When did you decide to become an author and what impact has this had on your life?
This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer and I have thought about this for years. I decided to become an author when I was in the fifth grade. As far as I can recall that was when I wrote my first story which was about a woman named Carol Carlisle. She was a “space girl” and was involved with a hero named Buzz somethingorother…I don’t really recall him much. The story was written in school as a classroom project and I don’t remember what it was about, other than Buzz and Carol were on a hazardous mission in a space ship. All I remember now is that Carol was a beautiful blonde girl and wore a short skirt. Undoubtedly the story was prompted by my favourite Saturday morning television program which was called “Space Patrol” and the hero and heroines were similar characters. Of course there was no “romance”…I was just ten or so at the time but everyone in the class liked the story so much I thought I should write more like it.
Obviously to make this interview story perfect, it should end that I went on to publish my first novel at sixteen and the rest should be history. Nothing like that is the case. Life turned out quite differently although I would write all the time from then on, but only to fill certain squares on my road through life.
I fought with writing in college. For example, I remember one English professor for whom I had to write one essay a week. She gave each paper a grade for technical merit and for content. One week one of my papers received a failing grade for technical merit and a top mark for content. It so infuriated me that the next week I wrote a paper that got an “A” for technical merit but a failing grade for content. In that particular paper I used the term “ergonomics” which she said was a word that didn’t exist! That whole experience was did not help my interest in writing and for a while I did as little as possible.
But from the time I was through college though, I was writing at something all the time and soon I began to submit short, non-fiction articles to newspapers and magazines and like all aspiring writers began to accumulate a nice fat file full of rejections. But a few got through the sieve and were published. Still my writing was very much in the “back seat” to the driver of whatever else I was doing to make a living. I could have written a great deal more, but then the war in Vietnam came along and the only writing I did in the years I spend in uniform had to do with my job. When I left the service I was always building something…a family, a “real” career, and becoming a serious writer wasn’t anything I could really do, except to fit it in wherever I could. I had a career in the insurance business and found that my ability to write letters was a very effective means of furthering my efforts at selling and servicing my clients. Fiction was a means to an end, rather than an end of its own. My writing continued that way for some years.
I sold my insurance business in 1990 and retired. That meant that I was no longer in the insurance business but merely moving on to something else in life for my needs financially were still great as I had two children still in university. I had moved away from the city to the more rural area of Maine and began to buy and restore old houses and buildings. I was painting and carpentering and running electrical wires in the day and doing a little writing at night. All I could write was short pieces and in that period, I wrote many letters to the editor of area newspapers about many different subjects of current interest. I worked very hard at those letters, trying to make strong statements in as few words as possible, and most of those letters were published. Many people would call me on the telephone or stop me on the street and comment about my letters. Often they would tell me that I should “become a writer.”
Once I enrolled in a creative writing course at the local college. The instructor was a retired newspaper columnist and the first day he wrote in big letters across the chalk board in the front of the room, “A Writer Writes”. I never forgot that and have those words in front of me in a banner still.
In 2004, having completed the last of the antique building restorations, I decided to open a granite quarry. I had sold some real estate and wanted to reinvest the profits in a local industry and I provided the capital to support a young stone worker who had always wanted to have a quarry. We cut the trees and hired an excavator to dig away the topsoil from a granite hump, and the next spring launched the business cutting the stone with a hugely powerful and dangerous cutting torch, chopping the resulting blocks into smaller pieces with eighteen inch long steel wedges driven by eighteen pound sledge hammers swung manually. I can tell you that I learned that when you are sixty-one years of age, at seven o’clock in the morning in the quarry, an eighteen pound hammer weighs eighteen pounds. At one in the afternoon, that same hammer weighs eighty-seven pounds! Still, I survived the experience and after a couple of years we had some good commercial momentum, selling large blocks of granite for piers or landscaping retaining walls, custom formed steps and posts. I didn’t do much writing as a granite entrepreneur though. Then the recession came along and the business failed in 2008. We had bought quite a lot of heavy equipment to replace that terrible torch that sounded like the ass-end of a jet fighter and cut channels into stone with a foot long, three thousand degree flame and to lift five ton blocks of stone and carry them to load onto trucks, so the business had some business debt. It was all wiped out by the global recession: one moment we had a business and customers and the next there was no market at all for our little business.
So, I decided that it was time to retire in reality. I was just past sixty-five but still possessed of an enormous amount of energy and many ideas. My wife was totally against my becoming a mercenary or a fisherman on a long line tuna boat, and it seemed perfectly logical right then, for the first time in my life, to actually become a writer and actually do what I had been told to do many years before, and just write.
Tell us about your latest work and what motivated you to write it:
My latest work is a novel entitled “The Mists of Adriana”. The book has its origins in my life-long interest in automobiles and I began to write what was to be a serialized blog for an Internet publication about the Porsche 928 automobile. I owned one of those wonderful cars and began the story which then was called merely, “Driving Every Day” and was supposed to be a sort of short fictional account of meeting a woman while I was driving my car. I was single at that time in my life and my readership was primarily early, middle aged males. I think there were two editions before the publication ceased. But the principal character, Adriana Barrows had been created and she and the protagonist had met, that was all. I was going through some old papers cleaning out a filing cabinet, and came across a printed copy of the first chapter. I sat down and read it, and decided that I would take the story and push it along further although I had no particular idea of what I might end up with. I had sold my Porsche and perhaps that alone is what prompted me to develop the story.
What are your future aspirations as an author?
Right now I am in the middle of the second book in the “Adriana” series and I intend to finish this second of what I think will be three books about her, sometime before June, 2013. Incidentally, “The Mists of Adriana” is going to be produced as an audio book this spring. That’s a project I am very enthusiastic about.
I am also about to publish a book of short stories. In this collection are stories that will tell the reader the real truth about Christopher Columbus discovering America and there is also an interview with Adolf Hitler just after the surrender of France at the outset of World War II. In this book of short pieces is also a story about a particularly aggressive and unpleasant cat, called “Psychocat”. The is actually a true story and one that happened to me.
As time rolls by, unfortunately entirely too rapidly, my overall aspirations as an author are to write and finish a novel each year. I have outlines for enough work to keep me writing novels for at least three years at this point…this is material I have accumulated over the year against the day when I could have the time just to sit and write. For me, that time finally, is now.
Where do your ideas come from? What experiences or aspects of your life influence your writing?
I guess one might describe my life as being a “work in progress”. I came from a very traditional New England family. My father was a school administrator and when I was small, my mother was strictly a stay-at-home mom although she had been a teacher herself prior to marriage. We were a pretty tight family, taking vacations together to the family summer cottage in Maine, although we lived in a suburb of Boston. I assumed my life would be pretty much like that and I had aspirations of being a college professor in American History. But like most, events on the larger stage of life altered all of that.
I taught in the inner city under a special Federal program called “The National Teacher Corps” after finishing college. Then two years later, I went into the Air Force and took part in the war in Vietnam. I was married at that time and had one child. My son was born not long before I left the military service and went into the insurance business managing an office owned by a family friend.
My wife of that time decided she rather preferred me to live a long way away from her, and I moved to Maine after the divorce. That was an enormously difficult transitional period in my life, but it also was an enormously fruitful time in terms of experiences that would provide great ‘grist’ for the writer’s mill that lay buried inside of me.
Maine was pretty primitive in comparison to Boston in those days, and I did all sorts of things to make a living and provide money to support my children. There really wasn’t a regular job for me in rural Maine in those days. I either had too much education to fill positions or not enough education. If I had been an engineer I could probably have found work building roads or something of that sort, but a history graduate was in a kind of no man’s land as far as work was concerned. So I did odd jobs and sometimes had to spend hours in the library reading books to figure out to do this or that project. Looking back on that time I realize I was lucky sometimes not to have gotten hurt, but the end result was lots of experiences, meeting lots of different sorts of people that I never would have known about had I not been there.
After a couple of years of hard labour, I started my own commercial insurance agency business and the next dozen years were spent developing a clientele and growing the volume of the business. I travelled a great deal in this big state…Maine is larger than all the rest of New England put together, yet never has had more than about two and one half million people living in it. There were three offices and a total of eight employees at one point, plus myself working outside the office primarily. After a decade or so, I sold to a larger agency and then retire to antique building restoration as I said earlier. It was hard traveling, sometimes driving six hundred miles per week for instance, since my clients were so spread out. But it also gave me the opportunity of seeing how different so many people in one general community could be one from the other.
I was also able to travel more widely in that time. One vacation I remember was to Venezuela where I went scuba diving off Margarita Island. I had been diving in many locales around the western hemisphere but that trip was very different for a lot of other reasons. Some of that trip appeared in “The Mists of Adriana”. There is a story in the book about Adriana, in charge of a trade delegation to Venezuela, finds a young man in her office one morning. He is talking with the secretaries in the office and had a salesman’s case open on a desk. He is selling to the women in the office and his product line is ladies under ware. Outraged, Adriana assuming she is asserting the rights of liberated woman, throws him out of the office. At that point she doesn’t understand that such traveling salesmen actually exist and his presence in her office was a normal part of commerce in that place. That entire episode is based on a true story. I met a guy who actually did this traveling salesman-debit sales method selling ladies under ware in rural areas in Venezuela. He was carrying his samples case and opened it, showing me little plastic packages of bright colour panties. He took orders one week, and delivered the next, often running accounts where his customers paid him in instalments.
So I very much draw on my varied experiences, some good, some much less than good, for ideas and episodes to write about.
What do you do to improve yourself and a writer?
I approach writing much as I approach my health. I keep working my body every day doing some sort of physical chore or exercise each day. My wife and I moved to this antique farm house a couple of years ago knowing full well that it was a major fixing-up project. Some of the work involved has been very strenuous and I have done all of it myself. Much of that is done now, and I will continue to spend time in the gym to keep my body in as good physical condition as possible.
So also I have a regular excise program for my writing. I spend quite a lot of time writing specific types of things to improve my ability to handle certain types of situations. For instance, a few years ago, I wrote a whole series of very short stories. The object of that exercise was to tell a whole story in just two hundred words. Not one word more and not one word less. It is enormously hard work writing within such strict limitations. It is very useful to do that though as it keeps me focussed and away from merely throwing words onto paper. Last August one of my two hundred word pieces was published in “The Goose River Anthology -2012” which is available here on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Goose-River-Anthology-Deborah-Benner/dp/1597131334/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355820600&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Goose+River+Anthology) or directly from The Goose River Press (http://gooseriverpress.com/)
Watch out for the Stitch Says Review of The Mists of Adriana later in the week!
Thank you for dropping by on Stitch Says! Best of luck for your future aspirations.