Patrick Lenton’s collection A Man Made Entirely of Bats is a leap into the surreal, comedic, satirical, punchy and resonant. Launched on February 18, its short-short stories and micro-lit lift the spandex on super-heroes and turn over the rocks that hide strange things. The result is that rarest of birds: smart literature that makes you laugh.
Lenton’s work has been compared to that of David Sedaris and he says he aimed in this collection for a mixture of Angela Meyer’s Captives, Etgar Keret and Tom Cho. His eye for the absurd, his ear for snappy dialogue and his sense of narrative tension are well-tuned.
Lenton and the book’s editor Kathryn Moore (KM) featured in a fun session of Spineless Wonders’ online book club (SWBC) on Thursday February 12. This Q&A is an extract from the evening. I’m hoping it will tempt you to buy A Man Made Entirely of Bats from Spineless Wonders and to join the book club — as there are so many great authors and stories lined up for coming months.
KM: Patrick, if you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I would say invulnerability because then I’d never be scared of anything, and my belief is that I’d also be invulnerable to the ageing process and live forever. And, if I’m immortal, I’ll probably be Dr Invulnerable because I could get a medical degree.
KM: Will you be sending a signed copy of your book to David Schwimmer? When this book takes off you could potentially have single-handedly caused his fame to rise to the heady heights of the Friends years.
If he’s amenable, then sure, I’ll send it to Mr Schwimmer. Although in the story, ‘Ross Geller Man’, he’s not exactly a friendly guy …
KM: It must be extremely challenging to plot an entire world in a few hundred words but you make it look easy. Could you give us an insight into the microfiction process? How do you plan or plot the work? Or are you a pantser?
I’m definitely a pantser. I usually get a scene or an image or a joke in my head and then I write a whole bunch trying to find it. Usually I’ll write about 500-1000 words of crap, delete it and start again.
KM: What advice would you give to other aspiring microfiction writers? You seem a microfiction pro.
I think if I could give any advice to microfiction writers it’s that it’s a pretty new format, so try different things, be experimental. The best advice I was ever given about writing is that there’s no one correct way to do things, and I think that’s all the more pertinent for microfictions.
KM: I thought that lots of your characters have ‘almost’ moments … and other characters completely subvert the reader’s expectations in different ways. For me, this resulted in a very original and playful collection of stories. Would you say that you push to explore all that is different and new?
I’m not sure that I have any real goal to go for different and new but I definitely have a goal to discover the strange inside the bone dull ordinary. In my experience everything is actually quite odd and it’s only laziness and familiarity that makes us bored.
KM: I think that your dialogue is to die for. Do you have any writing tips for those that may struggle with the flow and authenticity of the spoken word?
Dialogue! I love dialogue! I learnt how to write dialogue by writing plays, I think. You really need dialogue in plays. I think the most important thing about dialogue is never to try to make it sound real, as in hearing people talk on the streets. An actual transcript of two people talking is complete boring nonsense.
SWBC: My favourite story is ‘Insomni-Yak’ (in which a man who can’t sleep is visited by a yak every night). My question is: What feels more exposing, publishing your fiction or publishing your non-fiction pieces based on aspects of your life?
Nonfiction. No competition. That said: Publishing ‘Uncle Jeremy’, a completely fictional story, drove a rift in my family that never really healed. When it was published a third time in The Age, it was just after my granddad’s funeral, and that side of the family thought it was about him and thought I was calling them bogans. Which, apart from everything else, wasn’t true simply because of the rules of linear time.
SWBC: Oh wow Patrick. It’s fear of upsetting people that stops me from writing a lot of things. That must have been tough.
It was fine. It mostly went over my head. If my next project ever gets published, that’s when things will become tough.
SWBC: My favourite story was ‘The Neighbour Herd’. Such magic. Where did it come from?
Actually that story was set in a house I lived in as a teenager, in Maianbar, in the Royal National Park. It had a huge deer pest problem and would cull them with helicopters every so often. But I distinctly remember sitting on the deck with my mum and dad, talking about my sister doing something, while a whole herd of deer walked past nonchalantly.
SWBC: Is there a reason you like to turn nostalgia away from the sappy and towards the absurd?
I’m very awkward about emotions mostly. But I suppose it’s that word, sappy, that I’m most scared of. Anything sappy gives me the horrors.
KM: Did you always have Daniel Lethlean Higson in mind to be the artist to complement the work? He did a great job.
No, it was only after I submitted the manuscript to Spineless Wonders that Bronwyn Mehan, the publisher, suggested him to design the cover, which I thought was brilliant. She actually suggested him before she’d accepted my manuscript, which made me think she might be going for it.
SWBC: Did you think much about the sequence of the stories in your book? Did you work with your editor, or did you go ‘Here, this feels right!’?
We did think a bit about sequence. Me and Kathryn (the editor) had a couple of back and forths about the all-important first story in the book. And I knew as soon as I wrote it that I wanted ‘Waiting for Superman’ to be the last story. For a while we really wanted a microfiction to start the book, because they’re supposed to be grabby — but my heart was set on ‘Mooncat’.
KM: Writing goals? Tell us more. What are your next plans?
I’m currently writing a creative non-fiction memoir that’s continuing in my microfiction vein by throwing together a variety of short different anecdotes and memories haphazardly. I suppose they’d be micro non-fictions.
KM: The memoir idea sounds terrific. You really are our Aussie David Sedaris.
Thanks so much Kathryn and to everyone for coming to book club and chatting. It was super lovely!
A Man Made Entirely of Bats
Spineless Wonders $24.99
Patrick Lenton is a playwright, fiction writer and blogger at The Spontaneity Review and writes The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge for Going Down Swinging. His stories have appeared in Best Australian Stories, Seizure and Lifted Brow. He tweets @patricklenton.