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Monday, January 9, 2012

Discussing Experimental Fiction with Tantra Bensko

I am doing just what I would like to be doing to make a living—teaching, editing, and coaching writing, mostly Experimental Fiction, I live in a room in Berkeley, and run a magazine called Exclusive and a resource site for people exploring Experimental Literature.  I have two new books out—Lucid Membrane (Night Publishing) and the chapbook, The Cabinet of What You Don't See (ISMS Press) and have more books coming out before too long. I have lived a big ol life.
Tell us about the genre of your work. 
Some of my stories are Absurdist, some New Wave Fabulist, New Weird, Surrealist, and other types, but they are all literary. It is playful, spiritual. Transgressive. Tending toward Paranormal Fiction.
What I write overall I call Lucid Fiction, a genre I instigated. I use that label for a range of things. Corporations and politicians control mainstream media, such as the news stations bought out, so they cannot report the truth of what those types of folks are doing. Thus, we live in this make-believe fiction about reality. Loosely, Lucid Fiction is any media of the paradigm of looking behind those controlling illusions. It is the fiction of our life itself become more lucid. More empowered. Taking advantage of the whole self, seeing the whole picture.
As an Experimental Literary Genre, it is the fiction of the new paradigm, as that lucidification occurs. And it can help it along in many directions, such as taking the reader into a widened range of the self, not just the usual beta brain-wave all the time, but also some subconscious, some Higher Self, some self from totally other perspectives. In addition, new forms open up new vistas in ways people imprint on what society is. Is it something we can be controlled by totally? Alternatively, can we find little windows out of the commercial world and   jump on a boat made out of a leaf and float downstream on it into something else?
At the most strict, it would have one or more of these qualities: It questions the traditional plot art. It expands the idea of what can be a character, or even what a person is. It addresses topics that are usually taboo in literary fiction. For example, if we write about a conspiracy, we do not necessarily put it in terms of formulaic Sci Fi, but treat it as being as real as anything else in the story. In general, Lucid Fiction stretches itself to explore spiritual concepts. I like to engage the whole self, and it can at times be divided up as I do in my collections, in which some stories are surreal subconscious, others are transcendent Higher Self things with circular structures that take us into meditation, others are conscious mind linear narratives.
Why did you choose this genre?
Choosing it doesn't mean that I want to put down other genres. This is more of a manifestival than saying one is better than the other. And obviously, the other genres are the ones that sell spectacularly, and people really enjoy them, for good reason. Nevertheless, I guess we often pick our genres because they are the best way for us to express how we see the world.
The traditional requirements for plot seem limited and overused to me, and I feel the necessity for dualistic conflict perpetuates a mindset that needs more adrenalin, more fighting, more stimulants. I do not say plot like that should not happen, but I like to see more variety in choices. Instead of reading a book that throws off my blood sugar and blood pressure, hormones, and ability to go to sleep, I'd sometimes rather read a book that prepares me for great meditation, creativity, hypnogagia (those images that occur on the edge of sleep). Maybe even hypnagogia that tells me things.
Parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system dominance seems good to me as a general fare, which wouldn't be possible for me if I read or watched continual High Concept stuff, gearing up for fighting. Fighting can be good. Going into it with balance is best. The sympathetic nervous system treats things as separate entities, as points. The parasympathetic nervous system treats things as a continuum of Wave.
I spend a lot of time doing practices that help me see beyond the limitations of ordinary consciousness and a traditional portrayal of a human being. Therefore, I like writing about characters or narrators that include what is going on from other perspectives. For example, I wrote one story in which many characters are watching from their afterlife, so their energy is in the room, projected from the future. I see that as realism, and treat it as such, which is normally done in other genres rather than literary.
I also do not want to be limited in subject matter. This newest book goes into shadow government and secret military mind control, non-lethal weapons, abductions, association with aliens, for example. Lucid Membrane plays transgressively with some religious props. The paranormal fiction collection has reptilian hosts as some of the characters, and the main character is a miracle worker.
Cabinet, the newest one, is a pretty creepy book, which I put together with dark ISMs Press in mind. The publisher is wonderful, and I was thrilled to work with her closely on this. I felt like if it was going to be predominantly frightening yet experimental, Expressionistic, such as the publisher, Rachel Kendall  puts out….then it should be about a worthy topic that could be discussed seriously, something real enough that it is truly scary.  The kind of thing that scares many people awake for a reason in real life. But what is real life, when it comes to screen memories? I played with the theme in the main story to make it deliciously surreal. The fact that this book deals in parts with some serious social issues makes it seems fitting to have more conflict than my more spiritual stories.
The Cabinet of What You Don't See can be found at
What are some of your books, stories that have been published?
I have had 180 story and poem publications in magazines.  I have been putting up announcements of new publications lately at my blog at Experimental Writing, along with announcements of new things I put up in Exclusive Magazine.
10 Pages Press published an e-chapbook of poetry called Liminal.  Otherwise, my books have been in print. I had quite a few non-fiction books published small press 20 years ago which sold in stores around the country, and I self-published Tantric Metaportals.
Tantric Metaportals is 100 large pages of full color, intense art I made, which can be stared at like a mandala or yantra, as part of doing Tantra Yoga. It's a poetically revealed instruction book and you do the exercises as you read the book, real time, staring at the images. I put it out in conjunction with a DVD instructional set called Tantric Lucidity.
Naissance Press put out the 51 page Watching the Windows Sleep, which has poetry and black and white art as well as stories, and can be bought from their website, as well as the tiny Swinging on the Edge of Day .
Lucid Membrane is my big fiction book, which can be bought through Night Publishing's website. There are a lot of rollicking fun stories, some of them about young, frisky alternative body artists. Some of the characters are naïve young southern women figuring out entertainingly inventive ways to survive. In one story, a man ends up speaking with his mouth in his stomach, as he has swallowed it. In another, characters from a woman's hypnotic regression show up at a party she attends.
The book contains three stories inside, which are created out of the other stories. The book also is a secret portal to the rest of the book online, as it is transmedia. Readers can participate in that part if they chose to.
The Cabinet of What You Don't See was handmade in the UK by Rachel Kendall, making it a true work of art.
How do you come up with the names of places and characters in your books?

Your question brings to mind the lists I made when I was young of names. I was fond of them, and wanted to do something with them. When I first started the list, I believe I was thinking of names for children. But there got to be too many names for a brood. I was not even sure I wanted to have kids. It was just the names, and what they conjured up to me that I wanted. Therefore, I decided they would have to be characters in my fiction. I have probably used that vaguely remembered list.

If I am making up a place name, I am probably being modest with people's identity, including my own. My question is when to make the place name, or the human name the same in different stories. Each story represents the fic
tion of one perspective on one moment, from a few details. One character keeps the same name and identity across decades of stories.

Some other stories could be said to be like fluid reality dreaming of her. Frogs splayed apart for dissection escaping and getting into high drama. Two dogs eating each other repetitively. A young girl taking care of her great great great great great grandfather, perpetuating his life with her healing abilities, in a house with collapsible rooms. Those are often “names” for the main character.

How did you develop the character of your protagonist in this book?

I think the reader may be the protagonist, especially if he suspects he or someone he knows has been abducted by the military or aliens. He can form an alliance with the author of the stories, who has heritage from Sirus, though she does not know it, though she has always wondered why she has bluish blood. Her qualities allow a lot of esoteric subjects to come together. I gave some quotes about people on our planet who do have bluish skin, and some mythology, history, reports related to aliens and the shadow government.

Her first short story begins “I wish the people I'm living with, on my own invisible frequency, could understand that I am weaving myself through their cells, through their dreams, their breath, their love. I am a verb, and they only understand beings as nouns.”

This is the quirky ontological kind of duality in the book. I like to expand what a character can be. In this case, it is a verb—does a verb.

What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?

I would say the nemesis is the shadow military working with the aliens who is implanting the screen memories, keeping the characters from knowing what is really going on. However, even they, I am sure, believe they are doing what they should be doing.

They are integral to the story of the verb, which involves Milabs and those who expose the phenomena. After an intense story from the viewpoint of the verb, it asks: “Do you want to visit my world sometime, and flow through life like a water park that goes nowhere and everywhere? Do you want to feel the invisible layers of vision like rain upon all around you? I will take you if you want. This is the story of you becoming able to think like me. There is no other plot, because life as a verb has no plot, because it is all one verb. It is not nouns brawling and getting worried because it all happens at once, on all levels, is all things, knows. That's the difference between us and you.”

Who is you? You is the main character of the book. Separation and Union, the pulsations back and forth, distance and presence in an eternal vibration that speaks to each other like the sonar waves of dolphins. So, you are also the antagonist.

What are your favorite things about your book?
I like the way the pages of the stories inside the cabinet drawer are different from the ones in the over-arching story.  With the colored and tissue paper, and my wrap around illustration it looks inviting visually while edgy, with images coming out at you, and slowly being seen. I like things inside other things, and creating innovative structures, so the way it proceeds through cabinet drawers makes me happy.
Working with Rachel Kendall ( has been delightful. Scheming together on how to present it specially, this kind of complex thing.  People who get the print issues of the issue of Sein und Werden will read it as an extra marvel, and I like that so many people will enjoy it. I did the cover art for the issue as well. I used organic meat to make it—don't worry. And it lives on its own as an individual chapbook that helps people turn their dreams inside out and understand them. And find things on the undersides of their outsides they didn't know existed. With lots of oddity to keep you company.
How is writing in the genre you write, different than other genre?
I write a lot of Lucid Fiction. Whenever appropriate, I try to do something unlike anything else; something that pushes the ideas of what is possible within Experimentation. Like, I am not aware of anything similar to what I am doing as the transmedia part of Lucid Membrane. I do not want to talk too much about it because it is for people who buy the book to discover and participate in.
I write a lot of dreamlike stories so I get to change my brain waves and just start writing, seeing what is going to come out, for those. I love doing that. If I can be in an expanded state that integrates the levels of myself lucidly, and play absurdly in some way that helps me, and therefore others, process something, I enjoy that a lot. I progress through the writing into being a different self. That has always been my goal since I was young for poetry as well.
Why and when did you begin writing?
I started before I could even write words down. Once, my father wrote down a story for me called The Last of the Big Giant. I did the illustrations. I used to sit holding a book pretending to read to my parents, making up stories. I got up on stage one time, and acted out a spontaneous play. Because it is delightful. And I had the desire to be one of the voices that defined the age through literary arts.
What is your writing schedule?
I give teaching writing and writing articles and publishing projects priority because of deadlines. Then, whenever I can get time in, I write stories.  I recently wrote a manuscript in a short time, writing sometimes a few stories a day, because I felt like the period was dreamlike, that I needed to dream on paper about some universal motifs I was experiencing, and turn them into whimsy. Other periods, I focus on the life that gives me my subjects. Yesterday, I wrote 7000 words on my newest novel.
What projects are you working on now, or plan for the future?

I have manuscripts that will be published, and it looks like I will be traveling to Asia and the UK to promote a book. I am working fast and furious on one of my novels now, which is based on the premise that ghosts can be sucked up into the hole in the aura that forms when someone is lobotomized. It has the afterlife and reincarnation, it has time travel, and it has an aura conductor. . .
I am part of The Step Chamber,, and the other writers and I like to play. We make things called Zaphods, and Medussas, where we collaborate in our unique ways online.

Lucid Membrane is something that takes time to create even after it is published. The transmedia may include reader participation, for those who go through the process of getting into the Secret Womb, which is online. So, I am making very experimental style things there now that interlock, and offer things they can do.

What kind of advice or tips do you have for someone who wants to write and get published?
Pay attention to how exciting it is for you to write what you're working on. Is it tedious work filling in the plot to get across something you already know? Think of what you might do different in the telling that would make it more fun to tell, and bring in more of the present moment into it? If you are bored, telling a story you wish the readers would just Know Already! then your readers probably feel the same way., for people who have not heard of it, it a vital source for deciding where to publish. Remember that the average magazine you have heard of takes from .1 to 1 percent of the creative writing submissions it receives. So do not get discouraged when you are rejected by magazines, or presses. Just keep and back up precise records of submissions and acceptances.
The definition of what a book is is changing rapidly with technology, and brashness. Possibilities are opening up all the time. Multi-media, microw, transmedia, presentations in unique ways such as at Jaded Ibis Press.
Communicate with your ideal readers when you can find them. It helps you empathize with what they will like. At first, you may need to imagine them, and believe in them. Just remember to read over what you write a good while after you finish it before you submit it, from the point of view of someone –not you.
Are there any other comments, advice or tips that you would give to beginning writers?
Listen to the sound of the words you are writing. Do they seem subtly musical, or are they clunky and all multi-syllabic hard-edged words? Does the ending syllable of your story have the impact it needs? Accenting the final syllable makes the story feel more concluded, instead of leaking off the page drip drip drip.
Are you trying to communicate from scrunched up muscles and head hunkered over, not getting enough exercise, your throat chakra contracted? Try balancing it from time to time with spontaneous movement and sound to open things up. You will be writing from muscles and ligaments, sinewy words from a body that has warm circulation and the ability to make noise unabashedly.
What do you do when you are not writing? 
I like making art and photography, spontaneous movement, meditation, and sound (LucidPlay), playing absurdly with people, doing anything at all with my son, making music in a John Cage-like fashion, on whatever is around, making videos from intense comedy to instructional, and surreal. I use music on many of the videos by The Ruby Fire Household Orchestra-- some comedy movie and music collaborators and me going wild in a little cabin in rural Alabama over a couple weeks. Banging full force on the metal shower, wearing outrageous costumes, at the time also making the 5th movie in one set in which we play each other's roles. I feel like those guys are part of me, and the name of the last little movie is If I Was You.
What “Made It” moments have you experienced in life?
I communicate with some of my very favorite writers, and they appreciate my writing, and my efforts that bring more attention to Experimental Writing. When I was young, I wanted to write books, and I wanted my friends to be other writers I thought were the absolute greatest. At the time, I did not know how to picture it other than me being friends with books by dead writers like William Faulkner, and the French New Novelists. So, that moment of gratitude happens when I receive books for free in the mail from writers I respect greatly.
I did not know if teaching Experimental Fiction online would work, but I gave it a shot. One person who inspired me to do it, though she never knew it, eventually joined my class!
I felt gratified receiving the wonderful submissions of Lucid Fiction for Medulla Review when I guest edited it, reading their cover letters of why that's what they feel it is, and being able to publish some of them feels great. I had the idea of putting out an anthology or something of Lucid Fiction and now, it is happening. Reading what my students and other writers say about the genre means a lot to me. There really is a certain gap to fill in the labeling of types of writing. Once the label is solidly in place, more people can understand it, publish it, write it, and add that particular way of thinking to their repertoire. And it was Jennifer Bowles who came up with the idea of doing an issue of the magazine based on that.
With excellent publishers wanting to put out my new work, which I would like to talk about more, but which is in negotiations right now, there's “made it” feeling as long as I do not blow it, and unless the world blows itself up before the books are read.
Every morning I wake up so grateful to be alive, for this world, and to be writing within it; it is a continual feeling that I have made it lately – to be at such peace inside, able to be present and turn my attentions to creativity, pure and simple.

1 comment:

layden robinson said...

Love what youare doing and hope you enjoy my tales of elegant mania as well. Cheers, Layden