In celebration of Wordstock Week on the Open Bar, we asked author Benjamin Percy five questions about reading and writing. Percy takes the festival stage for Stranger Than Fiction: Based on a True Story at 1:00 on November 7th; we encourage you to bring and throw peanut butter toast.
Tin House: What’s your best reading memory from your childhood?
Benjamin Percy: Around fourth grade, I became deeply obsessed with the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms fantasy novels. My head was more often in that world than this one, slashing my twin scimitars and calling down my dragons to bring fire to the world.
TH: What’s your favorite book from or about the Pacific Northwest, and why?
BP: Hard one. Geek Love is cheating, right? Katherine Dunn’s novel wanders geographically — it’s about circus freaks after all — but some of it is set in the PNW, and damn, that’s one of my favorite (beautiful ugly) books of all time.
TH: What’s your favorite setting to write, and why?
BP: I married into the Midwest, but I grew up in Oregon. It remains the place I know best — its geography, history, culture, politics, myths — and the stage upon which I set my characters.
TH: What’s the best snack to eat while you write? Any other rituals that facilitate the process?
BP: I’m so often on the road — at bookstores, festivals, conferences, campuses — that I try to make my home life as ordinary and boring and ritualized as possible. Not just for the comparative silence, and not just because I’m an old man at heart, but because routine feeds writing. One example of many: every weekday, at 10 AM, I make toast with peanut butter and marmalade.
TH: What book should we be reading that we don’t know about already?
BP: Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff is one of the best collections you’ll ever read. The title story alone breaks my heart and is worth the price of admission. Anything by Daniel Woodrell. Most know him for his novel Winter’s Bone — which was made into a killer film — but if that’s all you’ve read, seek out Tomato Red, Death of a Sweet Mister, Give Us a Kiss. The rough music of his sentences makes me stomp my feet and reach for the whiskey bottle.
Benjamin Percy is the author of the novels Red Moon and The Wilding, and two short story collections, Refresh, Refresh, and The Language of Elk. His writing has appeared in Esquire, GQ, Time, Tin House and elsewhere. His honors include the Pushcart Prize, an NEA grant, the Plimpton Prize for Fiction, and a Whiting Award. Raised in the high desert of central Oregon, he lives in Minnesota.