We introduced Ben Wolf our Keynote Speaker for the GLVWG Write Stuff Conference™ , March 21 – 23, 2019, in our WordPress Blog – January 14. On Thursday, he kicks us off with Into the Deep: An Advanced Study of Speculative Fiction. On Friday, he’ll engage conference attendees in a discussion on The Three Pillars of Storytelling. Saturday, Ben will conduct seminars on Backstory: Your Secret Weapon to Engaging Readers, and Writing Flash Fiction that Sells.
Don’t miss his keynote speech during Saturday lunch, Writing Through Adversity.
GLVWG member, Joe Fleckenstein, took some time to ask Ben a few questions.
In an interview with Geeks under Grace in 2014 you mentioned that you very much favored Frank Peretti’s writing and, in fact, you read his book The Oath at least a half dozen times. That’s saying something. What was it, specifically, that you admired in Peretti’s writing that you found so enthralling? Would it be fair to say there’s a similarity to some degree between Peritti’s style and what is to be found in your Blood for Blood?
Frank Perett’s writing captured my imagination at an early age. In part, it was some of the first “grown-up” fiction that I was exposed to, so the level of intrigue, drama, and even violence in his stories grabbed me and didn’t let go. The main reason I read The Oath so many times is that its high concept is brilliant, yet simple, and it is flawlessly executed. I can’t say much more about it without giving away a major plot point, so go read it and you’ll see what I mean.
With regard to my own writing, Blood for Blood did feel Peretti-esque, I think, in some ways. It has a dark feel to it (like much of Peretti’s work does, especially his earlier works), and I think I deal with that darkness in a unique way which is something Peretti does frequently as well. My latest novel (at least at the time of this interview), a sci-fi/horror story called The Ghost Mine, sways less toward Frank Peretti and more toward Robert Liparulo’s style of thriller storytelling. I’d say that in recent years, Robert Liparulo has usurped Frank Peretti as my favorite author.
Splickety, the flash fiction magazine you edited, is scheduled to close down. To what do you attribute the closure? Has the interest in flash fiction peaked? What’s the future for flash fiction? Are you personally finished with flash fiction?
I will always love and continue to write flash fiction stories, and flash fiction has such fantastic value as a tool to learn how to write better fiction. The closure primarily comes as a result of me realigning my priorities in publishing. For years, I ran Splickety to offer new authors a path to professional publication. Those publishing opportunities with Splickety helped me develop a career teaching at writers conferences nationwide and freelance editing for other authors.
Over the last year, I realized that though I had succeeded in the conference scene and in freelance editing, I was doing a poor job of pursuing my own personal dreams of becoming a multi-published, full-time author. So I took a hard look at what I would need to do in order to move toward that actual goal of writing full-time, and I realized that had some considerable changes to make in order to get that to happen. Unfortunately, shutting down Splickety is one of those changes.
Your proclaimed genres are Christian and horror. Christians say “love thy neighbor as thyself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” How do you rectify these positions with a character bent on, say, using a stiletto on someone’s kidney? Will the real Ben Wolf stand up?
This is a great question, and I’m so glad you asked it. How do Christianity and horror go together? I’ve given a lot of thought and had a great many discussions about this over the years. It’s a complicated discussion, and there is no one right answer, but I’ll give you my thoughts on it as succinctly as I can:
A read-through of the Bible reveals plenty of horrific things happening–both natural and supernatural. People are brutally killed, demons torment humans, God opens up holes in the ground to swallow people whole and sends serpents to bite them and strikes people down for touching the ark of the covenant–the list goes on from there.
Are these “good” things? Not really. But the authors of the Bible included them for a reason: to show how horrific life can be, specifically with the intention of drawing a comparison between a life walking with God and a life separate from God. As I said, this is a huge discussion, and I don’t want to ramble on forever, but suffice it to say that horror as a genre or as a feature in any other genre (I’m working on a dark fantasy series as we speak, for example) is an excellent tool that an author of any stripe can use to their advantage to convey a message and tell a great story. And furthermore, I am not the same as my characters; I have a mind of my own, and they’re fictional beings. So they can stab kidneys with stilettos all day long, but it really gives no indication of who I am as a person.
Sidebar: One of the sessions I’ll be teaching at the conference is an extended presentation on Horror and how to wield it effectively. We’ll have plenty of time for discussion about this topic in more detail there, so I encourage any interested folks to sign up for the conference so we can delve deeper into the darkness together.
At the upcoming GLVWG conference, you may expect to have a variety of aspiring writers in attendance. There will be writers who do explicit sex, a few who do YA, those who do pieces with a religious bent. No doubt, others too. Do you have a common set of recommendations, advice, or taboos you might pass along to this varied group?
Yes. The key thing that I’ve learned over the last year is that you MUST know your audience. You must know what they like to read and what they expect to find in the books they read.
A lot of writing advice out there states something to the effect of “write the story of your heart and find an audience for it.” There’s a counterculture of primarily independently published (aka self-published or “indie”) authors who start by identifying their preferred audience and then writing books that will energize and excite that audience.
Many of those indie authors are making six figures a year writing. I know a handful of them, and I know a couple who are making seven figures a year using this strategy. So if your goal is commercial success, then choose a ravenous target audience in a genre that you’re interested in writing, read a lot of best-selling books in that genre so you can identify what elements readers are looking for, and then craft a story that will satisfy readers’ appetites accordingly.
Every wannabe writer at sometime in his or her life will think about using an agent. What is your experience with agents? There will be agents at the conference. Do you use an agent? The same agent for the different pubs? Experiences with agents are always of interest. What’s yours?
I’ve had two agents thus far, and now I am technically agent-less. A good friend of mine is a top agent in the industry, and he has informally offered to send anything out for me whenever I want him to, but right now, I’m focused on indie publishing because it is likely going to be the quickest and most lucrative path for me.
Please note that this is a decision I came to based on a lot of publishing experience (I spent seven years chasing traditional publishing and not getting anywhere) and working with two agents prior. I’m not at all saying it’s the right path for everyone–some of my closest friends are traditionally published authors who are making a living off of their writing.
The key thing to understand when working with an agent, at least from my perspective, is that no one will ever care more about your book than you. Therefore, you are in most ways the best person to sell it. A good agent should have connections to the folks you want to get your book in front of, and a great agent will have a solid understanding of your genre and the readership for your writing as well as some sales ability. Truly excellent agents are rare, just like top-notch folks in any industry, and thus they’re harder to land.
At the end of the day, the only thing any author can control is the work that they themselves do on their writing and on their career. So work to achieve new levels of productivity, quality, and imaginative storytelling so as to improve your chances whichever route you choose to take.
Tell us about your human side. You write a lot about blood. Does the sight of blood bother you? When you give blood, do you watch the needle go in or do you look the other way? Could you butcher and clean a chicken?
I’m on the fence with blood. A little blood here and there in real life is fine. A lot of blood and I do start to get queasy. I’m not big on needles, but I got a tetanus shot and a blood draw a few weeks ago, and I watched the whole time. In crisis situations, I tend to handle trauma pretty well, so I would think that if someone’s life were on the line, I could probably throw up real quick and then do whatever I could to help the person in need. I also practice Brazilian jiu jitsu, so I’m comfortable choking people and manipulating their joints.
With that said, I’m generally a peacemaker rather than a person who seeks out physical confrontation. Though I can probably hold my own in such a conflict, I would prefer to avoid it. Butchering a chicken doesn’t sound like the worst thing ever, and animal blood doesn’t gross me out quite so much. I field-dressed a pheasant once, and I don’t really eat vegetables, so in the apocalypse, I guess I’d find a way to do what I had to do in order to survive–chickens or otherwise.
We, of GLVWG, will be looking forward to seeing you in person and to hearing you speak about one of our common, favorite topics: writing.
I’m really honored and excited to have the chance to join you!
Ben is the founder and owner of Splickety Publishing Group, the publisher of three flash fiction magazines. He has edited, written, and/or published over 100 published works and has taught at 40+ writers conferences nationwide.
Ben currently has one novel on the market, The Ghost Mine, a gripping sci-fi/horror novel sure to thrill you and chill you late into the night. Ben has also published a children’s book and will be publishing the first books of a nine-book fantasy series in early 2019. You can find his books on Amazon.com.
You can find Ben at benwolf.com or follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.
Ben and his wife Charis Crowe (who sometimes is his presentation partner) live in Iowa with their children. Charis is also presenting at the conference, and you can read Charis’ interview on our WordPress Blog – February 27.
Article by Joe Fleckenstein
Joseph E. Fleckenstein, active GLVWG member for nine years and club treasurer for two years, has published over 35 items. The list includes technical papers, online courses, and 22 short stories in ezines and print magazines. In 2015 CRC Press published his technical book Three Phase Electrical Power. His novel The Kurdish Episode will soon be available at Amazon. Additional bio particulars are available at his website www.WriterJEF.com.