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Author/Reader Discussions > The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide - Author/Reader Discussion

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message 1: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10060 comments Mod
Next month, we'll be discussing The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide with author Schuler Benson.

His publisher, Alternating Current has given us a total of 15 copies to give away (a mix of print and digital).

Print is for US residents only. The Digital (PDF, mobi and epub)is open to everyone!


In order to be considered, you must comment here or on the blog for a shot at winning one and secure a spot in the discussion that kicks off on March 16th:


http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.c...


This giveaway will run through February 8th.


Winners will be announced here and via email (if you provide one) on February 9th.


Here's how to enter:

1 - Leave a comment here or in the giveaway thread over at TNBBC's blog (linked above), stating why you'd like to receive a copy of the book, what format you prefer, and where you reside remember, REMEMBER only US residents can win a paper copy!.

ONLY COMMENT ONCE. MULTIPLE COMMENTS DO NOT GAIN YOU ADDITIONAL CHANCES TO WIN.

2 - State that you agree to participate in the group read book discussion that will run from March 16th through the 22nd. Schuler has agreed to participate in the discussion and will be available to answer any questions you may have for him.

*If you are chosen as a winner, by accepting the copy you are agreeing to read the book and join the group discussion right here in this thread next month.

3 - If your goodreads profile is blocked (set on private), please leave me another way to contact you.


message 2: by silvia (new)

silvia  | 282 comments I havent comment on the group for a while, but I love to lurk and see what you are reading. This book sounds great, its already on my wishlist. :)

Would love to win a copy and join you all for the reading and the discussion.

I'm Portugal and a mobi copy would be perfect.


message 3: by Alex (last edited Feb 03, 2015 10:21AM) (new)

Alex Gates | 2 comments Written by a friend of mine, I am so stoked his book is getting all this great exposure. I am excited to read it. Print would be best

alex@kangaroocases.com


message 4: by Xian Xian (last edited Feb 09, 2015 06:38AM) (new)

Xian Xian (xianxian) Hey, I would like to receive a copy because I've been really getting into short story collections and I've seen and read about the book on, of course, your blog. I prefer an e-book, but don't mind a physical book if anything happens. I will join the discussion because why not? I reside in Jackson, New Jersey.


message 5: by Neal (new)

Neal (_n_e_a_l) | 2 comments having read some of the reviews of this book here in Goodreads, it sounds exciting and I'd be delighted to have a a shot at reading this! And, of course, sharing my views about it.

Print not an option as I'm in UK, so PDF preferred.


message 6: by Kelly (new)

Kelly | 28 comments I would love to read this book (prefer hard copy) and agree to participate in the group discussion.


message 7: by Marshall (new)

Marshall | 1 comments I have seen all the hype, I registered for an account here, and I am currently stranded in nowhere Texas with rarely any Internet and a desperate need for a good book. I am all in for a physical copy & up for the discussion as well.


message 8: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10060 comments Mod
Hey everyone! Thanks so much for the interest in this month's selection! Sadly, some of you did not list whether you reside in or out of the US, so print copies might not be supplied. Check your goodreads inbox soon.. confirmation email going out!!


message 9: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10060 comments Mod
Ila wrote: "I live in Maine, USA and I love short stories. I think that many writers tend to overlook them and I'm always happy to see a new book of them which I can read and recommend to my friends. I used t..."

Ila, I cannot contact you through goodreads. It says you are not accepting messages. Please get in touch with me if you cant to claim your giveaway copy.


message 10: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10060 comments Mod
I know! I am a little early with my welcome post but I am super excited to have Schuler Benson in the house and was thrilled to have the opportunity to share his story collection with you.

So thank you to everyone who won a copy and for joining in on the conversation!

It's never too early to lay down a question for Schuler....


I'll get us started....

Hey Schuler! Thanks so much for stopping by the group and hanging with us this week. I can't wait to see what questions we throw at you. Here's my question to kick it all off:


Of all the stories in this collection, which one surprised you most as you wrote it? Which one was the easiest to write, and which was the most difficult?


message 11: by silvia (new)

silvia  | 282 comments I've finished the book last night. Still working on my goodreads review, but I can boy did I enjoy it!My congratulations to Schuler for such assembly of great and disturbing tales.

I've never been a big fan of short-stories. But then I've realised some of the best writting by a lot of my favourite authors are short-stories. So I've been working on correcting this reading flaw of mine.

So my question is what are your favourite short-stories authors and influences?


message 12: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Lori. Thanks so much for the invitation. I'm excited to have the opportunity to chat about the book, and I'm looking forward to a fun week.

The story that surprised me most was "Ace Damage." It's a weird story, and part of it ending up where it did had a lot to do with me trying to relax and not force it into being something that, after a couple drafts, it just clearly didn't want to be. Kinda goofy thing to say, but where it started and where it ended are so wildly different.

I'd say the most difficult was the title story. The fictional elements of it and the autobiographical elements of it collided in a way that made me not too sure about finishing it. In retrospect, though, I'd say it's also probably the most cathartic.

And then the easiest was "Hindershot." I love that story, but it's some pretty Mayberry material. I wrote it with a very small, very specific audience in mind, and I didn't really have any intention of anyone outside that projected audience reading it. I was, and still am, surprised by people's positive reactions to it. The version of it that ended up in the collection is nearly identical to its first draft, and the process of beginning it and then feeling like it was finished lasted only a couple days.


message 13: by Schuler (last edited Mar 16, 2015 04:33AM) (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Silvia. Thanks so much!

I've been a fan of short stories since I was young. Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty were, and are, extremely influential for me as far as what the form can do. I'm also a big Lovecraft fan. As a kid, I loved scary story collections--the kind you'd find at book fairs. There's something about horror that fits very naturally with the short story format, I think.

Lately I've gotten into Borges's Labyrinths, and am re-reading some of Ellen Gilchrist's stuff. Some of the more recent short collections I've enjoyed are Taylor Brown's In The Season of Blood and Gold and David James Poissant's The Heaven of Animals.


message 14: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Catalano | 2 comments Hey Schuler,

(First: I don't know if I'm doing this right.)

So you said above that the story "Poor Man's Guide" was difficult due to its autobiographical elements. I'm no genius, but seeing with a shovel over your shoulder in your author photo tells me... you were a gravedigger at one point? Is that right?? Can you talk some about that, and how your experiences informed that story.

Thanks!


Schuler wrote: "Hey, Silvia. Thanks so much!

I've been a fan of short stories since I was young. Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty were, and are, extremely influential for me as far as what the form can do. I'm ..."


Schuler wrote: "Hey, Lori. Thanks so much for the invitation. I'm excited to have the opportunity to chat about the book, and I'm looking forward to a fun week.

The story that surprised me most was "Ace Damage." ..."



message 15: by Schuler (last edited Mar 16, 2015 07:01AM) (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Kevin. First, man, thanks so much for all the support so far. Getting to chat with you and enjoy your work over the last year or so has been awesome. Thanks for stopping by.

Several years ago, I worked for a company that owned a number of cemeteries. I wasn't a digger; I worked there in another capacity. It was a horrible job and it put a lot of miles on me in the brief time I was there. Most of the events in the story are purely fictional, and the ones that aren't have had such extreme liberties taken to dramatize them that they'd be unrecognizable, even to people who were there for them. Hell of a way to make a paycheck, man. And a paycheck was all I required at the time, which had a lot to do with my realization that this particular line of work wasn't for me.

Also the story's autobiographical content, as far as what's most cathartic for me, has less to do with the setting and more do to with the relationships.


message 16: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Lau | 3 comments Hi Schuler, I really enjoyed reading Poor Man's Guide. My favorite story was "Ace Damage," so I was wondering how that one germinated. You talked a little about it becoming something you didn't expect it to become -- what were your initial "plans" for it?

Also, what are you working on now? I'd love to read a novel by you!


message 17: by Xian Xian (new)

Xian Xian (xianxian) Hey, Schuler! What I really liked about the short story collection was the artwork and I was wondering, what was your favorite art piece in the book?


message 18: by Ryan (new)

Ryan (ryanwbradley) | 71 comments Schuler,

Was a pleasure to read this book. One thing that provides a thread throughout is the pall of religion, which is, of course, common in a lot of southern lit (you mentioned O'Connor for one), so I was wondering what your relationship to that portion of the material was?


message 19: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hi, Carmen. Many, many thanks for the kind words. "Ace" is one of my favorites, too. The story came together under a handful of circumstances that turned out to be pretty productive. I was a student at the University of Arkansas at the time, and two classes I took during the weeks when the story really started to take shape were The Bible As Literature, and a Shakespeare lecture course. This started out as a golem story, although that thread left fairly early on. While I was working on it, a friend who created some of the artwork for the book asked me what it was about (which is always a fun question to try and answer ;)), and I think I said something along the lines of "awful people getting what they deserve." That, too, ended up changing a bit. Some of the better human moments in this story definitely surprised me, but it was lovely to find a little redemption in all that mud and darkness... even if it comes with a price. Margot Heidenreich figures largely in some other stuff that'll hopefully surface later, and "Ace" ended up being a great look at where she comes from.

I'd love to write a novel! I have a handful of things in the works, and it's entirely likely that it'll come together as either a novel or three or four substantially longer, interweaving stories. Margot is there, as is a character you can meet any day now in a new story called "Down Through There." I'm honored that it's in the latest issue of The Pinch, a fantastic literary journal run by the University of Memphis MFA program. I believe the issue (issue 35.1) is available to order now. I'll be in Memphis this Friday at the issue launch party, and I'll be reading from "Down Through There" 'til they kick me off the stage. Again, thank you so much for the support and for the interest. I hope I get the chance to write more stuff, and I hope you get the opportunity to see it!

Carmen wrote: "Hi Schuler, I really enjoyed reading Poor Man's Guide. My favorite story was "Ace Damage," so I was wondering how that one germinated. You talked a little about it becoming something you didn't exp..."


message 20: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Lixian. Thanks so much for joining in. I'm so glad you liked the art. This is a GREAT time to talk about it... it's ALL my favorite (kind of a cop-out, so I'll talk more on that in a second). But the best part is who did it and how it came together. The publisher was suuuuper cool with me throwing in some ideas about having an artist I knew do the jacket, as well as some pieces for the stories and section dividers. Like it says in the book, the jacket and story pieces were completed by my friend, Ryan Murray. He lives in Houston, and his art is incredible. You can check him out on Instagram at thehashillustrator. The section pieces were done by my old fried, Patrick Traylor. He and I grew up together in South Arkansas, but he's been based out of the Phoenix area since 2001 or so. Check out what he's up to at Trayart Media & Production Services on Facebook. Show these guys some love, man. They worked HARD on this book, and I honestly don't think it'd be the same experience at all without their contributions.

Okay, so having said all that... I gotta say my favorite piece is "Marlon." It's the piece that ended up on the back cover. I think it's chalk on black paper (maybe I can get Ryan to chime in here and talk more about it, if you're curious), and it so perfectly captures everything about "Grace." It's just beautiful, and it's so damn sad. This was actually the choice for the cover art, but we all came together and decided that maybe something a bit less "busy" would work better for the cover. Clearly we made the right call (and by "we" I mean Alternating Current head honcho Leah Angstman, with input from Murray, haha), as the cover of this book has gotten more praise than any of the words in it. Thanks so much for asking about the art, and for taking the time to chat.

Lixian wrote: "Hey, Schuler! What I really liked about the short story collection was the artwork and I was wondering, what was your favorite art piece in the book?"


message 21: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Fogarty | 2 comments Hey Schuler,

Really really enjoyed the book. Haunting in a lot of ways and so so so beautiful. One thing that strikes me as particularly awesome is the structure of the book and the way the stories are grouped -- What was the process for ordering and grouping the stories in the book? How did you land on this theme and structure? Are there any stories you didn't include that you wish you had?


message 22: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Ryan. Man, thanks a lot. I am currently waiting on my copy of Winterswim to get here. I'd love to get a chance to talk more about some of our common ground after I get time to devour it. The book. Not the ground.

Flannery O'Connor's work was one of the first places I got to experience religion depicted in a way that was both suspicious and revered; she's truly a master of giving physical weight to abstract concepts. I'd like to think I carry a bit of that with me, even knowing how pale my version must seem when stacked next to hers.

I'm leery of speaking in absolutes when it comes to the inclusion/exploration/what-have-you, of certain themes in stories. Concerning the stories in this book, when religion enters into what I write, it's in the same way it often has in my personal life: it's not so much the ethos or ideology itself manifested, but it's what people manage to do with it. Not so much the cause, but the effect. Belief is such a powerful thing, dude. I'm fascinated (awe-struck, horrified) by the potential it has for both elevating and warping people, as well as by the apparent ease with which it's cast aside when it becomes too cumbersome or inconvenient.

Again, thanks so much for joining in. I am your fan.



Ryan wrote: "Schuler,

Was a pleasure to read this book. One thing that provides a thread throughout is the pall of religion, which is, of course, common in a lot of southern lit (you mentioned O'Connor for one..."



message 23: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Matt! Man, thank you for the kind words. I've enjoyed getting exposed to your work over the last year (plus). Means a lot, man.

The idea to set a book up a bit like a record was something I'd had in mind for a long time. I was lucky enough that Alternating Current was cool with the idea of letting me sequence it that way. Some of the stories were finished before the idea of publishing a collection came about, and some were tightened up after. I knew I wanted to separate the stories in some kind of way, almost like acts in a play, or sides of a record. The head, heart, and hands themes not only grouped the stories together in a way that felt natural, but it also gave Patrick some great room to shine as far as making art to fit those segments.

There were a few stories that either didn't fit well enough (in my mind) or weren't quite ready to go when I submitted the manuscript in December of 2013. Some were flash pieces (one, "jr," was published last year by the killer Cheap Pop), some were too far afield of the rest of the stories, and some felt like they'd fit, but just weren't ready. A story called "Down Through There" was taking shape shortly after these stories were pinned down, and if I'd had time, I would've loved to include it. It's very much in the same vein as the stories in Poor Man, and it shares some plot DNA with some of those stories, as well as some other, longer stuff that's in the works. I got lucky, though, as "Down Through There" is in the latest issue of The Pinch. I've been very lucky with the places that've been gracious enough to host what I've written, and I'm thrilled that people who are interested will get to read "Down Through There" in the Pinch alongside some truly spectacular contributors. Thanks again, man!

Matt wrote: "Hey Schuler,

Really really enjoyed the book. Haunting in a lot of ways and so so so beautiful. One thing that strikes me as particularly awesome is the structure of the book and the way the storie..."



message 24: by Ryan (new)

Ryan (ryanwbradley) | 71 comments Schuler wrote: "Hey, Ryan. Man, thanks a lot. I am currently waiting on my copy of Winterswim to get here. I'd love to get a chance to talk more about some of our common ground after I get time to devour it. The b..."

Oh, so you're my fan! I was wondering who it was :)

Kidding aside, I would love to chat more. Based on your responses and your stories I think we probably have a lot in common. Maybe we could put together some kind of dialogue/mutual interview thing for some site or something.


message 25: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Lau | 3 comments Awesome, I loved the characters in that story and was hoping they'd show up in more places. Nadine especially was a great one -- never quite sure if she was amazing or evil.

Interesting that you described the book as about "awful people getting what they deserve." It's very Old Testament and fits well in the setting of the deep South. There's something very Hellish about the stories and the artwork. That's another thing I appreciate about this collection -- the stories are definitely related in terms of theme, and not simply put together because they're all by the same author.

The stories all have a very strong voice, and many of them feature language that is downright poetic. It's an interesting mix of gritty material, beautiful language and humor. In terms of style and sentence structure specifically, what writers have influenced you? What writers would you love or hate to be compared to?


Schuler wrote: "Hi, Carmen. Many, many thanks for the kind words. "Ace" is one of my favorites, too. The story came together under a handful of circumstances that turned out to be pretty productive. I was a studen..."


message 26: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Now that sounds like a killer idea. I'm 100% on board.

Ryan wrote: "Schuler wrote: "Hey, Ryan. Man, thanks a lot. I am currently waiting on my copy of Winterswim to get here. I'd love to get a chance to talk more about some of our common ground after I get time to ..."


message 27: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Bihlmayer | 81 comments Hi Schuler,
I do not like short stories, however yours were great! I was really moved by pet wife. It was one of the shortest, however, for me the most powerful. To put into two pages a whole life of disappointment left me breathless. How did you know that just two pages would be enough to tell a woman's whole story?


message 28: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Such praise, Carmen, thank you so very much. I take a lot of thematic cues from the authors I've mentioned so far, and that extends into sentence-level influence, as well. But I think it's stylistically that I start to branch out a bit more. Dialect plays a big role in my dialogue. I've been an obnoxious mimic since I was old enough to speak, and I feel like it's kinda paid off on paper. I do my best to use phonetic spellings when it feels right ("carbo-hah-draits") or common slang spellings ("gimme"), but I also like to pay attention to rhythm, too, when I can. I took two workshops under some very gifted writers, Diana Reaves and John Englehardt, who taught me to look at dialogue and exposition with a poet's ear/eye as often as possible. Sometimes I meter dialogue if it doesn't feel right, and that usually helps me find something that works in a more natural way. I'm not sure how many writers like to throw dialogue together, but that's what's worked best for me. There's a collection of Scottish short stories called A Tongue In Yer Heid that I first read in 2002(ish). It gave me my first taste of real, hard dialect... a number of the stories were written entirely in Scots, and I had to read it aloud in a Connery voice to get it to click. So I've tried to approach dialect from the point of view of a person who may not have the most natural connection to it, and make it specific enough to feel organic, but understandable enough that someone from Maine or North Dakota can read it without getting lost. Occasionally people do get lost, though, and that's okay, too. I mention all of this because, when it comes to style, nailing dialogue/dialect often becomes what's most consuming for me, and other elements may end up taking a back seat. I'm working on leveling it out though.

A book by Arundhati Roy called The God of Small Things completely changed the way I looked at prose. Her exposition is exquisite, and her documentation of scenic minutiae brings that book to life in the most shocking ways. I take a lot of inspiration from comics, as well. Garth Ennis's work in Preacher and The Punisher is absolutely crucial for me.

Since the first couple of stories were published ahead of the book back in 2013, I've gotten some just unbelievably flattering comparisons. I'd never read Wells Tower until last fall, and now that I have, seeing his name in my blurbs is a hell of a compliment. Being compared to Barry Hannah is amazing, as well as Palahniuk. I think the one that hit me hardest though was a blurb that compares some of the stuff in the book to "Flannery O'Connor at her best," which, even if it's most definitely overstating my ability, I'd like to have carved on my tombstone. As far as writers I'd hate to be compared to, no one's coming to mind immediately. If I think of anybody, though, I'll let you know. Thanks again!


Carmen wrote: "Awesome, I loved the characters in that story and was hoping they'd show up in more places. Nadine especially was a great one -- never quite sure if she was amazing or evil.

Interesting that you ..."



message 29: by Pam (new)

Pam Hulse | 1 comments Hi Schuler,
One thing I particularly enjoy in all your stories is your use of dialect, the language of place. For me the characters really come alive; I can hear them speaking. How do you go about getting a character's voice right? And how is living in South Carolina affecting your ear for language?


message 30: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Deanna. Thank you so much! If nothing else, I hope you enjoyed these stories enough to maybe give some more short story collections a chance in the future. I've mentioned a couple others in different comments, but a spine staring back at me right now as I sit at my desk is Leesa Cross Smith's Every Kiss A War. It's a truly beautiful, crushing collection of stories.

Thanks for the feedback on "Pet Wife." I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Flash fiction is very fascinating to me, and the fact that there are so many really good online lit journals catering to flash right now just reinforces how vital it is and what wonderful potential it has. With "Pet Wife," as with a lot of very short stuff I write, I didn't focus so much on capturing a character's entire life, but just a particular event and what I thought were crucial precursors leading up to it. While I love flash, I don't typically set out with a length in mind. This story ballooned up to about eight Word doc pages at one point, but after I trimmed some fat, all that was left was the page and a half or so that made the final cut. If there's a secret formula for finding that perfect middle ground between "too much" and "not enough," I wish somebody'd tell me what it is. For "Pet Wife," as with the other short pieces in the collection, they just ended when they felt done.

Thanks so much for reading and chatting!

Deanna wrote: "Hi Schuler,
I do not like short stories, however yours were great! I was really moved by pet wife. It was one of the shortest, however, for me the most powerful. To put into two pages a whole life..."



message 31: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Pam! Thanks so much for joining in! I'm gonna paste something from an earlier comment here in bold, then I'll elaborate a little below it:

"Dialect plays a big role in my dialogue. I've been an obnoxious mimic since I was old enough to speak, and I feel like it's kinda paid off on paper. I do my best to use phonetic spellings when it feels right ("carbo-hah-draits") or common slang spellings ("gimme"), but I also like to pay attention to rhythm, too, when I can. I took two workshops under some very gifted writers, Diana Reaves and John Englehardt, who taught me to look at dialogue and exposition with a poet's ear/eye as often as possible. Sometimes I meter dialogue if it doesn't feel right, and that usually helps me find something that works in a more natural way. I'm not sure how many writers like to throw dialogue together, but that's what's worked best for me. There's a collection of Scottish short stories called A Tongue In Yer Heid that I first read in 2002(ish). It gave me my first taste of real, hard dialect... a number of the stories were written entirely in Scots, and I had to read it aloud in a Connery voice to get it to click. So I've tried to approach dialect from the point of view of a person who may not have the most natural connection to it, and make it specific enough to feel organic, but understandable enough that someone from Maine or North Dakota can read it without getting lost. Occasionally people do get lost, though, and that's okay, too. I mention all of this because, when it comes to style, nailing dialogue/dialect often becomes what's most consuming for me, and other elements may end up taking a back seat. I'm working on leveling it out though."

So when I say "occasionally people do get lost though, and that's okay, too," people like YOU are what makes that okay. Hearing someone, especially someone who's from or has spent significant time in the part of the South where I grew up, talk about being able to "hear" these characters speak... man, that's just the best feeling. That's what I wanna do. As far as getting a character's voice "right," I gotta again go back to having mimicked people all my life. There's a lot of memory in mimicry for me. I'm awful with names and faces and places, but as far as the way someone talks, things they say often, their speech characteristics that mirror whatever body language they may be using when they speak... all that stuff is stored away in my brain, taking up the space most people use for stuff like knowing how taxes work, or remembering how to get around the town where they live. A lot of characters are combinations of stuff I come up with, molded onto people I've met, other stories I've heard, movies I've seen, and so on. Sometimes I'll work outward, starting with a character's makeup and building out towards physical traits and distinctive speech. Other times I'll start with a voice and work inward. It can be sloppy, maddening work, but like I said, knowing there are people out there who enjoy the final product makes it totally worth it. And in the end, I don't always get it "just right." It doesn't always turn out how I'd planned. So I'm looking forward to learning more and getting better.

As for South Carolina accents, it's been weird. I live close enough to the beach (in a very afforable area) that most people I live near aren't from here. We have neighbors from Michigan, Wisconsin, Bosnia (which I'm told is further north of Michigan and Wisconsin), Caribbean islands, lowcountry small towns... man, it's a trip. So many cool accents, but no definitive "South Carolina" accent to speak of, at least, not one I hear every day. I'll say this though: before moving here from Arkansas, a dude from Georgia tried to tell me Kevin Spacey's Foghorn Leghorn accent on House of Cards was completely accurate.

I can confirm this is bullshit.

Thanks so much!

Pam wrote: "Hi Schuler,
One thing I particularly enjoy in all your stories is your use of dialect, the language of place. For me the characters really come alive; I can hear them speaking. How do you go about ..."



message 32: by Lori, Super Mod (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10060 comments Mod
Schuler,

What's your writing routine like? Are you an early morning guy or a late night guy or as the mood strikes kinda guy?


message 33: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Catalano | 2 comments Hey Schuler,

I'm grateful to have been introduced to your writing and your dark, funny online personality!

This isn't a question, just a list of the lines I highlighted as I read. You have that rare talent of being able to tell a story in a linguistically interesting way. (Many are good at either, but few are strong at both.)

“Y’all got any kinda specials or sump’m? Like a three-fer-one or twofers or nothin’?” Charlie says.

Denny crossed his arms and clenched and unclenched his jaw, a process that’d helped him think since flying choppers

Marx walked back to his car, shoulders slung low under shame, in a far less officious capacity than the one that first brought him from the car.

Louisiana in the summer is like living inside of a mouth.

Between stifling what would’ve come out as a howl or a wail or other music of distressed, thumbless animals, stilling shoulders that seized with every other heartbeat, he pushed salt and thyme and coriander in front of his doubt, shut the cabinet door, and went down the hall to check on the safety of the only holiness he knew in the world, the only purity he could touch.


Nadine raised her nose high and took in the store’s odor like she was gleaning secrets from it, a wolf in wait.

The world reflected through a bead of snake venom.

Sound bounced off the tile and concrete of the otherwise empty room, and for a moment, Charla believed those small, square doors would open and spew out decades of bodies waiting for grave dirt they never met.


With a roar, the corner of the ceiling above the body wall ripped away, opening the room to pouring rain and mud, filtering rainbows from ironic rays of sunshine.


message 34: by Leah (new)

Leah Angstman (leahangstman) | 56 comments Kevin wrote: "A list of the lines I highlighted as I read..."

I'm taking credit for the good editing of some of those lines. ;)


message 35: by Shana (new)

Shana DuBois (booksabound) | 5 comments I have always enjoyed short stories as a gateway into an author and I truly enjoyed your collection. With the horror elements within the stories being more reflections from within the characters and the events surrounding them, I'm curious if you see future works continuing in this vein or trying to dig even deeper below the surface of what the human psyche holds.


message 36: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments So, yeah, writers... if you've never had a professional edit your work before, it'll blow you away how much tighter it gets. You hear these stories about great writers who, like, constantly fought their editors tooth and nail. And that may totally be something you're supposed to do, but for the most part, I'm just like, "Yes. Edit it. Do whatever you want." For real though, Leah (who, in case anyone doesn't know, is the Alt Current head honcho) is a meticulous editor and a supportive publisher.

Leah wrote: "Kevin wrote: "A list of the lines I highlighted as I read..."

I'm taking credit for the good editing of some of those lines. ;)"



message 37: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Lori! I think, compared with most writers I've discussed this with or whose interviews I've read, I'm pretty bland when it comes to a writing routine. Typically I get most of my work done on my laptop in my bedroom. No coffee shops, no bars, no airport terminals or any other cool, eccentric places. I prefer it quiet, but sometimes I'll have music on, or I'll listen to my dog lick the floor. Oh, I typically have a jug of water nearby. Haha.

No particular time of day, either. I keep a pretty active schedule during the day, so I'm usually in bed at a fairly decent hour. No all-nighters. I guess I probably prefer daytime during the weekends, but it's nothing that's set in stone. Thanks!

Lori wrote: "Schuler,

What's your writing routine like? Are you an early morning guy or a late night guy or as the mood strikes kinda guy?"



message 38: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Kevin, thanks so much, man. Some of those lines are some of my very favorites. I do keep a pretty close eye on how prose reads at a line level. If anything, I've gotten some suggestions in recent workshops that, in tense scenes, I may need to dial back some of the sentence-level acrobatics in service of letting the scene take the focus. I love getting the chance to work with other writers to get better at this.

One of the stories you pulled from here, "Queen Anne Black Din," was hell. It was a weird story that almost didn't make the book, or even get finished. I was living in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the time, and the night I started that story, we were under a tornado warning that covered all of Northwest Arkansas and parts of Oklahoma and Missouri. I typically don't get too riled up over weather, but it was a pretty creepy night. Howling wind, flickering power, all that. But we were lucky. The next morning, if memory serves, was when news coverage began of the tornado that demolished Moore, Oklahoma. A lot of people were hurt, killed, lost everything. That story made me feel dirty, man, so I just socked it away. Later in the summer, while consulting with a friend on edits for the title story, I got an opinion on it (which was just called "Siege" at the time) and was convinced to change a few things, shift the focus substantially by adding the Charla character (who was originally nameless and less sympathetic, if that's possible), and clean it up. The sentence-level style stuff is shellacked on pretty heavy, which I think may have been my way of distancing it a bit from how cold, short, straight-forward it was in its earliest drafts. Not the best story in the collection by any stretch, but it's one that I like to think of as proof that there's usually at least something salvageable in any story, and that the key to finding it can be a fresh set of eyes and a bit of a break.


Kevin wrote: "Hey Schuler,

I'm grateful to have been introduced to your writing and your dark, funny online personality!

This isn't a question, just a list of the lines I highlighted as I read. You have that r..."



message 39: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Shana. I'm glad you dig the stories! Some of my favorite authors, especially from when I was a kid, were writers I discovered through short stories. I've already gone on ad nauseum about Welty and O'Connor (if that's even possible), but Stephen King and Salman Rushdie also come to mind. Wildly different authors, but both are able to work in the short story mode in ways that are completely different from how they operate when writing novels... at least, to me. So cool to see different writers excel in different ways.

What an awesome question. I think plumbing the human psyche is what brings out the most vital work in the world of art. So often when we look at our reactions, our motivations, those gears turning beneath the surface, we find things that horrify us, disgust us. I have, anyway. I agree with you that horror is what most of these characters feel when they're forced to confront why they do what they do ("Ace"). Sometimes it's despair ("Grace"). Sometimes it's freedom ("Pet Wife" and "Stroke Test"). And with these varying emotions, the horror that's maybe not experienced by the characters is horror that we, as readers, get to experience, I think.

I hope to always continue to look inward in order to find new territories to cover in my writing, but not at the expense of writing what's "in my wheelhouse," as it were. While it's common, I think, for any artist to feel an impulse to branch out due to a fear of being pigeonholed, at this point, I'm not too worried about it. Two stories I recently completed, "Down Through There" and "The Developing World," follow very closely with the themes explored in the collection. There's another new one called "Komodo 90210" that's completely different from anything I've ever written. I've had some excellent guidance from instructors and classmates in my MA program, both on sharpening the style I've already developed and on finding new places to push stories. Hopefully I can do all of it, but regardless of where I end up, I'd like to think that desire to see what makes people tick will always be a driving force.

Thanks so much for chiming in!

Shana wrote: "I have always enjoyed short stories as a gateway into an author and I truly enjoyed your collection. With the horror elements within the stories being more reflections from within the characters an..."


message 40: by Steph (new)

Steph Post (stephpost) | 4 comments Hi Schuler-
So here's a question I've been throwing at some of my favorite short story writers lately (and you are one of my absolute favorites...): What is the current role of the short story?
I ask because this has been a topic of debate within my faculty. The issue has arisen that while many people leave school and continue reading of some kind- novels, non-fiction books, magazines, etc.- most people don't seem to read short stories once they leave the classroom.
So, why are short stories important? What role does the genre have in the 'real' world?

Thanks!


message 41: by Shana (new)

Shana DuBois (booksabound) | 5 comments Thank you for such an in-depth response! I agree that the short form is wildly different from novels, even novellas and the "novelette" (a length I am still dubious of). I love the short form in general and avidly seek out anthologies and author collections as well as subscribing to many journals.

I personally feel the short form is the hardest of all forms because you do have to make every word count. And while novels can be concise and dense (Dreaming in Cuban is a fine example of this amazing feat) I think novels have a luxury not afforded short fiction.

If you answered this previously I apologize, what MA are you pursuing? (I don't want to assume writing.)

I think allowing the characters to reflect truly human responses versus the ideal/cherry picked response gives a depth to even the shortest of works. Your work has that depth because the characters come across as imperfect and human.


message 42: by Schuler (last edited Mar 17, 2015 12:27PM) (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Steph! Thank you so much. Looking forward to hanging out when you're up this way!

Man... if we're gonna talk about the "real world," I better go find an adult. ;) I think that's an interesting question though, and I kinda wish it wasn't a dilemma at all.

I think a lot of readers look at short stories as ways to sharpen chops before moving on to writing a novel. In that capacity, that makes short stories sound more like some kind of practice for writers instead of works of fiction for readers to enjoy. I follow that logic, and to an extent, I agree with it. There's an advantage to the short story as a classroom tool; it's feasible to have lit students read as many per semester as an instructor can fit, and in a fiction workshop, short stories are manageable ways for writers to experiment with writing fiction and get timely, usable feedback from peers and leaders. From a consumer standpoint, though, it's different, I think. Or at least it could be.

We hear a lot about younger generations' inability to pay attention to anything for an extended period of time. Popular musicians don't focus as much on albums. They focus on singles. Social media acclimates younger users to "here today, gone today" phenomena in news and entertainment. Twitter's limit is 140 characters. Everything seems to be getting shorter, and it's kind of a "chicken or the egg" thing because I think, at this point, it's hard to tell if things are getting quicker to accommodate shorter attention spans or if attention spans have gotten shorter as instant gratification has become more prevalent, particularly in digital culture. Either way, it'd seem logical to think shorter works would garner more commercial acceptance, yet that doesn't seem to be the case. While I've never read a George R.R. Martin book, I've carried one up some stairs before, and it was a hell of a workout. A lot of commercial fiction is still long. And it's not one long book, it's a series of, like, six or seven. And they're wildly popular. Mixed, conflicting messages? I don't know. Just something to think about.

But you didn't mention commercial viability, just short stories' proximity to the academy, and why that doesn't seem to have much carry-over into the world outside of/after school. Man. I wish I knew. All my rambling aside, I think short stories are important because they represent a kind of storytelling separate from what novels do, from what plays or movies do. I think it's probably wise to value as many different mediums as we can, especially when these mediums contain works from artists who seem to excel there in ways they simply don't in other areas. For me, I enjoy short stories because of their availability, because of their capacity to share space and conversation with other pieces. Lit journals offer a combination of varied focuses and aesthetic that novels don't always offer; one volume can contain several stories, poems, essays, and experimental fiction, all from different authors with different perspectives. A collection of short stories has the capability to dissect a particular theme from many different directions, or be strung together by some loose, barely governed thread that leaves the reader more space between pieces to make her own connections. Does this mean novels can't do the same thing? Sure, they can, and do. I don't wanna take a concrete stance advocating one thing as better than another, I'd just want to challenge readers to find something valuable in whatever medium suits them best at the time. Some of the most penetrating insight I've ever received from fiction came to me from short stories. On that note, I'll leave your question (mostly unanswered and haphazardly obscured by my bullshit ;)) with the words of someone smarter than I am: in 2012 or 2013, I was given an article in which Aamer Hussein touts short stories as having a kind of "translucent brevity." I can't think of a better way of putting it.



Steph wrote: "Hi Schuler-
So here's a question I've been throwing at some of my favorite short story writers lately (and you are one of my absolute favorites...): What is the current role of the short story?..."



message 43: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Thanks again, Shana! Imperfect characters have always been the ones I've most identified with as a reader. There are most definitely challenges to keeping a piece short, and some of short fiction's most celebrated authors (Alice Munro, for god's sake, she's a master) have garnered acclaim for their ability to do so much in so little space.

I don't think I've mentioned it here, but I'm currently a candidate in the MA Writing program (you assumed right... I am completely worthless in all other academic respects) at Coastal Carolina University. This is a great chance for me to mention some of the faculty I've had the chance to work with so far: Cara Blue Adams and Jason Ockert, both amazing short fiction authors (Ockert's first novel, Wasp Box, was recently released and is enjoying much-deserved praise), poet Dan Albergotti (whose most recent collection, Millenial Teeth, is superb), and nonfiction guru Joe Oestreich, who's got a new book coming out, I believe, in the fall. I am amazingly lucky to be in this program, and I cannot wait to see it grow exponentially as more and more prospective MA candidates realize what a dream it is.

Shana wrote: "Thank you for such an in-depth response! I agree that the short form is wildly different from novels, even novellas and the "novelette" (a length I am still dubious of). I love the short form in ge..."


message 44: by Lori, Super Mod (last edited Mar 17, 2015 12:26PM) (new)

Lori (tnbbc) | 10060 comments Mod
Kevin, those were some really great lines you pulled out!


Schuler,

I love how the location of your stories are almost characters themselves. At times I felt as if I was standing right there next to them.

Did you consciously spend time creating the backdrop for your stories or did the background evolve naturally as the overall story was being written?


message 45: by Shana (new)

Shana DuBois (booksabound) | 5 comments The program sounds amazing! I just started on my MA in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and it is a wonderful excuse to read and talk about books even more!

You mentioned some of the faculty you get to work with are poets and I have heard quite a few writers mention recently how studying poetry had helped them with their writing in various aspects.

What are some things you have taken away from studying poetry and working so closely with a poet for your own writing?


message 46: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Lau | 3 comments This discussion is getting really interesting! You're right, it is odd that there's a seeming disconnect between what is being said about decreasing attention spans, and the reality of the "book industry."

"A collection of short stories has the capability to dissect a particular theme from many different directions, or be strung together by some loose, barely governed thread that leaves the reader more space between pieces to make her own connections." Schuler, I think what you said here might explain why stories and story collections are great, but also why they're less commercially successful than novels.

It could be that the majority of people who read/buy books do so as a form of escapism, much as if it's a more excusable form of watching TV, and especially serial novels have that sort of TV flavor to them. Short stories I think tend to make the reader work harder, because the themes might be subtler, there's more "white space" for the reader to fill in with their own imagination, the language might be denser (as it is in this collection). I'm talking in a way generalized manner, of course. This is not to say that serial novels like Game of Thrones aren't intellectually valuable or something -- just that they might be easier to sit back and enjoy without much effort. That's my unasked-for two cents.

Really enjoying the detailed responses to questions!



Schuler wrote: "Hey, Steph! Thank you so much. Looking forward to hanging out when you're up this way!

Man... if we're gonna talk about the "real world," I better go find an adult. ;) I think that's an interestin..."



message 47: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Thank you, Lori. I love places (sounds like such an odd thing to say)! I can't tell you how cool it is to hear someone say that about stuff I've written. Some of my favorite authors have an uncanny ability to give life to a place, and that so often ends up being a big part of what I think makes their work so enjoyable (for me). Borges's South American countrysides and hotel rooms (for some reason, his hotel room descriptions are always memorable), King's Overlook Hotel, Lovecraft's Antarctic ruins... and we haven't mentioned either of them yet, but William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, who bring settings to life in the most vivid ways.

To answer your question, it's a bit of both. A number of locations in my collection have roots in real-life places. The hospital basement in "Queen Anne" is modeled on the basement of my dad's company's old dry goods warehouse in South Arkansas. In "Hindershot," the new law firm, the office building downtown, even Crabapple Bait and Tackle are based on real places, but certain aspects of them have been fictionalized to make some accommodations, but I try to keep as much authenticity as I can so they don't feel like cardboard (to the best of my knowledge, there's no basement at the real law firm building. But there is a mounted marlin). The names of some of the smaller towns are the same as ones in the area where I grew up in South Arkansas and North Louisiana. Sometimes they take on a life of their own when they have characters walking around in them, dying in them, setting them on fire, etc, and I do my best to let them change as they need to, but not in a way that detracts from the feeling that they really exist somewhere. Then there are places that never existed at all. The church/general store in "Ace Damage" has a geographical location based in this world (a subdivision past the outskirts of my hometown), but all the descriptions are fictional. At least, as far as I know.

A story I recently completed takes place in a well-known location immediately after a natural disaster. I took a lot of pains to ensure I got all the details right. In addition to having visited the area a number of years ago, I ran it down on Google Maps to make sure it really was how I remembered it.

So, yes, ma'am, I spend a ton of time and effort on setting, and I'm learning all the time from mentors about how to get better at really capturing the spirit of a place.

Lori wrote: "Kevin, those were some really great lines you pulled out!


Schuler,

I love how the location of your stories are almost characters themselves. At times I felt as if I was standing right there nex..."



message 48: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Shana. Congrats on your program! An MA opens so many doors for work and further education. It seems like it could be a rough experience, so I consider myself lucky to be at a place that's so generous and accommodating. Glad to hear you feel the same way.

I was talking with a friend the other day about poetry's influence on me. Over the last five years particularly, I feel like I can chart major growth in my prose during times when I'm heavily exposed to poetry. I mentioned in another comment that, from time to time, I'll meter my dialogue. Some of the poets whose work I really enjoy, either canon stuff like Bishop or Frost, or newer voices like Patrick Phillips (who I've recently become just really stoked on), do a lot with keeping verse "rhythmed" in a way that feels and sounds natural, both when read and spoken aloud. I think there's so much to be learned from poetry when a prose writer is looking at improving dialogue. I'm in my first MA poetry workshop right now. My classmates are churning out some stellar material, and Dan Albergotti, the instructor, is a living, breathing poetic document, possessing both an encyclopedic knowledge of the craft's history and a well of talent. I own his latest collection, Millennial Teeth, and it's just crushing. When I've got more time, I wanna run down his older stuff, too. Can't come more highly recommended.

As far as seeing poetry in action as part of a prose work, Eric Shonkwiler's debut novel, Above All Men, is where it's at. I won't have to say much about it, because Lori and TNBBC have supported it so generously. The stories in my collection were completed before I got the chance to read all of Above All Men, but I can definitely see the book's influence in my more recent stuff, especially as it pertains to describing places and, oddly enough, people's bodies. If you haven't read the book, please do. Damn solid storytelling with some truly beautiful poetic license.

Shana wrote: "The program sounds amazing! I just started on my MA in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and it is a wonderful excuse to read and talk about books even more!

You mentioned some of t..."



message 49: by Schuler (new)

Schuler Benson (schulerbenson) | 36 comments Hey, Carmen. Good point. I guess, at the end of the day, whatever people read, it's cool that they're at least reading.

Carmen wrote: "This discussion is getting really interesting! You're right, it is odd that there's a seeming disconnect between what is being said about decreasing attention spans, and the reality of the "book in..."


message 50: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Bihlmayer | 81 comments Schuler,

and I will definitely check out the book you recommended!
thanks!


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