Schuler Benson - Like a Coen brothers script, his stories are a little serious, a little funny, and a little underwritten; his prose wants you to feel clever when you pick up on the other half of what it implies
Schuler Benson, The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide, Alternating Current,, 2014.
Twelve stories, fraught with an unapologetic voice of firsthand experience, that pry the lock off of the addiction, fanaticism, violence, and fear of characters whose lives are mired in the darkness of isolation and the horror and the hilarity of the mundane. This is the Deep South: the dark territory of brine, pine, gravel, and red clay, where pavement still fears to tread.
And because you deserve the very best, the collection is richly illustrated throughout the pieces by talented artists Ryan Murray and Patrick Traylor. Don’t mention it. Ya’ll’re welcome.
“Schuler Benson writes like the spawn of Chuck Palahniuk and Barry Hannah. While approaching his subjects with empathy, humor, and a keen eye for detail, he creates a world of snake-charming preachers, meth heads, and spurned lovers. This collection will make you laugh, make you anxious, and keep you turning the pages. Read this damn book.” —Kody Ford
“Schuler Benson has a playwright’s ear for dialogue, a poet’s eye for scene, and a comic’s sense for when the sane is actually crazy, the crazy actually sane. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide announces Benson’s place in the tradition of Wells Tower, Barry Hannah, and Mark Twain: here comes another great documentarian of the agonized and hilarious souls who inhabit Rural America.”—Brian Ted Jones
“A Breece D’J Pancake of the plains, Benson writes with a hell of a knack for dialect. His characters are dirty, flawed, and all-too familiar. There are no heroes here. Yet in these stories, Benson manages to lift his people to another plane; someplace where they might achieve a little redemption.”—Eric Shonkwiler
“Schuler Benson’s writing is a record scratch, a fat marker graffiti-squeaking across a perfectly clean bathroom wall, a porcupine in a studded leather jacket. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is a violent, bloody heartbeat of a collection—a flashing red siren of words—a hot, stinging slap of stories.”—Leesa Cross-Smith
“The Poor Man’s Guide is a portrait of people contending with death, the possibility of death, and, ultimately, the lives they’ve made for themselves. Each story opens intimately–every landscape, every character becomes familiar. Reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor at her best, this is a collection that is at once beautiful and uncomfortable, pushing the reader from one page to the next and deeper still into each of the lives encapsulated here. Benson opens a window. Benson opens a door. A killer read.”—Kat Dixon
“Schuler Benson’s debut hits the reader like a blow to the chest by a large stone. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is full of longing characters who wield knives and raise hell. Benson’s world is packed with grit, with pain, with prose that cuts to the bone.”—Keith Rebec
“Schuler Benson understands tone. Like a Coen brothers script, his stories are a little serious, a little funny, and a little underwritten; his prose wants you to feel clever when you pick up on the other half of what it implies. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide should be a delight for smart readers, especially those who cope with the South through a sardonic sense of humor.”—Kevin Snow
So I had seen this short story collection in multiple review sites and had this on a mental wish list. I was also on a short story collection binge and as soon as this was announced on TNBBC, of course, I went for it.
I’ve seen this guy’s name elsewhere, but I don’t quite remember exactly where. But the cover is very distinctive and art plays a role in this book. The rising sun, the decrepit tree, and it’s roots. I believe the bucket represents something, but I’m not sure what. The interiors consist of drawings too. The scratchy artwork fits the gritty nature of the book and some of them I actually found kind of amusing because I’m a sick soul.
The whole style of this collection is a cycle of stories that seem to take place in the same area amongst the same group of people in a Southern town that seems to be rather deep in the dumps. Dumps as in darkness and vile people. There’s violence and drugs, spiteful kids and dysfunctional people, religious fanatics and all of the things that make most of Southern gothic literature.
And I honestly haven’t read much of that genre of literature. The only thing I have read that is probably close to that genre was To Kill a Mocking Bird and a few pages of Ellen Foster. But I’m not unfamiliar with southern talk. But I don’t know, I read so many positive reviews, but my feelings for this were quite mixed.
The collection started off good and the whole elements of the collection, that feels like a novel, was already built within the first two stories. Dysfunction and violence in a small town where drugs and failed escapes seem to be the only ways out.
But I don’t know maybe my brain was just finally get fried during the reading of this collection. Because I can say that it is brilliant, but I felt like giving up. Not because it was bad, but because I was just not in the mood to read this, but at the same time I wanted to finish it to see what would happen and for discussion purposes. But I guess it could also be the levels of depression in this story collection, I actually thought that this was a Dystopian collection, not a Southern Goth collection. If any of you reading this have recommendation for Southern Goth other than Cormac McCarthy, who I hope to get to at some point in my life because my school library has a whole collection of his writings, go ahead, and recommend them in the comments section.
I always feel like long short stories are my least favorite, unless the story is a novella by itself. I guess I can say that I get burnout while reading short stories. Because of my favorites in this collection are the shorter ones. I think I got tired by the time I reached the 80s, which had one of the longest short stories. The writing style is actually pretty comprehensible compared to other Southern Goth lit that I have flipped through. It was written in plain old English and sometimes I do find, recently I found, that it is hard for me to get into stories written in third person. But then I keep thinking that maybe I do sort of like this story collection, because I enjoyed most of them, but mostly the short ones.
But I guess I can say that this collection was nothing new to me, other than being really messed up, which was the point, gloom and doom. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it at all. - notesontheshore112.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/the-poor-mans-guide-to-an-affordable-painless-suicide-by-schuler-benson/
Steph Post: Since your stories seem to do the same, I’d like to dive right in. You write very graphically about some pretty disturbing situations- kids growing up in a meth lab, marital abuse, death, violence, more death and so on. With your descriptive style and attention to detail (usually the kind most people overlook) you take, what I’d call “everyday horror” to a whole new level. What spurs you to populate your stories with these unsettling scenes, settings and characters?
Schuler Benson: It's an interesting distinction to make, or try to make, between "everyday horror" and just "the everyday." I've been to some wonderful places, made connections with wonderful people, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Having said that, I've done some pretty awful shit and been in some pretty bleak places with some shady folks. Those are the places where I think I learned the most about others, and about who I am. And who I'm not. A lot of what I've read, seen in movies, or heard elsewhere and enjoyed kinda works the same way. I think some of the uglier parts of these stories are equal parts dark corner and mirror. The dark corners make for interesting scenarios to plumb, and the mirrors keep things honest.
SP: I’m a sucker for well written dialogue and you are a master of it. In writing dialect you use words such as “whatchu,” “arrite” and “lemme,” which effortlessly convey the characters’ voices. What is your process for crafting dialect words? How important is it to you that you get the dialect correct?
SB: Man, thank you so much. I love listening to people. I’ve been a mimic my whole life, and I guess that’s worked its way into how I tell stories. I try my best to get the way people talk down on paper in a way that looks and feels natural enough that it’s not impossible to read for people who aren’t accustomed to that kind of speech. Not everyone’s gonna get it though, and honestly, alienating a few people is a risk I’ll take if even one person reads it and thinks, “man, I can really hear this stuff.” It can be polarizing, but that makes it all the more rewarding when it works. Plus, in work I’ve read by established writers, when the dialect really works, it makes for such a fun read. Seeing it done well by others has been, and continues to be, a big inspiration for me.
SP: There are so many well-written stories in this collection of twelve, but without a doubt “A Hindershot of Calion” is my favorite. This is the story that really sparked for me- the dialogue is spot-on and the apathy and tenderness of the characters rings completely true without a hint of artifice. So, I have to know the story behind the story; how did “Hindershot” start out and how did it become the gem that it is?
SB: I’m so glad you liked it. And I’m a little surprised by the love that story’s gotten, because it’s definitely the oddball in the collection, and when I was writing it, I honestly never expected it to see the light of day. In the spring of 2013, I’d just had my first story accepted for publication. I was excited, couldn’t wait to tell my family. I was going to be back in my hometown in mid-May. I didn’t get down there very often, and I was hoping the story’d be published before I got there so my folks could read it, but it wasn’t slated for publication until later in the summer. Before I took that trip, I sat down at my computer with the express intention of writing something my grandparents would like, specifically my grandfather, the real Denny. Just to have something to give them, you know? I wrote that story in, like, an evening, and between then and when it eventually debuted, it changed very little. The story’s fictional, and it contains a fictionalized version of Denny, but a lot of the places are real, and some of the themes deal a lot with the relationship he and I had. I brought it to him, and my Gran read it to him and he loved it. Later that summer, on a whim, I submitted it to Alternating Current for the Go Read Your Lunch series, and when it was accepted, I was floored. It’s a cool story, but it’s also a little bit Mayberry, and I didn’t expect it’d be the kind of thing anyone would go for. Can’t tell you how happy I am now to have been wrong then.
SP: Especially nowadays, publishing a collection of short stories is no easy feat. How did you first connect with Alternating Current Press and what was it like working with them?
SB: After that first story came out on Hobart, Leah from Alternating Current and I connected on Twitter. We had a lot of similar interests, and she mentioned Go Read Your Lunch, which I checked out. I loved the idea of a blog that premiered original material in that format, and the handful of past GRYL stories I read were all just killer. For the hell of it, I think last July, I submitted “Hindershot” to AC for Go Read Your Lunch, and I genuinely never expected to hear anything back. But I did, and that story is what got me the offer to do the collection. Alternating Current has been incredible to me. Leah’s been in this business for a long time, and it shows. She and her people have truly worked tirelessly on this book, as well as everything else they undertake, including promoting other authors and now organizing book tours. I’m really new to all this. I’m grateful to have so much knowledge and elbow-grease in my corner.
SP: The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is not only filled to the brim with stark, startling prose, it’s illustrated! When it first came in the mail and I started flipping through it, I was taken by the illustrations and the design of the book. I mentioned to you before that your book is like mixtape made with love. (After finishing it, I still believe this- though it’s sort of like that mixtape you find in the back of your closet that was made by the one person in your life who ripped your heart out and stomped on it and you don’t want to listen to it, but you do anyway while you sit on the floor and sob.) How personal is this collection to you? How much of a hand did you have in directing the design of the book, the artwork and the arrangement of the stories?
SB: That’s awesome. The mixtape vibe is exactly what I wanted. In my mind, this thing’s not so much a collection of stories as it is kinda an ode to my love for the album. All the stories are personal, I guess. Like songs. I mean, some are at more of a remove than others, but spending time in those worlds with those people binds them to you. I think that’s true for any writer, and I don’t know if it’ll ever not be true for me. I’m lucky to say that I had virtually total creative freedom with the design of the book, and that’s yet another testament to how awesome working with Alternating Current is. I mentioned some things about the art to Leah at the beginning, and she was very accommodating and enthusiastic. I bounced a few of the illustration ideas off a couple friends of mine, both of whom are, coincidentally, amazing artists. The section pieces were done by Patrick Traylor, a guy I’ve known most my life. We grew up together, and he lives in the Phoenix area now. The jacket pieces and individual story art was all hand-drawn by a dude named Ryan Murray. He’s a Houston-based artist. He and I have known each other and been friends for over a decade, and it’s one of the most interesting relationships I have, because he and I have never met in person. We never even spoke on the phone until we went into the planning stages of this project late last summer. The work these guys did stands so beautifully on its own, and I am honored to have it included as part of something with my name on it. I arranged the stories and sections the way I would’ve sequenced them if they were songs on a record. I think everyone involved is happy with the final product, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Phenomenal experience. If I never write or publish another story, I’ll be happy to have this. - Steph Post