'C.B. Smith Interviews Ben Marcus' - Banner by Nut-head Productions

Mad Hatters Review 01/01/2006:
Interview with Ben Marcus

In this interview, I decided to quiz Ben Marcus using the boomerang bounce-back email scheme—my prize invention—on his 2002 experimental expressionistic novel The Father Costume. Some provocative and prosaic things were uncovered as the Mad Rooster attempted to get at the story behind the story...

MHs CBS: Upon deciding that you were in the beginning stages of a new project that in turn became The Father Costume, what inspiration or source did you draw from to arrive at the premise and motif of this work?

BM: Since it was a collaboration from the beginning, Matthew Ritchie and I sat down and threw around some ideas that we’d each been wanting to pursue. We settled on time as something that fascinated us—even though Matthew’s understanding of it, from the perspective of physics anyway, is far greater than mine. And I remember wanting to write something that used conditional tenses, a story that used the space of the conditional to try to create a menacing mood, the threat of what might happen. And then of course there was our mutual interest in cloth, some kind of garment that would serve as a structural design of god. And I think I wanted it to be an adventure story. All pretty obvious stuff.

MHs CBS: So a brainstorming creation followed by organic development. What then about the character choices. Father is present throughout, as are son one and his brother. But mother is mentioned only obliquely in the opening two paragraphs. Was this also part of the “threatening” motif, the idea that “bad things happen when mom’s not about?”

BM: I didn’t have a specific plan for this. I had the image of the father preparing the boys to leave the house, and in writing this I think I pretty much killed off the mom in order to make the whole thing more lonely. It just seemed to be more charged with her absent.

MHs CBS: Okay, Mom’s out of the way, Dad is with the boys, and he next jettisons off to sea with them, a lonely place indeed. Did perhaps a reference to Ahab in Moby Dick come to mind when creating the scenes at sea? Or was the father to be understood as undeniably and objectively dangerous, a loose cannon?

BM: Ahab didn’t come to mind. And I wasn’t really thinking about how the father was going to be understood. I was interested in the mystery of his project, the way the son was baffled by what he was doing, even as his brother is quickly killed. Someone’s in charge in the story, but the narrator has no idea what is really happening. That kind of innocence appealed to me, the trust you put in someone whose designs are beyond your comprehension.

MHs CBS: A mysterious project with mysterious intent surrounded by mysterious lands and sea where words spring to life as seeds from the earth. The boy makes much about avoiding his father’s attention with the words he spins, but they keep threatening to do him in. As the boy goes on to fantasize about a fitting end for his father, even employing land animals if necessary, why doesn’t he just use the lethal power of words to tie his father into knots?

BM: I guess that all of his power seems conditional and imaginary to me. He can’t tie anyone into anything. Did you wish he would do something different?

MHs CBS: I was maybe looking at a sense of empowerment, of not being the proverbial dumb terrified blonde running straight into a dark lonely place. Heck, if I could see trees on the shore stringing out sentences and watch my father attach sentences to his belt with glue, I would quickly gather in my fear a courage that realized the power of these “words and sentences” and use them to advantage.

BM: Ah, if only you had been in the story in his place

MHs CBS: In a parallel universe I most likely am. On a different track, the tale spins out as somewhat Freudian, a psychological catharsis of sorts, a lashing out at not so vague insistent spirits. Is there perhaps an element of autobiography about the dominating and fearsome father image? Or is that just a happenstance of fictional conception?

BM: Autobiography to me is what I’m capable of thinking and feeling, not just what has literally happened to me. So there is more than a small element of autobiography, but there’s so much that’s mythical and fantastical in the story that I can’t quite call it a true story.

MHs CBS: A story does not need to be termed “a true story” for the history of one’s life to inform it. For instance, you were at one time a boy, then a teenager, then a young adult. I’m making a broad reach when I assume that at some point a father figure most likely interacted. If this “reach” is on target, was this interaction in your recollection one tinged primarily by awe and fear or one of loving closeness? I suppose I’m just looking at the story behind the story, apropos of nothing.

BM: Loving closeness, far and away. It still is.

MHs CBS: So then, a paternal relationship of loving closeness which brings the present day Ben Marcus to a place where stories of lethal fear charge forth. It seems we cannot foresee an appearance on Jerry Springer anytime soon. Moving right along, let’s talk neither about you by way of this book, nor about you in third person, but you aside and away from your fictional writing. For instance, on your website, you make a show of informing of your various disguises as if this is your signature riff. Is the real world Ben Marcus a disguised persona, or is the intimation of disguises simply a clever ruse to throw us off your track?

BM: I thought I’d like to market some of those disguises, particularly the ones that use yeast. But they’re too public now, and probably wouldn’t be very effective. I don’t use a disguise anymore anyway, not since the great frost.

BM: —Last answer for me, at least for tonight. Have to run. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to the review.

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