Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Ben Slotky’s fiction piece, In the Event I Decide to Open My Own Detective Agency
Sommer: The hand waving in this story brings to mind both the image and the irony in Stevie Smith’s poem, “Not Waving But Drowning.” The irony in your story is that the protagonist seems to have it all under control, explaining how things will go and how s/he will act, and under no control at all. Of course, the phrase “detective agency” is ironic as well. Substitute it for anything, really. The point being, what is “you” going to do with this twisted call for help? What next steps do you imagine “you” taking?
Ben: That’s it, isn’t it? What happens next? That’s what’s so scary about this, is that it’s being described so matter of fact, this breakdown. This is going to happen, it’ll be like this, and the this is this irrational, illogical thing, this inevitable thing, that the reader is hearing, this confession, and you don’t know what to make of it, really. It’s a slow motion car crash.
But, really, why “detective agency”?
Because it sounds kind of jarring, in a vague, kind-of-but-not-really kind of way. It’s kind of comfortably unfamiliar, so it sets the tone. You start somewhere and when you’re done, you kind of recognize you’re someplace else. Ideally, you get part way through this and you go, “Oh wait a minute. This isn’t what I thought it was.”
This is a very short story, and breathless. Did you write it in one sitting, and did you imagine it just as quickly? On that note, how does your imagination play with the physical act of your writing?
Breathless is a good word. I thought of what I wanted the story to be about way before I wrote anything. I wanted it be like you were witnessing somebody as they just unraveled, this total breakdown and not being able to do anything about it. How that must feel. To me, that’s scary as hell, that sensation, and I tried to take that and put it down, make it funny, hide it in plain sight.
Do you write longer fiction as well? What do you find are the differences between writing very short fiction and longer fiction?
I do write longer fiction. I have a collection of short stories called Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy that was published a few years back and I have a novel, An Evening of Romantic Lovemaking that will be out early 2021. Longer fiction is hard. I could try and say something that would sound more intelligent, more insightful than that, but there isn’t anything, really. Curtis White told me something once about writing short and long stuff. He likened it to ornaments and trees. We were talking about all of these stories that I’d accumulated over the years and he said, “You’ve got a lot of ornaments, now you just need a tree where you can hang them.” That’s how AEORLM [An Evening of Romantic Lovemaking] came about originally. The whole idea of the story (a would-be standup comedian performs his last act in front of an audience who may or may not have been taken hostage and may or may not be there) was a tree where I could hang all of the ornaments I’d been writing.
Some think that there needn’t be any distinction at all between “flash” fiction and short stories—that they’re all simply stories. What do you think? Perhaps the difference lies in the reading of it or in what one must bring to it as a reader? Or perhaps not.
I’m more in the “they’re all simply stories” camp, and I agree that the differentiation between the two is more important for the reader. I think what appeals to me most about flash fiction as a reader is the immediacy. You have to focus, you have to pay attention. Being a writer also impacts my reading in that I know there are only so many words and with each word, I know somebody labored over it, somebody is-this-right-or-should-I-do-this-instead’d over it.
I like writing flash fiction because it’s a scene, really, a glimmer, a glimpse. I like the specificity around it. It’s this one thing and you’re describing it. It makes you focus, which is not my strength. What appeals to me about it as a writer is that you have a hard out. Do what you are going to do, but do it under this amount of words.
What are you reading these days? Why?
I like crime novels, detective books, stuff like that. I think that form allows you to do so many different things. People are familiar with this format, so there’s a lot of opportunity to do some interesting things, play around, have some fun. I’m re-reading the Commissario Ricciardi series by Maurizio de Giovanni. Just so wonderful on so many levels. I’ve been trying to write a crime novel for a few years. Corporate noir. It’s called The Last First Time. If I ever finish, it’ll be great. Even if I don’t, it’ll still be great.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Just take comfort in the fact that none of the people who reject you even exist and that even if they do, you’re probably either dead or sprawled out drooling on a mattress in some mental institution somewhere, so it doesn’t matter anyway. None of this is really happening, it’s fine, keep going.
Thanks for doing this with me, and much congratulations on your second publication with us!
Thank you very much. You all have been very nice to me and I really do appreciate it.