Monday, March 1, 2010

Author Interview W/ Ben Tanzer

Author Ben Tanzer certainly knows how to fill a schedule. Between releasing two printed books - "Lucky Man" and "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" - and a short story eBook collection entitled "Repetition Patterns", he also finds the time to compulsively blog at "This Blog Will Change Your Life" and "This Zine Will Change Your Life". Phew! I am tired just writing all that. To top that off, he is a great sport for finding the time to answer a handful of questions for us. Thanks Ben!

How long have you been writing? When did you first realise that this was something you wanted to do for a living?

I have been writing for about 11 years. I first had the idea that I might need to be a writer when I was a senior in high school and forced to take a creative writing class. I thought about it a lot in college, and even took another creative writing class which I did not enjoy, the older students were really harsh and I never had any good ideas for stories anyway, and then I obsessed over my desire to write for much of my twenties, endlessly writing down lists of stories I might someday tell.

As I hit thirty though, I thought now, I must start now, nothing is happening for me, nothing I want, and then there was a call from someone I know who was thinking about leaving her husband, and I got very upset and started obsessing what it meant, for them and for their kids, and for me and my wife. I was really spinning and I felt like the only thing that was going to make me feel better was writing.

So sitting in bed next to my wife I wrote this story about a guy leaving his family. It was one of the stories that had been sitting on one of my endless lists of stories I would one day write. Once I finished that one, I couldn't stop and here we are.

What was the strangest job you've ever held, and why did you leave it?

I suppose the strangest job I've ever held was working in a law firm right after I graduated from college. Okay, it wasn't strange, just not fun. And I left because everyone I worked with was so unhappy, which just sucked and made everything I was building there seem very unpromising. Ultimately, I may have found a law job I liked, and may have even started writing as well, but hating that job was helpful, because it led me to make some changes, and try other things, like social work, and moving from San Francisco to New York, and then on to Chicago, all of which I want to believe has played a role in making me who I am as the person and the writer I am now. Of course, I may be wrong about all of this, but if I am it doesn't change the fact that it was a job that really sucked.

How would you describe your online blog and 'zine?

They are related and yet not. The blog was created because I thought I needed a platform for hustling my books and I wanted to create a vibe like the monorail episode of The Simpsons. In that episode which is based on the Music Man this guy convinces the citizens Springfield that they need a monorail because it will not just make their lives better it will make the whole world a beautiful place. Of course they don't need one and it won't make their lives better. Building on this I decided to create a blog that would be like a faux corporate blog where my books were products that changed people's lives, sometimes for the better.

I also thought though that I should use the blog to brand myself, thinking that some people might be drawn to how I see the world and what I like to riff on and this might make them more drawn to the things I am working on. So, I endlessly hype myself, but I also hype all the things I like and celebrate which in my fantasy world becomes intertwined into this brand. As I created this platform, I also thought though why just hype what I like, this has to be fun as possible for me as well, so why not use it to pursue other interests that further build the brand, but also support those I want to support.

The zine then grows out of this desire. It represents things I feel compulsive about, writers, street art, music; it supports or exposes the work we highlight to a wider audience and it extends my brand, and my completely fake goal of presenting that which I like most, including myself, as a lifestyle choice a la, Martha Stewart, Oprah or Tony Hawk.

How do you manage to balance your time between publishing books, writing for and running TBWCYL and This Zine Will Change Your Life, and having a personal life?

Some of this magic of course, my herd of unicorns and team of gnomes rock, but really, it's a variety of things that more or less work. Part of it is keeping the fat in my schedule to a minimum, which means I rarely treat any time as down time, no Seinfeld marathons, no naps, and much less drinking than in the past. I am also constantly slotting or scheduling things, looking for potentially open times in my calendar and then deciding what might be done then. With the zine, it helps that I am just part of a team and that everyone plays a role, with my role now mainly being air traffic control. I have to skip things of course. Or put them off.

I make sure I write at least 30 minutes more or less every day, but rarely get to write more than that, which means the various writing projects I'm working on take longer than maybe I would like. I also don't sleep a lot, but by choice, though from what Dr. Oz says, this isn't the best strategy among the many I factor into what I am trying to do or not do.

Of all your published books, which was the hardest for you to write? Which are you most proud of?

I would say they were all hard in the same way. Meaning, once I have an idea getting started is not so hard, there are little glitches along the way, but when I'm ready to write, I write. What's hard is after taking a break and coming back to something, and then trying to decide if it's really what I intended it to be. Does it flow like it did in my head? What needs to be cut? Do the various threads get pulled together?

Also, and maybe more important, does it look, read, taste, whatever, like what I hope something I write will look, read and taste like. Is it stripped down, driven by dialogue and anger and struggle, but funny and slamming, something that tries to mash Bruce Springsteen, David Cronenberg and the Ramone's together, but without their talent? Given this, I imagine the book I am currently shopping around is the hardest, because I'm in the middle of it, and it might not quite be ready, though if it isn't how can I get it there?

In terms of being proud, I'm proud of all of them, but that's wishy-washy, so let's say Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, because I was proud to write a book, any book, and I did with Lucky Man, but I was worried I wouldn't be able to do so again, at least something I liked, but I did, and it's out there, and this is good, for me anyway.

What was the thought process that went into the short story collection Repetition Patterns?

I had a bunch of story ideas all piled-up, that seemed like they could be related, but didn't yet have any direction or form. Meanwhile, I was reading these various short story collections I really liked, When The Messenger is Hot, Drown, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake, The Bridegroom, and I was really taken with how they all seemed to be of a certain time and place, and as I thought about these collections and my stories, I wondered if I could so something like that, write some stories that might all take place in a place like my hometown around the time I grew-up, and as I thought about this, the stories started> coming together and then I sat down and wrote the first drafts over 2-3 months.

Some of the stories in Repetition Patterns contain teenage promiscuity> and abnormal parental behaviors... Do you ever worry about how a reader,> friend, or family member may react to you writing?

One thing I have to say, and especially with Repetition Patters, is that as a whole, these stories are fiction and the elements in these stories that reflect any one person or event are slight because they are merged into other people and events and memories. Also, these are stories influenced by events that took place at some other time and some other place and while they stuck with me it's not clear they stuck with anyone else. Plus, I would rarely write about something that was especially hurtful or embarrassing to someone that I am in regular contact with.

That said, on occasion people have just popped-up again out of nowhere who might recognize something less than flattering about themselves from whatever time and place we crossed paths for whatever length of time that was and when that has happened I have felt self-conscious and bad about it.

Now if you're question is also in part about how friends or family members will look at me or think about me after reading these things, that I don't worry about, again I'm not embarrassed about the little that might tie to me directly, it's who I am, or was, and I think as writers we need to give that up.

Repetition Patterns was published by CCLaP as an eBook. What is your> take> on eBooks and eReaders, both as an author and a reader?

Good question. I am of two minds on this. As a writer, and a very obscure writer at that, I think eBooks and e-anything is great because I want my stuff to get out there and this accomplishes that and if it sucks in some more people, generates some more fans and possibly makes some more money, awesome.

As a reader though, this kills me, I loved books before I could even read, the look of the spine, the feel of the pages, carrying a book around in my pocket or a bag for weeks on end, seeing them lying on the table next to my bed, and across my bookshelf, or better a bookstore, and so when thinking about that stuff, and I do, I hate that the whole feeling of loving books as a sentient experience may slowly get lost.

If your house were on fire, and you could only rescue 5 books from your> bookshelves, which 5 would you save and why?

Five is tough. And wrong to even ask. Still here are 5 I could see favoring if forced or on fire: The Basketball Diaries, Jim Carroll; Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson; The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury; Cruddy by Lynda Barry and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver.

Now with your indulgence, I do have a second 5 I would grab if I had some help from say my sons or a really well-trained dog: Meditations from a Moveable Chair, Andre Dubus; Radiant Days, Michael Fitzgerald; Carrie, Stephen King; American Skin, Don DeGrazia and Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware.

Finally, and sorry, really, as a shout-out to myself at fifteen and in recognition of J.D. Salinger's recent passing: The Catcher in The Rye.

What authors/books/websites would you recommend to our readers out there?

You know, I'm a terrible name dropper, though saying that I will still miss some people or places I think people should check out. But having said that, and even having referenced some of the books and authors above that I really love, this still leaves many authors and/or bloggers I hope your readers will take a look at: Tim Hall, Mary Miller, Scott McClanahan, Mel Bosworth, Collin Kelley, Claudia Smith, Jim Ruland, Barry Graham, Matt Bell, Jason Fisk, Jason Jordan, Ken Wohlrob, Shannon Burke, Benjamin Carr, Kendra Grant Malone, Lindsay Hunter, Corey Mesler, S. Craig Renfroe, P.H. Madore, Spencer Dew, John Domini, Amy Guth, Kyle Beachy, Nick Ostdick, Jamie Iredell, Kristin Fouquet, Pete Anderson, Caleb Ross, Matt DeBenedictis, Steve Lafler, Michael Kimball, Keidra Chaney, Peter Schwartz, J.A. Tyler, Mary Hamilton, Gina Frangello, David Masciotra, Elizabeth Crane, Brandon Will, B.L. Pawelek and William Walsh to name a few.

I would add some zines, zine-like joints or presses: Dogzplot, Annalemma, Knee-Jerk, Hobart, THE2NDHAND, CellStories, decomP, Prick of the Spindle, PANK, Full of Crow, Artistically Declined, Featherproof, Dispatch Litareview, ML Press, Future Tense, Microcosm, Monkeybicycle, Thieves Jargon, Necessary Fiction, Opium, Another Chicago Magazine and Caketrain.

And then I would also throw-in a handful of arts and culture type blogs that just rock: CCLaP, Orange Alert, The Scowl, Baby Got Books, The Page 69 Test, Largehearted Boy, HTML Giant, Big Other and Deckfight.


Oh yes, Ben, Totally Cool!!


  1. Great interview!

  2. Ben, Please contact me. I'll be in Chicago soon and would love to see you. Pat "Moochie" O'Neil Binghamton High Track