Saturday, July 25, 2009

Interview with Ben Tanzer

"Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine"

From the back of the book:

"This is a story about relationships, between father and son, friends, and most importantly between two newly formed couples. Following the lives and thoughts of four people in their mid-twenties, already experienced in dating but starting to wonder if that one person is out there. Taking a look inside the thoughts and conversations on both sides of the fragile world of romance and pain, friendship and fear, and life in New York."

Gosh, how to describe this book. Fun, interesting, fascinating, sad and frustrating -- perhaps.
This is the story of four young people, but the focus seems to mainly be on Jen and Geoff. They are both leery of relationships. Jen's father left the family when she was just becoming a teen. Geoff's mother also left when he was a boy.
Needless to say, they both know whoever they become involved in will eventually break their hearts. To compensate, they set up their relationships for failure. They look for clues that the other person isn't happy and offer them an easy out.
But now, they've met each other and are beginning to wonder if things could possibly be different this time.
This really was an enjoyable read. In fact, I had it done in one day because I just couldn't put it down until I found out what was going to happen to these kids. There were times I wished I could have knocked some sense into them (that's obviously the mother in me) and other times when I would have liked to be able to warn them not to treat the other the way they were (that's obviously the wife in me).
Ben Tanzer has given us a great read and one that teaches several lessons for life, love and relationships.
That said, I give this read four books.

And now, I'd like to welcome Ben to my blog. He has kindly agreed to visit with us today and I know you'll enjoy meeting him. He has a marvelous sense of humor that I find very appealing!

Welcome, Ben, please start out by telling us a little about yourself.

First off, thanks so much for this opportunity.

That said, I regularly claim to be a founding member of Wham!, but to be honest, that’s not true and saying this out loud, in print anyway, makes me feel a lot better about myself, like I’m no longer living a lie. That said, I was Rick Astley before immigrating to the states, assuming Ben Tanzer’s identity and getting a job at a 1960s era advertising agency. Outside of that though, I am a dad, husband, compulsive runner and nonprofit communications and messaging guy. I also write, all the time, fitting it in whenever those other things, as well as sleep and hygiene, don’t require my immediate attention.

Talk a little about your book.

My idea was to try and write a story about a couple who comes together very quickly, implodes just as quickly and then explores whether it’s worthwhile or even possible to pick up the pieces. I was interested in characters who were sort of hyper-articulate and even smart, at times, but still too emotionally limited, paralyzed or damaged at that stage in their life to actually have real conversations despite how much they talk about everything but their actual feelings. I also wanted to place the book in the early 1990s and in New York, which is when I lived there, to see if the time period and the city could also to some extent become characters in the story as well.

Are the characters in your book styled after anyone in particular?

I think they loosely resemble people I know who were in the twenties and single when I was at that age, though I wasn’t actually single then, which made it sort of fun to delve into these characters who have parts of their lives I cannot relate to on personal level. I would add that the characters sort of also strike me as being similar to the geeks, and maybe some of the freaks, in the television show Freaks and Geeks, but after going to college, when I foresee them as being far less geeky or freaky, and maybe even sort of cool, but still having a lot of work to do.

Why did you become a writer?

This is always a tough question to answer because it’s hard not to sound like you’re trying too hard to get this right. That said, I will say what I have said at other times. I became a writer because I didn’t have a choice. I got a taste of it in a required creative writing class my senior year in high school and I was hooked, hooked like the first time I drank or got into a fight, read a book, went running or shot pool. It was something I thought about all of the time and wanted to do all the time. In the case of writing, though, I didn’t really get started for maybe 10 years after that initial taste. I was too scared of something, failure maybe, but since I got started, I haven’t stopped, won’t stop, can’t stop and I will do anything to make time to do write. Time is my mistress. Some day, it might not be. But either way, I will write.

How did becoming a writer change your life?

You mean besides the grass being greener, the skies bluer and the endless rounds of groupies? Writing has given me something I always want to do, always, and having something like that in your life is awesome and it’s not better than being married to someone you love necessarily, not all the time anyway, or having wonderful, okay, mostly wonderful, kids or even a job you like, but in the other spaces in your life, those brief moments when your brain is not focused on a million other things and time slows down. It’s there and it’s begging for attention and it’s killer.

Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?

This is a tricky and great question. On the one hand, I need to say, Jim Carroll who wrote “The Basketball Diaries,” among other books, because after I read it for the first time, I really felt like I had experienced how writing can transport people somewhere other than where they are and I wanted to be able to do that. I would also say Don DeGrazia, who is the author of “American Skin” because after seeing him read “American Skin” and then reading the book, I really believed for the first time that writing a novel was possible. And then there is Lynda Barry, mainly because I have a big crush on her, but also because I once heard her say she doesn’t plan what she writes, she just writes whatever she’s feeling that day, which I love, and because someday, I want to write a book like “Cruddy,” which I also love. A lot.

I also need to mention the influence of the Ramones and punk music in general, keep it short and slamming, no fat; Bruce Springsteen, tell stories that are sparse and evocative; David Cronenberg, because of the way he described creating a “History of Violence,” particularly the violence itself, fast, intimate and up close, which is how I like to think people interact in relationships; and finally, the Beastie Boys, try to be smart, try to be interesting and don’t forget the humor.

What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

There are two pieces of advice that have been really helpful for me and they are not so different really, but they came at the right times in my career. The first piece of advice is if you think something is interesting, other people will, too. That’s been very helpful. And the second thing, don’t worry about whether something is going to be published, if you want to write it, do so, and then see how it shakes out.

What’s next for you?

First off, I am very much looking forward to the Wham! reunion at Lollapalooza this summer. Oops, there I go again. Okay, so what I am actually doing right now is shopping my new The Hold Steady-inspired novel around, “You Can Make Him Like You,” which is about a guy who is trying not to sleep with his intern, kill his neighbor or freak out about having a baby with his wife. I have a collection of humor pieces that are coming out as part of a larger collection of short story writers from Achilles Chapbook Press. And I’m working on a new group of somewhat interconnected short stories, which build on my recent short story collection “Repetition Patterns,” released by CCLaP Publishing. So, lots of good stuff, which is all really exciting, humbling and cool.

Thanks for asking and thanks again for this opportunity.

And thank you, Ben, for taking the time to visit with us. I really enjoyed it!

1 comment:

Ben Tanzer said...

I just wanted to thank you again for your interest in my work and let you know that I especially appreciate the kind words about my book.