Ben Hanstein is a reporter for a small-town, digital newspaper, hidden away in the mountains of western Maine. When he’s not lurking about courtrooms, alleyways and bloody crime scenes (actually, mostly street festivals, parades and the community theater), he writes, skis and fights a losing battle against his ancient house.
“Hard Fall” is terrifically funny, both in its writing and in its premise. Humor is notoriously difficult to write. How do you approach “writing funny’?
Everything I write has some humor in it, from messy break-ups to last stands. The secret (and it’s not really a secret at all) is to take the everyday, inside-joke things that the author feels is funny, and put them in terms the reader can relate to easily and quickly. It doesn’t have to be slapstick-y, elaborate set piece sorts of humor; some of the funniest stuff is what goes through our heads on a daily basis.
In “Hard Fall,” I wrote the ridiculous opening line and couldn’t stop laughing. I’m a big fan of the hardboiled style of writing description and dialogue, but it has always struck me as being slightly hilarious; completely over the top, but none of the characters ever seem to realize it. The protagonist, too clueless to function, is able to say the cheesy dialogue with a straight face because he thinks it’s an act. A lot of the humor comes in the reader realizing what’s going on LONG before he does.
Your dad, Woody Hanstein, has stories in four earlier Level Best Books anthologies. How does it feel to be part of a dynasty? No, seriously, what have you learned about writing fiction from your father?
Ah, that wonderful moment in a father’s life when he realizes his son has eclipsed him in every way (and the son isn’t too shy about letting him know it). But seriously, to say I’ve learned a lot from him about writing would be a big understatement. Perhaps most importantly, he proved to me you can do it; that you can sit down and type out an entire story and people will read it. It’s not something I’m sure I would ever have had the courage to try if it weren’t for him.
Naturally, we bounce ideas off each other for our respective projects, and it’s useful even when we have no idea what the other guy is talking about. Actually, that’s when it’s especially useful (and often hilarious).
I should also mention my mother, who is a newspaper editor from way back. Her influence has been huge as well; there are much worse careers for aspiring writers than in newspapers.
What are you working on now?
I’ve written a full-length novel and am currently trying to wrap up those minor, technical details: finding an agent, finding a publisher, locking down the movie deal. It’s a work of (urban) fantasy, which probably surprises no one who knows me. My nice friends say I ‘go to other places sometimes,’ the jerk ones say I should stay there.