From A Land of Verse and Snow: An interview with Phillip Andrew Bennett Low

Based in Minnesota, Phillip Andrew Bennett Low is a Chinese-American playwright, poet, mime, theatre critic, and libertarian activist. Among his claims to fame is as the founder of the touring theatre troupe Maximum Verbosity, and as co-founder and Chair of the Rockstar Storytellers, a group of bestselling local spoken-word artists.

In 2017, he helped convene the first Speculative Poetry Slam at CONvergence, Minnesota’s largest science fiction convention, and recently presented at the SFPA 40th Annivesary Kickoff Reading in Minneapolis. He has published a book of political humor, Indecision Now! A Libertarian Rage. He is a founding member of Not So Silent Planet, the nation’s longest-running Speculative Literature Slam. We caught up with him to discuss his art and next directions.

How did you get started as a writer?
I’m not yet confident that I have gotten started as a writer. I’m unusual in my generation, I think, in that I didn’t suffer a lot of career doubt — I’ve been a bibliophile as far back as my memory goes, and I always knew that putting words together was something that I wanted to do. I was a theatre geek in high school, which led me into writing plays, though my predilection for long, meandering monologues should probably have been a warning sign that I was going to stumble into solo storytelling sooner or later.

13095826_10154143983834176_6050520778716698754_nWho are some of your favorite science fiction and fantasy influences?
When I say that I “always knew” I wanted to put words together, I mean that Tolkien is the reason that I’m here — I encountered him at just the right age to find his world-building and linguistic games totally consciousness-expanding. I still consider him a genius of the highest order, though Stephen R. Donaldson is probably my favorite living author. As for others, Lewis, LeGuin, Pratchett, Spider Robinson (and Weis and Hickman’s pulpy Dragonlance novels had a greater influence on my own prose than I should publicly admit). As for sci-fi, considering my politics, I assume that it’s unsurprising that I’m a Heinlein fan (though I’m sure many of my colleagues would characterize his worldview as fantasy…)

What keeps you going as a writer?
The only times I seriously consider stopping are when I sober up, which I try to do as little as possible. One of my primary decision-making mechanisms is to ask “Am I more likely to regret having done this, or not having done this?” …so ultimately, yeah, I would rather undertake some goofy, potentially embarrassing creative project than look back on a life wondering what might have happened if I’d been more ambitious.

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What are some of your big projects coming ahead for you in 2018?
I have several! I run a series called “The Not-So-Silent Planet”, which is to the best of my knowledge the only recurring (i.e. monthly) open-mic dedicated to speculative fiction in the country, as well as a podcast under the same title in which I get recklessly drunk with some of our regulars and argue about classics of the genre. In March, we’ll be producing the first PlanetFest, which is a short play festival taking place at the Phoenix Theater. Projects beyond that grow (ahem) increasingly speculative, though I’m working on an adaptation of Thucydides to go up in June, and a one-man show based on my latest comic fantasy novella to tour in July-August.

When are you most satisfied with a piece you’ve written? When do you feel most challenged?
I studied mask-making for a while, which played merry hell with my various neuroses: painting would throw me into a panic, as I convinced myself that one wrong brush-stroke would render the thing unusable; while I found the practice of sculpting both pleasantly meditative and dangerously indulgent, since I could keep doing it pretty much forever. Which is a needlessly labyrinthine way of saying that I’m never satisfied. It’s not hard for me to start writing, it’s hard to know when to stop. Which has only grown much, much harder as I’ve been transitioning from impermanent stage to slightly-less-impermanent page, which is also my answer to the second question.

Coffee, Tea or Other?
Tea. Herbal. I’m a caffeine addict, which means I try to avoid the stuff.

SFPA 40 (51)What fantastic or legendary creature would you most like to travel with?
Depends on the preposition. Travel with? A dragon. Travel on? A dragon. Travel in? A dragon that eats pedants.

What’s your advice for emerging writers?
I’d say that they should have their heads examined, but more introspection is probably the last thing an emerging writer needs. Honestly, I’d be less inclined to give advice than to ask a question, specifically: “How long are you prepared to fail at this?” because answering that question suggests a lot of other answers that I wish I’d been able to articulate to myself a long time ago. Also, “Always end on an uplifting note.”

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