Interview with Benjamin Burress

Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors include Phillip K. Dick, Larry Niven, Ray Bradbury, Olaf Stapledon, Ursula Le Guin, Arthur Clarke, and Roger Zelazny. These are the sci-fi/fantasy authors I have read the most of, and have enjoyed the most.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do, vividly. The first story I wrote (and completed) was in high school. This is when I first experienced that "fire bug" for wanting to write and create, and wrote my first short entirely for the pleasure. But, I shared it with my English teacher, just to get his thoughts and opinions on this my first complete story. He took it away to read, and the next week we sat down together to talk about it. His critique went something very close to this: "I read it through, and then took the liberty of reading it aloud to my English class. What do I think of it? Well, the spelling is sh--ty, the grammar is sh--ty, the sentence structure is sh--ty...but the story grabs you by the b---s and doesn't let go until the end. My students were on the edges of their seats." This was at the same time the most brutal and most inspiring critique anyone ever gave one of my stories, and served to ignite my passion to even higher temperatures.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first novel I remember reading was Childhood's End, by Arthur Clarke. My friend gave it to me for my birthday. It was my first experience reading a full-length science fiction story, and I found myself engaged in reading as never before. It was my introduction to a totally fictional story in a future setting, with extraterrestrials, apocalypse, and the paranormal all rolled into one. I was hooked, and became a voracious sci-fi (and later fantasy) reader after that.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
My five favorite books, that's easy: The Divine Invasion, The Man in the High Castle, Sirius, The Lord of the Rings (the trilogy as one book), and A Wizard of Earthsea. Why? That's more difficult. I like all of the Phillip K. Dick stories I've read, and those are my two favorite. I like how his stories deal with supernatural and alternate reality themes, mostly. Sirius was one I didn't expect to enjoy so deeply--it was one of those unexpected gems that just grabbed me...maybe because I sympathized with the title character for feeling so "different." I read Lord of the Rings (plus the Hobbit) five times many years before the movies came out; I thoroughly enjoy becoming immersed in fantasy worlds, and the trilogy is so full with back story and detail that the fantasy feels almost real. As for A Wizard of Earthsea, here was another fantasy world, and written in Ursula Le Guin's style that I came to love so much--"like reading fine wine."
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have never written a story with the intent to publish it, or even the expectation that someone would read it. Writing fiction has always been for the sheer pleasure of invention, storycrafting, and exercising the imagination. A long while back, I did send a few of my short stories to publishers in the traditional way, though got nothing published. When a friend of my wife mentioned that she had been self-publishing some of her works on e-publishing sites (including Smashwords), I became interested. It has been said that anything you put on the Internet--blog, story, picture, opinion--is "there forever," whatever you do. I thought to myself, if I e-publish any of my stories, then they'll be out there in cyberspace indefinitely. I found the thought that someone, years, decades, maybe centuries into the future, might run across and read something I wrote alluring. Also, I think, it's a way of saying, if only to myself, that I am an author, and that what I have worked hard to create is in some way important.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The story behind my latest book was, well, a short story. I wrote it some years back, and even sent it in to a traditional publisher, of shorts, for consideration. The story's theme followed the idea, what if you set out on an important quest with determination, skill, and singular focus...but perpetually failed to accomplish it? It felt a bit like writing the embodiment of anticlimax, but throwing in artificial intelligence, robotics, and an inhumanly long lifespan for the protagonist, I found it a lot of fun to write. But that's not what made the short story into a book--that was a result of the critique I got from the editor who read it. Many of the rejection letters I got were very boilerplate in nature, often with a message like, "Thank you for your submission, but we do not have a use for your story in our publication at this time." A couple letters even stated, "We get so many submissions each month, we cannot even guarantee that someone was able to read your story." However, the rejection letter I got from this one editor was a bit more personal and thoughtful. She said that, though the story was too long to fit the short story format that they typically published, she liked the story idea. She said, "But, instead of editing it down in length to fit our standards, you should consider expanding it into a full book length. Best rejection letter I ever received....
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Other than my day job, I spend a lot of time with my family--my wife and daughter, until my daughter went off to college. My personal enthusiasms include hiking, bicycling, gardening, woodworking, photography, fossil collecting, and taking trips to places of natural beauty. Used to do a lot of camping, and plan to again one day. Every couple of years I make a pilgrimage--alone or with family--to my favorite place on Earth, Death Valley National Park.
What do you read for pleasure?
Right now I am reading "Kepler's Witch," about Johannes Kepler and his mother who was put on trial for accusations of being a witch. I enjoy historical books as well as fiction. I also found particular pleasure reading "Death Valley in '49," the autobiography of William Lewis Manly, one of the pioneer scouts who led the families stranded in Death Valley ultimately to safety--there's an epic hero story in there, and it's a historical first-hand account of one of the earliest pioneer adventures in my favorite place on Earth, Death Valley. Just about to finish the Laura Ingalls Wilder book series, which I had started many years ago reading to my then much younger daughter...but when (SPOILER ALERT) Jack, the dog, died, she didn't want to hear any more and I dropped the series. But I hate to leave things unfinished, so I'm reading them on my own.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in and around Oakland, California. I can't say how the locale may have influenced the themes of my stories, but I naturally drew upon my familiarity with places I know to provide settings for many of their scenes. Of the five stories I have published on Smashwords to date, four are set in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.
When did you first start writing?
Fourth grade, started a short story, got a few pages in, then stopped. Fifth grade, got 20 pages (hand written) in to a new story idea, then stopped. Never finished either. It wasn't until 11th grade that I completed a story--"Blue Moon," which I talk about in another interview question.
Published 2017-10-25.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Cadre of Silken Voices
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 62,690. Language: American English. Published: October 29, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
(3.00 from 1 review)
Congratulations! Your personal link to the galaxy awaits! Engage in thrilling adventures, diverse friendships, and instant access to a spectrum of cumulative thought that does not exist within any one culture, civilization, or planet, and at virtually no cost. So promised the long-distance sales call Max received late one night, an offer he decided he could not refuse.
A Change of Mind
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 80,510. Language: American English. Published: February 19, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
Linvaria has overseen the affairs of seventy star systems for a thousand years, a job that she carries on with tireless dedication and implicit loyalty. However, within the privacy of her spare thoughts there is discontent. Galactic civilization has reached a state of arrested development. There is no advancement. There is only the edict of maintaining the steady state, for better or for worse.
The Myriad Millennium
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 68,340. Language: American English. Published: February 6, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
Paul is an android created for a singular purpose: to find and kill the enemy of his maker. In a wide world containing few clues to the identity of his quarry, and a commander who is missing in action, it is not an easy task.
The G.O.D. Machine
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 67,810. Language: American English. Published: June 6, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General
Becoming lost in a world of her own is the last thing on Holly Winston’s to do list in the pursuit of her academic and career goals. She has her assignment: poke, prod, dig at, do whatever it takes to break the dream-spell illusion of a virtual reality of haunting realism.
The Chronicles of Elliot Chang
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 102,070. Language: American English. Published: October 14, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary
Elliot Chang lives a rational, logical life, free from superstitions and notions of gods, demons or impending apocalypses that subjugated human thought. Elliot Chang, high school science teacher, has mastered a content and blissfully uneventful life--until it takes an unexpected and supernatural turn and the world he knows ends.