New Author Spotlight: Benjamin Blattberg
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I’ve always been drawn to the fantastic and the weird. Jane Austen is one of my favorite novelists, but sometimes you have to wonder if Elizabeth Bennett wouldn’t be better off building an eligible bachelor from spare parts. Or hopping between dimensions, eligible bachelors be damned.
OK, how about: Elizabeth Bennett traveling dimensions (via Yggdrasil?), hunted by Frankenstein’s monster.
And now you’ve also got a glimpse of my recombinative creative process.
The theme for this issue is Indoctrinate. Did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
I had already written and workshopped the story (shout out to the readers and writers who consistently blow my mind at the Escape Artists Crit Group, without whose help I would not have finished the story). The Indoctrinate theme and deadline gave me the impetus to actually revise and send the story out.
“The Lion God” rings a few familiar church bells. The title alone conjures C.S. Lewis’s Aslan, who was essentially the Christian deity cast in cat’s pajamas. How much was your Lion God inspired by old myths? And what gave you the idea to portray and subvert His power the way you did in this story?
Wait, Aslan is God?
Bad jokes aside, this story was directly inspired by C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I want to say that the story came from my complex feelings about Aslan, but my feelings are very simple: I can’t stand that bully.
I think Lewis is a fabulous writer for hitting the tone he’s going for: avuncular, personable, a little didactic. And the opening line to the Voyage of the Dawn Treader still makes me smile: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”
But every time Aslan settles an argument by roaring in someone’s face, I don’t feel like cheering him on. Sure, Aslan’s protecting kids who can’t protect themselves and all he wants is to help – and there’s probably a neighborhood bully out there right now saying the same things. To me, Aslan comes off less like Christ and more like a soccer hooligan.
That said, if all I wanted was to talk about my issues with Aslan, that’s what my blog is for. I wanted to imagine, even if only for a moment, what it might feel like to be one of those kids standing behind Aslan – to feel that love, however screwy it might seem from the outside. (And how often does love look pretty screwy from the outside?)
A deeper reading of the peculiar emotional dynamic between the Lion God and the main character rings a different set of bells – alarm bells. The power He exerts upon His flock, especially those who resist His brutal affection, and the way they fear and adore Him… It’s very like the dynamic between abusers and their victims. Was that parallel an accident of good storytelling? Or was it purposeful commentary on?
Oh, I like that, and from now on I’ll tell people I was thinking about that when writing.
Now that you point it out, while I didn’t consciously pattern the Lion God-and-worshipper dynamic on abusive relationships, I’m not totally surprised that it bears some resemblance. That is, a while before I wrote this story, I got into a deep discussion with some friends about their religious upbringings; and a few of their stories definitely had undercurrents (or just currents) of adoration and fear.
So I guess I owe this story to C. S. Lewis, the Escape Artists Crit Group, and all my friends who ever discussed religion with me.
Also, how is “His brutal affection” not already a band?
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
My first love is still the short story. That and the tweet are my primary forms of self-expression these days. Right now I should be revising my story(s) about a rich twit failing to write his dissertation on applied folklore.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
I don’t really have any favorite writing set-up. In fact, I often move between seats in the middle of a project: couch, standing desk, kitchen table, back to couch! Maybe I should stop that.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
Why, in the first answer you gave here, is Elizabeth Bennett using Yggdrasil to hop between dimensions as she runs from the Frankenstein monster?
What’s the answer to that question?
I added Yggdrasil – and I’m not committed to it – because the idea made me laugh. It’s not too hard to imagine the Bennett sisters (Pride and Prejudice, 1813) mixing with the Frankenstein monster (Frankenstein, 1818). But Yggdrasil doesn’t fit so well. So now I’ve got a fun challenge to make it all fit. (Or a little bit of weirdness that doesn’t fit, which I sometimes like better.)
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
Let’s see: dislike of Aslan, love of the Escape Artists Crit Group, never-ending delight with Jane Austen’s works. That’s about all there is to me. I blog semi-regularly at incremental-catastrophe.blogspot.com; and tweet nonsense at @inCatastrophe.