Benjamin Sobieck is best known as the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Writing Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books). He also writes crime and thriller fiction, in addition to blogging about weapons in fiction on his popular website, CrimeFictionBook.com.
He is also the editor of “The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad,” forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books. On the fiction side, he is a Wattpad Star, with more than 1 million reads on Wattpad on titles such as “When the Black-Eyed Children Knock.” In 2016, he won the world’s largest online fiction contest, the Wattys, for “Black Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective #2.” He’s also collaborated with TV and movie studios through Wattpad and is the creator of The Writer’s Glove® http://www.thewritersglove.com)
GLVWG’s Mitzi Flyte interviewed Ben on the following questions.
Mitzi: Who are your favorite thriller writers and did they inspire you?
Ben: I enjoy writing thrillers because they offer flexibility that other genres can’t, which calls into question what a thriller is in the first place. Its fences are less defined, allowing me to meander and borrow. I’ve written horror, mystery, and adventure, but I could stick them all comfortably into the thriller box. The elements of surprise, action and high stakes are all present. It’s more of an attitude than a set of rules.
I admire David Morrell’s take on the thriller (he’s the godfather of the genre, after all), and I pull from him for the character-driven elements. He knows how to make action happen without reducing the characters to props.
However, most of what informs my writing comes from non-fiction. You’ll find all the surprise, action and high stakes you could ever need in news media and long-form journalism. The writing is more clinical, but there is no less a narrative component than there is in any piece of fiction. I could read the newspaper all day. This keeps my fiction from going off the rails because the inspiration is grounded in the human instead of the fantastic. My best stories didn’t lose sight of their humanity.
As for my worst stories…well…let’s just say they weren’t only lacking humanity.
Mitzi: Every writer needs to relax. What do you do for relaxation?
Ben: The problem with turning your hobby into something more than a hobby is that you no longer have a hobby. I now stand with zero hobbies. My passions outside of work are what I do professionally. I loved reading and writing growing up, and now I’ve got this writing game cooking and a full-time job in publishing.
Which is to say I’ve lost the ability to relax, at least in the way most people think of kicking back. It doesn’t sound healthy, and I’m sure it isn’t on some level, but if I’m not working, I don’t know what to do with myself. Even when I’m supposed to be off the grid, I’m plugging away.
Reading devolved in a similar fashion. It’s not enough to pull out a novel and enjoy myself. The tick-tock of analysis in the back of my mind never goes away.
Mitzi: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers, including what traps to avoid?
Ben: Money should always flow to the writer. The only exception is when you’re paying someone to do something for you, in which case you should be the one defining the terms. If either of those conditions aren’t met, run like hell.
Stop it with the complaining on social media. I get it. You’re angry that a publisher/agent rejected you, or you have beef with another writer, or you think a reviewer was unfair. This may feel good, but it won’t help you. Vent to your cat or something, because you’re painting a negative portrait of yourself in the minds of everyone witnessing your grievances. People think in pictures like that. When you write “that awful XYZ agent gave me a form rejection,” I visualize you as someone who gets rejected, and I don’t want to associate with rejection. Is that fair to you? No, but most people on social media don’t give you the benefit of the doubt. Twitter isn’t such a forgiving and understanding place, is it?
It’s different when you’re airing things out to people you actually know. Of course, your writer buds want to hear about your rejection because you’re all there to support each other. Your mom and dad do, too. But the anonymous masses of social media? Nope.
I’d also recommend reading up on entrepreneurship. Every writer is a small business, and craft alone won’t get you there. It takes the ability to spot opportunity, to understand ROI and to know when to say “no.”
Finally, be someone it’s easy to say “yes” to. Walk into any situation prepared and professional. If you don’t think you can avoid that situation. For example, I’m turning in this interview well ahead of deadline. You know who likes to work with people who meet deadlines? Everyone.
That doesn’t also mean you have to be a doormat. I didn’t give myself enough credit earlier on, and it led to some bad decisions.
Mitzi: Here is a Time Travel question: If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?
Ben: “It’s going to work out fine. Stop worrying so much. Try to enjoy yourself, because it’s too easy to slip into the miserable writer cliche. Also, don’t lock your keys inside your truck at that car wash.”
Mitzi: When did you start writing?
Ben: The first book-book that I remember writing was about a magic tennis shoe. Not a pair of magic shoes. Just one shoe. I was in the third grade. Clearly, I peaked early.
Mitzi: Do you have any unfinished books? Do you have plans for them or are they tied with a pink ribbon and hidden away in a trunk, like some of mine?
Ben: I’m not sure. I’m not being glib or anything, I really mean it. My writing process involves starting a story, canning it after 10,000 words or so, rewriting the whole thing, canning that again and then settling on what I want to do. Unfinished stories are a feature, not a bug.
Were I to hide the stories in a trunk, as you do, I’d be sure to put an “old underwear” label on the outside. Some secrets are best left hidden.
Mitzi: Considering your genre, I know you must do research. What kind of research do you do and how long do you spend before starting a book?
Ben: My stories are the accumulation of the bits and pieces I’ve gathered up to the point of writing it, and that timeline could span from a few days to a few years. I get stuck on certain ideas, but I won’t revisit them for long stretches of time.
For example, “Glass Eye” is about a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her husband by pretending to be a psychic. She grifts, blackmails and exploits her enemies. I published that story in 2015, but the real-world inspiration hit in 2008 or 2009. A “psychic” in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where my wife and I lived at the time, ripped people off and skipped town before the police could intervene.
That’s a seven-year delta, which gave me plenty of time to look into the occult. What I found was a bit different from what I expected going into it. I came away with a new appreciation for how writing, and art in general, relates to a bigger picture. That’s reflected in “Glass Eye” and the two novels that follow it.
So you start with a pedestrian criminal and wind up with this entire rubric of weirdness to base a novel series on. That’s the benefit of research. It’s not only learning more about a topic. It’s about crafting the story itself. All sorts of rabbit holes open up.
Mitzi: Last question. What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Ben: Without pulling a Robert Johnson, I’d give up peanut butter. I live off the stuff, but I’m sure it’s not good for me in the quantities I require to get through the day.
Ben will conduct three seminars at the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™, on March 24, 2018, with Weapons in Fiction, Writing inside a Franchise, and Using WATTPAD to Build a Writing Career.
Mitzi Reinbold writes as Mitzi Flyte. She received her first rejection when she was 12, but that didn’t stop her. She’s been published in poetry, short story, and nonfiction. Her first published novel, The Guardian’s Prophecy, about a werewolf is available on Amazon. She’s now working on a collection of short stories, a nursing memoir, and several novel-length projects. A retired RN, she lives with her husband, daughter, dopey dog, and assorted cats in the wilds of Berks County. She’s waiting to see Bigfoot walking through the neighboring cornfields so she can interview him.