As soon as I saw the cover of the book, I knew I had to have it (must have the precious…). And as soon as I saw it was by Schuler Benson, I knew I had to read it. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide contains 12 gritty stories about the Deep South. Most of them uncomfortably good, terribly sad, and riddled with a southern dialect so well done it’s almost a wonder (note to self: start using “Nawp” in everyday conversation).
With short stories like these, I always question the background behind what inspired each individual one. In such short, powerful stories, there’s gotta be some dirt, some small flash that’s the reason why it’s been brought to life so well. And so, I prodded the mind of the author himself to get a behind-the-scenes look at five stories from this collection.
Cryptic Bullshit: Stories Behind Five Stories from The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide
“Grace” got its start in a small place. The first scene I wrote from this story was the narrator’s description of the chair as it burned. The confessional nature of sponsorship rings hollow for me, and that was the biggest inspiration behind this one. The trust, the weight falling away… it’s a pleasant notion, and something about it does feel like relief, especially in the throes of that mania or catharsis or whatever it is. I liken it to a revival. If enough people tell you you’re healed, you can stand for a minute. Hysteria is a powerful thing. But in the periphery, something’s always on fire.
“The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide”
I’ve been in some pretty sketchy situations and done some pretty sketchy shit to get by. Probably the worst was working for a company that owned two cemeteries in my hometown. I had a fancy title, but what I really did was sell graves. My circumstances at the time didn’t afford me the luxury of being able to quit a job just because I didn’t like it, but I performed very poorly and was eventually fired. I’ll never forget that relief. Near the end of my tenure there, a couple of friends of mine died. It was abysmal. I was completely demoralized. This story started there, but ended somewhere else entirely.
I had this class near the end of my time at the University of Arkansas. It was a “Bible as Literature” class, and the professor had an entertaining slant he’d use to teach the material. Very enlightening, lots of fun. “Ace” started out as a kind of Old Testament golem story that started taking root while I was doodling in the Bible class. I threw in a little Garth Ennis worship and some pyromania, and it turned out okay, I think. I’ve gotten some awesome feedback on this story, which has been very flattering. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like it.
This was a weird one to write. I’ve always had a fascination with found things and this kind of “residual haunting”-type vibe they can carry. Like most stories in this collection, this started out as something much different. A Rapture story. It ended up a lot shorter than I thought, and a lot more “found thing” than “Rapture”, but I adore it. The contents of the letter make me want to cry, and I really have no idea why.
I spent most of my youth in a pill bottle. The idea of “euphoric recall” is fascinating to me, specifically because people like me are told it’s this thing we can’t escape. To me though, at this juncture and for the last few years, it’s felt very foreign. I can remember the shitty times like they happened yesterday. Fear, sickness, guilt. Shame. When I try to think of the good times, that elation, that recklessness, all that comes up is grime. Filth. A dirty memory rusted. “Stroke Test” is a crooked ode to good times that never were.
Schuler Benson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Kudzu Review, Hobart, The Fat City Review, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, a storySouth Million Writers Award, and 2013 and 2014 Pushcart Prizes. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Arkansas and is currently enrolled in the MA Writing program at Coastal Carolina University. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is his first book.He tweets from @schulerbenson, and can be found on Facebook at /schulerbenson.
Buy his book here.