The first song I truly loved was "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash. Which sounds terribly hipster, and possibly Brooklyn, but my grandparents had a kick-ass K-tel Greatest Country Hits cassette that kicked around their car back in the 1970's - "Harper Valley PTA", "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," "Saginaw, Michigan" and "Folsom Prison Blues" - and we would listen to it on the way to duck pin bowling and any other time they would let us. That was followed by "Just What I Needed" by The CARS and "L.A. Woman" by the DOORS. Now, I'm all over the place, though I tend to favor rap, punk and alt-country, so probably "99 Problems" or "Sabotage," also hipster, sorry, "Bullet in the Head" by Rage Against the Machine, and nearly anything by the Ramones or off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
2. Link us to a favorite online story/a story you read and couldn’t stop thinking about.
This is killing me, because it could easily be "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" by Raymond Carver or "Donovan's Closet" by Elizabeth Crane, but l cannot locate any links for these stories. Both had a huge impact on me when I was trying to conceptualize what would become The New York Stories - the sense of time and place, the clean language and weirdness - and without them, as well as the stories that surround them, there might not be The New York Stories, and by extension there might not be a SEX AND DEATH - sort of dramatic I know - which means we might not even be having this conversation at all, which is definitely dramatic, and sort of sad, I'd say.
3. Tell us about your new book SEX AND DEATH. It's fiction/non-fiction? Both? You do both really well! Do you find one or the other easier to write?
Thank you for the kind words, though I first read this without my glasses on and thought you were suggesting that I was good at sex and death, which would have been really kind of you. That said, I think of SEX AND DEATH as a sort of dreamier, less dialogue-driven companion piece to The New York Stories. Someone recently described it as akin to a concept album and I would love to think that's possible. I also think of it as fiction. There are nuggets or slices of the nonfiction throughout, a woman who wants to sit down with her husband's mistress because they are the two people who loved him most while he was alive is from a snippet of a conversation I had with someone who expressed a similar feeling, or the father who walks in on his son masturbating, that's a story a friend told me, but in both cases those stories go places that are fictional - there was no more detail beyond the moments that were shared with me, I got stuck on them and I couldn't let go. As far as one form or the other being easier, it's really about mood, or whatever part of my brain thinks in terms of fiction or nonfiction when I'm asked to write about one or the other, or decide I want to spend some time in those places. I find them equally easy, and equally confounding, but when I want to work on one or the other, I see everything I might write within those parameters and I write what I see.
4. What is (one of) your favorite word(s)? Tell us why.
It seems boring to say fuck, though I do love the word, also dearth, big fan of that, morass, fraught, riven and rife, but apparently even as I try to fight the contrarian impulses that run rampant in my family, I'm going to have to go with moist. People find the word moist terribly off-putting, and for that reason alone apparently I quite love it. It also reminds me of brownies, and sex - I want to stay on message here - and those are pretty wonderful things, so I'm not really understanding the problem with the word personally.
5. I read your sci-fi book ORPHANS recently and it's the only sci-fi book I've ever read. (BUT I also emailed you and told you I was a Star Wars fangirl, which I guess is kind of a mix between sci-fi and fantasy. So I guess I love science-fantasy and SPACE OPERAS.) You're a self-proclaimed fanboy. Tell me about your favorite fanboy/nerdy things: books, movies, comics, whatever! You did, thank you, and you are, awesome, and I can definitely be very fanboy. For many years I was very self-conscious about it, but I've dropped that, which is quite nice, for me anyway, which also means my list can be very long. I think the important thing to think about when talking fanboy- or fangirl-ness, is to recognize that the fan part means that one tends to be really excited about the things that are exciting to them, and that they can't, and won't, fight expressing this excitement, and one challenge I have is that I tend to be excited about everything. So, for example, there are books, for sure, The Basketball Diaries, The Martian Chronicles, Cruddy, The Outsiders, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but not just reading them - touching them, hanging out in bookstores, running my finger along the spines, and then not just books, but also writers themselves, seeing them read, meeting them, getting them to sign books, stealing their mojo. I could spend a page on just lit stuff. But then also Star Wars, always and forever, but not in the way that I need to know everything about it. I'm not that kind of fanboy, and I never was, I don't care who shot first, but the idea of having Star Wars in my brain makes me happy. It speaks to me in terms of nostalgia and memory and possibility, all things I love, but so does Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, Alien and Mad Max. They move me, and excite me, by that definition, there is the X-Men too, but also the Ramones and the Beastie Boys, John Carter, Warlord of Mars, shooting stick, Raymond Pettibon, the video game Double Dragon, Keith Haring, basketball shoes, surfing, or the idea of it anyway, Jean-Michel Basquiat, shooting darts, gummy fried eggs, P.T. Anderson, pinball, drinking in the afternoon, The Warriors, Patrick Ewing, David Cronenberg and on and on. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. How do you even answer this?
6. Superman is my favorite superhero. Who's yours?
Unquestionably Silver Surfer. Not that Superman isn't great, but there's no real competition for me in this category. Not even Wolverine.
7. Look @ how adorable we are in our Chicago darkish nighttime one-year-apart selfies. Everyone on the Internet knows I adore you because a) You're Ben and I've always had an easy unabashed affinity for Bens. One of my best childhood friends growing up was a Ben and I love Ben Convington from Felicity. Also, a character in one of my favorite stories I've written is a Ben too. b) I love your writing because it's unpretentious and fast-paced and so breathlessly flush with pop culture. What are your favorite pop culture-y things of the moment? Music? TV shows?
Can I just let this question wash over me for a moment. Feels good. And then in no particular order - Serial, Making a Murderer, Kristaps Porzingas, Straight Outta Compton, Fury Road, Wendy C. Ortiz, Kendrick Lamar, The Flash, Mystery Show, Jessica Jones, tacos, Casual, Jason Isbell, Moscow Mules, Eileen Myles, Catastrophe, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, George Takei, Courtney Barnett, Transparent, food trucks, Elizabeth Crane, the Black Panther. I will stop now.
8. Tell us about your favorite article of clothing. Tell us why.
T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. T-shirt. Basketball shoes. So hard to choose. Of course, you can't wear either properly without baggy jeans, so let's go with baggy jeans. And why can't you wear either basketball shoes or T-shirts without them? Because the right pair of baggy jeans is confidence, but still casual, and with that combination anything is possible.
9. You run the blog and podcast that will change our lives and end up talking to a LOT of people. You're an affable dude. I'm sure people tell you this all the time. Do you like being talked to or does it wear you out? If you had something important/hard to tell someone would you feel more comfortable writing it or saying it?
I'm quite down with people talking at me and I always have been. I have a lot to say, but if you need to talk, we're cool, my chance will come, Plus, I'm so interested in what people have to say, what they do and how they got there, I'm fascinated by all of it. Further, I can't be changing lives if I can't listen. I just doesn't work like that. And then there is the whole fanboy thing. All of that said, I am certainly more comfortable writing the hard, anything really, but ultimately one has to say it, some things, most things. need to be heard to be real and deconstructed.
10. ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION. Abt anything! Writing or not! (only if you want to!) <---- OR you can talk abt any forthcoming projects, the ORPHANS trilogy if you wanna talk abt it. Whatever/however much you feel comfy discussing! :)
Wow, anything, even self-promotional and plug-like? Thank you. How's this: I heard you just rolled-out a new website - tanzerben.com - and that you have something else coming out soon, something connected, maybe bigger, certainly complimentary, and now possibly bordering on over-hyped, yes? Yes, totally, coming soon, thank you, and not only sure to change lives, but in a small, but significant way, maybe include the Leesa Cross-Smith.
ABOUT BEN: Ben Tanzer is the author of the books Orphans, which won the 24th Annual Midwest Book Award in Fantasy/SciFi/Horror/