Ben Rehder is best known for his satirical novels set in Blanco County. His latest, The Chicken Hanger, is set closer to the border with the accidental shooting of a Mexican trying to cross the border, causing a mess of trouble. It takes a look at illegal immigration that is funnier than most. Ben will be joining us for our Lone Star Mystery Writers Panel on August 2nd and as this interview proves, he can be as funny in person as he is on the page.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Ricky, your central character in Chicken Hanger, is an illegal alien. What do you do in approaching a character who is different from you?
BEN REHDER: Were you not aware that I am an illegal alien? I’ve kept my secret very well. Regardless, I did do a lot of research for my novel. Found a great article about undocumented aliens working in poultry plants, so I know I got that part right. Also watched four or five documentaries about undocumented workers—how they get here, the challenges they face, how they live once they’re here. Very interesting stuff.
MP: What made you want to deal with illegal immigration?
BR: I think it’s an interesting topic—you have the blending of various cultures, but the politics of it also is a hot button. If you grow up in central Texas, you interact with undocumented aliens on a regular basis, so it’s just an integral part of who we are. Plus, the national debate about this topic has been going on for years. There is one particular newspaper article I like to reference—it talks about the rancor and political strife created by Mexican immigrants coming over to the U.S.—and then I reveal that the article was written in the 1930s.
MP: How did it feel to be out of Blanco County?
BR: Scary. Please hold me. It was kind of fun to explore a different setting, but the bigger difference is that this novel wasn’t quite as comedic. It could have been, I guess, but that’s just not the way it unfolded. It took a few writing sessions to find the tone I was searching for.
MP: Like with a lot of your books, Chicken Hanger has three or four different incidents that get out of control and end up colliding into one another. How much do you prepare before the actual writing of the book?
BR: I put on my special writing tiara, and I’m pretty much unstoppable after that. I usually have a “big picture” idea of what the novel is about, including major characters and plot developments, but I don’t outline. I make a lot of it up as I go along, and I think that’s more liberating than following an outline.
MP: I’ve noticed with all of the writers on our Lone Star panel, whether leaning toward the hard boiled or satirical, all use humor liberally. Do you think there is something about the Texas character or society that is natural to being funny?
BR: Sort of. It’s not necessarily that Texas writers are particularly funny, it’s that there are some residents of our state who are so ridiculous, the comedy practically writes itself.
MP: Is there any subject you won’t make fun of?
BR: My wife’s cooking. Anything else is fair game.
MysteryPeople welcomes Ben Rehder to BookPeople as part of the Lone Star Mystery Author Panel on Wednesday, August 1st at 7pm.