Ben Tanzer: The TNB Self-InterviewBy TNB Nonfiction
September 27, 2016
Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here, and I appreciate the chance to talk with you about my new essay collection Be Cool—a memoir (sort of) from Dock Street press.
Well, great, congratulations, truly, should we get right into the questions?
Yes, of course, soft ball questions, right, I hope.
Yeah, sure, anyway, so, navel-gazing…?
You know, the activity of thinking too much or too deeply about yourself, your experiences, your feelings, etc. That’s from Merriam-Webster.
Is that a question?
No, not exactly, that was more of a reaction to your question, which was in response to my initial query. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask the questions here.
You know, I had a therapist say that to me once.
Yeah, how did that turn out?
Not so good. But to your non-question, question, am I concerned about there being too much navel-gazing in Be Cool, no, I don’t think so, that never even crossed my mind. Really, it seems like writing personal essays would almost automatically engender that.
Does that mean, that from your perspective, writing an essay collection, memoir (sort of) does not involve thinking too much or too deeply about oneself?
Oh no, it does, but writing, ideally, is still something else entirely to me. You are attempting to craft a narrative that taps into universal themes, which just might offer the reader insight into themselves, if not actual entertainment and escape. And these are good things, and certainly the reasons why I read what I read.
So, do you consider yourself an entertainer?
At times, yes. Am I consciously engaged in the act of amusing or entertaining, also Merriam-Webster, absolutely. I want the reader to be engaged, and moved, and in my head. Does that also mean there is pain and confusion? Yes, of course there is.
Okay, that works for me. Are there any inspirations or influences on your work?
I certainly remain in a constant state of buzzy inspiration from Jim Carroll and The Basketball Diaries, and my desire to create things that feel as alive, and electric, as that work, but David Sedaris too, for sure, Chuck Klosterman, Sam Irby, who I feel indebted to, Megan Stielstra and Wendy C. Ortiz, both of whom I idolize, just, quite a bit, and sort of love. They’ve all written things like I want to write them, and if you somehow intersperse their vibrancy with the propulsion of the Ramones, the sparse beats of Jay-Z and the intimacy and violence of David Cronenberg, you can hopefully get a sense of what I’m somehow trying to create.
I think so.
Good, now, what can we expect when we read Be Cool, or if you prefer, why is this a memoir (sort of)? And yes, I know I shouldn’t be asking two questions at once.
Well, I wrote this like I write things. I collected ideas, in this case, personal anything, until I felt like I had enough to gorge on and start writing. And then I gorged. What I found however that I didn’t expect—besides certain themes such as my sort of ongoing love affair with Los Angeles—was how neatly the pieces broke down by age, or decade, and so when I decided to organize them that way, it inadvertently took on the form of a memoir. Unplanned, but embraced. Now in terms of what you can expect, besides reveries on Los Angeles, running, alcohol, Ira Glass, The Basketball Diaries, drugs, girls, and sometimes boys, violence, trauma, punk music, HIV/AIDS, Boys’ Life and suicidal ideation, is my rumination on the relationship between losing my virginity and UFOs.
Cool, and that may be the perfect place to stop.
Works for me, and thank you, much appreciated.
BEN TANZER is the author of the books Orphans, which won the 24th Annual Midwest Book Award in Fantasy/SciFi/Horror/Paranorma
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