The Best Bender Tales with Andy Jenkins

Illustrations by Travis Millard

Since the early two-thousands, Andy Jenkins has been contributing short stories to MC with his column Bender.

They’re mostly funny stories, often poignant, and all drawn from everyday observations and encounters in Andy’s life. If you’ve not read any Bender tales, you can go to our shop page right now and buy yourself enough back issues to build a house. Or you can save the postman a spinal injury by scoring a copy of What Happened, a collection of Andy’s best tales from Bender, with illustrations by Travis Millard–OUT NOW! We spoke to Andy about the writing, reading, and life.

When did you first start writing?

My dad was U.S. Air Force, so we moved around the world a bit. I went to seven different schools, so each time we moved, I’d lose friends. I kept in touch through letters. I always thought the basic letter format was so boring, “Hello, how are you? I am fine…” — that type of thing. So I tried to avoid doing that. I wanted to make them sound as though I was talking. I tried to make them entertaining.

Did you have a teacher or someone in your life who encouraged you and got you excited about writing?

I had a creative writing teacher in high school who encouraged me. He also let me doodle in class. Other than that, I just read a lot. As a kid, it was almost all science fiction. Ray Bradbury was a favorite. The Illustrated Man short story, “The Veldt” is crazy considering it was written in 1951. Bradbury essentially predicted virtual reality. Ringworld by Larry Niven is intense. Those two books really blew my mind. After school for a few years, I would get a bus to my Mom’s work and wait for her in the library next door. I would sit down in the shark section and read about attacks. They were almost always written in a matter-of-fact manner. Gory accounts of men being eaten at sea fascinated me.

Do you have a favorite time to write?

Not really. I always feel like I’m blowing it when I read about writers who spend five hours a day clicking away in an “office” with the door closed. I don’t have that kind of discipline. I never plan on writing—until I have a deadline. Even that doesn’t seem to matter, I’m always late. Always.

What’s your writing routine?

I don’t even know what a routine is. I used to carry a notebook and a pen with me everywhere. I’d jot down shit down all the time. The most mundane shit, just random stuff… a guy walking into a parking meter, or a pick-up truck overloaded with mattresses. I carried a point and shoot camera with me as well, a Yashika T4. Looking back, that was a sort of exercise. It taught me to keep my eyes open. I always got sparked after developing the film and finding oddly cropped images I couldn’t even remember taking. Now everything is on the iPhone—notes, photos, emails. It doesn’t create the same excitement. I need to start using notebooks again.

What do you do if you get writer’s block?

Wait until tomorrow. Get in the car and drive out to the desert. That or beer. Wine. Food. I don’t know—take my antidepressants and try to sleep?

Has your writing ever got you into trouble?

Not yet. I’m still too timid to put out the more personal stuff that includes people I’m close to. I need to get over that hurdle, there’s a lot of good material in there. One time I did get chewed out by a graffiti writer who lost it after I wrote a magazine article about graffiti. This was pre-email, so he yelled at me over the phone—didn’t think I gave him enough credit in the story. Ego stuff. He’s still around. I can’t mention his name of course—don’t want to get in trouble, haha.

What do you like most about writing?

Sounds kind of corny, but it’s therapeutic for me. I have pretty bad depression and the writing puts my mind into a different state. It helps get me to thinking in a different way. Getting me out of my body. Then seeing the words published on paper is great. On paper. It doesn’t feel as good in a digital format.

What do you find most disheartening?

I ALWAYS find things in the piece that I could write better. The arrangement of words. Simplification. Clarification. I’m constantly rewriting—even after it’s published. Then there’s wondering what people really think. I don’t get bummed by criticism at all, in fact, I would love it. Bring it on. It’s not getting any feedback at all, that hurts. I hate to admit it, but there’s always the need for validation, positive or negative. I’m such a pussy. I should write about that.

Why should people get their hands on a copy of the new book?

Fuck, I don’t know. It’s kinda funny?

Top five favorite books.

I have six: Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski; Fates Worse Than Death, Kurt Vonnegut; Working, Studs Terkel; Bucket of Tongues, Duncan McLean; Blue Movie, Terry Southern; A Million Little Pieces, James Frey.

What Happened is available at Bend Press, and is being released this Saturday at the Quiet Life store in LA. Andy will be in attendance and so too will Travis, shaking hands, kissing babies, and signing books. There’ll also be a Quiet Life x Bend Press pop-up store collab capsule thingy. You’d be mental to miss it. So don’t miss it. 

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