Spitballing on MY FATHER’S HOUSE by Ben Tanzer

I’m beginning to think Ben Tanzer is writing a fictional biography of himself through his novels. If you read them chronologically: Lucky Man, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I Go Mine, You Can Make Him Like You (which I had the good fortune to publish), and most recently the novella, My Father’s House, you will find a loose timeline of one man’s life (ignoring, of course, that along the way the characters names change, and some of the dates don’t arrive chronologically). And this isn’t necessarily important in reading Tanzer’s work, it’s just one of the many things that came to mind while reading My Father’s House, and realizing that more than just about any other writer I’ve ever read that Tanzer has a way of being so intimate with his fiction that you feel like you know the people, that you are talking with them face to face, that their pain is your pain.

I consider myself lucky to have had a small role in the glorious publication history Tanzer continues to compile. More than that I consider myself lucky to be able to call him a friend. To say that My Father’s House effected me emotionally would be an injustice. My Father’s House wounded me as if I were the main character who is losing his father. It spoke to me as if it were my own inner dialogue of dealing with my issues regarding my inherent, perhaps bred, need to be tough. Not for other people but for myself. That to let down those guards I have built up could create a spiraling to an unquantifiable extent.

And sure, there are differences from Tanzer’s other work. My Father’s House is even more personal, more intimate. Tanzer uses more dialogue to express the inner monologues of his protagonist, and while there were moments where the unforgiving editor in me thought the dialogue might be too much monologuing in the moment for a character I was never unaffected by what the character was saying. Which maybe makes me more compartmentalizing than Tanzer’s anti-hero. And how do I feel about that?

The bottom line is this: Tanzer is going somewhere with his novels. And I don’t mean that in a “gee, that kid is really going somewhere” way, though that is likely very true as well. But Tanzer is taking a journey in his novels. Whether consciously or not. With My Father’s House he has reached the point in this fictional biography where he decides that he must follow his ache to be a writer. Four novels in, one can only wonder what kind of masterpiece that means Tanzer has waiting in the wings of his pen.



Chicago Publisher ‘CCLaP’ Holds Quadruple Book Release Party

This looks to be fun!

The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, or CCLaP, is proud to announce their latest local live event, a large-scale party to celebrate the release of their first four paper books this summer. An electronic publisher since 2007, CCLaP has been quietly releasing new special-edition, handmade “Hypermodern” paper editions of its four titles throughout the summer; and on August 10th the group will be gathering at the popular Beauty Bar in the Bucktown neighborhood for drinks, free food, and a half-hour reading from all four featured authors, as well as a few surprise guests. Beauty Bar is located at 1444 West Chicago Avenue, and the free event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m., the reading itself from 8:00 to 8:30. All four books will be for sale individually for $20 apiece; or for one night only, attendees can purchase all four in a bundle for only $50.

Books and performers being featured that night include the novella Too Young to Fall Asleep by Sally Weigel, about a Radiohead-listening “emo” high-school student who volunteers for the Iraq War (originally published in 2009); 99 Problems by Ben Tanzer, essays about the mental intersection between running and writing (originally published in 2010); Life After Sleep by Mark R. Brand, a day-after-tomorrow tale concerning a device that allows people to only need two hours of sleep a night (originally published this past winter); and Salt Creek Anthology by Jason Fisk, a collection of linked “micro-stories” regarding four trashy couples in the far Chicago suburbs (published this summer). CCLaP’s “Hypermodern” series is an attempt to create special collector-worthy editions of all the center’s electronic books, reasonably priced yet expertly made; they feature handmade hardbound covers, including a color photo of the ebook’s original cover adhered to the front, external Coptic stitching, whimsical decorative endpapers, a special signature/provenance page for collectors, and a full Colophon in the back listing all materials used. CCLaP itself has been open online since 2007, and with a handful of local live events held in varying venues across the city each year; the center also produces a semi-weekly podcast, sells general giftstore-style merchandise, and publishes over 150 book reviews a year at its popular website. Among other accolades, it’s been featured twice at respected arts guide BoingBoing.net, and its blog is followed by almost ten thousand unique monthly visitors.

For questions or more information, please contact executive director Jason Pettus at cclapcenter@gmail.com, or visit the CCLaP event page.

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The Big Other Interview #253: Mark Brand

Mark Brand is a Chicagoland polymath: editor, writer, videopodcaster, former medical assistant. We met not long before I was a guest on the Breakfast with the Author podcast (ep. 3), with fellow Chicago writer Lawrence Santoro. Other guests: Ben Tanzer and Jason Fisk (ep. 1), Kathleen Rooney and Gina Frangello (ep. 2), and Russell Lutz, Len Nicholas, and Paul Hughes (ep. 4). His new novel(la), Life After Sleep, provided the occasion for his submission to the complex mental challenges you have come to know as The Big Other interview.

Life After Sleep summary:

It is the day after tomorrow, and a device has been invented that immediately induces REM sleep, otherwise known as “Sleep” with a capital S. Society has been transformed. The average person now only needs two hours of rest a night. The work day is officially sixteen hours long. Americans party at clubs until daybreak, then log into virtual worlds and party in a reunified Korea all morning, too. And within this busier, noisier, more global society, we watch the intertwining fates of four people as they struggle with issues regarding Sleep: new parents who for postnatal reasons aren’t allowed to use their special Beds; an Iraq vet and PTSD victim who is haunted by the non-ending nightmares that Sleep produces; a harried, arrogant doctor whose Bed has stopped working, driving him to the brink of madness; and a band promoter with an illegal Bed that lets her Sleep for hours on end, then stay up for four straight days and nights.

Chicago science-fiction veteran and former medical assistant Mark R. Brand presents here a stunning and nuanced look at the world that might just await us around the corner–a place where GPS, Facebook and cellphones mesh perfectly to tell us where even in a nightclub to stand, yet traditional enough for couples to still have fights over groceries, and for office politics to still have enormous repercussions; and since it’s being released by the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, it means you pay only what you want for an electronic copy, even if you want to pay nothing, making this mini-novel (available in EPUB, PDF and MOBI/Kindle editions) easily worth taking a chance on. Rich in its prose and deep in its metaphor, you do not have to be a fan of sci-fi, Michael Crichton or Malcolm Gladwell to love “Life After Sleep”…although it certainly wouldn’t hurt either.


Davis Schneiderman: Describe where the idea for Sleep emerged from, if you can…

Mark Brand: I first started piecing together Life After Sleep in 2007, shortly after the birth of my son.  I was working 50+ hours a week in a medical office and was sleeping only 3-4 hours per night.  As all new fathers do, I eventually came to accept that this is typical life with a new baby at home, but at the time it felt to me like I was the lone astronaut on a rocket to Planet Insanity.  I had also always wanted to write something that pulled in some of my knowledge of medicine and the hospital/clinical environment, but I hadn’t really come across an idea I liked enough to make that happen.

By chance, I stumbled across an article in Discover magazine called “How to sleep 4 hours per night.”  The article made mention vaguely of TMS technology and the potential side effect it has of putting people straight into REM sleep.  My first thought was THAT’s what I want for Father’s Day, and my second thought was this would make an awesome short story.  So I sat down over the course of a few weeks and wrote a short story that eventually became the “Dr. Frost” section of Life After Sleep.  His section initially was a standalone short that I really liked and got some good reactions to from readers, but I just felt like I hadn’t done enough with the premise, and that there was so much more to say there about sleep and work, and it seemed to grow more and more relevant and alive in my head with each passing year.  So I floated the idea to Jason Pettus, my editor at CCLaP Publishing and he liked the idea and told me to run with it.  I went back and added Max and Lila and eventually Jeremy to make it more one large work.

Aside from just pure plot cleverness and a giant pile of subtext and not-quite-pointed statements about what I think people would do with a technology that allows someone to have 6 or 8 more hours in a day, (and not a few medical inside-jokes), I wanted to capture some of that experience of just being absolutely flat-out exhausted for an extended period of time.  Things start to get wonky, you start waking up not knowing what day of the week it is and you realize you’re at work and you have no memory of having breakfast or driving there, that sort of thing.  And in the middle of it, especially if you’ve got a new baby at home and you’re so mentally tied to two different and equally demanding facets of your life, you start to feel really bitter and fatalistic about it sometimes.  I tried to grab onto that emotion and show the characters just full-on in the path of that oncoming wrecking ball.

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Down With Tanzer: An Interview

Ben Tanzer is the author of the novels, Lucky Man and Most Likely You Go Your Way, the story collection Repetition Patterns, a MLP mini chap, I Am Richard Simmons, and many more chunks of goodness. His next novel, You Can Make Him Like You will be published by Artistically Declined Press. But before people cry nepotism this interview is actually about his new essay collection, 99 Problems (CCLAP), which explores the connections between his writing and his uber healthy hobby of running. There’s probably no nicer person than Tanzer, certainly one of the kindest, most supportive writers I’ve met out there in the ether and his enthusiasm is always contagious, because, you know, he’s CHANGING YOUR LIFE.

RWB: First, I have to know the origins of the title. Clearly it’s a Jay-Z reference, but how did you come to 99 Problems as the title of this project?

BT: Whenever I’m writing some song inevitably seems to have the right vibe for what I’m trying, hoping to capture. So this song has some obvious elements to it that work here, as both running and writing are rife with problems for me. Running is always a struggle on some level, physically, mentally, emotionally, time-wise, whatever, but I still have to run, there’s no choice, and apparently when there is no choice, there are problems. Of course, trying to get a story untangled has its own types of problems. But like running, I’m in it, and like running, it’s not a choice, so that’s a problem. Finally though, and maybe mostly even, the song is tight, sparse, minimalist, profane, funny and slamming, and I always want to write like that, but especially here, stripped down to muscle and pain, but still laughing, still creating, still punching and still having fun.

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