LYNNE: Coincidence, fate, and luck run throughout Murphy’s Luck. The line “I don’t believe in coincidence” has become almost trite with its use in virtually every detective or cop story out there. You’ve taken the opposite approach and have a story rife with coincidence. What inspired this story?
BENJAMIN: When I first conceived of the story I didn’t plan on those elements. Originally, the story was going to be a straightforward adventure about a guy who mastered all hobbies and then uses his skills to save the world. Well, that went out the window after the first few days of writing.
As for the use of coincidence and playing around with luck and fate, that grew from Murphy’s character, and the way he dealt with his unique situation and circumstances. Early in the story I began to notice the surfacing of funny, quirky coincidences, and thought, ‘Hey, this is fun!’ I decided to let Murphy be Murphy, and surrendered to his special world. At that point, the coincidences and comedy really began to mushroom. A second reading of the book can reveal coincidences and gags that weren’t obvious the first time through. Readers have pointed some out to me that even I hadn’t caught or noticed, which is great.
More than a few readers have written to tell me that during or after their reading of Murphy they began to notice quirky coincidences happening in their lives. I think that’s pretty neat. Some even wondered if they hadn’t become victims of Murphy’s peculiar whammies themselves! Luckily, they found the uncanny circumstances more amusing than dangerous.
LYNNE: Murphy is such an interesting character. Any real-life Murphy’s the character is based on?
BENJAMIN: I’d like to meet such a fellow, but I’m afraid he was purely the product of my imagination.
LYNNE: Freya, the tarot reader, seems like a catalyst for the other characters’ actions, then gradually takes on a larger role. Are you a believer in tarot and fortune-telling, or is it something you learned about specifically for this story and her character?
BENJAMIN: I don’t practice tarot anymore, but years back I became interested in it when traveling in Thailand. I ran across a woman doing readings there, and observed her for a couple of hours. I thought it interesting that symbolic pictures on cards and their alignment might carry meaning. I wanted to know how and why.
Upon returning to Japan, where I was living at the time, I bought the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck, and then I spent a few years reading up on tarot and practicing. It was very interesting. I wasn’t in to it for mystical reasons, fortune telling, or anything like that. It was an intellectual pursuit.
Tarot got me thinking about the subconscious, fate and free will, Jungian archetypes, and other things of that nature. I tend to believe that if a person can better understand the motives, fears, and desires of his or her own mind, he or she can be better prepared for whatever awaits in the future.
I think that tarot cards in the hands of a skilled and perceptive practitioner can be used as a psychological tool for helping to dredge up or illuminate things from a person’s subconscious. I also believe that the subconscious is very powerful and plays a bigger part in a person’s life than most people think. In the book I hint at that. I considered going into it more, but decided that doing so would have detracted from the story and slowed it down.
The tarot scenes in Murphy’s Luck were a vehicle for moving the story forward, and for comedy. A real tarot reader wouldn’t make the kind of predictions that Freya did. Initially, Freya was only supposed to have a minor role, but she knew something I didn’t, and ended up playing a major part in the story. And so it goes…!
LYNNE: Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background and when did you start writing?
BENJAMIN: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. During my college years I came down with a bad case of wanderlust. I traveled a lot—always on a shoestring—and eventually made it to Japan where I lived for many years. I worked as an English teacher and taught at a number of major Japanese corporations. Japan is very unique and I got a big kick out of the place. I used Japan as a jumping off base for many more travels, mostly through Southeast Asia.
I always wanted to be a writer more than anything else, and my situation in Japan allowed me to begin writing in earnest. Now I’m giving it my best shot.
LYNNE: Besides Murphy’s Luck, what else have you written? Published?
BENJAMIN: Murphy’s Luck is my 5th novel. Before Murphy’s Luck I wrote: Stormer’s Pass, Say Uncle, The Will, and an epic fantasy called Shooting Eros. Every novel is very different from the others, though certain themes run throughout all of them.
My ‘problem’ is that I don’t write in one genre, and even then I have trouble naming that genre! From a marketing standpoint, that is probably a really lousy idea, but I can’t help it. When I get what I think is a good idea for a story, I just have to write it. Alas, what I’m working on now is different yet again, and finding the right genre for it will be difficult.
LYNNE: When not writing, what do you read? Favorite author(s) and why?
BENJAMIN: Nowadays, it seems I’m mostly downloading non-fiction books: history and biography, or books related to philosophy and psychology. I think biographies give you the whole shebang. Well done, biographies teach history while providing a riveting story that just happens to be true. I also think that history and biography provide good grist for the idea mill.
That said, in my 20s and 30s I immersed myself in literary classics. Those works provided mental landscaping, and from them I developed a love for the written word. I do read one or two novels a month, and those tend to be by unknown Indie writers like myself. I think that in many cases, the quality of the story telling is indistinguishable from novels produced by traditional publishers.
LYNNE: What is your writing method: Do you start with a story idea, a scene, a cast of characters? Plotter or pantster? Any writing rituals?
BENJAMIN: Pantster. I keep a running file of story ideas. When I’m ready to start a new book, I look at the different stories and see which one excites me the most. I chew on the story for a few days, and then I just start writing. Fairly quickly the story unfolds before me. My novels tend to be character driven, and the characters end up telling me who they are, and what they’re going to do. As the story develops I jot down notes to myself: ‘Don’t forget this…Make sure you do that…Character X needs this…Character Y needs that…Twist here, some foreshadowing there…’ Stuff like that.
Every book becomes something different from what I set out to write, but that’s perfectly fine. I trust in the organic process, my ‘muses,’ and in the knowledge that once begun I will never give up.
I’d rather be writing than outlining. At most, I will draw a line on a page, divide it in half, and then mark plot points and scribble along the length of the line: ‘maybe this happens, maybe that happens, this happens, that happens…’ I’ve tried detailed outlining, but for me it felt like I was spending too much time thinking about what I would write instead of just writing. Outlining works wonderfully for many writers, and more power to them. I know that for myself there was no way I could have outlined from scratch the stories I’ve written. Impossible.
As for routine, I do most all of my writing at one or another cafe. I live in a very interesting and cool place: the ancient town of Tzfat (or, Safed) in Israel’s upper Galilee. It’s surrounded by mountains and overlooks the famous Sea of Galilee. Tzfat is known as an ‘artist town,’ as well as a holy city and home to Kabbala and many great sages from the past. I’ll sit for hours on end writing. People sometimes marvel at my stamina and discipline, but because there is nothing else I’d rather be doing, for me it’s no problem. My computer’s battery usually gives out before I do. If I didn’t go to these cafes I’d be a shut-in and not see anyone.
LYNNE: Why did you choose to self-publish? What was that experience like for you? Smooth? Bumps in the road? Lessons learned?
BENJAMIN: I chose self-publishing because it was the only way I could get my books out. I tried submitting my novels to agents and publishers but few even bothered to formally reject me. I felt like I was just pitching pennies into the Grand Canyon. Trying to go the traditional route proved a terrific waste of time and effort. Finally, I thought, ‘This is dumb. I’m not going to let faceless persons who haven’t even read my book decide if it or I have a future. To heck with that.’
As for lessons learned, too many to recount, and I learn new ones constantly. There are a lot of experts out there, and I’m certainly NOT one of them.
I only began publishing in earnest less than a year ago when I discovered Amazon’s CreateSpace and Kindle. Like most beginning Indie writers, I didn’t know anything about what had to be done, not even the lingo. Fortunately, there is a lot of good information on the Internet. I learned enough to finally launch my ungainly belly flop, and so plunge in.
During those months I had to focus on the books and learn all kinds of things related to their publishing. I had zero time for promotion, which meant nothing happened. But that was okay because I decided I was in it for the long haul, and getting my books up and out was my top priority. Over the coming year I hope to do more in the way of promotion and marketing, my biggest weakness.
LYNNE: Are there any resources that were particularly helpful to you and that you’d recommend to new writers?
BENJAMIN: I’m not sure if this counts, but the single best discovery I ever made was the writing software, Scrivener. I started using it last year. I wish I had learned of Scrivener years ago. It would have saved me a huge amount of time and effort. I just love it.
I think podcasts dedicated to Indie writing and publishing are a good resource. I listen to a number of them when time or situation affords. Podcasts like ‘The Sell More Book Show,’ ‘Rocking Self-publishing,’ and ‘The Creative Penn’ are very informative and motivating. There are others too, and all of them together can provide good tips and resources for the Indie writer and publisher.
In the end, however, I think the best resource for a writer is plain old willpower and determination. I write slowly and deliberately. My daily output is pathetic. I hear how many authors can crank out 2000 to 10,000 words in just a few hours. Impressive. Me? If I write 1000 words in a day, afterwards you can find me leaping through the stony alleyways of Tzfat like Nijinsky.
LYNNE: Finally, what are you working on now?
BENJAMIN: I’m very excited about my current project, but because of the story’s uniqueness I’m afraid I can’t say much. If I can pull it off, I think it will prove a terrifically fun and original read.
Thanks for having me, Lynne!
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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Lynne Hinkey is the author of two novels. Marina Melee is a topical island misadventure where living the easy life is hard work! In Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, a monster rampages through Puerto Rico. Is the chupacabra real or myth? Dog only knows (and no one is asking him!)