It’s here! The new meme is here!
Admiration/Inspiration Thursday will appear on LGWABP once a week, featuring an interview with someone I admire for some reason, or a collection of things that are inspiring my writing that week.
This week’s guest for A/I Thursday is Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror blogger. I’ve been reading Ben’s blog for a few months now, and had the good fortune of meeting him in the flesh during the EWF this year at multiple events.
Ben’s been chosen for A/I Thursday because of his sheer awesomeness and drive. He balances writing, blogging, and an incredibly active political involvement. His blog is a mashing-together of all these things – when I first saw this I squirmed a bit, but after reading it for a while I’ve realised that this entirely eclectic mixture really works. I’m not disinterested in politics, but it’s certainly not something I’m passionate about – I truly admire Benjamin’s investment in it, and how passionate he is. Just check out that picture below – you can see it!
Benjamin makes politics accessible for cretins like myself, and keeps a good levels of personal involvement in what he blogs about, so that it takes on an extra level of interest.
I admire him. He inspires me. I caught up with Benjamin for a chat.
You have quite an interesting blog – you combine your passion for politics with your love of writing, along with some tidbits from your personal life. It’s a pretty eclectic mix, but somehow you pull it off. Tell us a bit about how you make it work.
If it indeed it does work, and sometimes I doubt it does, I think it comes to the fact that I started the blog for myself more than for other people. I was naïve and had no idea about niches and audience and I think that could’ve been disorienting in this case.
I just write what I feel like. Some days some politicians pisses me off and I want to rant about it, other days there’s some debate about publishing I want to engage with.
If I felt like I had to manage a delicate balance between content, or write about one thing, it would be obvious to those that are reading. Sometimes the news is boring and there’s nothing political to write about. Other times, I’m not writing and too engrossed in a particular issue. I think that ability to sometimes switch off from one section helps too.
Your blog is starting to be recognized in the writing community as an emerging force-to-be-reckoned-with, how have you responded to that?
Wow, that’s quite a statement. I think I might quote that somewhere 😉 Despite what I said before, there is still very much something extroverted about blogging and so I enjoy getting a lot of attention around particular things I’ve written and the discussion it can prompt.
I’d like to say that I’ve just gone on and done what I’ve always done but I have to admit sometimes feeling the desire to tap into this audience and writing to cater to this writing community.
You update your blog quite frequently; how do you keep finding material?
There seems to be always a million things and questions running through my head so it’s usually not a matter of looking for material but working out which ones to go with. I read news and blogs quite frequently so often political issues and debates appear that prompt me to respond which is a large part of political blogging as well as more nuanced debates within the socialist movement that appear now and again such as anti-consumerist politics.
With writing, there’s a variety of blogs and events to bounce off. Whether I’ve been to a launch, there’s some debate about publishing or I’ve come into a problem during my own process of writing such as with editing or through feedback.
Then there are things like #Friday Flash which give me regular slots to fill.
You’re a very busy man – you work, you write, you go to loads of events, you read a heap, you can be found at most leftist rallies in Melbourne – how the hell do you manage to fit it all in?!
The key for me had been that I don’t do all that much work. Let’s hope my boss isn’t reading this but I have a bit of freedom in my job that I can fit writing, blogging and most things I need a computer for between the hours of 9 to 5 which is handy because with being a socialist, some weeks I have no time outside of work hours to write.
Protests and political meetings tend to come first on my list of priorities and it’s about saying this is a ‘must go to’ thing more so than I’d say about my job. It takes a while for the people around you to understand but eventually they caught on. I’m working on making people understand this about my writing.
And I wished, with all of this, that I had more time to read more!
You describe your writing as “Marxist Horror”, and are currently working on a collection of such stories… Describe to us what that is, and tell us a bit about your current project.
Marxist horror is a genre I kind of loosely defined myself that basically entails dark, usually violent, horror stories about the capitalist world we live in from a Marxist perspective. Sometimes you could even take stories out of the news and it would fit like stories of war, oppression and exploitation. But I think the genre is about amplifying the horrors, blowing them up and making them confronting and in your face so people see what’s really wrong with society.
The collection, Capital Comes Dripping, began as way to focus myself on a variety of smaller pieces as one whole collection including a novella about zombie fascists. It’s a wide variety of pieces now including a lot more poetry than I first envisioned and they deal with different issues and problems with capitalism, whether it is the exploitation of workers, homophobia, sexism, war, racism.
I think it’s an easier way for a reader to get a broad and whole idea of what I’m on about as opposed to a novel. A novel might focus on one issue, or try to look them in a broad sense, or moult of few issues together but a collection can focus on a lot of things and hopefully they tie together in a sense and draw out the connections between a lot of the world’s problems.
Are there any writers you would say have influenced you in your writing?
The closest writer to me would probably be China Miéville, who’s a Speculative Fiction writer from Britain that’s quite dark in a lot of his work whilst also subscribing to my particular Marxist school of thought, Trotskyism though his writing tends to be less political explicit than my stuff.
But before politics, I was just influenced by mostly horror. I was obsessed with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps as a kid and later the goriest horror movies you could find. I love Stephen King, read a lot of it and think his work has a lot more depth than people care to admit.
And then you look at the political fiction, Steinbeck, Orwell, Fight Club and kind of it kind of merges together unconsciously. I don’t think the two are as far apart as they might seem. The Grapes of Wrath is amazing. It illustrates something more horrible (The Great Depression with food being left to rot whilst people starve) than anything King could come up with.
And finally, if you look at the way the early Marxist writers polemicise against capitalism, the imagery and language they use is so dark and horror-like – from Karl Marx, “Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” to Engels describing the conditions of industrialisation in Britain to Rose Luxemburg:
“Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”
And how did you come up with such a genre? Did you find yourself accidentally sliding your politics into stories, or do you do it more consciously as a political statement?
The politics kind of naturally slid into my writing. It wasn’t dogmatic or forced as some people might imagination like agit-prop literature. It would’ve been more forced if I tried to keep my writing and political ideas separate which is what I tried to do for a time.
If you’re writing any fiction but with me, horror, you write about the things that scare you. It just so happens that as a Marxist and someone that hates capitalism the things that scare me are the political; the vilification of Muslims to violent ends, bombs raining down on Afghanistan, being chained to work for the wealth of someone else and spending the majority of your waking hours working, refugees being locked behind razor wire and people feeling so insecure about their sexuality that it drives them to suicide.
It’s natural that these things are what I write about because it’s what I think about all the time.
I tend to try and avoid seeing writing as a political statement even though it can be because I don’t want people to see me writing as the main game in changing the world. I don’t think writing can substitute for actually getting off your arse and doing something, getting out on the streets, convincing others. For me, mass action is the real political statement, but that said, I hope my writing can inspire people to get involved in that, that perhaps they already sense there’s something wrong with the world but just maybe I describe it in a particular way or connect with them on a personal level that is pushes them to get out there and do that, to get involved.
Do you have any advice for people like yourself? And who, indeed, are these “people like yourself”?
I’m not sure there are people quite like myself. I’m sure there are some people that are pretty close and in that case, they ought to get in contact with me.
But for emerging, perhaps politically engaged writers, you just need to write and get out there and see the world. If you want to write political fiction, it’s probably best you don’t lock yourself away because you need to see what’s wrong or right about the world for yourself in order to write about it.
And submit, and go to events and blog and leave comments on people’s blogs (like mine) and have conversations.
And what’s next on the cards for Benjamin Solah?
Aside from working on various projects, I’m doing a bit of performance poetry. I’m trying to get out to some different open mic nights to read a small selection of poems I have. I’m finding it quite new and exciting, getting to get angry in the microphone and add that extra bite to my writing.
I’m also working on a zine called The Red Pen where I’ve gotten together a bunch of socialists and gotten them to send me anything with the idea that they’ll send me something not necessarily obviously political but you can see what really makes them tick in the subtext. The first issue is coming along nicely and will be out, launched in Melbourne and Sydney, in the next couple of months. Keep an eye on redpenzine.wordpress.com for updates.
And I’m in the middle of a really exciting and promising project, Chinese Whisperings, which is an anthology project of interconnected short stories in multiple books. I’ve recently finished my first draft of my story which is the 10th one in The Yang Book and getting a lot out of the process especially with editor Jodi Cleghorn. This is definitely something to watch and I’m really excited to tell the story I’ve got for it as it’s a character that’s been swirling around my head for a while.
Thanks heaps to Benjamin Solah for providing the fantastic angry picture of himself and the awesome interview, helping me launch this new meme! Check out his blog, you won’t regret it.
Also, feel free to provide me with some feedback on this new meme, and if you have any suggestions for how I might improve it. Much appreciated!