The Author Surprised

It came as a surprise to him, says Aqua Fox Press founder Benjamin Obler, that he would ever depart from the very serious kind of fiction that he enjoyed reading and writing as severe young man. But as his forties sail past, he finds that the most fun is to be had in “dramedy,” high-farce, and shameless mashup. It’s all about being uninhibited on the page, and spoofing drama itself, while enjoying whatever version of camp most tickles his fancy. Hardly a foreseen outcome for an early acolyte of Willa Cather and Mr. J. Cheever.

The Mombaccus Expansion, Obler’s 2022 novel set in an upstate New York county, is his proudest effort yet in this comic vein that has he’s been mining since roughly 2015.

“I think it was coming out of writing a memoir about the absolutely gravest, most dire aspects of my life that sent me in the opposite direction. That and discovering the Irish satirist Flann O’Brien. My friend John bought me The Third Policeman for my birthday in, like, 2011, and I loved it. It was so f***ing weird. But also a stitch. O’Brien led to my much-discussed obsession with The Bushwhacked Piano. Not that anyone needs this evolution charted fully, but by the time the pandemic came around, an absurd-realist mix was the only conceivable mode for me, the only option that made sense.”

The author with the fruits of his labor.

Obler first began writing The Mombaccus Expansion in 2018, using the super-innovative idea of writing about a public figure. He chose a noted philanthropist in the real-life version of Mombaccus County, after attending a performance at a futuristic-looking Frank Gehry-designed theater on a local college campus. In the novel, which is 400 pages and handsomely published in a cover designed by Obler himself, one of the main characters attends a talk by a sage scion from the IT world who has become enamored of all things Community Oriented. The talk happens at a futuristic-looking silver building on a plush riverside campus.

Probably Time for a Subhead

So that’s a no-brainer. But the idea had legs, Obler says, and a whole world evolved. “The tech guru figure was just the starting point. It kind of became like a law-of-necessity thing that happened in the story’s growth. Because his philanthropy seemed to beg for the introduction of a bad actor. I brought in two: my protagonists Damon Townes and Wolfgang Lewis.”

This is where things got even more adventurous, in terms of characterization, because Obler decided to test the theory that characters could be humanized through blunt revelations of their worst traits. “These guys are ambitious. They’re full of themselves. They’re ruthless. They’re also a bit dense, uncaring, selfish. Let’s see, later they become flagrant in nearly everything, and yet I think readers will sympathize with them.”

Without realizing it, Obler muses, he was rejecting the so-called “trauma plot” that was discussed recently in The New Yorker.

“I’m not calling myself prescient. But these guys weren’t traumatized. They weren’t acting in response to something in the past, they were very much emblems of the present political and cultural moment in America.”

Given the option to include the adjective “Trumpian” in this post, for keyword cred, Obler only begs that another way be found. “If you must be descriptive…” he says, vaguely, seeming to grab the stem of a pipe that isn’t there.

Asked to address a rumor started online by the notorious literary syndicate Synthetic Prophetic, Obler blanches, and insists that the next question be posed.

Presented with a copy of The Mombaccus Expansion itself, and pressed to answer whether the map shown wrapping around the spine to the back cover was in fact Sullivan County, New York, Obler waved his hands and muttered, “Recording devices off.” He left his chair and began to holler for his intern.

“Isn’t it true, Mr. Obler, that the so-called West Creek shown on the cover is in fact Rondout Creek, and Upstate Benevolent Services is based on—“

“Speak to my lawyer! Back to work. Everybody back to work!”

“The people want answers! Do you deny that your first intern, Lloyd, who worked for the parent company of Aqua Fox press, was paid in food pellets that were delivered to him in quantities based on the number of newsletters sign-ups that resulted from campaigns he wrote?”

“Vicious lies!”

“But, Mr. Obler, read your own words. I have them right here. The Mombaccus Expansion, page 188:

Bethany noticed beads of sweet on Dr. Thorngrew’s brow. It was slightly reminiscent of that ghastly time after Trump’s 2020 election defeat, when streaks of hair dye oozed down Rudolph Giuliani’s face, like two lightning bolts professing to his wizardly aspirations.

“That doesn’t prove anything!”

“You’re amused when the powerful are brought down, aren’t you, Mr. Obler? And you’re amused by abuses of power. Which you therefore commit intentionally and grievously to prove that you’re better than those you despise.”


“And so you abused Lloyd.”

“Yes, it’s true. I wanted Lloyd to have the best future, and so I traumatized him. I’m–” Gasp! “I’m sorry!”

Hugs were shared. Forgiveness was granted. And a sample of the book, however slim, was worked in. It was a good promo day at Aqua Fox Press headquarters, where, ding, They Do Publicity Differently ™.

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The Tying Channel. Please support indie presses and try The Mombaccus Expansion today.