Interview with Ben Parris

What motivated you to make your home with a small publisher like Blueberry Lane Books?
After a few years of paying my dues as a published professional article and short story writer (and one made-for-television movie on TBS) I had a small breakthrough where I had an agent for my work and a senior editor at Harper and Row championing my novel. The meetings wore on for two years and I was never included. In the end they said they didn't agree with one of my plot choices in the proposal, and that was it. They gave me no opportunity to change it and go back in. After a few more variations on that theme, industry friends confided to me that the big publishing houses had a business model that made it prohibitive for them to take a chance on a "new" author in the current environment. When they did work with a new author they could not afford to provide any support. When I took a chance with BLB, I found more support and better royalties than new authors signed at the same time with the big houses. That was all I needed to know.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Some of the best moments come when readers complain to me that my story is too short or that it requires an immediate sequel. And I will likewise keep this answer short, but in regard to the writing itself? It's the point where I've taken a long walk to ponder a plot problem and suddenly realize what "has" to happen.
You had fans as far back as high school and an organized fan club when you were in college, not to mention recent fans. What do your fans mean to you?
I count anyone who is engaged by my work as a fan. That goes for enjoying the language, loving and hating the characters, or being seized with a burning need to know what happens. I'm even delighted with negative comments that demonstrate engagement and passion. If I'm getting a reaction I know I'm not working for nothing. The idea that a very small plot point that I've labored over in solitary has unintentionally ticked off a stranger is hilarious. I love that it means something to them. Of course I love book clubs and have the greatest respect for those read my novels over and over again while waiting for the next. I feel bad that I'm not a "fast" writer but my body of work is growing and I think I'm getting better too.
What are you working on next?
When I get done with the last episode of CREDS: THE IRS ADVENTURE, which is in progress, I will return to Book Two of WADE OF AQUITAINE, which is 80% done. Then the first book will be reissued with maps and additional text. It hasn't been easy because I insist that the second book has to better than the first.
You've been compared to such diverse authors as Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and even Dashiell Hammett for your short stories. Who are your favorite authors?
I like when people guess, and mostly guess wrong. I'd never read a novel by Bradbury or anything at all by Gaiman or Hammett when those comments came up. I'm amazed, however, that some people have the insight to nail it exactly. I love the creativity and cliffhangers of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the sweeping craft of Arthur C. Clarke, the dark edge of Stephen R. Donaldson, and the clean urgency of Stephen Coonts. That survey barely scratches the surface but I see these four as my original inspiration. I could easily add Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Dean Koontz as examples of what I read later..
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
These days I find it convenient and flexible to share my knowledge with private students and teach the occasional class on a wide range of topics. I like it best when I'm approached to teach writing or public speaking. And oh, yes, I had a lot to do with an independent movie, a horror parody called SUPERNATURALZ: WEIRD, CREEPY AND RANDOM.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do. I don't count my incomplete writings in high school. I had a college freshman writing assignment, and I was forced to finish a story once and for all. This was made easier by the fact that I'd discovered existential writing. I made a point that at least made sense to me and I wrapped it up. Ever since then I studied the things that made a story ending satisfying when I am the reader and I've never stopped.
You've written about something called The Hammer Method. Is that your writing process?
The Hammer Method is my facetious way of expressing one of my approaches, when I'm bogged down. The blacksmith's hammer can produce both sharp and smooth features with thousands of blows from something that appears to be a crude instrument. It starts rough and you bring the necessary heat and hit it as many times as you have to and take as long as you need. I've heard some writers call revision boring but I don't see it that way. It's exciting to improve something even if it's done little by little. It all depends on your patience.

On better days I live inside my characters so that they can see their options and guide events as they see fit.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up mostly in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, sandwiched between a decayed and lawless Coney Island and affluent Manhattan Beach. The major demographic groups closest to home were the poor, the elderly, the mentally ill, and finally an increasing population of Russian immigrants, and a few brutal gangs. As child witnesses to the Sixties, my generation thrived, coped or died trying. A book or two will eventually emerge from these experiences, but indirectly I developed a strong feeling that scientific advancement was the only solution; we could grow into our technological prowess or fail as a species. It also gave me insight into crime writing.
When did you first start writing?
I was forced to a state of creativity by unreasonable demands on my time in elementary school. I had a stack of self-assigned books to read and no time or patience for the assigned books with their mandatory book reports. My reports were flights of fantasy providing what I imagined to be in the books I was supposed to read.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I've published 3 out of 4 parts of CREDS: THE IRS ADVENTURE. I literally cannot say which parts come directly from my journal and which are inventions of the novel. By experience I know that most people will fail to guess. All identities are cloaked, combined or switched, and provided with new names and descriptions. I will reveal only this much: If you do your job well at the IRS, leave good people alone, and really go after the bad guys, it is as dangerous as any law enforcement job in America. Other than that, it's a bizarre place to work, packed with secrets, and best if you have an agile sense of humor.
Published 2014-06-25.
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