeling abandoned, coping, and the million small things I constantly think about. And from that perspective, my kids only play a small role in these pieces, significant, but small, despite the content. 

DH:I'm curious about this one because I always write maybe five years after my own personal experience -- for some reason, it takes me awhile to process things in my own life and for them to start working into my fiction. When did this idea of dads/parents/sons/kids start working into your writing? Were you surprised? Afraid to go there? Or did you just Ben Tanzer the shit out of it and write like five books in row?
BT: I suppose I Bent Tanzer'd the shit out of it in one sense. Which makes for an awesome descriptor, thank you, but no doubt sounds very pretentious all at the same time. I always strive to write things in real time though, moment to moment, and so I am doing some of that processing you reference while I write and then seeing what happens. On the other hand Four Fathers is unusual for me to some extent. My novel Orphans that is coming out was a conscious effort to explore being a parent, a husband, and how work, and the need to work, can impact and warp those relationships. Four Fathers though emerged from a conversation we had and your invitation to participate. At the time I had just written a piece of flash fiction that was dad related, but that was only the piece I had written like that. Four Fathers made me wonder if I could continue doing dad-centric flash fiction pieces and I ran with it. I've also recently completed a series of essays for a collection titled Lost In Space, and in that case, I had always wanted to do something like that, but had no plans to do so until I was asked to develop a collection. After the request, I started seeing everything as an essay on this topic, and I started working on them. Which I guess is part of it for me, both in writing and work, the smallest suggestion can blow-up for me into an idea and when they do I try to follow the path that's emerging. The path has been dad-centric at the moment, and I am in it, so it's ripe, but it will pass, and in some ways it already has. 

DH: What are you working on now? Does it deal with these same kinds of matters? Or something completely different. 

BT: I sort of began to answer this question above, but as a coda, I've started plotting out and writing a series of things, a short story collection centered on a flooded town, a sort of third chapter to my New York Stories project; a novel with a teenage female protagonist, a missing brother, and UFOs; and an essay collection of pieces that may have nothing to do with dads. In fact none of these projects really have anything to do with dads at all on the face of it, though when I write, no matter what I set out to do, I endlessly circle back to fathers and sons, something that's inescapable for me apparently. 

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father's House and You Can Make Him Like You, as well as, the forthcoming Orphans and Lost in Space, among others. Ben also oversees Publicity and Content Strategy at Curbside Splendor and day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life. He can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life the center of his growing lifestyle empire.

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