Jun 22, 2007

"ASK ME, UH-HO-HO, ASK ME"


Hey, groovy kids. Time for another Guthmantics installation. Do I love you guys to death, or what? Guess who I brought this time? Why, it's none other than author of Lucky Man, Ben Tanzer, who will be reading next week at the fabulous Fixx Reading Series, hosted by yours truly, that I just know you are going to attend because you've been seeing all of those very cool flyers all around town, right? Good.

After working for many years on stage and screen Ben Tanzer now lives in Chicago where he tends to his vineyards, shoots pool, dabbles in social work, anxiously awaits the release of High School Musical 2, and spends all sorts of quality time with his lovely wife and young sons. His work has appeared in a variety of magazines and journals including Punk Planet, Opium, THE2NDHAND, Monkey Bicycle, Wonka Vision, The Truth Magazine, and 20dissidents. His debut novel Lucky Man, which has been described by Time Out Chicago as "honest and often hilarious" and Williamette Week as "seems like a Rubik's Cube on acid" (love that!), was released by Manx Media this spring. You can and should check out his blog, too, This Blog Will Change Your Life.

Guthieroo: Tell us what you write, what you have written and how you do it?

Tanzer: Lots of fiction and creative nonfiction - particularly parenting pieces the last few years, which not so coincidentally coincides with my becoming a parent; some quasi-journalistic stuff - interviews for example; a number of humor pieces more recently which I'm really enjoying; brilliant yet still non-optioned screenplays with my buddy Harley Grant; and novels. Wow, when you read this sentence as a whole it sounds terribly grandiose. That said, I hope to become more grossly grandiose as this interview continues, so I hope that works for everyone.

My fiction tends to fall into two areas - stories exploring different themes, people, or events growing up in upstate New York or any number of the irrational fears I have as an adult and parent - the loss of a child, adultery, accidental death, abuse of power, and on and on. While these stories tend to fall into two different settings, they all tend to grapple with one primary theme. I am very interested in what people struggle with and against and how they cope with these struggles. The fictional, and even some of the nonfiction, characters I write about, including myself, tend to focus on ways of coping that are fairly internal and not necessarily all that healthy.

The humor pieces are the most exaggerated and tend to focus on individuals who cope with difficult or confusing situations through rampant narcissism and delusions of grandeur, but even the journalistic pieces which tend to focus on artists and activists - the filmmakers Jibangus and Usama Alshaibi, the graphic novelist and publisher Steve Lafler, the activists Christin Hinojosa or the Saint Patrick's Four - are about people struggling against something. This might be war, the opportunity to create, rejection, or feeling like an outsider. This kind of struggle and how they cope with it isn't necessarily negative, and doesn't even have to involve great personal suffering, but I still find that all these pieces fall along a similar continuum that I find really fascinating.

Most recently I've been hyping and trying to support my debut novel, Lucky Man, which was released by Manx Media this past March. My publisher Steve Lafler, who I mentioned above, and I have been hustling to get the book out there and its been a lot of fun.

I'm also at work on my new novel Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, and while Lucky Man is focused on four friends and how their personalities merge together and fall apart over the course of several years, the new one is focused on a couple that comes together quickly, implodes nearly as quickly and then tries to come back together again.

Tackling these different kinds of pieces has allowed me to meet any number of cool editors and connect with any number of great magazines that have been really supportive and so I'd like to take a moment and give them a shout. In doing so, I also hope people will pay them a visit and consider supporting them. In terms of fiction, there is The Truth Magazine, 20dissidents , and THE2NDHAND; my humor pipeces have landed with Opium and Monkey Bicycle; the latter of which I am particularly excited about; and with the journalistic pieces I had the chance to work with Clamor and Third Coast Press (and in both cases with the awesome Keidra Chaney), off and on with Punk Planet (Ohh, damn) for several years, and have recently become a staff writer with Wonka Vision which I am also very excited about.

Regarding how I write, I mainly have one simple rule - I have to write for a minimum of 30 minutes a day every day regardless of what I'm working on. I once read somewhere that 30 minutes should be the minimum, and being very rule-driven, this worked for me. I have relaxed this rule a bit on weekends since my second son was born last year, but not much. I also like to do the first draft of everything I do on a legal pad free hand. Beyond that I try not to be too precious or rigid about my writing and don't really feel like I can be. I have a full-time job and two kids and I write where and when I can - 5:30 in the morning before the kids are up or midnight after they are asleep, at my desk during lunch when I can, airplanes and airports, hotel rooms, coffee shops, whenever and wherever I'm free. I do tend to plot out the week in advance in terms when and where I think I will be able to write and loosely try to schedule it in my head. When it works it's quite thrilling and when it doesn't I scramble, but its still kind of thrilling, because I'm writing. I would add though, that if I ever have the chance to become precious about my writing I absolutely will. It will be the best of everything for me at that point, no expenses spared, no space too perfect.

Finally, I write a blog and while I'm not sure if this is writing or if anyone reads it, its also a lot of fun. It is first and foremost a blatant celebration of myself and Lucky Man, reeking of narcissism and unabashed self-love, and second an attempt at celebrating independent media and artists I hope will get more attention.

LaGuth: What grand things are next for you? What would you, we're talking dream gigs and adventures here, love to be next for you?

Tanzer: World peace is important to me for sure. But so is bringing sexy back, it's a big job and I want to support JT in anyway I can. I am looking forward to the Wham! reunion at Lollapalooza this summer because we haven't played together in many years and I really believe we are past the bitterness and petty disagreements that led to our split. I am still hoping that Diane Lane will return one of my calls, but this of course seems like a real long shot.



Beyond that, I am really enjoying the various opportunities that have been emerging for me recently and the creativity that comes with needing to hustle and try and sell a book very few people care about. The book readings, the interviews, obsessively cyber stalking myself and tracking my Amazon ranking, creating a video for YouTube, and writing my blog are things I hoped I would have a reason to do one day do and they're happening, it's really cool.

That said, I hope bigger and different opportunities continue to emerge as well, being invited to join you for the Fixx reading series for example was a nice surprise, (Flattery will you get everywhere with me) and I will be participating in Mortified this month which I couldn't be more thrilled about. These readings have made me realize that I would really like to perform, because I really enjoy being on stage, and maybe I will try and write a monologue. Who knows, anything seems possible right now, and I don't remember ever quite feeling this before. I would also like to learn more about filmmaking, especially the making of documentaries and object animation. I would also love the opportunity to try and adapt Lucky Man for the screen. And working on a graphic novel is probably my ultimate fantasy. I am hopeful that Lucky Man will draw enough interest from someone that I can get Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine out the door with a little less scrambling, though if it calls for tha, I'm game. I am going to write regardless, and I am going to figure out how to get the work out there. (Do you guys love that fucking delicious optimism from him??)

Ultimately though, I want to create more and have more time to do so. If I stay healthy I think this is inevitable, so if I have to wait until the kids are out of the house and I'm not needing to work so much, that's cool, that's what I'll do.

Guthaloo: What Morrissey or Smiths song sums it all up for you right now and why?

Tanzer: I was a little conflicted about this, but decided to go with "And is it really so strange? Oh, is it really so strange? Oh, is it really so, really so strange?" I sort of envisioned everything that's been happening lately related to writing could happen, and that if I plugged away it would. But still, it's kind of hard to believe it is happening and its very strange. Hoping for things doesn't make them so, and even if I have gone after them, I couldn't be more surprised or appreciative.

Guth again: Awesome, Ben. Thanks a million for coming by. Well, kids, you know the drill. Get your butt out the door to The Fixx Reading Series on Thursday 6/28 and score a copy of Lucky Man (among others), or order it right from the publisher to support independent media. After you gobble it up, head over to Shelfari, LibraryThing and GoodReads and claim and rate, claim and rate, claim and rate.

Want to be a featured author/writer type for Guthmantics? Well, just send an email to me at amy@guthagogo.com and I'll tell you everything you need to know.

3 comments:

Eric Spitznagel said...

Can't wait to read the new novel, Ben. Anything named after a Dylan song has to be good. If I ever finish my next book, I'm either going to name it "Boots of Spanish Leather" or "Froggie Went a Courtin'". Just 'cause.

I've just been reminded that "Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" is also up for grabs. Hmmm. So many choices.

Ben said...

No pressure there. And have you considered "Mountain Dew," I'm thinking of the sponsorship and product placement possibilities. Meanwhile, looking forward to meeting you on Thursday, safe travels.

JIBANGUS said...

Hey-hey!

Ben is great! He was very nice and genuinely interested in our farty movies when he interviewed us for Punk Planet!

Congratulations, Ben! Good luck with the book!

XOXO- PAUL from JIBANGUS