Benjamin Wilkins worked in the film and television industry in Los Angeles for over a decade and even managed to write, direct and produce a little no-budget indie feature film entitled Pretty Dead hailed by Dread Central as “The movie Paranormal Activity should have been: Intelligent, unique and completely enthralling.”
Then he had a kid and more or less turned his back on the Hollywood scene. He now works with the David Lynch MFA Film Program at the Maharishi University of Management and writes in Fairfield, Iowa with his wife, son and their two pugs.
Chronicles from the Long Apocalypse: Transcendence is his first published novel.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I worked in the film and television industry in Los Angeles for over a decade first as an indie low-budget producer until the hustle started to wear on me and then in post-production for reality TV.
Before bailing on the whole Hollywood scene I even managed to write, direct and produce a little no-budget indie feature film entitled Pretty Dead that was hailed by Dread Central as “The movie Paranormal Activity should have been: Intelligent, unique and completely enthralling.” Of course it didn’t even get on Ginger Nuts radar, which I think pretty much sums up the experience of trying to make projects like that happen.
But that was then… I now work with the David Lynch MFA Film Program at the Maharishi University of Management and write in Fairfield, Iowa where I live with my wife, son and our two pugs.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Mostly I just enjoy being a dad. But I do a little work with the local film school to help pay the bills and to stay in touch with that community.
Other than horror, what other things have been a major influence on your writing?
For this particular book, practicing Transcendental Meditation -- which my father taught me when I was 5 years old, as well as just living in Fairfield, IA has played a big part in the shaping of the story and its characters. But more generally, the visual storytelling and story structure methodology I learned in film school at USC is probably the biggest influence to my writing style.
It’s Kurk Vonnegut and believe it or not, Charles Dickens who’s writing styles I see the most in my own work… Though my editor saw some Margaret Atwood - which is certainly possible. I’ve read more books by Stephen King in my life than I have of all other authors I’ve come to appreciate combined - so I am sure that is influencing things as well.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I definitely prefer the term “Dark Fiction” to Horror, at least until I try to market something and then I fall into the same trap as everybody else and just go with “Horror” as it’s a brand folks have come to know what to expect from. As much as I may personally enjoy the implied nuisances in the term Dark Fiction, the simple fact that I’d have to explain what I meant every time I talked about it to folks makes it hard to commit to actually using it.
I don’t know what the hell “Weird Fiction” is or should be, but I’d be sincerely upset if anybody ever labeled my work that way -- okay maybe I’d just laugh my ass off and let it go. It would probably depend on whether or not I’d had my coffee yet.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I don’t really have a favorite. There is nobody who I find myself waiting on pins and needles for his or her next book to come out for. I tend to take each story individually. That said, I do read a lot of Stephen King, but I wouldn’t say he’s a favorite author. He’s just the brand I’ve come to trust the most, so if the blurb on the back of the book is interesting, I’ll take a chance with his work without having to have somebody recommend the book to me first.
I am a big fan of Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, Chuck Palahniuk, and yes, Margaret Atwood, but I’m not willing to commit to calling any of them my favorites.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
Stephen King’s IT rocked my socks off when I was ten years old - I literally would not walk over a storm drain for months after reading it and have never really trusted clowns since. But I think that is such a lame mainstream answer, I probably regret admitting it.
When it comes to films there is tie between three of them for me. The original Exorcist and the first Alien movie were definitely number one growing up and will always have a permanent place in my heart, but it’s the US remake of The Ring from 2002 that comes to mind first -- by far the best flick Gore Verbinski has ever made -- not to knock the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise or anything, but… well, it was a fucking ride at Disneyland for God’s sake -- I just find it hard to believe that are we really that hard up for interesting material? But then again nothing I ever made brought in billions at the box office, so what do I know?
How would you describe your writing style?
I have a dark sense of humor and that is definitely dripping all over the page. I also like to pop around a little bit with character POV a little. I always write in the 3rd person. I don’t mind reading 1st person narratives, but I can’t write that way. I am just not unbiased enough to write myself as a character in my own work. I tend to favor either long complicated run on sentences or short punchy fragments, over “proper” ones. I find that combination best reflects my personal experiences of life.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
They all stay with you -- good, bad and in between. It doesn’t matter. I personally love to see what other people’s takes on the things I create are -- even if they are soul crushing at times.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
That first rewrite after the first draft is brutal. Everything you thought you liked about your work, you suddenly find yourself second-guessing. But even that’s still better than marketing, which is so beyond my core skill set that as soon as I have enough money to pay somebody else to do it, you better believe I will be.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Nope. It’s all on the table if it serves the narrative.
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you chose and how would they die?
The little bunny in Good Night Moon has it coming for sure. But it’s a little kid’s book, so you’d have to make it painless and clean to do it justice -- which kind of takes the fun out of the thought experiment.
What do you think makes a good story?
One word: Anticipation. As long as you’ve got your reader excited and wondering what will happen next, you can pretty much do anything you want.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Names are obviously important, but not nearly as important as most folks act like they are. The characters in my work tell me their names on an intuitive level as I write them. Yep, the process is a mystery to me too.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I’ve given myself permission to write what I want to read -- instead of what somebody else says the “market” wants. That idea kind of bit me in the ass in the film world, so I’ll have to let you know how that goes in the literary one.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
The best writers understand how to tell a story through their characters fundamental desires and flaws. If you can do that, then the rest is just watching YouTube video tutorials. At least that’s my current working theory. Some kind of elegance in your prose is a nice plus too, but I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker if you’re narrative is super engaging.
And a computer with an Internet connection is pretty fucking helpful as well.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Proof read your work, or have somebody else do it. It matters more than you could ever imagine.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
Honestly, marketing is a fucking black hole that constantly sucks away my time and money every time I get close to it. I have no idea what I am doing. At best I’m just painting by other peoples numbers trying garner a little bit of what was successful for them. Facebook ads and Opt-in email lists being the current go trends.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
Bobby-Leigh - the younger of the Kessler sisters, is my favorite. She’s the most fun to write. Tough as nails, totally emotionally fucked up, loyal to a fault to her big sister and under all the make up and attitude still a sweet heart. I generally model her on what I would who my own son to be if he shared her circumstances.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Oh, I love all my characters. You have to or you can’t write them as well. But, I had the hardest time writing Brennachecke, his motivations are so fucking complicated that it took a few rounds to get his actions to feel authentic.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Definitely NOT respect. I think the other two go hand in hand.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
My son is my greatest creative achievement. I know that’s not really what you meant, but it’s still my answer.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Right out of film school, I tried to get this horror movie, which at the time was called Devil’s Grove, off the ground by making an extended “trailer” for lack of a better word. Total waste of money, time and everything else at a period in my life I could have been doing something much more productive - like eating a cupcake.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
Well, there is just the one book at the moment. So for now, it is literally everything.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Transcendence is, hopefully, proof positive that I am not wasting my time writing novels. I’d really love to take the series to it’s final conclusion, but if I can’t pay at least a couple of the bills doing it, then I’ll have to turn it into a hobby instead of a career and then who knows what the hell will happen. Regardless there will be at least one more book, but the next book will be not be from the Chronicles from the Long Apocalypse. It will be a stand-alone ghost story kind of deal, which I am tentatively entitling Entropy. Think Sixth Sense meets A Beautiful Mind with a twist of Stand by Me. Damn it, I should really train myself to start talking in terms of books instead of movies!
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
That virgins get to live. Fuck that. Literally.
Which fictional character would be your perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
I don’t know. I tend to be pretty misanthropic so I’d probably think just about any fictional character was a nightmare if they lived next door.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Horror is and probably always will be appealing to a huge segment of the population. There is just something magical about the rush of being transported into our worst nightmares and not having to be worried about actually suffering. It’s a primal fascination. And I am proud to be part of it.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
The Martin was fucking fantastic - not that it’s particularly relevant to Ginger Nuts, but hey, good is good. Joe Hill’s book The Fireman was a little disappointing… I just couldn’t accept some the character’s choices in the end and it kind of ruined the whole thing for me - well okay, maybe not ruined, but annoyed the crap out of me at times. Especially because so much of it was so good.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Question: Do you really think your book is worth people spending actual money on?
Answer: Hell, yes.
The world ended in the seventies.
It just took fifty years for folks to notice.
In the rather exceptional small Iowa town of Fairfield, a disturbing vision of the future has been unleashed from the mind of first-time author Benjamin Wilkins, in which the world as we know it has broken down after years of ever-increasing incidents of perfectly normal folks suddenly going berserk and brutally killing everybody around them with their bare hands.
A terrifying new biological phenomenon is appearing all over the world. No one knows exactly how it started. No one knows how to stop it. But everybody knows more and more perfectly normal people are going berserk and committing obscene acts of physical violence on anybody they can get their hands on. With folks no longer willing to risk leaving their homes to go to work, the infrastructure we've all taken for granted our whole lives has finally broken down.