Interview with P.H.T. Bennet

Published 2014-12-02.
What do you read for pleasure?
Wow, that's hard because I read a LOT and I read everyday. I read a lot of middle-grade and YA fiction because I got hooked very young by books like "From the Crazy, Mixed-Up Files of Miss Basil E Frankenweiler", the "Encyclopedia Brown" series, the "John Carter of Mars" books by Edgar Rice Boroughs and pretty much everything Frank Herbert ever wrote because I was so captivated by the world he created for "Dune."
I read between 10-12 books a month now. I'm about to finish "Goliath," the 3rd book in the "Leviathan" series by Scott Westerfeld and am fascinated by the way he is exploring the battle between those who innovate through genetics and those who believe that we should continue to innovate through machines. Because I was so hooked by the fairy-tale twisting Kelly Thompson did in her novel "Storykiller," I just read her other, equally amazing book, "The Girl Who Would be King." My wife and I really enjoyed Gail Carriger's steampunk "Soulless" series, and because there are no more, I'm now on the 2nd book of her "Finishing School" series. What else? Let's see, have read all the Percy Jackson books and love how Rick Riordan has not only made mythology cool again, but has found really clever ways to dance between Greek, Roman, and Egyptian myths. I wish Eoin Colfer would keep going with the Artemis Fowl series, partially because I love the arc Artemis is on, but mostly because I want to have Holly and Butler around as long as possible. There's Brendon Mull's "Fablehaven" and "Beyonders" series, Nancy Farmer's captivating "Sea of Trolls" books, anything written by Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich, and my annual rereading of a Dickens novel- usually David Copperfield -and Lois Lowry's "The Giver" books, the last of which I'm delaying finishing because I don't want them to end.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use my iPhone and iPad throughout the day, whenever I have a free moment. It's a lot more satisfying than checking my email! I gave my Nook to my wife, and she is just burning through books on it. I don't think the device matters- what counts is the stories we choose to access on them.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Hm...I guess I'd have to say appealing to people's curiosity about their own dreams. We all have them, we all wonder what we are missing when we forget them, what we could learn or do if we paid more attention to them, so whenever I dive into that, people respond pretty well, and since that's what this whole series is about, I never get tired of talking about it.
Describe your desk
Ha! This is really funny. After years of experimentation, I have worked out a system that really works for me. I have my work-based books that I use for teaching and training teachers on the left side because I use them more for left-brain-directed thinking. I keep my favorite middle-grade and YA fiction books on the right, along with books on dreaming, archaeology, art, mythology, world religion, and symbols because I use them more for the creative, right-brain-directed work of writing, planning, and storycrafting. Now here's the funny part: I can't concentrate if the left side of my desk is messy- it has to be clear of everything. The right side? Oh, that's a total mess: there's a stack of unopened letters, overdue bills, old pens, papers, and photos, and who knows what else- I rarely even look at that stuff once I put it in the stack. And I have NO problem concentrating when that side is messy- it even helps. What does that say about me? I don't know.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in two very different places: during the school year, we lived in southern Michigan, in a town that few people outside believed was a real town: Kalamazoo. It was a great place to grow up because we knew everyone on the block and would play in everyone's yards after dark. My dad had a friend sell him playground equipment and we had a playground next to our house that the whole neighborhood could use, so I had a great time being outdoors after school. I think that period really cued me into the way groups of friends come together, have fun, then sometimes mysteriously drift apart, which is something that Kiva really struggles with.
In the summer, we went to my mom's family's house in New Hampshire, where the only kids I'd see were my cousins, and we were surrounded by nature. That love of the lakes, the mountains, and forests goes very deep for me- I need a dose of nature every day. That's probably why I take the girls out of town early in the book- there's so much more to discover in the wild, and your imagination is much more active when you have to create activities and discover treasures than when they are all planned and so available to you in town. So I guess the book reflects my childhood more than I'd realized.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing is, without question, seeing what my characters will do next. I have filled dozens of notebooks with plans about what they were going to do, and those plans gave me the focus and confidence I needed to start writing, but once the drafts began and my characters started speaking, they started going to places I hadn't planned on. When I follow them, I always write better. I remember one day, Juliette came home from school and asked me how my day had been. "Great!" I told her. "I love writing DeeDee- she's so full of surprises! I never know what she's going to do or say next!" Juliette told me that made no sense because I created DeeDee, which is of course, true, but when I'm really in the zone, when I'm really listening to her and the other characters, they do and say things that are much more interesting and real than what I've planned for them. So the greatest joy is not creating my characters, but learning from them.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Well, first, I have to say what inspires me to stay in bed, which is my dreams. I've been writing down my dreams for over 30 years and what I have discovered is that you can remember more and have better dreams if you just stay in bed 5 minutes, long enough to capture at least one dream. After I've done that, I can't wait to get back to the writing to see what my characters will do next and to find ways to make the story clearer, richer, or more meaningful. During the day, I give myself two kinds of breaks. The first is to read the news while I'm eating breakfast so that my whole world view isn't limited to the world of my books. The second is to step away from the computer and take "book breaks" when I read another author's work. The shift from the computer screen to a paperr book is always a really good one. I made Colin Meloy's "Wildwood" last about a month that way.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I spend a lot of time teaching college students and training college professors, which I love because my students are all musicians and working on creative projects like me. So I'm always trying to find new ways to help them channel their creativity and communicate what they have to say with more people.

Other than that, I try to see friends and family at least a couple of times a week because they're such an interesting group of people. No matter how crazy work gets or how busy I am, I never regret spending time with them. It grounds me and makes me less self-involved. Plus, they're all really interesting people doing completely different things, so I always learn a lot from them. My only regret is that some of my oldest friends live in other cities, so I can only see them a few times each year.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Three ways: I keep up with my favorite authors, I get recommendations from my oldest daughter, Paola, and I ask for recommendations from local bookstores. We have an incredible one near me, the Brookline Booksmith, that has an amazing selection and they do a great job of giving me new titles to check out.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes! Somehow, our elementary school class was invited to write about our dream bedroom for "Better Homes & Gardens" or another magazine like that. I wrote a story about how my bed, which was hanging from chains, could fly. I would unhook it from the chains, open the skylight in the ceiling with a button, and then head out into the night sky on my flying bed. And it got published! So it's no surprise, I guess, that Kiva is interested in becoming an Airator and a WindWalker since I've been flying in my dreams for most of my life.
How do you approach cover design?
This is a great question because my illustrator, Veronica V. Jones, and I have done something unique for the cover of "Raising Sleeping Stones" that we hope our readers will like. We have created a cover that does two things. First, it's a map of the story- it begins with the sunrise in Ch. 1 in the top right corner, continues to the girls' escape from town in the bottom, then moves up the Varruvyen River on the left side with them. Second, it's like a progress bar in a game: everytime a reader solves a Connect the Dots challenge at the end of a chapter, they unlock something that's been hidden, and there are many hidden side illustrations on the cover, so readers can see their progress both in the story and with the unlocked images everytime they launch the app. Veronica did an amazing job turning my crazy ideas into very cool illustrations and my app developer, Gregg Goldner, has done an incredible job of making the challenges reveal those images, so I'm very proud of all the work that has gone into that cover.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Wow. This is an impossible question, so instead, I'll list the first 5 favorites that come to mind:
-Lois Lowry's "The Giver"
-Frank Herbert's "Dune"
-J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit"
-Louise Erdrich's "The Birchbark House"
-Charles Dickens' "David Copperfield"
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Books by This Author

Raising Sleeping Stones
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 121,610. Language: English. Published: November 26, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Contemporary
***Winner of a 2013 Newbury Comics Award!***
 When sisters Kiva and DeeDee Stone discover a mysterious plot that threatens them and everything they care about, they have to take a crash course in the ancient art of DreamKeeping to survive. Can they become strong enough to fight the enemies that draw nearer each day? The answer lies somewhere in the broken history of the Valley of Dreams.