I have been following Ben Peek's blog for some time (after he guest-blogged for Jeff VanderMeer last year) and for me it is one of the funniest and outrageous places on the web. It is through his blog that I came to hear of his book; in fact it is through the blog that the book exists at all. In fact the genesis of TWENTY-SIX LIES is a very interesting internet publishing story - one that I think is best told by the writer himself...
About Ben Peek.
Ben Peek is a Sydney based author. His fiction has appeared in the Australian Year's Best, Leviathan, Polyphony, and Agog! anthologies. He has also appeared (or will appear) in the magazines Aurealis, Ticonderoga Online, Full Unit Hookup, and Fantasy Magazine, while his
reviews have appeared on Strange Horizons. A dystopian novel, Black Sheep, will be released by Prime Books next year. He's currently pimping his autobiography, Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, released by Wheatland Press.
About the book...
CD: I'd just like to say that I like your book very much - in fact I think it is quite extraordinary.
BP: That's neat :) thanks very much.
CD: I thought perhaps it was a book I could dip into and it certainly works on that level - but I also realise as I read that there is a story evolving here - something hidden with much subtlety which means it has to be read as a whole to appreciate.
BP: Yeah, I've gotten into the idea that you can read books in a multiple of ways. dip in, or straight. I was reading something about how people don't often reread, and I thought, well, perhaps there's something to do with the way that often rereading means you have to reread the whole thing...
CD: It worried me that my posting hadn't made that clear so I have added a little intro.
BP: Nah, it's cool. On pretty much every entry there's someone going, 'what? what's this?' which adds a bit more to the thing, I think. though I do wonder if that means I've just made an obscure, elitist joke...
CD: The book evolved from your blog posts. How did that happen?
BP: Well, basically, there was a meme that went round a while back, where someone gave you a letter and you wrote ten things about words that begin with that letter. Patrick O'Duffy gave me the letter A, and so I did A, and then B, C, D, and so forth. By the time I hit I, a lot of people were really digging it, and Deborah Layne at Wheatland Press contacted me, and asked if I would be interested in turning it into a book. Which is all really kind of wild when you think about it--she was taking a huge risk, both in what kind of book she would get, and how people would deal with that kind of thing. Not everyone is going to dig the birth aspect of the book.
CD: How much is your blog, and how much is other material?
BP: In the end, only about a dozen or so entries survived from the blog to the book, and those got re-written. Given the time and responsibility to create a unified whole that people would (I hope) want to pay cash for, I looked at what I had on the blog as a first draft, and then proceeded to rip the shit out of it to make the book. I'm one of those writers who tries a lot of different things while I'm writing, so early drafts can look hugely different to what the final product is--and this is no different.
CD: Do you think that knowing that your posts were going to be part of a book changed the posts in some way? How?
BP: Nah. I didn't get the offer to do the book until I, at which stage I had slowed down on the posts anyway. They were taking me half a day to write at that stage, and becoming hugely time consuming. I try to keep my blog quick and sharp and with a sort of stream of consciousness flow to the entries, and the original entries were just getting out of hand. So when Deb offered the book deal, I just stopped putting them on the web and proceeded to write the book.
CD: The title seems to me to be an integral part of the book and the relationship of trust between reader and author is a theme you explore in the book. How much is true and how much is lies? (And am I going to believe your answer?)
BP: I'm never going to tell :)
It's part of the book: you don't know, and I won't tell you. At the end, you have to decide just how much you are willing to believe, and how much you don't.
CD: What attracted you to the concept of an alphabet book?
BP: What I liked was the chance it gave me to play with the whole slippery nature of truth in words. I mean, look at the way meaning in words slips and changes and alters--there's nothing absolute and final in them. Every lie we tell is born through our alphabet. Every truth as well.
CD: Do you think that the illustrations are important to the book?
BP: Yeah, absolutely. Without Anna's illustrations, the book would be a lesser thing. She basically created a mini comic for the book, and then allowed me to chop it up and space it through the book to act as a linking device that brought all the various narrative threads together. Ultimately, it's Anna's art that enables the book to become a whole, rather than a set of vignettes.
CD: What are you working on at the moment?
BP: At the moment, I'm finishing up a short story. I've got a couple more I want to start and finish before the end of the year, but I'll see how that goes. I'm becoming a slower and slower writer, I've found, so the idea that I might finish three bits of short fiction before January seems a bit of a hopeful thing. Also, I'm starting a new novel, which will be totally different to this one, and the other--it's going to be all kinds of weird, dark, stylistic stuff mixing bushrangers and westerns, and hopefully I'll have that done by the end of 2007.
Plus, I've got a little dialogue/art chapbook that I'm working on with an artist, and a few other plans around. We'll see. Hopefully it'll all come together, but you never know in this business.
And now seven questions about the author...
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
BP: When I was a kid, my friend, D, and I, we would race snails. We collected them after the rain and put them in a margarine container so they couldn't escape. Then during the day, we'd race them along the footpaths or along out verandahs. We were very poor.
CD: What is your proudest moment?
BP: I don't really go in for that. What I've done, anyone could do that. It's no big.
CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
BP: I was about 24, and the relationship I was went bad, which is how it goes sometimes. Anyhow, about a week after we broke up, I get this call telling me the now ex-girlfriend was pregnant, which, y'know, such a good conversation. So we did the thing you do when you don't want a kid, and had an abortion, which was all good.
However, you don't get abortions on the same day you have the conversation, and so we had a couple of weeks of the word child being thrown round. After it actually happened, which we were both good with, I found I couldn't shake this word. Didn't matter the reality of the situation, there was that word 'child', and it just wouldn't go away. It just stuck around, the reminder of how my life could have changed, and how both of us had chosen not to go there. And it was kinda galling, cause at the time, I was thinking about quitting my job, had no idea what I wanted to do, hated writing, and didn't much like myself. So I figured the word child had to mean something--it had to mean change of a kind.
CD: What is the saddest thing you've ever heard of or seen?
BP: When terminal ill people just want to go home, but they can't. I've seen that a little too many times.
CD: If there was one thing you'd change about yourself what would it be?
BP: Fuck, but I wish I was less emo.
CD: What is happiness?
BP: People buying your fiction. People liking it. A good song. A good gig. A fine book. A nice cold drink on a warm day. A few dead celebrities. Witty people. Email. A day where you don't have to be anywhere or do anything. A t-shirt that says "Live Like Darth Vader."
CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
BP: Put on clothes.