This evening, 25Feb10, in Wescoe Hall at the University of Kansas, I attended a reading by Ben Percy. This was an extra credit assignment for my Fiction Writing class, and I probably wouldn’t have gone if my weekly game night hadn’t been canceled. However, I am glad that I did go to this. I had never heard of Ben Percy before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The man who introduced him (whose name I didn’t catch, but I’m sure he was an English Department faculty member) told us a little about Mr. Percy, speaking highly of his work. He’s a Brown graduate who went on to get advanced degrees at other schools and currently teaches at Iowa State. He’s known for his book Refresh, Refresh: Stories, a collection of some of his short stories, one of which was made into a graphic novel.
Ben talked a little bit at first about how he gets ideas for stories. He mentioned a cork board he keeps in his house that he pins different ideas or clippings to. He gathers them up, all these different ideas, and eventually he can find how several of them fit together into a story. That’s an interesting idea. He related a couple of these things, memories of his from childhood, that he used in the short story that he read to us. He also talked about how he used to carry a little notebook and scribble bits of conversations he overheard to maybe use for something later.
Ben has a surprisingly deep and rich voice, and it was a little distracting when he first started to read, I guess because it sounded a slightly melodramatic. After a bit I got used to it, and then was quickly engrossed in the story he read, “Caves in Oregon”. His lecture mode is funny and disarming, and his reading mode is personal. His story was very good, and based on that I will check out the rest of his book. There was a brief Q&A after the reading, which I got rolling by asking him about researching for an element of the story. He gave answers about different aspects of researching, gave some examples about the things he focuses on when doing it, and then gave what sounded like a well practiced talk on setting in a story (every detail matters, every setting is a character, basically). When it was over I couldn’t resist going over and telling him how much I enjoyed his story, and then I went and checked out his sales table. I flipped through the graphic novel, but I didn’t do more than get a wide idea of what it may be about. All in all, this was a good thing to have attended.