Ben Tanzer is everywhere.
And now he is here for the most recent in what has clearly become an occasional series of interviews. That’s right, this Chicago man-about-town and publishing champion submitted to the grueling e-mail mindslog known to you as The Big Other interview.
Davis: Answer a banal question you might imagine a novice interviewer might ask?
Ben: I am wearing pants. Drinking coffee. Listening to The Avett Brothers. And wearing pants. It’s not even like I think of that as a requirement of this interview or any interview. Especially as I sit here at my kitchen table with the heat pouring over me like a wave of steamy goodness. But for the record. Pants on. Completely.
Davis: You seem to publish a book every three months or so, and not one of these is a Green Lantern, if you catch my meaning…
Ben: 2011 was a really good year for me in terms of writing. Having had a series of things come out over the course of the year, I felt self-conscious about it, though I’m proud of all the work. I’m thrilled that there’s interest from publishers and readers, but there’s some discomfort, too. Some of it is about how the release of the work is staggered. You write and write and you don’t know when things will actually pop. I suppose it’s like Ryan Gosling having three movies out this year. And no, I’m not really comparing myself to Ryan Gosling. For example, he’s Canadian, so right there you have that..
Davis: You strike me as a writer coping with the cacophony of modern life, so to speak, as your works tap into some deep vein of gently throbbing compulsion gargling under the surface of our daily skin…
Ben: I am drawn to confusion: how we try to make sense of things, relationships, work, our family history, and how we cope, both in healthy and unhealthy ways, as well as compulsions, how we get stuck, and our desire to be unstuck, mostly, but not entirely, because those compulsions are part of our worldview. Instead we think about how things could work better, what’s next and why we repeat so many mistakes, and how we try to get things right and might develop tools for accomplishing this, assuming we are ever conscious enough to do so.
Davis: Let’s go through the 2011 catalog. Discourse the first, please?
Ben: Right, so You Can Make Him Like You came out during the spring from Artistically Declined Press and my initial thinking had been, what might a story look like about a handful of 30-something guys? It evolved into a story about a guy who is trying to not a.) kill his neighbors, though he sort of does, though only one; b.) sleep with this intern (and you will need to read the book if you want to learn more about that); or c.) be freaked-out about becoming a father (which I suppose may be impossible). Or so I hear. The development of the book was influenced by the music of The Hold Steady, or more specifically, the kinds of characters they write about and what those characters might look like as they get older and less druggy.
Ryan Gosling does not make an appearance in this book, but if he did I’m guessing my wife would be more likely to read it.
Davis: Sounds like you’ve seen The Notebook?
Ben: It is funny about Ryan Gosling, though. It’s not like I feel like we could be friends, like John Cusack or Ira Glass (those guys are a given), but I do think there is a synergy or chemistry between the Gosling and I, especially when we’re hanging out. Well, when we’re in the same room, anyway. And, yes, I suppose he doesn’t totally know I’m there in the room most of the time, but I also don’t think of my behavior as weird or stalkerish either, regardless of what their attorneys say.
Davis: Discourse the second…
Ben: During the late summer My Father’s House was released by Main Street Rag. It is ultimately a rumination on death. It follows a father’s path from diagnosis to death and how the son tries to make sense of how we die, what it means, and what the son thinks he knows about their relationship. As with You Can Make Him Like You, this story also intersects with the character’s work and married life, the inherent confusions that come with knowing someone is going to die, and the efforts to cope with all of this.
One interesting reaction to the book is how many of my friends and supporters have contacted me to say that they are excited about reading the book, but they can’t do so now…they are not ready to revisit their own parent’s or loved one’s deaths.
I would add that this has only happened with males. No females have expressed the same kinds of reservations. I know this means something, I’m just not sure what.
Davis: Let’s talk about psychology, and consciousness representation…
Ben: I try to write in real time, or in the moment, capturing how people talk and understand the situations they are in, capturing their efforts to say the right things and do the right things…even as they are drawn to not actually saying or doing the right things.
The characters have varying levels of self-awareness and various tools, but they’re not totally able to access them or develop them, at least when the stories begin.
There is too much fucked-upedness and turmoil in the way, and, again, I am endlessly fascinated with how to write that– describe, capture and show it right down to the phrasing so that ultimately I am in your head as much as you are in mine. Or Ryan Gosling’s head. Not that I’m saying our heads are similar. Again, he’s from Canada, so there’s that.
Davis: Discourse the third, please…
Ben: And then most recently, my latest short story collection So Different Now was released by CCLaP who is based here in Chicago, both as a stand-alone e-collection, but also combined with an earlier collection I did with CCLaP called Repetition Patterns, a limited edition, hand bound, “hyper-fiction” collection titled The New York Stories. Repetition Patterns was a series of loosely related small town stories based on growing-up in upstate New York in a town named Binghamton, a place I know you know as well (Note: Davis went to grad school there).
Repetition Patterns was very much about teenagers and their interactions with the town, their parents, and becoming parents themselves. I did a blog tour for Repetition Patterns and, in answering questions about those stories, I started getting ideas for new stories, complimentary stories, and responses to the earlier ones. These stories became So Different Now and are more focused on those “teenagers” as adults and how the sins of the father impact them, us, in our adult lives.
Recently I was talking about this collection and started seeing how there might be a third set of stories in the offing, the death, or maybe re-birth of a dying town, and how people might be intertwined in that process. This was partially influenced by reading about Ethan Hawke and how there is talk of doing a third movie in the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset series. And no, I am not comparing myself to Ethan Hawke, though, for the record, unlike Ryan Gosling, he is not Canadian, and so the differences between us are just a little harder to discern.
Ben Tanzer is the author of the books 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You, My Father’s House and So Different Now, among others. Ben also oversees day-to-day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life, the center of his vast, albeit faux, media empire.
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