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Headless

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The third installment in cult novelist Dennis Cooper’s groundbreaking Little House on the Bowery series.

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Interview with Benjamin Weissman by Raul Deznermio

Both Headless and your previous book, Dear Dead Person, are comprised of stories, often very short ones. What draws you to writing stories rather than, say, novels? And have you ever written longer fiction pieces?
I just started writing a novel and I’m kind of out of my mind excited about it. Progressing quickly. All about hate, but it’s pretty giddy and cheerful. I always and only wanted to write stories when I started writing. Had no intention of ever writing a novel. Stories were all I wanted to write and read. I love the short form, the quick blast. First hero, Barthelme. But now I can see why people write novels, the kitchen sink project is so kick ass. Everything in my experience seems to fit. Tripping me out.

The arc of the stories in Headless seems to move from more absurd/surreal vignettes—like the opening story about Hitler’s relationhip to the sport of skiingto more “intimate” stories in the final section, “Technically Dadless.” How did you decide the order of the stories?
Brilliant editor Dennis Cooper came up with the order. He found cool relationships between the stories. He saw a thread. A loose thread.

Do you have a favorite story in the collection?
Probably the two ski stories and “Fecality of it All.” Not for the content, but rather the kind of sentences the content elicited.

Headless has been praised by literary heavyweights such as Alice Sebold and Bret Easton Ellis. On the cover blurb, Ellis says the stories powerfully depict “what it means to be male.” In terms of book buyers/readers, do you think the stories will appeal more to men or womenor is this irrelevant?
I think it’s irrelevant, hope it is, trust it is. Being male is weird and ridiculous, a freak show, something women occasionally have to deal with in their lives, whether they’re gay or straight. There are aggro men and girly men and manly girls and girly girls and a zillion variations inbetween, way more than two sexes. I think it’s all about whether a story is written well. Good sentences can take a person anywhere.

There appear to be some shared themes in your work with the writings of Phillip RothI’m thinking specifically of Portnoy’s Complaintthough stylistically the writing isn’t too similar. Do you like Roth’s work? Who have been some of your inspirations as a writer?
I just read Portnoy’s Complaint for the first time and of course was thoroughly blown away. I had no idea it was going to be that good. He’s a freak and his sentences are badass. I’ve avoided all the mainstream Jews with the exception of Kafka for a long time. Concentrated on German language writersBernhard, Walser, Handke, Frisch, Grass, Heiner Mullerand all the strange inspiring Americans: Charlie Baxter, George Saunders, DFW, Janet Kauffman, Joy Wms., Aimee Bender, Vollmann, Lydia Davis, Hawkes, Gass, Edson, Tate, Brodkey, Denis Johnson, Dennis Cooper.

You are one of the first writers in Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series. How did you come to meet Dennis?
We met at a literary center in Venice, California 20 years ago called Beyond Baroque. I signed up for an open reading and he was running things. He was very cool and supportive. I also fell in love with my wife at Beyond BaroqueAmy Gerstler, the foxy librarian. Beyond Baroque rocks.

Are you working on any new writing projects?
The above mentioned novel and more stories. I guess that would be two separate manuscripts, and drawings, lots of drawings and paintings on paper (canvas bad, toothy, formal, stern).

Based on the four beautiful illustrations in the book, it seems that your talents are not limited to the written word. Do you spend more time on your visual art or your writing?
Lately I’ve been writing more, especially since this novel is freaking me out, making me feel like joyous eagle boy, but when I’m doing both I’m drawing more hours of the day because I can do it for long stretches of time with music blasting. Writing is so hard core exhausting on the brain (but more rewarding). For me, making art is fun and about a thousand times easier. Thanks for asking me questions.



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