June 30, 2018
I was able to catch up with author Leroy Benes, whom I happen to know quite well, in order to discuss his work and future plans. Leroy Benes is the Author of Horde Zero, the first in a series of zombie books, and Cursed Rivalry, which he considers to be dark or paranormal fantasy, 'for lack of a better description.'
Shane Eide: Horde Zero and Cursed Rivalry are each the first of a different series. Would you tell us a little about each title and and how they fit into their respective wholes?
Leroy Benes: Horde Zero was a spontaneous idea that developed into something bigger. I wanted to write something in the zombie genre that flirted with other genres. It starts out like a bizarre murder mystery and then spirals out of control. I suppose I ran a great risk by raising the reader's curiosity regarding something which, ultimately, is not satiated in the way they would want until later in the series. I have a rough idea of what I want to happen and I anticipate writing three more books in the series. Each book will be written from the perspective of a different character. I'm working on the second part of the series now, which takes place a decade after the events of the first.
As for Cursed Rivalry (part of The Cursed Career series), my idea was to write paranormal mystery that would ultimately fulfill the demands of both fantasy and horror, though horror to a lesser extent I suppose, though the imagery is certainly there. I'm working on a second part now and I'd say I'm about two thirds of the way through it.
SE: Have you always been a fan of the zombie genre? What were are you trying to do with the Horde Zero Series that might not have been done before?
LB: It's funny because I'm embarrassed to say that I've always had a sort of peripheral appreciation of the genre but never cared for its specifics. I'm not too crazy about horror movies, nor am I a zombie aficionado. Nevertheless, the very simple nature of the concept and its ability to produce many complex permutations are what drew me to the idea. Also, I always felt that the zombie genre produces works that often have interesting beginnings but which have few options as to how one might conclude the story. I wanted to write a series of works which wouldn't simply approach the zombie genre from the idea of mere survival, but which would be working toward some kind of answer, one which, along the way, might raise all kinds of interesting questions about the nature of violence, ontology, sovereignty, power and the nature of human interaction. If there's one thing the zombie genre has prided itself in, its depicting humans in an extreme state of crisis. It's my contention, however, that all of civilization is built on dealing with states of extreme crisis.
SE: What can we hope to expect in the next volume of Horde Zero?
LB: Part two follows a group of characters who have devoted their lives to clearing the world of the undead and inspiring others to do the same. I don't want to give too much away, but they are invited into a community whose rulers are entirely secret and around whom many mysterious things take place.
SE: What can we expect from the follow up to Cursed Rivalry?
LB: The main character, Sebastian Moorhead, has relocated to Portland Oregon with his business partner and mentor in order to track down a sorcerer connected to the events of the first book. But Sebastian is distracted by his newfound immortality. It alienates everyone close to him so they end up having to take on the brunt of the work. It's far more surreal than the first book. Sterne and Leatramonte were some of my inspirations behind this one.
SE: You mentioned that you were writing both books at once. Are those the only projects you're working on right now? Do you find that it's better to work on one project at a time or several at once?
LB: I tend to work on more than one. I'm terrified of boredom. Writing two radically different books at once keeps it interesting.
SE: What is your writing process like?
LB: I write quickly and edit slowly. I do it when I can. I get frustrated if I don't write every day, but I don't do it every day. I've never been good at taking notes and drawing up outlines, but I've had to make myself better at it given the complexity of some of my ideas for the future.
SE: What might those ideas be?
LB: I want to write a fantasy series. Very multi-layered and quick paced. I don't have much of it outlined. I love alien invasions. I've always wanted to write an alien invasion book. I started writing one once but hated the outcome and gave up. I have an old post apocalyptic book I'd like to dig out and doctor up.
SE: Do you read much while you're working on a project? Are you reading anything interesting right now?
LB: Probably more than I should. I'm rereading Gore Vidal's essays. I'm rereading Borges. I reread more than I read new stuff these days. I'm working my way through Canetti. I'm dipping into Auden's essays.
SE: Did you ever think about publishing through traditional means?
LB: Didn't even occur to me in the past. Though I may in the future if it seems worth it.
SE: Any advice for aspiring writers?
LB: Don't let anyone tell you you can't write drunk. But don't let anyone tell you you have to. It's better if you don't. You're going to hear a lot of absolute rules when it comes to writing, but ultimately you're going to have to find the method that works for you. It's almost like an esoteric process in that regard. But have fun too. Find a way to enjoy research and note taking too. That's probably not extensive advice, but you got me on a good day.
SE: Thank you.
Eclecticism is, at once, the strength and weakness of the American artist. It is often said of him that he is too ambitious, though often it merely appears this way since he has become a brilliant collector.
University—Payment for an education or money owed to the prejudice of a professor?
The foreword to this edition of the book is determined to, at once, paint its author as a genius worthy of Joyce’s friendship and to divulge to us the most sensational instances of their meeting before we even get a chance to read about it ourselves.
Forgiving the clumsy beginning, we’re then introduced to a token of this particular genre whose most remarkable predecessor—and, surely, a direct model was Conversations with Goethe. Like Eckermann’s Goethe book, Arthur Power’s book is autobiographical in structure but slight on the ‘auto’ at just the instant when the star-artist arrives on the scene of our narrator’s life. At this point, minimal narration segues into a lot of lit-talk.
Though the forward by David Norris suggests that Mr. Powers is humbly portraying a younger, bohemian, ‘romantically-inclined’ version of himself in the shadow of a great genius, one can’t help but think that perhaps Mr. Powers thought, in fact, that he was the one best equipped to match wits with the great Joyce. After all, we’re only warned in the beginning by Powers, ‘My point of view has changed and coincides more with his, but such was it then, and as such I have left it.’ As close to Joyce’s mind as Powers’ mind might have become later, Powers never gives the reader any direct indication that he later disavowed his hatred of Ulysses. He preferred Joyce’s previous works which he thought were more ‘romantic’: Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Joyce’s frequent defenses give us some of the most personal insights into the heart of one of the most important books of the twentieth century. Of the work of his latter period, he says,
The important thing is not what we write, but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously: everything is inclined to flux and change nowadays and modern literature, to be valid, must express that flux. InUlysses I tried to express the multiple variations which make up the social life of a city—its degradations and its exaltations. In other words, what we want to avoid is the classical, with its rigid structure and its emotional limitations. The mediaeval, in my opinion, had greater emotional fecundity than classicism, which is the art of the gentleman, and is now as out-of-date as gentlemen are, classicism in which the scents are only sweet, but I have preferred other smells.
And we get plenty of other smells. Not many other novels before or after Ulysses feature a prominent scene with its main character on the john.
Arthur’s experiences with Joyce are set almost entirely in his living room. Much of Joyce’s lifestyle is hardly surprising to read about. He hated all things bohemian. He didn’t like to go to parties and he didn’t feel comfortable around people.
His wit and black humor are reserved for one-on-one conversations (specifically with Powers in this case) as in one instant where Joyce tells the story of a late acquaintance. He was a fellow Irishman named Tuohy, who became jealous and antagonistic when Joyce became an international celebrity. He once annoyed Joyce by mock-clapping when he entered a room. When Joyce learned that Tuohy had committed suicide in America, Power’s tells us that Joyce ‘showed no emotion.’
—I am not surprised, he said. He nearly made me want to commit suicide too.
Unlike Conversations with Goethe, which is made up of warm, congenial insights into many subjects between friends, Conversations with James Joyce is made up almost entirely of literary arguments. It is impressive that Powers was able to honestly capture (to the best of his memory) the biting, sarcastic quips that Joyce reserved for the former’s favorite writers.
After pages of Joyce tearing apart the beloveds of western literature, it is refreshing to hear how much he appreciates Proust. In this book, however, Joyce’s appreciation of an artist is often traded for Power’s dislike of the same. ‘You should give him more patience,’ he tells Powers, ‘…certainly no one has taken modern psychology so far, or to such a fine point.’
When Powers asks if Joyce is interested in Dostoyevsky, he replies, ‘Of course.’ Dostoyevsky, in fact, earns a brief but high place of praise in this book, probably higher than most other names mentioned.
He is the man more than any other who has created modern prose, and intensified it to its present-day pitch. It was his explosive power which shattered the Victorian novel with its simpering maidens and ordered commonplaces; books which were without imagination or violence.
The book ends abruptly on an unfortunate and sad, yet totally puzzling note—a rift in their friendship. What’s puzzling about this rift is that it is not only vague—having grown in the soil of Joyce’s ‘ill humour’ which came about one night over a meal—but that seems to rest almost entirely on a gross misinterpretation of a statement that Joyce made to lighten the mood.
When Joyce tells Powers about the birth of his grandson, Powers, ‘not being a family man who dotes on children,’ and who was ‘feeling very bitter at that time about the world in general,’ replies to Joyce with a passive, inconsiderate, ‘Is that all?’ When Joyce replies, heatedly, with, ‘It is the most important thing there is,’ Powers, rather than taking it to mean that family is incredibly important to Joyce, speculates to himself,
‘the most important thing there is’ meant that another Joyce had been born into the world. Even to this day, I am still in doubt, for Joyce’s estimation of merit would on occasion suddenly flare up to a point of madness.'
‘I cannot see what’s so important,’ Powers replies shamelessly. ‘It is something which happens to everyone, everywhere, all the time.’
The fact that Powers qualifies this callous statement by mentioning his not being a family man, by his irritation at Joyce’s alleged self-perception, and also by his unspoken agreement with Beckett of the world that ‘It had gone on long enough,’ leads one to assume that, inevitably, Powers was of the mind that his own position and attitude was justified. What would seem to be his apparent inability to read the situation years later, or at least, to see how it would appear to the common reader on paper, strikes this reader as a comical emotional blind spot.
The personal comedy gives way to sadness, however, as Powers rushes through their subsequent, brief meetings before Joyce’s death, which he hears about over the telephone. Thus, the book concludes,
It had not ended, but had lessened as so many friendships lessen when distance puts its cold hand between them, damped as they are by circumstances and time, and by differences of personality. A personality can fuse with another personality for a time, but when that time is over we gradually re-enter the Solitude of ourselves. Then all that remains is the memory of the fire which once warmed us both, and it is fragments of that memory which I have tried to reconstruct.
This memory reconstruction, this fragment, this already brief friendship, is the closest thing we have to discovering Joyce the man. But such is surely as Joyce would have preferred it: that he left behind, not traces of his life, but only his work.
Henderson the Rain King is a perfect example of why Saul Bellow is perhaps the most serious of comedic writers. His love of language flows through our restless, yearning narrator, Eugene Henderson, an aristocrat dissatisfied with life and forever chasing a voice inside of him screaming, ‘I want! I want! I want!’
Flaubert embodies the disappointed state of our modern sensibility. Both A Sentimental Education and Memoirs of a Madman depict characters who, despite our best wishes, we can't help but associate with the author.
These days, fewer are the novels I pick up and read thinking anything other than, ‘Dear fiction, why can’t you be as interesting as nonfiction?’ Seeing how I write fiction, I’ve always claimed fiction as my first love and was quite suspicious of novelists who claimed they read more nonfiction than anything else. Now, I completely understand, as I find getting through most novels either difficult or slow-going, despite how much I may like one on whole.
Other People is Amis at his most puzzle-like with structure. The book opens with a girl being told that she’s on her own now and to take care. She doesn’t remember anything before that. She names herself Mary in order to say something when people ask her who she is.
Louis August Blanqui