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Chaos Questions with Benjamin Drevlow photo

Benjamin Drevlow wrote the introduction for my Collected Stories and it remains the best introduction ever penned. To open, he writes, "I'm just going to just get this out of the way from the start and fuck you if you think I'm blowing smoke: Sheldon Lee Compton is a master storyteller."

Ben's a master storyteller in his own right. He is the author of Bend with the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father, which won the 2006 Many Voices Project from New Rivers Press, Ina-Baby: A Love Story in Reverse, the short story collection A Good Ram Is Hard to Find, and the novel The Book of Rusty.

That first sentence is actually a great introduction to Ben's immense passion. He carries that energy into everything he does - his own writing, the work he edits at his literary journal BULL, in his dedication to his friends and also his students at Georgia Southern University where he teaches writing. Ben is there for you.

Warm, generous, and never at a loss for words, Ben answered these questions through email one at a time with rapid fire turnaround, possessing the enviable ability to write expansively on any topic that comes up.


SHELDON LEE COMPTON: You wake one morning to find you are the avatar of evil. I know right? There is but one way to appeal this decision. You must write a formal letter to the Creator of Myths and make your case. Let's see that letter.


Dearest Privileged-assed Smug Angry White People,

We’ve gone and stolen all the stories we can steal but that don’t mean we ain’t gonna keep trying to steal all the stories we can right up until all our pillaged climaxes reveal our true gods and devils to us as one pink-faced, golden-fleeced trickster who leads us all by the hand deep down into the depths of the fiery hells of our own making plagiarizing.

Yours truly,

Pat Robertson

P.S -. Was I supposed to ask forgiveness and beg for mercy? Well, shit, then I’m sorry as hell, Boss. My bad. I mean, it wasn’t my fault. I was only doing what I thought was right. It was all them others made me evil. God forgive me for I know not what misery I inflict upon others I feel inferior to.

SLC: Extraterrestrial life forms have finally left the shadows and revealed themselves to us. The only catch is that they will only respond to communication in the form of popular music from the 1980s and 1990s. They visit you as they make rounds, hoping to find out more about the human species. What songs do you choose to communicate your answer and why?

First, and I’m not sure if this counts because it was a cover of a Marvin Gay, et al./ vocals by Martha and the Vandellas from the sixties, but in my dream of dreams I’d really dig it if I could do a kind of John Cusack/Say Anything bit but instead of a boombox have a real long extension cord hooked up to a bigass seventy-pound box TV/VCR combo playing the video of Mick Jagger and David Bowie singing, “Dancing in the Streets.” I think that opening dancing-shoes bit with Bowie and Mick alternating call and response on “South America, Australia, France, Germany, UK, Africa / Calling out around the world / Are you ready for a brand-new beat?” would really impress the shit out of any type of life form, right?

Obviously, after that I’d smash TV/VCR on the parking lot (because it’s always a parking lot isn’t it?) and whip out my mom’s tape recorder out of my book bag: Blast a little “Safety Dance” in all its tape-distorted glory at ‘em because this fucking world, right? We can dance if we want to. We can leave our friends behind. Because if our friends don’t dance then their no friends of mine. Know what I’m saying?

And finally, I think you probably can see where I’m going with this but I’m still going there anyway because it’s been prophesied: That’s right, we’d finish it all off with me grabbing my Walkman and my headphones blaring only for me “Dancing with Myself” because it’s fucking “Dancing with Myself” for one thing and for another I’ve always wanted to flip the bird and my future overlords, grab myself, and spit the lyrics to: “If I had the chance, I’d ask the world to dance, I’d be dancing with myself.” And then offer myself up whatever experiments they’d like to throw my way.

SLC: Who wins a fight between H.P. Lovecraft and Gertrude Stein? How and why?

Is this really even a debate? Stein would just wink at a vicious wink at Lovecraft and all that chin of his and he’d be down on his knees bawling at her feet and begging for tender mercy.

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?

I’m not sure I could appear any dumber to people than I already do (see answers to questions above and below), so yeah, sure, bring on all the scorn and pity you want to throw at me. I got big spaces between my discolored teeth and a mohawk mullet. I have no pride. I’d just like to be able to remember my own phone number when I go to the doctor.

SLC: The wardrobe to Narnia or the rabbit hole to Wonderland?

Not sure I’ve seen an actual wardrobe in my life. Pretty sure I’ve almost broken my ankle in any number of rabbit holes. Also: I’m just a couple more crazy-pill-prescriptions away from a full-fledged Mad Hatter, much closer at least than I’ll ever be to a bunch of innocent little Christian kids or a noble lion-warrior-king-Liam Neeson-voiced-action-hero/stand in for Jesus, Lord God Almighty slayer of evil and martyr to humans.

SLC: For one week you're given the ability to paint like Picasso, compose like Mozart, and sing like Ella Fitzgerald. How do you make use of this during the course of those seven days?

See question two above with my extraterrestrial friends and me trying to recreate Bowie and Mick singing “Dancing in the Streets” but in this case I’d have a magic key-tar that doubles as a pavement striper. Can you even imagine how beautiful that abandoned parking lot would look when I’d get done dancing with myself?

I am nothing if not cultural snob.

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.

Well, I’ll say this: I’d do a lot better than James Frey squirming and stuttering when Oprah called in on Larry King Live.

What I mean is I write auto-biographical fiction and as such I’m a habitual and unrepentant liar-liar-pants-on-fire sheep in wolf’s clothing.

I think mostly I’d just sit there and do this absurdly offensive parody of Jason Segel doing his best DFW impression, including wig, do-rag, and Timberlands. I’d look down and away a lot and then up real innocently sometimes while mumble-rambling on and on about how in a world of shiny reality television-oids every permutation of [air-quotes] “post-modernism” is the metaphorical [air-quotes] “penis monster eating its own head,” and I think Rose would be so terrified by the image of his very own [air-quotes] “penis monster eating its own head” as a metaphor for his own career of being shitty to women that he’d probably back track with that old sure, sure, sure thing and that little wry smile of his as if he’d let out a silent but deadly fart—as in: as if we’d been old rowing teammates back in college and pretend to know exactly what I’m talking about.

Then I’d shrug and say, Well, Chuck isn’t this all so much hot fetid garbage-burgers anyway?

And he’d say that sure, sure, sure, thing again and then change the subject to art’s role in bringing world peace to the masses.

SLC: Two of your favorite authors show up at the same party and approach you at the same time. The evening has to end with you insulting one and becoming friends with the other. How do you choose and why?

So I had this poet buddy back in grad school and before that I didn’t know shit about writing (my mom basically signed me up for grad school and told me to send some stories) and I thought that to be a writer that you had to be a complete pompous asshole who only listens to Brahms, quotes from Rilke, and doesn’t have a TV.

My buddy grew up in Flint, Michigan helping his dad do repo work. My buddy grew up the cliché of poor Catholic. Then as Flint was abandoned by the world, my buddy’s dad finally started to make ends meet so eventually he could send his son off to grad school to be a fucking poet. Now imagine you’re an idealistic/misanthrope poet doing repo with your dad while people who are about to be homeless ask your dad for a job while you’re repoing their cat-piss furniture. Now that’s some real Hail Mary Full of Grace shit to take to your grave. Or your poems.

Anyway, my buddy, he’s like six-four, I’m like six feet, but 300 pounds with a shaved head then a mohawk and on any given night we’d get to shouting expletives at each other about Badgers vs. Wolverines, the animals and the teams. We debate Catholics vs. Lutherans, who were the real Christians, we debate Tupac vs. Dre, Beasties vs. Eminem, Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah vs. Cohen’s original. One night we both get so shitfaced and belligerent, we end up shouting at each other to fuck yourself and storming out of the bar to go our separate ways. Our debate: the semicolon.

Then about an hour later, my buddy calls me all drunk and blubbering about how he was sorry and he doesn’t give a fuck about the semicolon and he loves me and pretty soon I’m saying no fuck me. I love you man, I probably don’t even know how to use a semicolon. What do I even know, I’m an asshole.

Anyway, I really miss that dude. Great fucking poet. I don’t even know if he writes anymore. Life, you know. And the two of us too volatile and insecure and inconsequential as writers to make it as friends post grad school.

So: yeah, I’d be insulting both and then becoming blubbering friends with them later only to lose touch over the years because I’d always worry that they’d realize what poseur I really am way down deep. 

Sorry, this is a bullshit waffling answer but thing is, I’m pretty much shit with making friends.

SLC: With same crazy luck, you inherit half a million dollars and a 200-acre farm but hate farming.  How do you make use of the money and land?

Listen, having actually grown up on a farm that is in fact 200 acres, I don’t need the land or the farm. As for the cash, I’d pay at least 100K for somebody to come in and doze the dilapidated barn from the late 1800s and then get rid of all the scrapped-out skeletons of old tractors, balers, trucks, snowmobiles, riding lawnmowers, a dump truck, and one burned out old single-wide that my dad uses as a third shed. Anything I can do to prevent my seventy-five-year old father from dying alone out there. The other 400K I’d pay someone to take care of the house, land, cars, and my parents’ every need that they’d never ask for in a million years til the day they die to make up for what a cruddy, ingrate, little whiny bastard I’ve been, and for becoming a writer who can’t come up with anything better than to write about his family.

Honestly, half a mill still wouldn’t be enough to make things right.