Tantra Bensko

Tantra Bensko won awards such as Cezanne’s Carrot’s, twice, Iowa Journal of Literary Studies and Academy of American Poet’s Award, plus a nomination for the Pushcart Prize.  She teaches Experimental Fiction writing through colleges online.

Short Story Collections

Watching The Windows Sleep

reviewed by Alex Thornber

Interview with Tantra Bensko

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Tantra Bensko: I'm pretty prolific, sporadically, so this chapbook, Watching the Windows Sleep, doesn't represent the full lot of what I have. The oldest one one in it I wrote probably 20 years ago.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

TB: I've always planned on collecting my short stories, and these are all part of a full length manuscript called Lucid Membrane. Most of the stories in that collection are published, and I have another one as well, very different, which also has most of the stories published, called Free Range Mystery Spot. However, I've decided to turn that one into a novel, as it's all chronological, following the life of one person.
    While I didn't picture a chapbook so much, when writing the stories, I had the full length one in mind, though, most definitely. I'm going for an effect that is cumulative, and I feel in some ways, the chapbook may accomplish that more succinctly, and cohesively than the full length book, without distractions from the core Lucid Fiction vision. That has to do with sabotaging the plot arc, expanding the idea of what a person is, and thus a character, and at times, covering topics that are considered taboo to talk about because of the trickery mass media is using to create illusions about our world.

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

TB: I looked at Lucid Membrane, and picked ones that would be easy to understand in terms of Lucid Fiction, which explored consciousness on many layers, and also, ones which would not be offensive to people in rural Alabama, where I am living currently. I started with a mystical poem, and all through it, I included some of my art to highlight that feeling.
    Then, the first story I chose to let people enjoy themselves right off the bat, and it's a complex concept of lucid windows, which it deals with, but the story is fun, has had great success at readings, so the liveliness of absurdity of it I figured could make friends. Then, the stories that ask a little more of the reader, to expand into different levels of the self, to relax into the interconnectedness.
   So, I included next a Magical Realist story as that may be a familiar style to people, and then went from there into others that I hope readers have been prepared for by that point, moving into Theta brain-waves. The ending is with a poem again, to form a closure, and as the first poem is about opening, the last one is about enclosing. There is a kind of beginning and ending with silence that those poems create. So the non manifest is represented as is the manifest which pulses out of it.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

TB:  Excellent question for me, as I like to redefine that term. Personally, I feel our society is a little addicted to the traditional story's plot arc based on rising tension due to a problem, which creates an adrenalin rush in the reader. So, I like to write stories, and articles, that question the necessity of that for us to be entertained. We tell each other stories in real life, anecdotes about things that happened that can be fun, inspiring, bizarre, but don't have to have that dramatic conflict for us to enjoy them.
    So, I feel we've been told short stories need them, but they don't. And I think we're healthier to have some stories out there which don't have them. I do write some stories with terrible conflict, and others that have nothing of the kind. The progression in the story may be about the character getting AWAY from such things, into silence.
    I like to move out of linearity, so may describe a character's life that is more like a hive of multiple lives from parallel to past to levels of the self. I may tell a story in concentric circles. Or a fountaining up into the airy realms that aren't so concerned with the limited viewpoint of mundane reality, but which have a broader perspective.

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

TB:  I do write them to be read, and often, am inspired by a particular magazine as an audience. In general, I'm writing for an obscure, small set of readers who aren't fulfilled by mainstream fiction, who like it to share more of the aspects of poetry, with motifs layering, echoing, deepening. People who like foreign art movies by Jodorowsky, Guy Madden, The Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmajer, or Sergei Paradjanov. People very often say my art and writing remind me of those directors. People who get a delicious sensation when reading about concepts based on New Physics. I guess I write for magazine editors, as they are so enthusiastic about my stories; normal life doesn't often bring many of us into face to face contact with many people who read Experimental Fiction.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

TB: Did it put you in an altered state of consciousness?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

TB: It's touching, when they do. It really means a lot to me when anyone reads my work, any time. And I have a lot of respect for my readers, as they are a kind of elite bunch who care about the trends of Experimental Fiction, what new directions we can push our visions of reality into, exploring consciousness through breaking out of the default ways of approaching it. Of course, some of my work is just plain fun, playful whimsy, rollicking adventures, or realistic portrayals of 3D events. But this particular little book emphasizes the more spiritual expansion inherent in Lucid Fiction, looking at multiple layers of lives at once, or a relationship between humans and stones, sharing love together.

TSR: What are you working on now?

TB: I'm writing a third collection, am already well into it, and that has happened quickly, as I'm writing every day. The stories are similar in many ways to the ones in this chapbook, Watching the Windows Sleep. You will find a lot of elements of New Wave Fabulism and Absurdism. You could call it --- fun with loss and isolation. They are like dreams I induce while awake, all coming from a deep level of myself that presents the motifs from the beginning of the stories, without me knowing what I'm going to write. It's like in dreams, when the beginning sets up the ending, in some brilliant way our conscious mind wouldn't necessarily be able to manage. 

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

TB: Numbers in the Dark by Calvino was the last one, and though I read others by him too recently, I'll include the two others I read last instead for variety. I also read Miracle Boy by Pinkney Benedict, and Flash Fiction.
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