Contributor Spotlight: Ben Tanzer

ben tanzerBen Tanzer’s piece “Never Better” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 23, out now.

What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?

I am a native New Yorker, sorry, but have lived in Chicago for the last twenty years. I had not written even one sentence before moving here, and while I want to believe I would have started writing, eventually, wherever I might have ended-up, the fact is I started writing here, and I have only lived here as a writer, and so whatever influences exist, or do not, I don’t know anything but what it means to be living in the Midwest and trying to write one word followed by another.

What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?

There is a sense of giving here, and support, and while one can probably overstate the whole concept of “Midwest nice,” especially when one is from New York, still sorry, the environment and the willingness to share one’s knowledge, time and connections is my experience of living here, which makes a big difference when you want to create and you don’t know where to start.

How do your experiences or memories of specific places — such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head — play a role in your writing?

I have lived in big cities for nearly thirty years now, Chicago, before that New York City and before that San Francisco, and yet I am constantly drawn back to the small town I grew-up in, the bars, the dating, high school, the friends I had then, the childhood injuries, the parties, the drive-ins, the drinking and the sex. Those experiences were indelible for me and they remain a foundation for all the relationships and interactions that have followed, both on paper and otherwise.

Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.

I work full-time, I am married and I have children – none of which should sound like bragging, it’s all quite terrible actually – and I didn’t really get started writing until all those things were in motion, or nearly so, and so early on I decided that I would not allow myself to be precious about writing. No consistent setting, no proper music, time of day or perfect cup of coffee. And I have tried to remain that way, workmanlike, and focused on crafting and building, and so there are no true ideals for me, and no waiting for inspirations. Themes do hit me of course, and when they do, I nurture them, and there are the Ramones and David Cronenberg and Jim Carroll and Jay-Z and Lynda Barry, all who have influenced me in terms of beats and rhythms. But mainly I just try to sit down every day, think about what’s next, what comes after that and then staying focused on where I’m going.

How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?

When I read it and I no longer find myself stuck, or stumbling, when each sentence, and passage or chapter, flows, the language is streamlined and tight, and it feels like the words are the right ones, the fat has been stripped, and it’s my voice, slamming and quick, and as punk as I can be as an aging, 9-5, married, dad, graying, worker dude.

Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?

I love many writers, and many books, but I always come back to Jim Carroll, and by extension The Basketball Diaries, a book I consumed on repeat from 10 to 18, and recently re-read and wrote about in my new essay collection, Be Cool a memoir (sort of). The writing is electric, and real time, and pulsing throughout. Well to be clear, that’s the case in The Basketball Diaries anyway. I hope that’s also the case with Be Cool, but you will have to be judge of that. That aside, as a reader of The Basketball Diaries, I loved the feel of being in something so alive, even if that wasn’t clear to me then, and as a writer, I want to recreate that feeling, if not for the reader, ideally, then at least for me.

What’s next for you?

Well, Be Cool is happening right now, and so there are readings and hustling, and my essay “Never Better” in the new Midwestern Gothic is from Be Cool, and what evolved into the 1990’s section of the collection, and so I’m pushing on that, and everyone, everywhere, is welcome to not only buy copies, but read it and rate it, and invite me to visit their book clubs, or conferences, whatever, I’m in. After that, I’m hoping to see my novel, Foundlings, the follow-up to my science fiction novel, Orphans, come out, somewhere, and somehow.

Where can we find more information about you?

You can definitely visit my website, as well as my Twitter feed @bentanzer, and if you’re remotely interested in my faux media empire, you can check-out This Blog Will Change Your Life at, where you will find me endlessly riffing on the cool things I love, as well as the various permutations of the blog, including This Zine Will Change Your Life and This Podcast Will Change Your Life, with handbooks, T-shirts and my denim line, God-willing, coming soon.

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