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Saturday, August 28, 2010

A few questions with Ben Spivey

Posted By on Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 12:01 PM

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  • Courtesy Ben Spivey
Atlanta native Ben Spivey just published his first novel, Flowing in the Gossamer Fold (Blue Square Press). Tomorrow Sun., Aug. 29, he'll be reading from the book at Beep Beep Gallery as part of the Solar Anus readings series.

What's your background? When did you start writing?

My mother birthed me in Decatur. I have a BA in journalism from Georgia State University. I decided to pursue journalism for a couple of reasons, one reason was the dead author Stephen Crane. One of my favorite short stories is "The Open Boat," which Crane wrote— I was fascinated with how Crane fictionalized reality. I wanted to learn that skill. It seems that a lot of writers are also journalists, however informal, or formal. I've lived in Georgia all of my life. But I don't consider myself a 'Southern boy' or whatever. Atlanta is a little haven to those wicked things. I started writing at a young age. I started to create at a young age. The idea of creation has been very important to me for as long as I can remember. As a child I read a lot of fantasy novels, played a lot of video games, mostly role playing games. Lord of the Rings, D & D, Final Fantasy, Zelda, very satisfying replacement for reality.

I needed that satisfaction of creation. I built great castles out of Legos for many years. I drew comics, as a boy, dreamed dreams, etcetera. I was maybe 13 or 14 years old when I wrote a story about a place of solitude— I think that was the first time that I had a simple taste of my voice. Your voice develops, changes, extends, fluctuates, but when you find it, you know it. When I found my voice it felt like the first time I'd seen the horizon over the ocean, the often lyrical. To me, being a writer or an artist is finding a missing piece to a puzzle, however complicated that may be. Sure I want to be appreciated, or respected, but making a story or a painting or a book object and sharing that with people is something that's ultimately selfish. It's also love, need, brutality. Too understand better, too be understood. All of that is the why.

How long have you been working on this novel?

The novel started as a short story. I started to write the first piece or draft at the end of 2008. I believe it was December, it was cold. The draft was a little over 8,000 words, which is short, less than half of the finished novel. I submitted that story which was called "The Diner" to Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius Press. He mailed me a really nice rejection letter about how he didn't feel that the story was finished but that the sentences were pristine, that got me thinking about expansion, and I expanded the story's language and scope. The novel was torn apart and rebuilt at least 50 times over the course of about a year. I wrote the novel in segments. I had an overall feeling that I wanted to instill in the reader, that I wanted to share and explore. Several parts of the novel were written in Moleskine journals while I road Marta, or sat in class, or at red-lights, work, wherever— it began to bleed from me. The sentences or moments would hit me at some of the most inconvenient times. While driving I would jot a word or two on my hand or on paper. One time I got home with an entire paragraph written down my arm and hand, I kept paper around after that, or took notes on my phone. I was in deep, but it was not consistent inspiration or progression. It was early mornings, every morning, coffee, sometimes just starring at the computer screen. The quiet moments were the hardest moments.

Making Malcolm a motivational speaker wasn't my first choice for him. He was first a miner and for people who read the novel they'll see how that initial choice played into the story. I wanted to write a surreal novel, but I wanted the story to drift into that dreamy place in a believable way. A motivational speaker offered me some unique options toward that descent, namely I could have Malcolm interact with groups of people.

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The sentences are really notable in Flowing in the Gossamer Fold. Do you shape these sentences through a series of edits or is this more of a "natural" rhythm?

I approach sentences very aware and conscious of sound—the pace of each sentence is important, no matter how ambient, subtle, deep, or forward it is, the sentence should be purposeful and lasting. When I began to edit the sentences I often replaced words, choosing a word that had a better meaning or a word that made better sense because when I was drafting I was paying less attention to the word and more attention to the rhythm which required attention on the back end. Editing is where I like to be, that is where I'm most comfortable, shifting the sentences, moving commas, adding indentions. So the sentences are both natural and shaped through many edits, it's a process.

Do you feel like any books in particular had an influence on your novel?

Yes, many. But not only books, some movies, too. There are probably too many to name but some that come to mind are EVER by Blake Butler, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, The Fall by Albert Camus, and Log of the S.S The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford, all had some sort of influence. Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Lost Highway by David Lynch also inspired me. There really are so many things, influences. A primary influence over me for many years has been Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I experienced at a young, impressionable age—identifying with the symbolism of that series.

What are you reading lately? Anything that you'd recommend?

I've been reading Child of God by Cormac McCarthy, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and Ugly Man: stories by Dennis Cooper. Some other books I've recently enjoyed are Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg, Everything here is the best thing ever by Justin Taylor, The Failure Six by Shane Jones, and Good, Brother by Peter Markus. I could recommend a list, but one book that I'm consistently inspired by is Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz.

Flowing in the Gossamer Fold by Ben Spivey. Blue Square Press. $12. 164 pp

Ben Spivey reads at Beep Beep Gallery on Sun., Aug. 29 at 7 pm.

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