Iowa Writes

DEREK HECKMAN
A Conversation with Bennet Simms, an interview


DH: You've mentioned a couple influences. Barthelme, Wallace, Kunin. Any others that have had a particular impact on you?

BS: A lot of the usual suspects. By which I mean, the authors people tend to identify as influences of mine are people I self-consciously consider influences. Nicholson Baker, Philip Roth, Thomas Bernhard, W.G Sebald. I usually have them in mind when I'm trying to craft sentences.
        Proust looms behind the novel, too, in-as-much as it's really concerned with memory and nostalgia, and how memory operates geographically. The book explores how certain memories can condense within certain places, and how consciousness can intersect with these geographical nodes of memory, such that people are compelled to return to important sites or be reminded of them.

DH: Charles D'Ambrosio compares the book to those of Walker Percy. Was he ever a conscious influence of yours?

BS: I did read The Moviegoer growing up, and I liked it a lot. It's one of the crown jewels of Louisiana literature, alongside Confederacy of Dunces. But I haven't read it recently, and it wasn't something that was in my mind when I was drafting the novel. I was surprised and pleased by D'Ambrosio's comparison, but the influence had to have been subconscious on my part.

DH: You've mentioned a couple influences. Barthelme, Wallace, Kunin. Any others that have had a particular impact on you?

BS: A lot of the usual suspects. By which I mean, the authors people tend to identify as influences of mine are people I self-consciously consider influences. Nicholson Baker, Philip Roth, Thomas Bernhard, W.G Sebald. I usually have them in mind when I'm trying to craft sentences.
        Proust looms behind the novel, too, in-as-much as it's really concerned with memory and nostalgia, and how memory operates geographically. The book explores how certain memories can condense within certain places, and how consciousness can intersect with these geographical nodes of memory, such that people are compelled to return to important sites or be reminded of them.

DH: Charles D'Ambrosio compares the book to those of Walker Percy. Was he ever a conscious influence of yours?

BS: I did read The Moviegoer growing up, and I liked it a lot. It's one of the crown jewels of Louisiana literature, alongside Confederacy of Dunces. But I haven't read it recently, and it wasn't something that was in my mind when I was drafting the novel. I was surprised and pleased by D'Ambrosio's comparison, but the influence had to have been subconscious on my part.

DH: What's your favorite thing that you yourself have written?

BS: Ever?

DH: Yes. To make you choose.

BS: Well, I guess there are two axes of satisfaction here. First there are the projects that were the hardest to write and the hardest to get right, and that caused me the most agony and self-hatred and bloodshed, but that I still managed to finish and be proud of. My favorite in this category would either have to be the novel itself or this short story called "House-Sitting," which I wrote while I was at the Workshop.
        The other kind of writing I tend to be satisfied with are just the jokes I type when I'm making myself sit at the computer, whenever I can't confront the agony of trying to finish something truly difficult. This is a purer, more pleasurable form of satisfaction.

DH: Is that what you do to force yourself to write, make jokes?

BS: Yeah. At some point I internalized this ethos of sitting at a desk and forcing myself to be at a laptop for a set number of hours in a workday. I'm suspicious of how productive this actually is, though, because I tend to just while away the hours writing a bunch of dumb jokes, then pat myself on the back for putting in a full day.
        But when I make myself sit at the desk, the things I end up writing—just to amuse myself and keep from going crazy—are these little set-up/punch-line jokes. Probably the single line I'm proudest of would be: What did the doctor prescribe the mutant for constipation?

DH: I don't know. What did the doctor prescribe the mutant for constipation?

BS: Milk of Magneto.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


DEREK HECKMAN

Derek Heckman's interview with Bennet Simms, author of A Questionable Shape (Two Dollar Radio), originally appeared on The Iowa Review's blog.

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