hobart logo
Chaos Questions with Ben Loory photo

Some time ago I decided on a column that wouldn’t be a column. I’m a little terrible at those. I’ve written a few for a few journals and I did okay, but it wasn’t something I greatly enjoyed. Then I remembered: I had been a journalist for about a decade; I can interview the hell out of people.

I have no idea how the idea came to mind, but I’m glad it did. Interview writers and artists and ask them ten hypothetical questions. Easy enough. But when I started making out the list of hypotheticals, they got really strange really fast. Such as

If you could be a dragon, what would you do as one?

From there it just got weirder and weirder. And I started to notice that these writers and artists were always going to send me answers of pure gold. And each set of questions had answers in an array of fantastic voices. My questions were fun, if not funny, and the writer or artist’s questions were always funny. And deranged. And complex. The interviews would be a splendid dance of insanity between myself and the person I interviewed. I called it Chaos Questions.

When Ellizabeth Ellen took my pitch to have Chaos Questions included at Hobart, I took a minute to let that settle in. I had always hoped to pose some crazy questions to one guy in particular who I felt had a more unique imagination than most. The storyteller’s storyteller.

Ben Loory is, for me, pure imagination. In two published collections of stories, he secured his place among storytellers as original as Italo Calvino, Russell Edson, and Jorge Luis Borges. He composes mythologies, conjures galaxies, and, most importantly, cuts through the noise to remind us the only thing that matters in story is magic.

His first book, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (Penguin 2011), was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program, and was named one of the 10 Best Fiction Books of the Year by Hudson Booksellers. His second book, Tales of Falling and Flying (Penguin 2017), was named a Favorite Book of the Year by the staff of The Paris Review, and one of the 50 Best Fantasy Books of All Time by Esquire Magazine.


SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You move to Montana to get away from it all. Turns out Ted Kaczynski, the one and only Unabomber, is your neighbor. He comes over the second night you're there and confesses his twisted plans. What do you do?

BEN LOORY: I remind myself the man has been dead for years, and take my emergency Risperdal.

SLC: Tomorrow you show up for work and the whole damn place, the entire building, is gone. There's a note in the place you used to park that reads, "They know." Walk me through the rest of your day.

BL: I think my day probably ends right there? My brain's not built to withstand shit like that. One time I ran out of peanut butter and had to go to the hospital.

SLC: Ants and humans switch size but retain their intelligence. What the hell do you do first?

BL: Stop stepping on ants.

SLC: You're stuck forever in a movie. What movie do you pick, and give us at least one scene from it.

BL: Can it be a movie that already exists? If so, then I'd like it to be Thelma & Louise; I've always wanted to drive off a cliff. If it has to be some kind of made-up movie, then maybe the sequel to Thelma & Louise? And they're still flying off the cliff?

SLC: B.B. King just gave you a 1967 Silvertone guitar. The only thing he asks is this one thing. He says, "No one ever asked me about the mountain. Tell them I said that. Tell them the story." So what the hell do you tell the first person who asks you about how you got the guitar? What's the story?

BL: The story is I found the guitar in a thrift shop. I like BB King, but I'm not lying for the man.

(My favorite BB King song, btw, is "Better Not Look Down." You can find it on the Thelma & Louise soundtrack.)

SLC: Tomorrow you're homeless but can pick any vehicle you want to live in. What vehicle will it be? How come?

BL: Probably the Queen Mary? I hear it's haunted. Also it's moored in Long Beach, and I like the aquarium there. They have the Leafy Sea Dragons. And also the Weedy Sea Dragons. The Weedy Sea Dragons look like little aliens, and the Leafy Sea Dragons look like lettuce. Like fancy lettuce.

SLC: You get to speed-tour through three cities of your choice with any dead actor you want. Tell us about that whirlwind adventure.

BL: Can they be ancient cities? I'd like to see Ur around the time of the First Dynasty, plus Babylon and maybe Alexandria? Memphis and/or Thebes would be good, too. I don't really need the dead actor along. Seems like that would put a damper on things.

SLC: Milton-Bradley is mad as all hell that board game sales are down. You’ve been enlisted to pitch a couple “big” ideas. Okay, go.

BL: Monopoly but it's the actual size of Atlantic City. Gigantic money! Chess but it's the size of Connecticut. Life but it's actual Life? Parcheesi but the board is just an inch or two bigger (that one might still need a little work).

SLC: You can only keep three of your favorite t-shirts. Which ones? Tell us about these winners.

BL: The first one is black and has nothing on it. The second one is also black and has nothing on it. The third one is black, but it says HIGH ON FIRE on it, but the HIGH ON FIRE is in black, so it's hard to see unless you know it's there and/or are looking very closely. I also have a white t-shirt I like a lot that says JOHN PRINE IS PRETTY GOOD, but I don't actually wear it because it comes down to my knees.

SLC: You have the opportunity to take part in a medical experiment that will make you 25 percent smarter but the side effect is that you will appear 50 percent less intelligent to people in general. What do you do?

BL: How much does it pay?

SLC: It's revealed that you actually wrote Infinite Jest and gave David Foster Wallace credit. Charlie Rose is asking you to explain how this happened on live television. How do you explain? Also, the whole thing is a lie.

BL: I tell them the truth. I'm an innocent man. If I were gonna lie, it would've been for B.B. King.