Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin, 2011), and a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015). His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Fairy Tale Review, and Weekly Reader's READ Magazine, among others, and been heard on NPR's This American Life and Selected Shorts. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is an Instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers' Program.
Photo by Heather Conley - www.heatherconley.com
Why do you write?
Lots of reasons, I think, and the reasons are always changing. When I started out, I was a screenwriter, and was writing as a way (I thought) of eventually getting to direct. When I started writing short stories, it was sort of by accident-- I thought I was just brainstorming ideas for future screenplays, sort of getting them all out there so I could look at them and choose a path. Then I decided I liked them as they were, as these very short, colorful, mysterious, intense stories. At that point, my brain sorta took over and just kept churning out story ideas-- premises, one after another-- and so then for a long time I was basically obsessed, writing just in order to get to the end of each story, so I could move on to the next one that came. Then, when I started publishing individual stories, I wrote in order to get enough attention so I could get a collection published. Then, once it was published, I wrote because that's what I did; I was a writer and writers wrote-- plus then people were asking me for stories, so then I wrote to please them, and for money, and to just, I don't know, keep the ball rolling, it was just sorta what was happening, you know? Then my life got very busy between readings and appearances and the classes I started teaching, and at that point I started writing for peace and solace and to get away from the world and kind of make sense of things again, find my way back to zero, see where I was and who I'd become. I don't know-- it's all been very confusing and most of the time I don't even know what I'm doing or why. I imagine tomorrow it'll be something completely different. Or the same, who knows. Or I'll become a gardener. That always sounds really nice.
What other creative activities are you involved in?
I play music, though I don't play in bands anymore. I just noodle around and come up with melodies and riffs, and dream about starting a new band, but never do.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I have about a million favorite authors, and am always on the lookout for new ones, but in the end I always come back to Philip K. Dick-- for the novels, though, not the short stories. I like PKD because he rides all the lines-- he's funny, but almost sickeningly serious, a science fiction writer whose interests were spiritual, an intellectual who only wrote blue collar characters, etc.-- and because his imagination was both unparalleled and always emotionally grounded. People always complain that he wasn't much of a stylist, but I can always spot PKD within a few sentences; he has one of the most specific and electrifying voices I've ever encountered. I start reading and immediately start smiling. Which is pretty much all I'm looking for, really! I mean, outside of a good story, of course, which he always has in spades. If you haven't read it already, I'd recommend his novel Ubik. And if you have, I'd recommend it anyway.
Tell us about the mechanics of how you write.
I write on a laptop. I start with nothing, just a blank screen and go. First image or line, just write it down and follow, don't question or argue or dismiss anything that comes, just follow it all through to the end, as fast as your fingers will go. Usually takes about 20-30 minutes for a first draft. After that I switch to painful, unending rewriting-- often for 2, 3, 4, 5 months or even years-- until I finally figure out the puzzle and it all comes together. I move back and forth between stories constantly and always have 20-30 up in the air (inside my brain) at a time. Every now and then I solve one and feel great for a minute, like I've just escaped from a huge horrible airless maze, and then I notice I'm still stuck in a million other mazes. It's sort of a nightmare, to be honest. But it feels good when one finally comes together.
Finally, what do you think about Carp, the fish, not our website?
Carp are okay, but I'm more into jellyfish. Especially jellyfish who can talk.