Indie Interview: Ultan Banan

ULTAN: Anyway, a warning: the new novel is called The Book of God, and it features God as a mad, filthy old sex pest.

KINDRA: Yes, I am a Christian with a strong faith in God; but, ironically, this is what should make me beyond offense.

The Book of God by Ultan Banan

*P.S. The following is a mix of formal interview questions and cuts & pastes from less formal conversations Dec 2021

#1. Your work is revolting and repugnant … but a masterpiece. I read The Book of God and your previous novel Meat, and I’m just dying to ask

ARE YOU RELIGIOUS?!

Meaning, do you believe in a supernatural being of any sort? I ask because you have a remarkable grasp of evil. I can’t say ‘good’, because the novels I’ve read so far are not really centered on the battle between the two, but more so on the layers of evil. Or at least that’s how I’ve understood it.

The short answer – no. I don’t practice any form of religion, but I did have a Catholic upbringing and I suppose some elements of it still shape my psyche. Christ does feature in some way or another in all of my novels, at least symbolically. I find the history, the myth and the iconography of Christ extremely compelling. That said, I’m not a deist and I believe that the concept of God is entirely anthropomorphic. Is there some conflict there with my preoccupation with Christ? I don’t believe so. I think the idea of God can be removed from much of Christ’s teachings and his (Christ’s) core significance remains the same.

As to evil, it’s a difficult and vast term to wrap one’s mind around, full of subtlety and nuance. I’d rather discuss dehumanisation, a more tangible (and narrow) manifestation of human ill. I would say I’ve a good grasp of the root causes of dehumanisation and its devastating effects. It’s the major theme and undertone of my novel Meat. Is the protagonist in that book evil? Perhaps. But his main crime is that he sets out to destroy the world around him so that he can avoid facing himself. The novel was very much born of my own decades-long struggle with mental health.

#2. You were born in Ireland? Whereabouts? Do you reside in the UK? Can I ask about your ethnic/racial/residential background (without seeming nosy)? (I ask because your work also has a cool grasp on international locales and ideas, and I wonder if any of it is influenced by travel etc.)

I am from Belfast, Ireland, but have been living for the past two years in Italy. I’m white! Irish white. Think milk that looks a little bit blue. That kinda white. I have travelled and worked the world over, living, at times, in China, Russia, Turkey, Greece and Scotland. I will settle one day soon, I hope, probably in Scotland. It is calling me.

ULTAN: In the meantime, I’m back home in Ireland for Xmas and I’m gonna take the opportunity to try and get my first two novels into indie bookstores across Ireland and the UK. That’s the next step I believe, seeing my books on shelves. I’ll start with Belfast and Dublin, then Glasgow and Edinburgh, then take it from there. I’ll let you know how I get on. : )

#3. What is the literary market like where you’re from/reside? Your work is “controversial” so I’m wondering if the culture you live in is receptive to that? What kind of books tend to dominate the mainstream? How has your work been received?

I haven’t lived in Ireland or the UK for some years now, so I’m not aware of the current ‘zeitgeist’. Probably a bit staid, like much of the rest of the world. My novels haven’t had much of a reception at all, to be fair, since I’m still struggling to get my name out there. Can we still be shocked? Do we have that capacity anymore? Maybe not, but I imagine, yes, there are things in my work that might stir controversy, particularly in light of the modern woke climate. I don’t believe, however, that there is any place in art whatsoever for wokeness or the restraints it demands. Art, if it is to fulfil its essential function, must be free to frighten, to explode. Art can be beautiful, but it must also be allowed to be brutal. Without this dichotomy, it is nothing more than a pretty picture on a wall.

KINDRA: Great commentary about woke culture, etc. The irony of course is that there’s nothing ‘woke’ about it; it’s just deceptive liberal speak for censorship, hatred (for whites) and intolerance. I’m honored to meet a milky, true Irish white. Now I’ve got an “in” into the country lol.

#4. I’ve told you that I thought Meat was a masterpiece, and the character of Hugo, the barman, reminded me a lot of The Judge character in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which is also a masterpiece (in its understanding of good and evil) (and was not received popularly when first published). You said that it’s been on your read list for a while but you still haven’t gotten to it! Do you have any favorite authors/books?

I love the Russians: Gogol, Bulgakov, Lermontov. These are writers I will forever reread. Also McCarthy – I haven’t read his entire oeuvre, but I will eventually. Bohumil Hrabal, Sadegh Hedayat (there are massive and glaring references to The Blind Owl in Meat), Miller, Nabokov, Alasdair Gray. To name but a few.

#5. There’s a lot going on in The Book of God; it’s very unorthodox in its arrangement and presentation: there’s the voice of God, the voice of the Scribe, the voice of Souls, the voice of a maid and, briefly, her daughter; and they all speak as according to their character: in narration, in poetry, in stream-of-consciousness, in … It’s a remarkable interpretation and mimicry of the Bible (in the sense that I believe most religious people have a wrong understanding of God based on their idolatry and so wrong interpretation of a book); and The Book of God, to me, is a critique of that. It can be offensive, but not if a person really understands that The Book of God is really what has happened: God has become a horrible creation of people that they’ve twisted and corrupted into a wild, hateful feral man who lives in the woods and equally hates the people he’s made (and pees on their heads (amongst other things)) and keeps trying to press the reset button to kill them all over again. It’s saying so many things. God making creation but creation being capable of corrupting God—which is a wrong understanding of God as well—but, ironically, how most people think even though they’ll become angry and tell you they don’t.

That’s my interpretation. Did you mean The Book of God as a critique? How did you get started with the idea?

The book arose from a series of short pieces that I wrote each day while on holiday in Ischia, Italy, in summer 2021. This is when the ‘Soul’ stories came about, the first being ‘Celestial Night Music’. In one of these stories, though, I identified the voice of God, and once that idea took hold in my mind, that’s when the book began to develop. It was immediately clear that God was mental, and it took off from there into the mad tract that it blossomed into. It all started with a strange people that live underground…

KINDRA: “It was immediately clear that God was mental”
This is a pretty funny statement. I’m not sure how you mean it, but, as a Christian, I’ll clarify that my belief in God has nothing to do with my mind. My mind, actually, is evil. The human mind is evil.

ULTAN: About this: “It was immediately clear that God was mental”
What I meant by this was that it was clear from the tone of my piece. I mean, the voice, as I wrote it, was crazy – the ‘literary rendition’, let’s call it. Not the actual ‘God Almighty’.

I haven’t had time to analyse it yet, and I didn’t set out to write a challenge to religion, though in many ways that’s exactly what it does. For me, in part, it poses the question: If we are, as per the teachings, the children of God, each his unique creation, and we are indeed made in his image, then is God as presented in The Book of God not a distinct possibility, or at least, might he not be endowed with some of the same unbalanced and insane characteristics as us, his children? Or, conversely, is it the reverse that is true, that we have created God in our own image, and will it not stand then that God is in fact a lunatic? How can it be otherwise? Obviously, the book explores some of the extremes in belief and interpretation that people bring to religion, perverting and twisting it. So yes, this is absolutely a critique, not only of religion itself, but of the perversion of religion.

#6. Can you speak a little on Black Tarn Publishing? This is a press that you operate (that focuses on dystopic books)? Have you published any titles?

All of our titles so far are self-published. Right now, the outfit is the collaborative effort of myself and Dave Migman (writer, artist and carver from Glasgow, Scotland). We started in November 2020 and to date have put out five titles. I’ve produced four novels in two years (the latest being The Book of God), so we’ve been pretty productive. Our typical genre would be dark, dystopian, literary fiction. I’m also a big fan of the post-apocalyptic genre. There’s a post-apocalyptic novel in me for sure. It’s only an idea at the minute, but it will almost certainly happen. I even have a premise. My next work, however, will probably be a work of historical fiction. It’ll bubble to the surface soon, I’m sure, and I’ll likely sit down to begin in the next month or two.

KINDRA: When will you publish The Book of God do you think?

ULTAN: So, with The Book of God I plan to approach agencies first. It’s unusual and I think the writing is strong enough, but I’m aware it’ll take a brave agent to get behind it. It’s not commercial but it does have some unique selling points. I’ll do two more edits on it, one in January and one in February, then in March I’ll start submitting. That’ll give me time to iron out any issues it still has: layout, flow, etc…

#7. Anything else you’d like to add for posterity’s sake ha ha? If not, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

I like your conception of The Book of God as the ‘anti-Bible’, and henceforth, to anyone who asks me what it’s about, that is exactly how I will describe it.

Thank you for the great questions. This has been a wonderful first interview.
: )

KINDRA: P.S. Random, but I love how every time I look up your work on Amazon under “Ultan Banan”, it’s like, did you mean “Ultra Banana”? And I’m like, yeah, no, I’m pretty sure it’s not that … But, sure, let’s look at some ultra bananas.

ULTAN: You know what, I had a moment of crisis sometime after I’d chosen my pen name, when I asked a friend to pronounce it for me. He was like, ‘Ultan Banane’? I said, ‘No, you idiot. It’s not “Banane”, it’s “BAnan”. Like “Bannon”. I almost changed it. Then I said f**k it, they’ll get the hang of it. Sometimes I get marketing emails from bots trying to sell me spellcheck software: “We noticed that you may have made a spelling error on your website…”

p.s. You’re welcome on these shores anytime.

#END

Indie Interview: Mark Hunter

Life, Meaning, Existential Crises & Indie Authors. Shift Change: An Interview with Mark Hunter

Mark Hunter taking picture in mirror of Shift Change book copies

This interview was conducted by telephone August 2019

Phone ringing …

MH: Hello?

Me: Hi, is this Mark?

MH: Yes it is.

Me: Hi Mark! This is Kindra, how are you?

MH: I’m alright, how bout you?

Me: I’m good; I’m a couple minutes early but I hope you don’t mind.

MH: Nah that’s fine.

Me: So um, this is kinda just like really informal. I have no idea what I’m doing, um…

MH: Mmhm.

Me: (laughs) I mean, feel free to jump in whenever you want. I think we both kinda share this—kinda the same misanthropic humor so this is hardly the formal interview. Like I said this is my first time—I just—I really loved your book so I kinda—I wanted to reach out and pick your brain as much as I could about it. Um … so I guess for purposes of having to transcribe this later on … um, so just like a brief description about myself. Um, I’m Kindra and I’m really kinda nobody— (laughs)

MH: Mmhm.

Me: Um, I’m just like—I have … I’m a fellow indie author—shameless plug—I currently have a book out called the Incredibly True Confessions of a Black Female Union Steward, which is, like your book, a memoir, but is explicitly labeled a memoir unlike yours which is labeled fiction so we’ll get into that in a second.

MH: OK.

Me: But I just—I wanted to—I like to pay it forward because I really support independent authors. I book-review kind of informally and so I read a lot of books and that’s how I found you, and I forget—do you remember what promotional tool that you used—was it Just Kindle Books?

MH: Um, I used ah—I’ve used Kindle Books before. Um, it seems like the best luck I’ve had has been on Fiverr with username bknights, runs Digital Book Spot.

Me: Oh OK.

MH: I usually get a lot of downloads out of that. I mean—

Me: Through Fiverr?

MH: Yeah especially if it’s free. (laughs)

Me: Yeah, that’s right. I got probably close to a thousand when I ran a free promotion but ask me if that was nearly as much—laughs—since then, since I put a price tag on it; that’s something totally different, you know?

MH: Yeah even, even 99 cents you go down from 300 downloads to like 2—laughs—in a day.

Me: Yeah, if even that.

MH: Yep.

Me: So there’s a lot to—there’s really a lot to unpack here because there’s a lot going on—laughs—in this book—

MH: (laughs)

Me: And I guess, um, let’s see … So I could relate a lot on a personal level to this book because I too have chosen many, many times the path of least resistance—if you want to call [it] that, or I’ve—I’ve underachieved or I’ve chosen to underachieve sometimes on purpose, and sometimes because I just wanted to have something that paid my bills—you know—while I focused on what I really loved to do because what I loved to do wasn’t making any money, um …

MH: Right.

Me: And you know, the existential crisis that comes along with that, and finding meaning, and meaningless work and then finding meaning through meaningless work and all that. So I guess I want to start off with your book genre. Like, am I interviewing you as Mark or as Jim Sims?

MH: (laughs) You’re interviewing me as Mark.

Me: (finishes laughing) OK because your genre choice—and I want you to touch on this a little bit—is interesting. Because like I said I have a book currently out that—I explicitly market this as a workplace memoir, but some people who have read it told me that it reads as fiction. But you, for example—like, it’s really interesting because you’ve labeled your book as fictional satire, but you are very up front about also saying that this is a confessional and that this is actually a memoir too. So if you could touch on—like why you chose not to label this as a memoir and if there were any thoughts that you had about this in the beginning and … anything you can say about that.

MH: Well, a couple of my favorite authors are Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski.

Me: Yes, yes.

MH: And Bukowski’s first novel is Post Office

Me: Which I love—I’ve read.

MH: It’s along the same lines, you know?

Me: Oh OK, yeah.

MH: It’s a kind of fictionalized memoir: it takes a period of time that was 11 years of his life and distills it down, right?

Me: Right.

MH: And that’s kind of—I guess that probably led to that choice. There’s things in there—I mean, 90—no probably 80% of the things in there happened to me, but actually happened over an even longer time span than that.

Me: Was it specific to this job or was it general?

MH: It was this job.

Me: OK.

MH: I stayed at that job for a long time—um, for reasons that—other things that were going on in my life at that time. I had a pretty bad first marriage that was going on at that time—

Me: Oh wow.

MH: Yeah, and when that ended, there was kind of an assumption that my first wife, who I, you know—we should’ve never been together … was kind of an assumption that if my first wife never existed, my life would’ve been a lot different. But I knew better, um … (laughs)

Me: So you guys were going through a divorce at the time you started at the gas station? Or, you—

MH: No, we divorced actually—actually, timeline-wise it would be after that actually happened.

Me: Oh wow, OK.

MH: Yeah, I wrote this book as kind of an imagining of what my life may have been like if she wasn’t involved and just basically an argument, as in … as in, it’s not like I was headed for fame and glory … (laughs)

Me: Well, well, maybe … (laughs)

MH: (laughs) So that was part of the—was like a thought experiment on my part. So things that may’ve happened 8 years into my time there happened in like 3 years in the novel. But, yeah, so I kinda chose the satire/fiction/memoir kinda thing because so much of what is in there is so easy to satirize and take one step further. Most of the characters are based on a single person but have characteristics of other people that were similar to them that worked there at the same time.

Me: Oh OK.

MH: Because the turnover is so crazy …

Me: (laughs) (sarcastically) NO!

MH: Yeah, but really were like only 5 or 6 different types of people that worked there so you could kinda generalize amongst them … but when you do that, it kinda turns people into caricatures so I tried to straddle the line between a real personality and a caricature, and it just so happens that the kinda people I worked with—that wasn’t that difficult because they were doing a pretty good job of it themselves.

Me: Right, and I think—there’s a lot to be said about how we as human beings are human but then also we are caricatures of human beings—laughs—at the same time so it’s not really a far stretch, you know, because—I don’t know, it’s like we’re archetypes of ourselves at the same time, like these stereotypical yet somehow ever-deep individuals. So, I mean—I think you did a really good job. Um, the characters were totally believable and, you know, it’s great.

MH: Mmhm. Thank you; I appreciate it.

Me: So, like I said, there’s really a lot to unpack because you cite a lot of reasons—and you know obviously there’s a lot of factors behind how you started working at the gas station. So you talk about the state of the economy at the time in Michigan; you talk about pleasing your parents; you talk about—you know kinda your lack—your general lack of interest in a lot of what you were exposed to at the time and in general. You talk about a commitment to not trying—

MH: (laughs)

Me: (laughs) Like a sort of commitment to not trying—

MH: Yeah.

Me: You talk about God or a lack of belief in God, a once-belief in God and then, most importantly, and most interestingly, you talk about—you touch on this kind of experiment in trying not to quit something for the first time in your life, but choosing something that’s deliberately below your aptitude in order to prove that you’re not a quitter— (laughs)

MH: (laughs) Right.

Me: So I guess this makes perfect sense for how you were thinking at the time, but I was wondering if you could comment on a lot of that. Um, I said a lot too …

MH: (laughs) OK … Um, well I actually started college at Western Michigan University and transferred halfway through to Central, and in the book it’s more Central; Central is the only one that’s mentioned. But—so, most of my general Eds were done just like I said with the exact number of credits I needed. And nothing was seeming any more interesting than anything else except I was self-obsessed and I [wrote] really bad poetry about not being able—

Me: (laughs) Yeah, you talked about that—

MH: Yeah, not being able to talk to girls. So, as I was getting ready to transfer to Central—because a couple friends I had at Western were graduating, I took a career aptitude inventory; and it was a really involved one. Like here’s a book that you take home and it’s 1500 questions. (laughs)

Me: Wow, yeah …

MH: And I turned everything in and they’re like, so, you’re not really showing specific aptitude for any area … (laughs)

Me: (laughs)

MH: But you’re showing even less interest in any area.

Me: So it’s almost as if they should’ve said after that—we now pronounce you an employee at the gas station, you know?

MH: Exactly. I mean—it’s kinda … my interests were artsy but my skills were mental math, you know?

Me: Right. But also what I said is kind of unfair too—not to cut you off because—I know in my life I’ve spent a lot of time engaged in—like I was a cleaner at one point in time when I lived in New York City. I cleaned houses. And, you know, I was intelligent and a lot of people would kinda question why I was doing what I was doing because I clearly seemed to have the aptitude for doing a lot more than what I was doing. So—

MH: Yeah.

Me: I don’t want to shit on people who work in gas stations because there are so many people who “deserve to be there” but then at the same time there are people who are like your character Josh for instance, who are really reasonable and college-educated and have a good head on their shoulders. I mean, you just really never know what people’s reasons are for doing things, you know, so …

MH: Yep.

Me: So I didn’t—I don’t want to shit on people who work at gas stations either …

MH: No, I get it. I mean, obviously I did plenty of it myself in the book so … most of all myself though.

Me: Yeah. (laughs)

MH: Yeah so … I mean and that kinda confirmed things that I knew, but leading up to that I did take a couple of creative writing classes, but basically when I didn’t excel right off the bat I decided to just take enough for whatever general Ed they were fulfilling.

Me: Right.

MH: I had kind of a little bit of an interest in psychology but mainly because I was interested in understanding myself a little bit.

Me: Mmhm …

MH: So I transferred. Um, and, yeah, like I said—just pick something. Like, you’re smart and people with your personality need to pick something; and my dad says, well, you know, you’re really smart and basically whatever you pick you’re gonna be successful at.

Me: Mmhm …

MH: (laughs) And, my dad—I mean my dad … To him, I was super intelligent and going places and he was really happy to be able to send his son to college and all that. And that was kinda that whole generation: no matter what, you’re going to college—laughs—so you don’t have to work in a factory, never stopping to think that maybe the factory’s gonna be a better life, right?

Me: Right.

MH: So, yeah, I picked broadcasting/cinematic arts because I was into music and radio and audio production.

Me: Yeah, you talk about the record label a couple of times in the book, too.

MH: Yeah, so, you know, I picked that and I did really well in my studies but the applied stuff not so much because I—you know—I’m just not a very artsy person.

Me: YOU’RE A WRITER, COME ON—are you crazy?

MH: Oh, you know—

Me: (laughs)

MH: I write. I write. Like for a while in my bios I would write—writer—and not author …

Me: That’s like the pinnacle of artsy.

MH: Yeah.

Me: (laughs)

MH: (laughs) So, um, I don’t know. I feel like I’m going off-track here.

Me: No, I’m sorry; I keep interrupting you but—what I said. My lead-off question was jam-packed with a lot of things that you talk about that led up to your decision to start working at the gas station, um … So one of the awesome things about this book is that, for me—not only as an independent author, but also as someone who’s black … It’s really—I told you this myself before when we connected on Twitter—that it’s not often that I’ve read books by—especially white authors who actually identify or describe their characters in a racial way …

MH: Mmhm.

Me: And I think it’s really awesome what you did because you’re shattering the myth of this privileged white person too, and it shows the spectrum, if you will, of white people and classes of white people, and that not every white person you run into is rich or—so this was really interesting when you were talking about a lot of the things that you were struggling with …

MH: Mmhm.

Me: —made it very real and made you less of a caricature as a white person. But I wanted to know if you could touch on—you talk about, um, a decreasing IQ …?

MH: Yeah. (both laugh)

Me: And I wonder like wha—I didn’t even know that was a concept …?

MH: (laughs) Well, yeah, and that may have been due to bad testing methodology or whatever.

Me: Right, OK.

MH: But because—I mean when I first got tested I was seven years old, you know—

Me: Right.

MH: — [inaudible] 1986, so … (laughs)

Me: That’s right.

MH: Yeah so … but I did test really high, and I remember my family being really proud of that and so I—you know, you kinda take on your family’s opinion of yourself in a way.

Me: Right.

MH: So I was really proud of that and I didn’t really—I didn’t really have a filter at the time and I still don’t … as far as … like once someone expresses any sort of interest in me I don’t really have a filter anymore. Because—maybe [inaudible] … borderline Autistic tendencies; I don’t deal well with gray areas, so I try to be like, here no filter—hopefully you’ll have no filter and I won’t have to figure out what you actually mean.

Me: That’s right.

MH: So … and I would actually talk about—laughs—that I tested high and I wasn’t really bragging. I was stating a fact, which didn’t really engender a lot of—laughs—a lot of people being happy—

Me: (laughs) FRIENDS. Yeah … (laughs)

MH: But, since that time—every few years I would try to find a way to test myself … online later on and stuff like that. And I noticed that my scores have really gone down [inaudible] spatial relations and things like that, which are supposed to be the big masculine things that you score well in as a man.

Me: Right.

MH: So there’s kind of a sense from the time I was young until especially in my early 20s that I just kept getting stupider—(me laughing)—but I was always known as the math genius. But I didn’t get past Algebra in high school because once it stopped being concrete, I couldn’t do it. While it was concrete, I was speeding through it. And like I said in the book and with a lot of things, the harder I tried the worse it got. To a point that I would often get in arguments with the teacher about the fact that he was still passing me—(me laughing). I’m like, you can’t curve me up to a D- when I’m getting like a 30% on this test.

Me: Wow …

MH: Like you’re passing me because you have to pass me … you know what I mean—I’m definitely not learning anything.

Me: So this is interesting because I don’t think you touched on this—what you’re talking about right now—in the book—

MH: Mmhm.

Me: This kind of idea that you ran with the idea that you actually were really smart.

MH: Right.

Me: Not to say that you’re dumb but I don’t think you touched on this. The book is a lot about how you didn’t have interest … it’s kinda cool getting this side now because you’re talking about how you did believe also at one point in time that you were what people were hyping you up to be, you know?

MH: Yeah, but whenever it got off of a black-and-white score like that, it would kinda get pushed back in my face that it was just a theoretical—laughs. Here’s what you could be—because … once I had to apply things it was always tough, and I think that kinda thing is what led me to start working in the gas station—you know what I mean. To not really have a lot of aspirations because it didn’t seem like … I’m so hard on myself—the harder I tried at things, the worse it seemed to get, so I got those low expectations that I think you talked about a little bit on Twitter.

Me: Right. So if you had to talk about an overarching reason that you decided to work at the gas station, is it because—you know, the decision was like a culmination of you facing what you thought to be your uselessness, or—because you do also talk about ADHD and a diagnosis of that—

MH: Mmhm.

Me: And taking medication for a brief period of time, so if you could say any one thing was overarching in terms of your decision to work at the gas station … Was it your coping with the idea like I said that you weren’t measuring up to what a lot of people thought you should be doing, or …

MH: I mean, I think that’s possible. I really half-assed college in a way, you know, because I didn’t really do any of the internships and anything that I should have and I graduated with the exact number of credits needed and got out of there because I knew that nothing was really what I wanted to do. And I didn’t want to be someone who kept spending more and more money on college when I wasn’t really interested in anything. So, I’m like, well I have to work somewhere, and I have a crazy work ethic …

Me: Yeah, me too.

MH: Yeah, so I’m like I’m gonna just pick something because I have to get a job … and I don’t like change, you know?

Me: Yeah.

MH: So there I was—laughs. I mean, it was steady hours, you know, and I kept hearing about how other people in similar jobs weren’t getting the sort of hours that we were getting there.

Me: So what did you graduate with a degree in?

MH: Broadcast and Cinematic Arts.

Me: Oh, OK. And um … well, hm … sorry, I lost my train of thought. I was gonna ask something but then I totally forgot what I was gonna ask, um …

MH: OK.

Me: So, hm …

MH: It happens. (laughs) Where were we?

Me: Yeah, I don’t know. I was gonna ask something but I just totally lost it … oh-oh-oh! I was gonna touch on also—because you talk about the economy in Michigan. I guess I should just give it up because I have—I have this relentless kind of quality about me where I’m asking people to pinpoint something when it’s extremely gray and I’m just like, well—nasally voice—what made you make those life decisions …?

MH: (laughs)

Me: Was it specifically THIS?! (laughs) And I gotta stop! (laughs) But I guess that’s where I was going …

MH: Yeah.

Me: You talk about so many things—(MH laughing)—and you capture it well because it’s these so many things that you’re talking about that actually led up to you making your decision. If you could touch on the economy in Michigan. You paint kind of a dreary—in my mind—this dreary landscape, like where there was no kind of choice but for you to go work at the gas station because—(both laughing)—because the economy was so awful, you know. And I’m just like, aw man, that’s a shit hole, you know?

MH: Right.

Me: If you could talk about where you come from because you’re originally from Michigan, and the economy … and the state of that …

MH: Well, I grew up in Pontiac Michigan, but when I was about 10 years old we moved up to Northwest Michigan up on the lake; so that was the middle of nowhere. I mean up there, in terms of working, if you can’t do outside working with your hands … (laughs)

Me: So it is limiting …

MH: Yeah, but that’s further up than the book takes place. The book’s in the middle of Michigan—in the middle of Michigan, like I said, there’s the casino and customer service. There’s really not as many—even as many factory jobs anymore there.

Me: Right.

MH: So, I mean, there’s some factory jobs but they’re kinda highly skilled. It’s hard to get a foot in the door. I don’t know; I think when the auto industry went under toward 2000, it really did a number on everywhere in Michigan. So many shops make parts for other things—make parts for machines that other factories use. So I kinda had an idea in school that—well maybe I can do secretary work in a factory or something … But in terms of working at the gas station, it’s not like it really was the only choice; but it seemed like the best choice to at least start making money at the time. Like I said, I really dislike change so once I was there, I was like, well, I’m not gonna quit; and any time that I would get sick of it—there would usually be a time where I would actually screw up while I was working—and I’m like well, I can’t even handle this—(me laughing)—so do I really wanna try to get something that’s gonna pay me 10 bucks an hour that I might screw up …

Me: (laughs) Oh goodness, yeah …

MH: You know, I was really hard on myself … I’m like, am I gonna get something better that I’ll screw up and then have to deal with having screwed up something good? At least this if I get fired, it’s like, well—

Me: It’s just a gas station …

MH: Yeah.

Me: So why do you think you didn’t go work at the casino?—which you do touch on with a couple of other characters in the book.

MH: Yep. I had applications in from time to time. It’s just … jobs were very hard to come by …the waiting lists were really crazy. I didn’t really get calls back or anything.

Me: I guess I take it for granted like I said that it’s not … well, you labeled it specifically as satire because it’s not really this truthfully sequential arc of events, you know?

MH: Yep. I mean for one thing how could the timeline be? (laughs)

Me: Yeah, I know, yeah.

MH: But I try to capture the way that people speak …

Me: Yeah, you did a good job … (laughs)

MH: Like Crystal … I think her first line is—come on bitch, where you at?

Me: (laughs) That kinda ties into … I touched on this before … I really did have some hearty laughs throughout the book. Because of the way you’re able to portray these characters, and the inherent comedy of there being nothing really wrong with working at a gas station, but everybody’s struggling to work in a gas station. (laughs)

MH: Yeah—

Me: And the rigors that come along with that, and the self-study that comes with that, you know? Like there’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s everything wrong with this at the same time. So the characters were funny. I learned for the first time what a lot lizard is—

MH: (laughs)

Me: I actually had to look that up. On, cringe, Urban Dictionary—laughs—before I read more into the book about what it is. Also, one of the great things about your book in terms of being able to shatter these lily-white stereotypes of white people is the fact that, at the time, you or your character really hated the cops, and you were pulled over all the time by the cops, which is pretty hilarious.

MH: Yeah, I can see why that would be hilarious given where you’re coming from—

Me: (laughs hard)

MH: Yeah, Northern Michigan is kinda used as a training ground for the Michigan state cops.

Me: Ah, OK.

MH: So they kinda send them up there, and they flex the muscle, you know. (laughs) And I’m sure they’re very bored. It’s interesting that in the time span that I worked at that gas station and living 10 miles away from the gas station, I got pulled over—I don’t know—15-20 times, right?—(me laughing) And I’ve lived in Indianapolis for 8 years and I haven’t been pulled over once. (laughs) So that’s really strange to me; and like I said, my knuckles still get white just waiting for someone—(me laughing)—to pull me over and find a reason to gimme a fix-it ticket, you know.

Me: Well, were they justified nine times out of ten?—because you do at one point, in the cops’ defense—you do talk about how everybody at one point thought you were mentally handicapped—

MH: (laughs)

Me: Because of how terrible you were behind the wheel of a car. (laughs)

MH: Yep. Well I’m sure there were some times where they were justified, but it gets into murky water when in the process of being pulled over I see someone speeding past me at 95 miles an hour, or I get pulled over for a loud muffler, but the guy who has an intentionally loud muffler doesn’t.

Me: Right.

MH: Yeah, he spent money to make his car sound like that, so he’s OK, which is always bizarre to me because in the book I have a disdainful look at people that try to be cool.

Me: (makes a weird noise) Yeah … I wanted to know if you could touch on the role of God, or lack thereof because you talk about that too; and, for me, I started off as an atheist in younger adulthood and then I moved steadily closer to God as I get older. So I started out as an atheist and then I went to agnosticism and then I went to full-out—THERE IS DIVINITY!

MH: (laughs)

Me: So reading it from—laughs—that point of view, as someone who does believe in divinity—that I don’t necessarily call “God” because I’m not religious—

MH: Yeah.

Me: But I always find it really interesting that people, including yourself, describe your descent—for lack of a better word—into atheism because you ask for something specific—(MH laughs)—and you didn’t get what you wanted.

MH: (laughs)

Me: So if you could touch on that, or your personal experience with God …

MH: Sure. Yeah. Like I said, I was not raised to believe in God. I don’t know that my family was out there as atheistic, but—

Me: They were not?

MH: No, I don’t remember ever being talked to about God.

Me: Oh wow, OK.

MH: And I don’t know if that’s more common for white people, or what—

Me: Well I don’t know because there’s a lot of religious white people—

MH: Yeah, there is—

Me: And I kinda feel that sometimes this is a class thing …

MH: Right, I can see that. But when I think of super religious white people, my first thought is racists …

Me: Really?

MH: Yeah, and I don’t know if that’s just because … my mom is pretty liberal and she did most of my raising me because my dad was always working; my dad’s pretty conservative. But either way I don’t remember them ever talking to me about God.

Me: OK.

MH: So I was kinda left to think about it myself; and, like I said, I’m a very literal black and white person in terms of a lot of things, and I’m like, well, let’s see what happens here—(me laughing)—sort of like—

Me: For my next magic trick …

MH: Yeah, I’m like let’s see what happens. Let’s see if I can see any proof. I’m like, well it all just seems kind of like a story, and then you read some of the stories and I’m like, yeah, but that’s basically common sense—

Me: Yeah …

MH: What I didn’t realize at the time is that a lot of common sense was first voiced in a story form in things like the Bible, you know—laughs—the only reason why this stuff is considered common sense is because it’s the combined wisdom of hundreds of generations of people.

Me: Right, folk. It’s like a folk story.

MH: Yeah, so I really didn’t have any belief in any sort of God, and I think for a while I kinda wanted there to be a God because it would seem like it would be nice if being a good person would mean you got some sort of special privileges—laughs—which is just terrible to think of it that way …

Me: No, I think a lot of people think of it that way—even, mostly religious people … (laughs)

MH: (laughs) Yeah, I know. And it made sense to me as an 8/9-year-old, you know. I’m like, well, if I do all these things that … I’m a good person, someone will be looking out for me.

Me: Right.

MH: And I tried to be as good of a person as I could, and it didn’t seem to be working out the way I wanted it to; and it’s funny to come to those kind of realizations as a 9/10 year-old … I met my best friend until this day around that time and he came from a very religious family and I talked to him about this stuff, and it blew his mind. He never thought of it as being anything other than exactly what he was told in church.

Me: Is he still religious—very religious?

MH: No he isn’t. But he’s married to a very religious woman. (laughs)

Me: (laughs hard) That’s hilarious.

MH: He’s not religious at all anymore. And his family growing up was really fire and brimstone; and I was just kinda like, well, doesn’t this all just seem like a made-up place for people to feel good about themselves? And I was talking like that even as a 10-year-old. And that blew his mind because I was so completely un-judgmental about the things he was always told he was supposed to be judgmental about. His older brother had pornographic magazines and he happened to tell me that, and I’m like, whatever, what does that matter? Nothing’s actually gonna happen to him—laughs—you know. Your brother’s not gonna be doomed to go to hell because—(me laughing)—he’s looking at naked women, which blew my best friend’s mind. He’s like, really?! How can you even say that? And I’m like, well where’s the proof?—(me laughing)

Me: Right. You should’ve been dead by now.

MH: Yeah, exactly. So I kinda had that view on it from a really young age. And like I said, no one in my family ever talked to me about God. The first time I ever heard my father talk to me about God was probably 2-3 years ago …

Me: As in, he believes? Or just in general?

MH: As in, he’s 65 years old and he’s starting to think about things.

Me: (laughs) You gotta love it.

MH: Yeah. I mean, today, I don’t know. I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about things that I don’t feel have a direct effect on me, and so I don’t really give a whole lot of thought to God other than thinking about religion and the way it’s played into the idea of morals and stuff like that.

Me: Yeah. OK, cool … So I wanted to ask you overall … Was the gas station necessary?

MH: (laughs)

Me: In terms of what you ultimately took away from the experience, what you were trying to figure out, or what you were trying to prove to yourself in going into it. Do you see it as something that was necessary?

MH: Am I going to ruin your experience with the book if I tell you some things?

Me: Absolutely not—me? Hell no!

MH: Well, in real life … remember that character? … I ended up marrying her …

Me: WOW! That’s so cool!

MH: So that’s the best thing that I took away from the gas station.

Me: Wow that is a great surprise. This is a book that just keeps on giving.

MH: But … as far as the gas station, I don’t know that it was really necessary. I don’t know what else I would’ve done—

Me: Well did you … you went in, for example, with this … well this is one of my hang-ups again of trying to pinpoint things, but one of the reasons you talk about going into the situation was because you were trying to prove that you could stick with something and not quit for the first time—

MH: Yep.

Me: in your life … so I was wondering if you came away with a greater sense of longevity or something, or did what you go in trying to prove to yourself end up true? …

MH: OK. Yeah, I don’t know that it really did. But one thing that did happen during that time is a random customer—toward the end of my time there—mentioned The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. (laughs)

Me: OK.

MH: And I read that and was like, OK, whatever. Self-help, you know? But I’d never looked into self-help before that; and that kinda started me down on a path of self-help and self-improvement.

Me: Oh wow, OK.

MH: Yeah, and she was just a random customer because she … could tell I was having a bad night, and she’s like, so what’s going on tonight? And I’m like I can’t get everything done I need to get done. And she’s like, there’s a book I want you to read—laughs—and I’m like, what? weird lady that I’ll never see again. And I wrote it down and I checked it out; and I was like, OK, that seems sort of self-evident but some things caught my attention, and I started looking at other self-help and trying to find out what they shared with each other.

Me: Right.

MH: And I basically kept reading a lot of self-help books and chopped off the things that seemed too gimmicky. And tried to see what they all shared, and that took me down the path to basically really improving my life.

Me: That’s awesome.

MH: Yep. And I don’t think things would’ve happened with my wife—

Me: If, sure—yeah

MH: Yeah, if that didn’t happen.

Me: Which is interesting because, for myself, I went through this period of time too where I was kind of like a frothing-at-the-mouth self-help junkie. Like, I grew up really awful so a lot of the programming that I had in my early life was literally a dumpster fire.

MH: Yeah.

Me: So when I got introduced to … Wayne Dyer by this lady I worked with at the time—she was a white lady, and—(MH laughing)—this began my path … I read pretty much everything, like The Four Agreements, Joel Osteen—I was really into him at one point. I look back now and I’m like, what the hell—(both laugh)

MH: Hey, I read Dave Ramsey and all that, so you know …

Me: What book is that?

MH: He’s Financial Peace University, but it’s from a super Christian viewpoint.

Me: Yeah. So it’s like they all do the same thing because they’re all basically talking about the same thing, but they’re talking about the same thing in different ways or how to achieve it in different ways. There are some people like Louise Hay; she talks about radical self-love and that’s how you achieve … Eckhart Tolle … or Wayne Dyer talks about destroying the ego and that’s how you get to this place …

MH: Right.

Me: And I think my ultimate … Somebody that I absolutely love until this day … the interviews of U.G. Krishnamurti. He’s the other Krishnamurti. And he was pretty much this really cantankerous guy—he was Indian. People came from all around to visit him when he lived in Switzerland and then I think when he lived in India, and he was just really rude. He was just like, get away from me. Why are you here?

MH: (laughs)

Me: Why are you asking me these stupid questions? And people would just keep coming and keep asking him. He talks a lot about enlightenment. And this resonated a lot with me because I’m one of these types of people … I don’t really want people to tell me to change by nice, gentle voices. Like, I really need someone to grab me by my shirt and be like, shape the fuck up, you know? That’s what I need, you know? So I think it’s interesting about the self-help component. I can definitely relate to that.

MH: Yeah, for me when I was checking out self-help, I started to veer in the men’s self-help area. So there’s this book called No More Mr. Nice Guy by Dr. Robert Glover.

Me: Oh, I’ve never heard of him.

MH: OK. It’s very infantilizing—laughs—in trying to teach men how to have a backbone.

Me: (laughs) Yes …

MH: Because there are plenty of us that do not. Like for the longest time in my generation, it was kinda, women were always to be put on a pedestal.

Me: Yeah, that’s right.

MH: And, so, that’s fine but not as a woman. (laughs) And I didn’t really understand that; and I didn’t understand that doing that constantly wasn’t just a symptom of me not knowing how to deal with women … It’s in always trying to look for a way out of ever being judged, which I never thought as a problem but when I read that book I was like, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s me to a T …

Me: Did your wife read it?

MH: Yeah she did.

Me: What’d she think about it?

MH: She really liked it. You know, she knows me pretty well. So she knew everything in there.

Me: OK, so, the last question I have is, what happens after the gas station? I know that you said that you have a job that doesn’t have anything to do with the gas station anymore. What finally made you quit? And if you’re comfortable talking about what you’re doing now …?

MH: Ah, OK … well now I work in Network Operations—

Me: For the gas station?

MH: No—both laugh—no, God no. No.

Me: What’s Network Operations?

MH: Network Operations … it’s not as technical as it sounds—(me laughing). I am basically someone who serves as the secretary slash emergency dispatch for the super technical computer people at a company.

Me: Oh OK, alright.

MH: So I need to know what I’m looking at, and I need to know what’s a bad sign, and who to contact to fix things.

Me: OK.

MH: So there’s a lot of procedure with this that I’m—

Me: GOOD AT!

MH: That I do well with. Yeah. (both laugh) But I got there … basically I had mentioned my first marriage falling apart. I have two daughters, and my first wife is from this area; and when we split up, she has—you know, she has custody, and she moved back down here with her parents and I wanted to be closer. So I basically went back to my family—my brother, and he agreed to get me into an extended stay hotel down here.

Me: That’s awesome! Well, the narrative about a man who wants to be a good dad, you know?

MH: Right. So I came to Indianapolis and put in something like a hundred applications—(both laugh)—my first two weeks. And I wasn’t getting calls back so I went to a temp agency down here and they had an ad for what ended up being the job that I’m still at now.

Me: Alright … let me end it by—I wanted to read a few quotes but maybe I won’t do that … just to tell people to go—it’s really a great book. This just happens to be in my wheelhouse because I’m a very sarcastic person. I’m very mocking and wry. I have a misanthropic sense of humor. Charles Bukowski is not one of my—he definitely played a part in my development because I did—I read all his books pretty much, Factotum, Ham on Rye, all that stuff—

MH: Mmhm.

Me: And he was really important to me at one point in my development just for demonstrating being different …

MH: Mmhm, yeah.

Me: —than everyone, and expressing this total distaste for his station in life and being honest about that and just—you know, not being full of shit, you know?

MH: Yep … One thing I did wanna say about Bukowski is, there’s all of that, but my favorite part of Bukowski is when, you know, the flower comes out of the concrete …

#END

Indie Interview: Ultan Banan