Sunday, March 20, 2011

Interview--BEN TANZER

Author Ben Tanzer’s writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Chicago Parent, THE2NDHAND, Dogzplot, Opium and Wonka Vision. Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine follows his first book, Lucky Man. He resides in Chicago, Illinois with his family.

Thanks for being here Ben. It’s a pleasure.

#1- Tell us a little about yourself outside of your writing career…

Sure, thanks for having me. I am a dad, husband and Senior Director of Communications at the national office of a nonprofit. I edit the literary zine This Zine Will Change Your Life, which on good days is intended to be a life-changing confluence of literature, street art and indie music. I also oversee the faux media empire TBWCYL, Inc. and I am one of the founding members of Wham!, though this is rarely acknowledged by the rest of the band, much less by Wikipedia which continually rejects my edits to the Wham! entry on the site.

#2- When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer and where do you feel you get your inspiration from?

At some point as a teenager I knew. I took a creative writing course senior year in high school and I knew immediately. It was similar to when I learned how to read. Or, my first fight, the first time I went running, moved to New York City, shot pool or fell in love. Even the first time I drank too much or got high. There is so much pleasure and escape and excitement with all of these things that I knew I wanted more of it and really chased after it. The difference with writing though, is that I didn’t really get started for many years. I just couldn’t believe that people really wrote or that I had the capacity to do so. And then I was pushing 30 and felt like I just had to get started and there was this incident that freaked me out and that first story just came in a rush of emotion and anxiety. After that I was off and writing like mad. And I am still writing like mad. Sometimes it even works, which when it does, is nice, very nice.

#3- As you know, I reviewed your titles for Bookpleasures and loved them, but how do you handle the negative reviews and critiques you receive?

First off thank you for your support with both books, I really appreciate it. For me, every negative review or critique is killer, though some of them, whether it’s because of the timing or the source of the review, are worse than others. Some of that is less about me taking it personally though, than the bad review feeling like a lost opportunity. My books are fairly off the radar and so if someone wants to take the time to read them and actually review them, and then doesn’t like them, the review carries a lot more weight for me. That said, I try and learn from the comments, move on and get back to work. I always get right back to work. I can really obsess about things and so much of the energy that I might use to obsess over why someone doesn’t like a book of mine I try to channel into whatever I am writing at the moment. I have also been fortunate so far in that both books have been fairly well received, though your timing is excellent because Most Likely received a terrible review the other day, I mean, just a trashing, and initially it was soul-crushing. Still, there is stuff I can use from the review going forward, there always is, and frankly, the review was so negative, I couldn’t help but smile when I re-read it.

#4- As an author with a small press publisher and on several social media sites, how do you feel the sites have helped you and would you recommend them for other aspiring authors?

Overall, these kinds of sites have been great for me, though I would say that is primarily because I have been able to meet and connect with so many writers, like yourself, who I may not have met or whose books I may not have known about otherwise. That was definitely a goal of mine in general and so it’s been great. I don’t know that it has impacted book sales significantly, though it has also let me re-connect with a variety of old friends from high school and college and many seem to find the fact that I am writing entertaining and have since joined my slowly expanding rabidly quasi-fan base on some level. I would add here, that an important part of all of this for me, the writing, the editing, the social marketing, is my desire to have fun and entertain myself in whatever I’m doing and so I do get a lot of enjoyment from blogging and making YouTube videos, even Twittering, which I find fun in a highly compulsive way. I know this reflects poorly on me, but I do love being compulsive in ways that are borderline constructive and creative, and these activities allow for that. I also think that given the various things I have been into over the years it could be much worse.

#5- Assuming you get any time to read, what authors do you like to read, and were there any books that stand out from your childhood as favorites?

First off, please be prepared for some massive name-dropping.

And second, I was a reader long before I was writer and like everything else I do a very compulsive one at that. As soon as I could read, it was one of the only things I wanted to do, and early on I sucked down all of the Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton books, The Chocolate War, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, and that ilk, John Carter Warlord of Mars, the whole Flowers in The Attic series which is the bomb, before moving on to Stephen King, especially Carrie, repeatedly, The Martian Chronicles, The Catcher in The Rye, anything by Kurt Vonnegut and then The Basketball Diaries, still one of my all-time favorite books. Later there was The Bluest Eye and Bastard out of Carolina, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Bonfire of the Vanities, The Foundation Trilogy, Meditation From a Movable Chair, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth, Fun Home and Cruddy. And I really love Cruddy.

More recently, I have been lucky to read and meet some wonderful writers. Joe Meno and Elizabeth Crane here in Chicago are fantastic, just really talented. And Don DeGrazia who wrote American Skin, the book that really inspired me to try and write Lucky Man. Spencer Dew is a favorite, as are Pete Anderson, Nick Ostdick, Amy Guth, Robert Duffer, Jill Summers, Kyle Beachy and Tim Hall. They can all really write and their all local. It’s crazy.

Outside of town, some other people I have been reading are Ken Wohlrob in Brooklyn, Jamie Iredell in Atlanta, William Walsh in Providence, Corey Mesler in Memphis, J.A. Tyler in Colorado, Ginneta Corelli in Nevada, Jason Jordan from Kentucky, Shannon Burke in Nashville, Michael Fitzgerald in Montana, who wrote the amazing Radiant Days, Joseph Goosey down in Florida, Kelly Moran in Milwaukee, who is quite awesome, and then Barry Graham in Ohio, Joshua Mohr in San Francisco, Scott McClanahan in West Virginia and John Domini in Iowa, all writers I have met more recently in some fashion, have started to read and just love what they’re doing or trying to do anyway. I mentioned where there all from, because it’s very cool to me just how many good writers there are and just how many places they are writing in. It’s a really good time for writing I think, for readers any way, especially if you just ignore the whole book industry is dying thing.

#6- Are there any upcoming releases we would like to know about, and could you give us your web site so readers can check it out?

I am currently talking to Achilles Chapbook Press about a collection comprised of the humor pieces I have worked on over the last several years that will be part of a larger collection focused on five short story writers. I am really geeked about it, but I don’t want to jinx it, so I will leave it at that. I am also currently writing some new short stories inspired by this recent blog tour I was on and editing my new novel tentatively titled You Can Make Him Like You which I look forward to getting out before some publishers soon.

#7- This about concludes it. Thank you again for joining us. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I really want to thank you again for your time today and your support, you rock, big time. I definitely want to give a shout-out to Steve Lafler at Manx Media and Jason Behrends at Orange Alert for publishing my first two novels, they took a chance and I really appreciate it. I would add here, that I am contractually obligated to let you know that Orange Alert has also just released a killer new book called Sunlight at Midnight, Darkness at Noon which all of your readers should totally buy after they purchase multiple copies of Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine. I need to thank Jason Pettus at CCLaP as well, who is a real champion of mine, and who more recently released a short story collection of mine titled Repetition Patterns which I am really excited about. I also want to thank Diane Lane and Connie Britton, they don’t have anything to do with this interview, but I am thankful for their presence in my life, even if only on an imaginary level. Patrick Ewing deserves a shout-out for sure, especially if he’s reading this. And maybe, definitely, The Hold Steady, because listening to their music has been the inspiration for the new novel You Can Make Him Like You and I want them to know much I appreciate that.

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