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Friday, June 15, 2012

#40 Ben Tanzer

Twenty Questions with Mourning Goats
Ben Tanzer
Talk about an awesome guy! At this point, I'm not even sure how I heard about Ben, but as soon as I finished My Father's House, I knew that I found someone with some power. The book crushed me and I'm lucky enough to still have my father. It's coincidence that this weekend is Father's Day and we have someone that wrote such a powerful and poignant book about losing one. Read the interview and go get the books, it'll give you a better understanding of your own relationship. 
 1. What comes to mind when you hear, "Mourning Goats?"
World peace of course. Diane Lane,because everything makes me think of her. And the latest fair-trade coffee from Intelligentsia. Well that, and farm death. Not the death of the farm mind you,which is sad, but watching farm animals drop off one by one from some mysterious alien virus. Sans the goats of course, they are immune, which is nice, but sad for them as well, because survivor guilt blows, hence the mourning.

2. My Father's House was ridiculously hard-hitting, how much of it was from your life?
The arc of the story, from the father's diagnosis to his death follows my experience of my own father's death,but the muck hanging from that arc, not so much my life at all, moments, and threads of moments, experiences twisted and molded into something else, but mostly my wondering about what coping and confusion done in a less than healthy fashion might look like.

3. What did you want to be when you grew up? Was it always a writer?
Nothing. It's embarrassing. When I was little I briefly wanted to be the letter C. And possibly an Olympic soccer player. But I never had any real aspirations to be anything and this lasted until after college. Now, with a little less fear and confusion back then, I might have told you I wanted to be a filmmaker, but that's about it, and that never seemed real or possible so I can't even say that definitively.

4. What's your process like? Are you an every day writer?
I try to write every day. I try to slot when I will write, days, even weeks, in advance and try to stick to that plan. I try not to be precious. There doesn't have to be a perfect spot or moment, if the slot arises I hit it. Thirty minutes minimum. No word count. No goals. No self-imposed deadlines, just be sure to do it, or try.

5. You're currently doing a little online book tour, how's it going so far?
This is stop number one and I think its going spectacularly, don't you? Of course I like being around attractive people, and you Goats have that attractive thing down in spades so thank you for that.

6. What do you think of the e-book revolution? Are you an e-reader?
As a writer I think it's fine,selling books is good, indie publisher's making money is killer, and wider audiences are great. But as a reader, no, never. I want to touch the cover and stroke the spine, feel the pages scrape along on my fingertips. And I'm not giving that up, I loved to read, and I loved books as early as I loved anything besides Star Wars and Johnny Cash, and I am holding on to that.

7. You recently read at the KGB Bar in NYC, how did it go? What's it like reading at such a huge literary place?
I think it went really well. At a place like that I get especially focused and geared-up. It feels like a playoff game, or a big date, and it calls for a performance, not just a reading, which is something I am conscious of gunning for everywhere anyway,but especially there. I also want to have fun, always, and again especially there, it is a mecca of sorts, and that needs to be reveled-in.

8. I saw that your book Lucky Man was recently reissued, how does that happen?
How does that happen indeed? In this case, and maybe it’s always this way, some new publisher who digs you wants to recognize something from your past and help try to make more people dig you.And this is what happened with Lucky Man. Artistically Declined, the publisher behind You Can Make Him Like You wanted to do a new imprint that would celebrate authors who are somewhere mid-career and highlight them in some way. When they noticed Lucky Man's fifth anniversary was upon us, they asked if they could kick-off the imprint with the Lucky Man, I said, of yes, please, and here we are.

9. What's the deal with TBWCYL, Inc.?
What isn't the deal brother? No, so,TBWCYL, Inc. is my fake media empire and it is modeled on the Monorail episode of The Simpsons. It was created as a means for developing a series of platforms that would further allow me to hype my otherwise mostly obscure books as products that just might change your life, and hype authors and indie and pop culture anything that I love, which is both fun, and in turn further draws attention to my products. It is also not so fake anymore with the Zine and Podcast series, and who knows, when my denim and perfume lines finally come together, it may not be fake at all, but an actual lifestyle site.  

10. Who are you reading now that's knocking you on your ass?
There are a lot of these folks for sure, and I will leave some out, but most recently Paula Bomer, Baby has actually made me hate some other more nebulous, and possibly not real, writers for even getting in my brain and trying to compete with her. Scott McClanahan, maybe not so original anymore, but the brother has a real gift. Tom Williams,total craftsmen. Mary Miller, less recently, but, wow, yes. David Tomaloff, kicking poetry ass. Mark Brand Science Fiction love, his most recent Damnation of Memory is the goods. And Barry Graham, overlord of all things tacos and prostitutes.

11. Do you have an agent? If so, do you think they're necessary?
I do not. And I do I think it's necessary to some extent. To quote yet again the writer Michael FitzGerald, agents bring heft to the table, and heft means more attention, selling foreign rights, all of that, and that is good. Or so I hear.

12. Who's your first reader?
You mean after Tim Tebow? Might be my mom or wife or younger brother, though book to book I may ask differently writerly types to read something because I think they will have something to say about a particular book. Pete Anderson for example who's a local writer I'm friends with and who I work with on the Zine. I have asked him before and he's very good. And handsome. Which is a bonus. I also have a friend named Adam Lawrence who I've known since elementary school that also works on the Zine with us and he gets every nearly final DRAFT because I consider his reading them to be a source of good luck.

13. You've worked with quite a few publishers, how have they all been? Is there a favorite?
What's next, should I tell you who my favorite member of the X-Men is, well, its Wolverine, or the Knicks maybe,Patrick Ewing of course, because I won't, normally, but overall all of the publishers been great to work with for different reasons. All have different strengths and interests. Jason Pettus and CCLaP with his e-genius, Ryan Bradley and Artistically Declined with his mad Chip Kiddian skills, Jason Behrends and Orange Alert, with his insane indie network cred. So all good, really, though ultimately my favorite is clear of course, whoever publishes me next and gets my book optioned and introduces me to Diane Lane, that's my favorite.

14. What do you do when you're not writing? Do you have another job?
My friend Jason Fisk will tell you that you're never not writing, because you're always thinking about it. I'm not sure I agree, but I do have a job, 9-5, all that, I am the Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the national office of a nonprofit. Sexy right? I parent and husband. Poorly. I run. Slowly. I watch Game of Thrones.Intensely. I read. A lot, and everything I can. I play Wii tennis and golf. Pretty well to be honest. I work on the Zine. Lovingly. And I hug people often.And fiercely.

15. What do you think about MFA's? Are they necessary, needed, a waste?
Do you mean Medical Financial Advisory Services or Mathematics Formative Assessment Systems? Both are great for writers. There is also a Master of Fine Arts I guess, and to be honest I don't know much about them, I have an MSW. ButI do know two things, one, the young writers I know and who I knew both prior to attending an MFA program and after, are all better writers, no doubt, more refined, and mature, and two, going to an MFA program, provides you with a network, people who will publish you, support your work, invite you to readings, and on an on, and this can't be minimized, building networks is doable, being handed one to nurture, awesome.

16. You started writing pretty late,how did that happen?
Senior year in high school I took a required creative writing class. I mostly blew it off, but the two pieces I was especially inspired by, got a lot of attention, and I always wondered if there was something there, but mostly ignored the feeling. The summer after college I started thinking about writing a lot, but didn't get started for another ten years. I thought about it all the time though. Jotted down lists of story ideas and even had one story basically written in my head for years about a guy leaving his wife. Right before my thirtieth birthday I started worrying about how outside of work and marriage what did I have, nothing really, and nothing that excite me, and the idea of writing became more obsessional. One night a friend called us to say she was thinking of leaving her husband. Bags packed. All of it. I got so worked-up I wrote the story I had been carrying around in my head, in one sitting, just an outpouring, and when I was done, I had a story, an actual story, and I never looked back.

17. Can you tell us about the new piece? May The Force Be With You?
I can and will. Several years ago I wrote a piece titled "I Am Richard Simmons" that ended-up with ml press. It was a flash monologue, written as a humor piece, with the humor mostly stripped away. It was my attempt to get into the head of Richard Simmons. Later I thought it would be fun to write a series of pieces in that vein, monologues about semi-obscure, once famous, pop culture figures who we perceive as tortured, but really know very little about.I sat on this for awhile, and then recently I thought about my idea for that series, and started brainstorming characters who I thought might fit this mode. Darth Vader hit me as a good choice for bringing some humor to this project,but also as a character who might be tortured in ways we haven't thought about, as a parent, as someone aging, and as someone no one cares about anymore because the world has moved on.  

18. Do you think that social media is now a needed piece of a writer's life?
I think Diane Lane is. This writer anyway. It depends what your goals are though and what you find entertaining. I find social media entertaining, but I also consider it a necessity, because there are a lot of indie writers out there, and a lot of books, and you have to rise above the clutter. I don't skill alone will can get you there, and why chance that anyway.

19. If any of your kids said they wanted to be writers, what would you say?
I'd say go forth and prosper. Frankly, what's most important is that they move out. That and finding things they enjoy and can obsess about in mostly healthy ways. I have many of those things. Writing especially. And if writing, the act of it anyway, brings them the kind of pleasure it brings me, then, yes, go,write, now.  And move out.

20. What's next for Ben Tanzer?
Pursuing world peace. And Diane Lane. I also just might have a new novel coming out next spring, and one side may have signed a contract, and that may be all I should say for now, well that, and thanks for this Goat, you're beautiful.
Thank you!

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