Benoit Lelievre runs a hand across his brow and through his hair, so slick with sweat that he might as well have that fever from The Walking Dead. He stares at me like my sweet-ass costume isn’t the most righteous thing he’s ever seen.
“It’s cool, Ben. I’m going to put you back on the map,” I say, snapping the waistline of my outfit.
“You’re going to get us both killed.”
“Nah. Wait ‘til you see my moves.”
Ben starts looking for exits. All he sees is the one way in and out. We’re underground, at a not-so-legal MMA match-thing. I’m not really sure what it is; I was just drunk and bragging one night—like I always do, but this time it was about all my black belts instead of the imaginary length of my penis—and Ben just said he’d borrow a veritable shit ton of money to promote a fight for me.
It was a little too late to back out by the time I sobered up and realized to what I agreed. Mostly because I didn’t sober up until nine days later. Don’t ask.
But by then Ben, who used to promote MMA fights when he wasn’t snapping necks in them himself, had the gig financed and arranged. I was supposed to fight some Mexican dude named “the Great Equalizer.” Whatever. I could take him. Bif money on the table, Ben's reputation on the line. If I won, Ben would be the latest Cinderella Man story in MMA, if I lost he'd be drug into some back alley and shot. So I drank a Red Bull and got in the suit I keep around for just such an occasion.
Ben looks at me through his hands and asks, “Dude, are those things…ass-less?”
The stifling air lazily drags across my nude butt cheeks and I smile. “Yeah. But it’s cool. It’ll help me.”
“Watch and see, bro. Watch and see.”
Ben begins to cry. Slumps down to the corner and pulls out his phone. He opens it up to the contact labeled ‘Mama’ and begins to text I love you. Don’t worry about me and all kinds of stuff.
I start to say something but my face explodes in blood and a white light. My guts turn, my balls curl up into the mix and I crumble. The Great Equalizer lowers the metal folding chair with my face imprinted into the seat.
The illegal crowd illegally goes ape shit for the guy and all I know is The Great Equalizer picks me up by what amounts to my T-back strap, holds me upside down and roars. Luckily I ate firehouse chili for breakfast, lentil soup for lunch and a Metamucil shake for a pre-game snack. Mix that with the Red Bull and you've got a vicious cocktail of colon-blow and propellant.
I blow a shit-stream nineteen inches wide and The Great Equalizer drops me while he tries to fan away the beefy mess. I land on my head and black out.
I wake up riding shotgun in Ben’s VW Bug. Streetlights slash by outside NASCAR-like. Little slits cutting in through the windshield at 80 miles per hour. Ben is white-knuckling it. I adjust in the seat and all the hamburger trash down in the floor board shifts noisily.
“Ben, you eat a lot of White Castle.”
“You’re lucky you’re alive, Sayles.” Ben says, constantly darting looks over his shoulder even though he has a perfectly good rearview mirror. “After you shit a tidal wave all over that guy he choked on it and died.”
I shrug. “Sometimes I don’t know my own strength. But it’s cool.”
Ben slams on the brakes in some dramatic Hollywood fashion. “No! No it’s not cool! I borrowed more money than my life will ever be worth to stack the deck against you in a match you’d never win so the guys I owe money to will have a safe bet for a pay day! You totally fucked me!”
I sit up, dazzled by what I’m hearing. Razzle-dazzled. “Wait a second, you hired The Great Equalizer because you thought he’d beat me? You set me up? To fix the betting pool?”
“Yeah, idiot.” Ben says, pulling out a gun. “When a drunken turd like you tells me he has a black belt in Ninja-ectomy and shit like that, I want to hurt you. There's no such thing. You can be a ninja or get an appendectomy but seriously? I take my MMA disciplines very seriously. More seriously than any relationship I’ve ever had. More seriously than you take being a moron. And you…you turn it into some dick joke like you do with everything. You’ve ruined my life, Sayles.”
I take a moment to consider his statement before I begin fixating on the whole 'ruining his life' bit. That’s become a common theme in these interviews.
“Well, my bad, dude. I thought I was supposed to win so I trained to win.”
Ben shakes his head, defeated. “You ate enough fiber to cleanse a horse’s colon. That’s all.”
“Yes, I did. That’s winning.” Who's the moron now?
“I’ll never rebuild my reputation. I’ll never pay back my debts. I have no one. I have nothing.” Ben says, examining his gun like it's his new lover.
“Nah, I can give you some money.” I say, pulling out my bookie receipts. “I bet on myself of course, so I’m like a millionaire now.”
Ben looks up at me, jaw hanging open. A tear wells in his eye and takes a slow Sunday stroll down his cheek.
I smile, feeling the light weight of all that money in my hand. “Yeah, and what I thought we could do was open up a dojo and create the discipline of Ninja-ectomy together. We’d be the next-”
Ben shoots himself through his mouth. The crown of his skull sprays the interior roof with a mess of goo and brains. He slumps forward, forehead honking the horn in a never-ending note. The river of blood from his mouth splashes at his feet, drawing a red line from his shattered teeth to the floor mat.
I check his pockets for loose change. Find none. I do find a pretty nice Hello Kitty key chain so I take it. I dig through the White Castle trash and scrounge up a half eaten burger. I jump out of the car and swallow the thing whole. We’re out in the middle of nowhere and I’m going to need to fuel my body in order to walk back into town. Gotta cash them checks, you know.
Define noir for the masses, please.
It's not simple to answer. Most of the debate about the nature of noir I've been a part of has delved into atrocious sessions of intellectual masturbation and I'm as guilty of it as the next guy. Heath Lowrance has come up with the clearest definition yet. It's hyperrealism. It's not the world as is, but the world you're afraid of. It's living in the house you wished burned to the ground. It's having to work every day with people you fear and abhor. It's facing your worst nightmare alone and knowing it won't be enough. No need for guns and thugs, just terrifying and inevitable loss ahead. That's my take anyway.
You used the word “masturbation” and then deferred to some other guy’s definition. So it started out good…Where does your grit come from?
Up until high school, things were very black and white for me. There were good guys and bad guys. People who were given everything and people who did wonders with very little. But the twenties is a strange place, man. It's a great equalizing steamroller that level's everybody's stupid teenage dreams. Thanks to Facebook, I saw people who wanted to be actors get job where their fathers worked thirty years, because it offered stability. Girls, who wouldn't give me the time of day and said to everyone who wanted to hear they would go to the city and make it big ended up taking a part time job at the liquor store because she became pregnant during college and had to quit.
I see these people reshaping these dreams with the new reality they have to deal with, I see them dream smaller and smaller and be happy anyway. Thinking that's what life is really about, having kids and watching each other wither away on the living room couch. And what do I got? I'm thirty years old and I still don't have much, except that fucking burn inside of me, yearning and daring to think there is more to it. That I have to vanquish my own mediocrity. That's where my grit comes from. That's this inferno I'm trying to control all the time.
You have an incredibly muscular body. Also, hairy. What if you were a lard ass, covered in pastel-colored tattoos of birds and flowers?
I'd probably be happier. My body would be one thing less I have to lose. I'd probably settle in my computer chair and become a hybrid between a beanbag and a hardboiled-writing Jabba the Hutt.
If folks could read one Benoit story, what would it be and why?
UNDEAD, the second Lowell Sweeney story, published by David Barber for The Flash Fiction Offensive and rebooted as a throwback by his successor Joe Clifford. The most beautiful thing that can happen to a writer happened to me while writing it. The stars aligned. Writers know what I'm talking about. Not only I saw the images, but I saw the words I needed to use before typing them. I call that having a writer epiphany and I think it transpired on the end result. It's a story I'm very proud of and my most successful so far. The third Lowell Sweeney story is coming up in March in a damn good venue and I have Dave and Joe to thank for that.
Can you name something in your life which has directly translated to your writing? An event, meeting someone, something in the news? Something which spoke to you?
That's a good question. There are a few things. This girl I dated in college, I find manifestations of her in most of what I do. She was a very seducing girl who was in love with ideas but was afraid of reality. Whenever things got too serious with men, she ran away. Most times she ran to find me, leaving her stranded boyfriends prey to their most destructive instincts. I thought I had her figured until she did that to me. Fuck, the very thought of her today angers me. So call that exorcism, whenever she appears in my fiction.
Otherwise, corrupted authority figures are an obsession in my writing. I don't trust people who are supposed to be accountable for me. I've had bad experiences with lazy cops and downright rotten school personnel in the past and it kinda left its imprint on me, you know? I find fascinating that the function never does the person. It's supposed to, but it's not. A cop uniform is supposed to mean protection to a civilian, but under this uniform, there's a human being, who has values of his own to dictate his behavior. So you'll find a lot of that too.
You have a knife in one hand, a carrot in the other. A mean old woman is approaching you from behind with a garrote wire and a hot zombie chick is approaching you from the front. Who gets shivved with what?
I'd take my chance dropkicking the zombie chick. The living dead are dangerous in packs, but on one on one, they can be taken. They're like dead Steve Nashes, so I'd take my chance in isolation. I'd swing at the zombie chick with the carrot and aim for the eyes. Since I'd seen Pet Cemetery, I have faith in the sturdiness of vegetables for homicidal purpose.
Tell me about it. I concur with your answer except in the end I always wind up sleeping with the old woman. She’s not bad, either. Then I shiv her. Your bio mentions a rough patch and writer's block. How'd you come out of it?
Well, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I still have one leg in the ditch. See, I have the bad habit to work myself into the ground and it's what I did for the second half of 2012. I wrote a short story for Drunk on the Moon 2, but it's the last good thing I wrote that year. I learned I would be laid off in July and I let stress get to me. My mind shut down and I shoved my head straight up my ass. At one point, I just gave up trying to write and concentrate on these professional issues that bothered me, kept me from sleeping.
When all was said and done, I left the city for three weeks to cut with my environment (this was mid-December) at that point, I wasn't pretty to look at. Then I got some good news, rested and took some decisions. The ideas came back to me and before I knew it, I started jotting stuff down and planning storyline. I love writing, but you have to commit to it. I understand that better now.
Dead End Follies, man. No offense, but I heard of DEF well before I heard the name Benoit Lelievre. I guess I never paid much attention to the by line on the site. How did that thing come about? How did it become what it is? I read authors listing a DEF award like it were an Oscar. That's gotta make you proud.
Thank you. I take that as a compliment. It's something I worked hard at, so I'm happy it gets a little bit of recognition. I started working in a call center in December of 2008. Back then, I was finishing my master degree memoir between calls. After two months, I was done and I had nothing to do during these long hours. Then I met David Dupré, owner of Atheist Media Blog. I had attempted to blog before, but nothing ever came of it. He taught me the ABC of efficient blogging and sent me on my way. He left work to concentrate on his blog about a year later, but we're still in contact. I don't share his beliefs, but I have him in very high esteem.
Dead End Follies really became popular after I hosted the infamous Ten Rules to Write Noir guest post series. Heath Lowrance and Paul D. Brazill (probably my first two readers who weren't related to me by blood) introduced me to Allan Guthrie on Twitter and I knew Allan wrote a 200 essential noir books list, so I contacted him and asked him a list of writers who I should contact for a series of guest post about noir. Allan, being the great man that he is complied and I based myself on that list to send invitations. I got Anthony Neil Smith, Christa Faust, Sara Gran, Aaron Phillip Clark and many other cool writers to participate.
I get a lot of traffic now, but it still doesn't pay. I get a lot of free books (and not always good ones, you should see that Christmas zombie book I was sent), but the web is a harsh mistress. It's fun though; it's a labor of love. I get to talk about whatever I want and people read. Isn't it fantastic?
Just like me. I’ve been trying to up the toilet humor quotient here. But my interviews are always some of the top content. It’s because I’m incredible. You're also on staff with LitReactor, correct? How'd that come about?
I'm part of their news team, yes. Keith Rawson found me that gig. As usual, Keith is always way too nice to me and keeps feeding me opportunities. You know what they say, right? You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. Keith's like that. He keeps helping me even if I never really was in a position to help him. He's that kind of guy. I haven't been very present on LitReactor for the last two months due to my December meltdown and to the professional scramble of January, but I hope to resume my duties whenever I can find the proper balance.
Who is the veiled sociopath, Donnie Osmond or Al Gore? Or both?
Osmond. Fucker looks like he has something to hide. Gore is more like the character of a Philip K. Dick novel. He's a suit-wearing sucker who runs from faceless corporations.
What's next up?
I have three projects I'm juggling. They are all mapped out; I just need to hammer down the words. One's about a dude obsessed with his neighbor (that ex-girlfriend thing I told you about), another's about the son of a white power gang leader and the last is about a school shooting, an issue I found myself to be way too erudite around as of late. This last won might win the race to my heart.
You (at least used to) fight MMA stuff, and do promotions for it. How'd you get into that gig? I've read some of your stuff that centers around boxing (Droppin' Plates, All Due Respect issue #37). Do you find your discipline just creeping into your writing? or is it specific?
I've been involved in MMA for ten years now. I started training under Firas Zahabi when he was just 23. I was his student, then I was the substitute coach to his class and as Tristar grew, I came to take bigger responsibilities. I was never great, but I have loyalty and judgment, so I got up in the hierarchy. I'm doing all I can handle around MMA. It's a very volatile, stressful business to be around. Pair that with the fact that it's not very lucrative and you get a bad deal.
I wrote about boxing in Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled and in All Due Respect #37 both. I like that universe better than MMA, because it's a lot bleaker. There is poverty associated with that sport and organized crime doesn't really bother hiding their involvement, at least on a local level. I tried writing an MMA related short inspired by a guy I know, who says he's a amateur champion but who never had a fight in his life. He's been preparing for his pro debut for what? Six years now? I put it aside during the dark Fall, but maybe I'll pick it up again someday. Normally, I don't really let MMA creep out into my writing. Writing is the thing I do not to think about MMA.
Where do you get your Brazilian bikini wax done? I'm very impressed by the professionalism of it, how clean and smooth it is.
May I suggest you my ophthalmologist? You may need someone to look into this.
How excited are you to have access to me? it's got to be the greatest thing ever for most people and I agree. I love myself. Please, go on at length about my awesomeness.
That's a funny story. Last year, I didn't know who you were. Then, I saw your name in Snubnose Press' release calendar. I thought you were Ryan David Jahn, the guy who wrote "The Dispatcher" I was like "Wow, Brian really outdid himself this time, great catch." But you weren't him. But then people started talking about The Subtle Art of Brutality and really liking it and thinking you were fucking cool. Then we started talking and I thought: "Wow, this guy is a cool motherfucker". Then you invited me to do this interview and I soiled my pants.
Of course it is. That's the standard reaction here. What song would play as you enter a room?
For a long time, the answer to that was KILLED BY DEATH, by Motörhead but it's more the song I wish would play. In all truth, probably something by Bad Religion. INCOMPLETE on a bad day or SUPERSONIC on a good one.
Benoit Lelievre, folks. If his stuff wasn’t good there’s no way I’d have interviewed him here. The only exception to that was Brian Panowich. Check out Ben’s website Dead End Follies.
Next time around – Assuming I can pull this off, it’ll be none other than Anonymous 9. Hmmm…pressure.