Monday, June 6, 2011

Black Holes and Country Music: The Patrick Wensink Interview

Today's guest is Patrick Wensink, author of Sex Dungeon for Sale and Black Hole Blues.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?

I sent Kevin Donihe a manuscript for a short story collection called "Sex Dungeon for Sale!" about two years ago. He liked it and selected it for the first batch of New Bizarro Author Series books. After some mild hazing, I was in the club.

What was the inspiration behind Black Hole Blues?

My love of music and my fear of the Hadron Collider.

I used to be a rock critic and was kind of snobbish for years. Since leaving that life behind, I've opened my ears to lots of different, cool music I wouldn't have five years ago. Such as Country. By that, I mean older stuff, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb and outlaw stuff, especially Kris Kristofferson.

Around the same time of this awakening, I started reading reports about the Hadron Collider in Europe, where they were trying to recreate the big bang by shooting protons at each other like astrophysical laser tag. Some people thought it actually could create a black hole. Thinking about that possibility honestly scared me for a while. It made me feel incredibly helpless. But, really, when you think about it, we're all pretty helpless when it comes to death.

Somehow, those two converged to inspire the book.

What made you pick Kenny Rogers as J. Claude's foil?
Kenny started off as just a one-line joke. I have a State Fair-type mirror of Kenny Rogers in my office. Early in the writing I was just making a joke regarding how J. Claude Caruthers is kind of arrogant and made a crack at The Gambler. But as the book went on, there was a lot of rich material there and Kenny developed into his own character. It wasn't intentional, but I don't really plan books out, I just let them unfold. So when I leave the possibilities open like that, shit like Kenny Rogers happens. Which I'm grateful for.

From there, he became my real life enemy when he and his management snubbed me when I offered to let Kenny read the book. Thus, Death to Kenny Rogers was born.

Who would you say is a better actor: Kenny Rogers or Elvis?
Elvis made more movies, so I'd guess he's a more seasoned thespian. I'd like to see him do Shakespeare.

Who are some of your influences?
Books that are written very well on a sentence level, like Flannery O'Connor. News of the Weird-type articles and esoteric bits of history. And improv comedy. I'm in an improv comedy group and building a good scene on stage is not that different than starting with a blank page and needing to create a story. There is not Backspace key on stage, sadly.

What's your favorite book?
"On the Road" is the book I've read more than any other. It really got me excited about writing when I was younger. A book never touched me on an emotional level like that one, at the time. It doesn't really influence me much anymore, but it has a nostalgic spot in my heart.

Who's your favorite author?
Don Delillo. Whenever I read one of his books I feel like I'm wasting my time, because I'll never write anything that good. It's a crushing motivator. The best kind of motivation to work harder, really.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
Karen Russell's "Swamplandia!". The story of a Florida family running a gator wrestling theme park.

Could the 2009 New Bizarro Authors beat the 2010 NBAs in a drinking contest despite their superior numbers?
Tough call. Three out of the four of the 2009 crop hail from the South (Eric Mays in Virginia, DW Barbee in Georgia, and myself just a mile below the Mason-Dixon in Louisville, KY), so I think we take our drinking more seriously.

Is the Wentastic BBQ Sauce available in stores?
Sadly, no. I used to sell my own line of BBQ Sauce at street fairs in Portland, OR. (I wrote a story about it here: And, apparently, the FDA has rules about selling BBQ sauce in stores. Apparently, you have to have a food handler's license or some such bologna. They also disapprove of cats on the counter top while you're brewing a batch. What a bunch of fascists.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Read books that make you feel like you're wasting your time as a writer. Lots of them.

What's Next for Patrick Wensink?

Lazy Fascist will be releasing my next novel, Broken Piano for President in November 2011. I'm excited about this one, because I wrote it about 5 years ago. Got an agent and did the whole NY publishing house thing with it and got thoroughly rejected. One editor at Penguin called it "nauseating" which I still wear as a badge of honor. It's about a guy who's more productive when he's drunk than when he's sober. So, clearly, that editor was an unproductive drunk.

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