Beautiful Sentence #16 – #20 (or Beautiful Paragraph) ~ Ben Tanzer

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“We were in the back of the station wagon, and I know you are supposed to keep your eyes closed, because that’s what Joe told me, and possibly a character played by Molly Ringwald, but I didn’t, and I rarely did. I liked to watch, and as we shifted into some kind of compromising position, the night was so very dark, the moon a million miles away, and, because we didn’t go to the actual drive-in, but instead parked behind it, it was so quiet, and there were no distractions, it was just us, only us, and I looked out the window and there it was, a ship of some kind, off above the car, hovering for a moment, glowing and cylindrical. I locked into it, and I looked for any signs that would make it anything but a UFO–numbers, logos, wings or a tail, a cockpit–but there wasn’t anything. It was a UFO, which I watched until it moved away, and then I lingered there for a moment, awaiting its return, something, anything, but there was nothing. It was ephemeral, and now it was just me and Natalie again, alone, the two of us, and nothing else.”

Ben Tanzer, “Believe,” Be Cool

The Writer’s Handful with Ben Tanzer

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Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

This week marks the launch of Chicago writer Ben Tanzer’s 1,000th book. Okay, not really 1,000th, but this guy is giving Joyce Carol Oates a run for the money in words written and books published. Tanzer fans have waited patiently for Orphans, and now the wait is over. Ben Tanzer and a handful (see what I did there, Ben?) of his writer pals (me included) will celebrate the release of this new Tanzer title this coming Wednesday, November 6, 2013, 7 PM at Chicago’s Beauty Bar. But before that exciting event, you get this.

Welcome Ben!   

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I did not. For a handful of reasons. See what I did there? Sorry. Mainly though I have been on a stretch starting some time in 2012 through this past summer, where I’ve felt incredibly manic, mostly in positive ways, but everything has seemed like an idea for a story or essay, a new book. Every conversation, every interaction with my kids, wife, at work. Every article I’ve been reading. Every fucking thought I’ve been having. And it started to scare me, so I decided that when I finished the things I was working on, I was going to take a break and try to chill out, which I have, and though I’m still thinking about writing all-day, every day, it’s been surprisingly pleasant. Was that too much information?Orphans

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I never really wrote until I started writing at 30, though I thought about it for years before that. But I did write a story for a required creative writing class my senior year in high school inspired by the song Downbound Train by Bruce Springsteen. Guy loses his job, and his girl, and in my story he kills himself, puts a shotgun in his mouth, but he doesn’t die, it just relieves all of the pressure he’s under. Which seems somewhat telling given the answer to my previous question. Not to mention, that if a student turned in that kind of story today they would be referred for therapy. But I was kind of celebrated for it, which felt good, though it didn’t feel better than the act of writing it, which felt really good, and that feeling lingered for years, and still does now that I actually write, and don’t just think about it.

What are you reading right now?

So many cool things, mostly some wonderful ARCs for books at Curbside Splendor where I oversee Publicity and Content Strategy, including The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillman, If I Would Leave by Lauren Becker, and Once I Was Cool Megan Stielstra, but also, the already released elsewhere and quite terrific Transubtantiate by Richard Thomas and Understories by Tim Horvath. A lot of goodness really.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

Moisturize. That or hydrate. Really though it’s a tie, and it’s writerly. One, don’t edit first drafts until you’re done with the first draft, and two, don’t linger on rejections, send the work right back out to someone else who will love it like you do.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

I Googled the words “animal sparse quick punchy,” thinking that might help me determine said animal, and I came up with the novel We the Animals by Justin Torres, which apparently takes place in upstate New York where I grew up. So color me intrigued as far as that goes. Not that this answers your question. I am not really into animals, but thinking quick and punchy, if not sparse, how about a hyena, they seem to make quick work of things, and they’re sort of rough, yet still funny and seem to enjoy themselves. Plus, they play a key supporting role in The Lion King, which I name-drop in Orphans, so now I’m marketing, and cross-pollinating, and there we go. Thank you.

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Ben Tanzer’s official bio says this: Ben Tanzer is a prolific novelist and an Emmy Award-winning public service announcement writer. He lives in Chicago where he lives with his family. Visit him at bentanzer.blogspot.com

And, in case you are wondering: In Ben Tanzer’s futurist science fiction novel Orphans (niupress.niu.edu/niupress/scripts/Book/bookResults.asp?ID=692) the metropolis of Chicago has morphed into a place called Baidu, a burned-out shell of its former self. Homeless people have been banned from the central city and have set up makeshift camps along the lakefront. Drone helicopters constantly patrol city streets from above, and hapless people who congregate run the risk of being summarily executed. The recession has devastated the landscape and all menial jobs have been taken over by life-like robots. The lucky few who can find work are scanned, profiled, and even cloned by “the corporation,” a secretive and ominous organization reminiscent of Orwell’s Big Brother.

It is a story about the impact of work on family. How work warps our best intentions. And how everything we think we know about ourselves looks different during a recession. It is also a story about drugs, surfing, punk music, lost youth, parenting, sex, pop culture as vernacular, and a conscious intersection of Death of a Salesmanor Glengarry Glen Ross with the Martian Chronicles and the Silver Surfer. Ultimately, Orphans is a literary survey of the 21st century male psyche, yet it does so with a newfound twist and contemporary themes. This is a world where the recession is all we know, work is only available to a select group, and this group not only need fear being replaced on the job, but in their homes and beds.

→Thanks so much, Ben, for the chat. See you Wednesday! And thanks everyone–as always–for reading. -PMc←

The Deathstar-like Gravitational Pull ~ A View From the Keyboard of Ben Tanzer

Sometime in the last year, a message came into my Facebook inbox that read something like: “We should probably meet for real, don’t you think?” Now this wasn’t one of those weird and steamy on-line flirtations that ultimately leads to a disappointed face-to-face, but instead a reaching out by a totally swell guy and fine writer by the name of Ben Tanzer. See, Ben and I travel in the same circles here in Chicago, and sometimes in the cyber world, too. I’ve even seen him give a reading at the wonderful Reading Under the Influence series here in the city. But we had never actually met.

So we made a date. And you know what? You ever meet that person who is so genuinely funny, kind, and interested in things and people in the world other than himself that you can’t help but feel comfortable and lucky to be in his company? Well Ben Tanzer is that guy. Really. You should know him. In fact, you can know him, more or less, by following him around cyberspace this month as he undertakes THE NEW YORK STORIES TOUR 2012. I am thrilled that he has chosen View From the Keyboard as one of his stops.

Oh, and by the way, check out this beautiful handmade book The New York Storieswritten by Ben, illustrated by Laura Szumowski, and published by the The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography.

So now, without further ado and blabber, I bring you Ben Tanzer and his View From the Keyboard.

VIEW: Why this space?

TANZER: So to begin, this is my dining room table, and this is where I do most of my writing when I’m home, which is most of the time. I tend to write early in the morning, or late at night, and at those times, this is the only space that is unoccupied. I also write when my family are out of the house, and when those rare moments exist, I apparently drift there from force of habit, though possibly there is some Deathstar-like gravitation pull at play that I’m not fully aware exists.

VIEW: What little thing here inspires you?

TANZER: The spot itself is not necessarily inspirational in and of itself, but the opportunity to write always is. I would add though, that I have always enjoyed the floor to ceiling windows in our apartment, the view and hustle and bustle of our neighborhood, the way the light comes in, the table itself, the flowers that will be there if anywhere, the books I tend to leave around, and the painting by my father on the wall of my brother and me when we were the age of my children. The space is suffused with things I enjoy, and things that are comforting, which is cool, and centering I suppose, if not actually inspirational.

VIEW: What can’t we see in the photo?

TANZER: What you cannot see is how close the living room couch is to the table. Or that the kitchen is right behind it. That you are only a short hall away from the rest of our apartment, and that since I am not writing as I took these photos, my kids are probably steps away. As is my wife. There isn’t much space to the space, but there is enough for now. I would add that another reason this space works for me, is because from the start of my efforts to write I always assumed I would be bogged-down with work and family and so decided I couldn’t be precious about where I would write or when. If I could find time to write, I had to, every time. That said, the idea of a separate space to write and get away to is an ongoing fantasy of mine, though also fraught with some measure of dissonance. To have a separate space would imply that I might have more time, and some control over that time, and that kind of freedom is almost impossible to imagine. Almost.

VIEW: How much time do you spend there?

TANZER: I actually spend an inordinate amount of time here. But that’s because I also work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we eat our meals here and do homework. Pay bills and make phone calls. It’s where I deal with email and blogging, and read the newspaper and books. For everyone in the house it is the center for most activities, but for me especially, and now that I am writing this I am beginning to wonder whether I in fact spend time anywhere else. I will get back to you on that.

VIEW: What time of day do you write?

TANZER: As I have somewhat alluded to, whenever I can, but that is with caveats I suppose. When I write is not remotely based on what feels like a productive time of day for me, but when I know I can in advance, and then my really trying to stick to that time. I have never tried to determine whether there is a good part of day. I don’t think there is, but I also haven’t wanted to test it, because I don’t feel like I have the flexibility to be precious about it. That said, someday there may be time, and I may decide then to be very precious, the right time, the right place, the right music, and drinks, and when that time comes I plan to be a real monster, and unbelievably uncool to anyone who messes with my process or the writing space in my head.

“IN A SINGLE BOUND” (Excerpt from THE NEW YORK STORIES)

“So,” she says, smiling. “Do you think this guy is stalking you or what?”

They are going out to lunch together. She is the intern. She is young and vibrant, if a little weird and awkward, with her interest in graphic novels, Spider-Man, and him, all things he is interested in as well.

He normally makes it a point to avoid the younger employees, especially the female ones. He wants to get to work, get what needs to be done, done, and then get home to his wife, and his real life. Because that’s the thing; like Spider-Man he lives in two worlds, and his real life has little to do with work or who he is at work. Spider-Man is both a superhero and an everyman struggling to pay his bills and deal with a boss who doesn’t appreciate his job performance. And that’s him as well, just in reverse. He is a superhero at work, but the rest of the time he is just a regular guy trying to deal with people’s expectations of him, his wife included.

It’s not that his wife doesn’t appreciate him. It’s just that his wife doesn’t appreciate him like the intern does. The intern has no expectations at all, and frankly it’s refreshing. The risk in this kind of relationship, though, is in the inherent power differential between the intern and him, a mix of age and status and gender; and superhero or not, he doesn’t always know how to manage that. The boundaries aren’t always clear.

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→Thanks, Ben, for stopping by on your whirlwind tour. Good luck with THE NEW YORK STORIES (and the rest of your books, too!) We will keep an eye on you and your doings over at your site: This Blog Will Change Your Life. -PMc←