It is nice to meet you! Tell us a bit about you where are you from and other than writing what else do you enjoy?
It’s nice to meet you as well. I grew up in upstate New York near Buffalo as one of four boys. My father was a Presbyterian minister, and my mother was a teacher, and we lived in a little house in the country far from any neighbors. We all loved books, and my childhood was spent reading and wandering in the woods, both things I still love to do today.
How did you start writing? What was your inspiration to create?
I’ve always loved words, especially very short stories and poetry. I was the kind of dad who sent letters to my daughter in summer camp in iambic pentameter. But even after having many short stories and poems published in various magazines and anthologies, it took me a while to get up the nerve to write a novel. But the inspiration is all about giving other children the kinds of adventures and magical worlds that I enjoyed so much when I was young.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Before you publish your first book, you have all the time in the world to think about it and play around. I wrote the very first iteration of my first novel, DANGER TASTES DREADFUL, as part of NaNoWriMo in 2010. Then I put it aside, only picking it up a few years ago to expand and polish and make it ready. It was published by Clean Reads in August 2018.
But now that my debut novel is out in the world, I am far more focused on getting both the sequel and a separate stand-alone book for older kids ready. I’d like to get to the point where I publish one or two books a year, and you can’t take eight years per book and do that!
If you’ve published a series, what is the series about?
My series is aimed at 7-12-year-olds and is about a pair of young trolls named Bernie and Tish and adventures they have. Bernie lives under a bridge with his parents, and Tish lives behind a waterfall with her Granny Mac. In their first adventure, DANGER TASTES DREADFUL, giants stomp into the woods where they live and steal away their parents, and Bernie and Tish must travel to Mount Dreadful to rescue their loved ones.
One of the decisions I had to make about this series was whether to make it one continuing adventure, or a series of fairly separate adventures. Because I am writing for fairly young kids, I decided the latter was better. So in the sequel, TROUBLE SMELLS TEMPTING, Bernie and Tish wind up visiting the Treacherous Sea with mertrolls, giant fire wasps, and more. I hope to continue the series with different adventures and different mythological and invented creatures all over the place, but always with Bernie and Tish who will remain about the same age. That will let kids pick up any one of the books and read it individually rather than have to read the books sequentially.
Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre? If you could, what genre would you like to dabble in?
I like writing in different genres, and have written and published short stories in many different genres for different age groups from kids to adults. Now that I am writing novels, I’m likely to be a little more constrained, though my stand-alone novel is a mash-up of fairy tales and science fiction aimed at 9-13-year-olds, so you might say “imaginative fiction” is my genre for the moment.
Are you a “plotter” or a fly by the seat of your pants “pantster” as a writer?
I am a very loose plotter, but I re-plot frequently. By the time I’ve written my first chapter, which I often do without much more than a character and a situation, I need to start thinking about where I am going and how to get there. I lay out the loosest of outlines, but as I write, I often see problems and may change the entire trajectory of the novel a few different times as I get to know my characters better, and realize themes or issues I want to explore. Each time, I revisit the outline and expand it.
What three tips would you give any aspiring writer?
First, start where the story starts, not with an explanation of how you got there. Don’t set the scene or explain the world or tell the character’s childhood, just start the story and let the rest of that come out as your character tries to evade the aliens or win the title or train the horse or whatever.
Second, be willing to stop if the story isn’t moving you, but not if the story is simply hard to write. Every story worth writing is hard to write, but not every story turns out to be worth writing (for you). Every writer has abandoned stories that were not working for them.
Third, learn how to hear criticism without being wounded by it. You will get criticism, you need to get criticism, but not all criticism is constructive. Learn how to take the part that helps you move forward and learn your craft, and ignore the part that slows you down or makes you feel bad about yourself. Somebody can like you and dislike something about your story, but if all their message is negative, find somebody else to listen to (even if it means ignoring your mother)!
What are you working on now? What will you release next?
I am working on a science fiction/fairytale mashup that should be ready for querying to agents by year’s end, and also on my next Bernie & Tish book, which should be ready sometime in Spring 2019.
So, where can we get your books?
Local bookstores: indiebound.org/book/9781621357896
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I read everything, though I have been blessed to have no really negative reviews on my novel yet, though I am tempting fate to say so.
I’ve had plenty of negative reviews of short stories and poetry over time, and I find I let most of it roll off me. It is fairly obvious when the negativity comes from the reviewer and not any reaction to the writing, so I just let that go. On the other hand, sometimes a negative review has a very valid point and I try to learn from that.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
One of the very best parts of being a writer is having writer friends. I sometimes tell my wife that I only write children’s books, so I have an excuse to hang out with cool children’s authors. I have learned an incredible amount about the writing craft and about dealing with the publishing industry from authors I’ve met.
For many years, I have been part of Writing.com, which is an excellent writing community for beginning writers. I highly recommend it as a place to find others who can help you grow and keep you company as you do.
This year, I have been fortunate enough to be part of the Electric Eighteens, a group of traditionally published authors who had their debut MG or YA novel come out in 2018. Sharing the ups and downs and worries and celebrations has made the entire year more enjoyable. Even as 2018 draws to a close, I know that we will continue to be friends and follow each other’s journeys.
How have your family and friends accepted your career as a writer? Are they supportive?
My family and friends have been very supportive, though not very hands-on. It can be extremely difficult to read and respond to somebody’s work when you are too close, as you are terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing. For that reason, I mostly don’t share my writing with family and friends until it is published, but they have been extremely encouraging and supportive once I let them near it. My wife is one exception, though even for her I wait until the writing is fairly well polished. She is an excellent editor but I don’t want her to have to wade through the disaster which is my first draft.
Thank you Ben for taking time to share with us about your work. Looking forward to reading more of your work.