Ben Loory, the author behind Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers' Block. Get to know him a little better with this Q+A, in which he talks about his love of The Twilight Zone and how screenwriting is like selling your kids into slavery.
The stories from your first collection, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, read like Twilight Zone-y fairy tales and are mostly quite short. Where does your interest in that type of story come from? And what draws you to that minimalist format?
Ben Loory: I think they're more fables than fairy tales, really. When I think "fairy tales," I think princesses and castles; I'm more about octopi and Death personified and a skydiving moose and whatnot. I don't really know where the interest comes from; it's just always been there, ever since I was little. I always loved Aesop's fables, Animal Farm, Stuart Little, Sylvester the Magic Pebble...really anything at all involving talking animals (let's not forget all those Warner Brothers cartoons). And The Twilight Zone is just the best show of all time...that's just a simple fact, right?
As for what people call my minimalist form, I don't really see it that way. I just write stories the way I tell them (and the way I like them told to me): short, funny, to the point, sometimes scary, and with plenty to think about. I don't see why stories have to become so long just because you write them down.
You used to make a living as a screenwriter. How is that different from writing short stories? Did it teach you any skills that helped you with your fiction? Got any fun anecdotes about writing for Hollywood?
BL: All my screenwriting stories (and probably everyone else's) are tales of horror and disillusionment. Being a screenwriter is like constantly having children and then turning around and selling them into slavery.
On the other hand, screenwriting teaches you a lot -- mainly about story structure and visual thinking. It focuses on drama instead of sentences and forces you to express things through action. It's generally more character-based than prose fiction, which tends to focus more on characterization. (I never even used to be really aware of the difference, but the distinction was at the heart of my book.)
In a recent interview, you said "writing is what I do because I can't be a rock star." If you could swap lives with one of your rock idols for a day, who would it be and why?
BL: I would be Matt Pike from the band High on Fire. He's not my favorite guitarist in the world, not my favorite singer, not the best songwriter of all time, and certainly not the richest or most famous. But when you see the guy play live, what you see is someone almost exploding -- someone pushing themselves to the limit, and channeling everything inside out through the music. I'm better at writing than I am at playing music, and it gives me great sense of accomplishment, but there's a physicality and presence to musical expression that I really miss.
You're on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?
BL: "Don't Stop Believin'." BUT DON'T TELL ANYBODY.
If you could live inside one movie, which would it be?
BL: Probably John Woo's Hard Boiled. As long as I get to be Chow Yun-Fat. I don't wanna be one of those hundreds of extras who get shot the minute they pop up.
What's the last album you fell in love with?
BL: Arvo Pärt's Alina. It's the only music I've ever heard that immediately focuses my mind. I wrote my entire book to it on repeat. I must've listened to it 10,000 times.
If you could invite 3 people (dead/alive/fictional) to your dinner party, who would they be and why?
BL: Emerson, Aristotle, and Claudette Colbert. (Though really, I'd be happy with just her.)
If you could visit any other time period and place in history, which would it be and what would you do there?
BL: I'd go to Harlem in the 1940s and see Charlie Parker play every night.
Look for two special Ben Loory episodes of The Writers' Block at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers' Block podcast!