An Interview with Ben Loory (January, 2012)

Ben Loory

Ben Loory is a short story writer who has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Quick Fiction, Keyhole Quarterly and The Antioch Review. His story “The TV” (featured in his debut collection) was published in The New Yorker. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is his first short story collection.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Ben Loory: I don’t know that I ever really wanted to be a writer; I always wanted to be a rock star or a film director. But the first didn’t work out, and the second was hard to get into, so I ended up going to film school and studying screenwriting because I thought that might be the best way in. Somewhere along the line, I became obsessed with story structure — with what stories were and how they worked and all that — and I started writing short stories just to figure it out. I became a writer almost by accident. (On the other hand, I’ve read like a maniac my entire life, so I suppose in a sense it was inevitable.)

Alex: Who are some of your influences?

Ben: Oh, there are a ton: Aesop, Kafka, Philip K. Dick, Hemingway, Borges, Brautigan, Wodehouse, Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Samuel Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Gogol, Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Donald Barthelme… I could go on and on. There’s a lot of Roald Dahl and The Twilight Zone and The Far Side and Warner Brother cartoons and Hitchcock and David Lynch and Howard Hawks and MAD Magazine… and I definitely took a lot from the poetry of Stephen Crane and the essays and short stories of Henry James. Everything I’ve ever encountered comes out at one point or another, I think. Though sometimes it’s hard for me to see.

Alex: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

Ben: The first thing I remember writing was a story about a duck and a man with a balloon. I think I was about five. This is funny because it’s pretty much the same kind of thing I’m writing now. (Although now I guess the balloon would have sharp teeth or be singing or sailing ships or something.)

Alex: How about the first thing you published?

Ben: I had two stories published in an issue of Knock Magazine (#11, I think)– “Toward the Earth” (about a woman falling out of an airplane) and “The Greatest Thief in the World” (about the greatest thief in the world). But the issue was guest-edited by my friend the novelist Jonathan Evison, so I’m not exactly sure if that counts. The first story I ever had published by someone who didn’t know me was called “Fernando” (about a guy whose name was not Fernando) and it was published online by Scott Garson at Wigleaf.com in the summer of 2009.

Alex: What made you decide to stick with short stories?

Ben: I wouldn’t really say that I ever made that decision. The only decision I ever made was to never plan anything and just write what presents itself when I sit down to write. So far, it’s pretty much just been short stories. But if something longer started coming, I’d write that. I’m agreeable.

Alex: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day features a large number of quite short stories. Do these story ideas just come to you and you write the story, or is it something you have to work at?

Ben: I pride myself actually on never having ideas. It’s sort of my modus operandi. I sit down to write with a blank screen and nothing planned, and just wait for the first line or image to come. Whatever that line or image is that pops up, that’s the first line, and I follow the story through from there to the end. What I’ve learned from years of writing stories is that stories are everywhere, they’re in everything, they’re a dime a dozen, a million… Writing is not a matter of coming up with a story, it’s a matter of following a situation– ANY situation– through to its inevitable resolution. It’s more a matter of perseverance than inspiration. Adherence to the logical unfolding of the premise.

Alex: Have you, or do you have plans to writer longer prose, possibly a novel?

Ben: I try not to make plans; they just confuse my brain. But life is a big place, so we’ll see.

Alex: What are you working on now?

Ben: Writing more stories, lots of stories, all kinds of stories, all the time. I’m also working on a screenplay and learning to make gazpacho and trying to decide what to do with my life.

Alex: What do you hope readers get out of reading Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day?

Ben: I have a theory that the point of storytelling is to actually strip away the stories we all tell ourselves, the promises and excuses and rationalizations that get in the way of us seeing ourselves and our lives as they truly are. Ideally I think a story collection — like any other work of art — peels back the outer skin we’ve built up and allows us to feel and think and breathe and live again with renewed spirit. So, yeah… that goes for my book as well. Sounds pretty high-falutin’ but there it is.

Alex: What are you reading right now?

Ben: I’ve been reading a lot of books by Jeffrey Ford lately, who I recently discovered at the Readercon conference back in July. I really love his collection The Drowned Life; there’s a story in it called “Present from the Past” that I think is pretty much perfect. I’ve also been getting into Cesar Aira; he’s an Argentinean writer who apparently writes every book straight through from the beginning without ever revising. Which seems like a recipe for disaster, but his book An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter was absolutely mind-blowing. Like W.G. Sebald mixed with Joao Guimaraes Rosa and envisioned as a spaghetti western.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ben: Eat food, walk around, listen to the Melvins. I’d like to take up gardening but I don’t know where to start.

Alex: Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?

Ben: I’d say don’t worry about getting published, worry about writing as well as you can. If your work gets to the point where you completely stand by it, word by word, line by line, then it will probably find a home. There are more places to get published now than ever before. Secondly, I’d say make friends with other writers. Actual friends, not Facebook-y kinda friends. Friends who you know and like and trust. There’s nothing like having the advice and support of people whose opinion you value. And it will push you to work all that much harder.

Alex: Do you have a set writing schedule you keep to each day?

Ben: Not really, no… I’ve never been one for schedules. I try to write a story a day, but I don’t have a strict start time or a word count I aim for or anything like that. Mostly I write at night, but that tends to be very isolating, so then I switch around and try to write during the day… it never lasts. Basically, I swing wildly from pole to pole, getting up super early for a couple days and then staying up all night for three or four weeks. It’s not much of a lifestyle but I don’t know how to change. (A recurrent theme in my life.)

Alex: What do you use to write on?

Ben: I write on a laptop. I can’t read my own handwriting. I’m a complete and total slave to my computer.

15. What are your thoughts on ebooks and the future of the printed word?

Ben: Really, I try not to think about that stuff. I have a kneejerk dislike of ebooks, maybe just because they’re called “ebooks,” but of course that’s where the future lies. (Though the future also once lay in 8-track cassettes…) My concern is really with the work itself. How it’s delivered is beside the point.

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