I’m so happy to play host to this Next Big Thing interview with Chanelle Benz here on my blog! Here we go…
What is/was the working title of the book?
“The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead.”
Where did the idea come from for the book?
First I wrote “Adela” (a 19th century found object piece narrated by a collective We in a baroque, Gothic style,) which came partly from an English class I’d taken called “Cultural Formations in the West Indies,” partly from my own predilection for theatrics, and partly out of the ether with this sentence by the creepy child narrators: “We did not understand how she came to be alone.”
Around the same time as I was writing “Adela,” I was starting David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and I came up with an experiment for myself: what if I wrote a collection of spy, post-apocalyptic, nineteenth-century, western, etc. stories? How many could I do, if any? I’ve ended up with 9 stories ranging from a monk during the 16th century dissolution of the monasteries to a pudgy ninth grader grappling with violence, privilege and Quakerism in modern-day Philly.
What genre does your book fall under?
Literary Fiction. Short story.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Ha ha. You have NO idea how much I love this question. I’ll reveal just a few of my castings. I’d love to see either Ralph Fiennes, Richard Armitage or Alan Rickman in the embittered monk story “That We May Be One Sheepfolde.” Chad Coleman (Cutty in The Wire) as the father in “James III.” Benedict Cumberbatch as Frederick Crawford in the slave narrative “The Peculiar Narrative of the Remarkable Particulars in the Life of Orrinda Thomas.” Amber Gray as Adela. I could go on…
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
“The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead” is comprised of mostly voice-driven stories that experiment in genre and form, but are thematically connected through the issues of history, gender and race.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was a theater actor before this so I feel like I have a lot to learn, to read, to see if I can do. I wanted to understand and master the mechanics of the short story—a lofty aim inspired by George Saunders. I also wanted to see how many worlds/vocal performances I could build like David Mitchell. But the stories themselves came from all over the place—ex-slave narratives, Sir Thomas More’s letters, wandering the graveyards of the Deep South, my childhood obsession with Billy the Kid.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My story “West of the Known” is in the brilliant, new lit mag The American Reader.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Who are the NEXT Next Big Things?
Christopher Brunt, Martin De Leon, and Rachel Abelson.
…and a big thank you to Kit Frick for tagging me–looking forward to reading her chapbook!