Benjamin Percy is the author of two novels, Red Moon (Grand Central/Hachette, 2013) and The Wilding, as well as two books of short stories, Refresh, Refresh and The Language of Elk. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Esquire (where he is a contributing editor), GQ, Time, Men’s Journal, Outside, the Wall Street Journal, Tin House and the Paris Review. His honors include an NEA fellowship, the Whiting Writer’s Award, the Plimpton Prize, the Pushcart Prize and inclusion in Best American Short Stories and Best American Comics. He is the writer-in-residence at St. Olaf College and teaches at the low-residency MFA program at Pacific University.
Lou Pendergrast: Welcome and congratulations on your new novel Red Moon. How was the seeds planted for Red Moon?
Benjamin Percy: I wanted to take a knife to the nerve of the moment, so I considered what we fear most right now: infection and terrorism (as the recent Boston bombing so unfortunately reminded us). I braided these two elements together and created a post-9/11 reinvention of the werewolf myth.
LP: What story are you working on next?
BP: I’m working on the edits now for a novel that will release in June 2014 with Grand Central/Hachette. The Dead Lands is a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark passage.
LP: When and where do you write?
BP: When I’m not traveling, I try to maintain a standard work routine, so after I wake up and suck down my coffee and get the kids off to school, I head downstairs and write for a good seven or eight hours. Those long blocks suit me best. My office is in the basement—and I call it the dungeon—suitable given the cobwebs and shadows.
LP: What important advice would to pass on to writers on writing?
BP: Read your brains out and write your brains out. If you want to be a professional athlete, you need to spend tens of thousands of hours devoted to studying games, homing your technique, getting injured, getting better, and the same goes for a life at the keyboard. Many are talented, but few are driven and bull-headed enough to put in the work required, to go the distance.
LP: Who are you favorite good and bad characters from fiction?
BP: When I was 13 or 14, the worst years of anyone’s life, I was going through a bit of a rough patch: vandalizing, stealing, fighting. Then I read Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. As ridiculous as this sounds, I discovered in Roland of Gilead a model of manhood that I aspired to and modified my behavior accordingly. So he goes down as my favorite hero.
And as for villains, no one is better than the insecure, divided, hissing Gollum.
LP: If you were to be recreated into another creature after death which would it be?
BP: Um, a talking, flying unicorn with a diamond-point horn and a rainbow mane of course.
LP: Any novels you recommend for reading?
BP: Thousands. Be as omnivorous in your habits as possible or you’ll never grow emotionally or artistically. But how about I say work your way through the speculative novels of Octavia Butler, which are smart, thrilling, intensely political and in danger of being forgotten.
LP: Thanks for taking time out to have this chat on your writing life.