For the first quarter of 2020, my Wednesday interviews will be with authors who are part of When Valor Must Hold, the upcoming anthology of fantasy stories published by Chris Kennedy Publishing.
Today’s answers come from Benjamin Tyler Smith. He’s an up-and-coming author who you guys are going to really like, if you don’t already.
His story in When Valor Must Hold is “Hanging by a Thread.” This story, set in his Necrolopolis universe, combines the weary cop trying to keep the criminals of his city to a dull roar with practical necromancy.
I will say his interview answers have much more life than many characters in his stories. Of course, they’re undead, so…
Interview: Benjamin Tyler Smith
Why are you here?
- What are your influences?
Fantasy books by some of the greats (Raymond E. Feist, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, to name a few), anime in a ton of genres (Mecha, Fantasy, Cyberpunk, Magical Girl), and role playing games of various sorts (Most notably Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV and VI, Baldur’s Gate, and Betrayal at Krondor).
- Who are some favorite other creators?
Feist, Eddings, and Jordan as mentioned above. Also Kate Elliott for her Crown of Stars series, Elizabeth Haydon for her Symphony of Ages series, and Dan Abnett for his Gaunt’s Ghost series. Over in Japan, I love Reki Kawahara (Sword Art Online), Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), Nagaru Tanigawa (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), and Kenichi Sonoda (Gunsmith Cats), to name a few.
More recently, my favorite creators include Kacey Ezell (“Minds of Men” is awesome, as are any of her stories of the Depik race in the Four Horsemen Universe), Christopher Woods for his Fallen World novels (Now I know I’m biased, but I burned through his first book in record time, then listened to it again), Mark Wandrey for his Four Horsemen stories, especially the ones about Jim Cartwright.
- What made you a creator in the first place?
God, when He created me. I’ve always told stories, made things up, and eventually started putting those imaginings down on paper, first as King Arthur fanfiction, then as Star Wars fanfiction, and finally as my own stuff as the years have gone by. Even if I made no money writing, I would still do it. It wouldn’t be my career so I wouldn’t be able to do it as much, but I’d still do it in some form or another. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
- Why did you choose to create what you create?
Things just come to me. Often when I’m listening to music or watching anime. I can’t listen to anything without getting some kind of scene or character or plot idea, and when I’m watching a good movie or show, certain moments just inspire me, either to write something similar or to take a particular emotion I feel and try to recreate it.
- Feel free to add things you would someday like to create.
I’ve got way too many ideas, likely more than God’s given me years on this Earth. That said, I do have some plans. For this year, my focus is on building out the Fallen World universe with at least one sequel to Blue Crucible, as well as a short story or two. I also have a Jackie Warren book planned out for the Four Horsemen Universe. That’ll be a sequel on the “Return to Sender” story in the Tales from the Lyons Den anthology from late 2018. I also want to write the first book set in the Necrolopolis universe, which will feature a lot of the characters from the short story “Hanging by a Thread” that’ll be in the upcoming sword-and-sorcery anthology When Valor Must Hold. And then there are other things like a Magical Girl meets Apocalypse Now story, a zombie high school story, and other weird things like that. Like I said, too many ideas!
Describe your great Lab of Creation?
- Where do you work? Home? Coffee Shop?
It depends on the day. Once a month I head over to a local restaurant or the nearest Chick-Fil-A with just a notebook and maybe a book on the writing craft, and I get to it. Drafting, brainstorming, studying. Mostly, though, I’m in the basement at home, with my writing laptop and snacks to keep me from venturing upstairs too often. That way lies distractions, cats needing affection, and games that desire to be played. (It’s totally them, not me, right?)
- Do you listen to music? If so, give some examples.
I mostly listen to video game and anime music. When I’m hip-deep in the writing, it’s all instrumentals. When I’m brainstorming, outlining, or editing, vocals can be mixed in. Otherwise, the lyrics can end up distracting me when I’m actually drafting.
- What other things exist in your productive environment?
In the basement, I have a little table where I’ve got my writing laptop, a few craft books for reference, some snacks, and a pair of cross-shaped cufflinks given to me by Larry Dixon back during World Fantasy Con of 2016 over in Columbus, Ohio.
- What things have you tried that haven’t worked?
Two things. The first is spending too much time in the outlining and brainstorming phase. It’s not so bad with short fiction, as there are only so many factors to take into account for a 5,000 – 10,000 word piece. But, during the writing of Blue Crucible (My first contribution to Christopher Woods’ Fallen World universe) I went from the initial idea sometime in June of last year to finally sitting down to draft it in October and November. Granted, I had a couple other short stories that needed to be finished, but a lot of time was wasted spinning my wheels. So, going forward, I’m going to strive to not spend as much time in that phase of the writing.
And the second is an area I will make work, because I have to. That’s running the blog and maintaining a social media presence. It’s something I’ve tried to start a few times, and it’s always run aground as I’ve focused more and more on writing. That part’s a good thing, but I still need to be out there. Not only to promote, but also to maintain connections to fellow writers and to readers.
What are your superpowers?
- What kinds of things do you like in your creations?
I like my characters. The plots can sometimes be hard for me to come up with, but I usually don’t have a problem with the core group of characters. Whether it’s Jackie Warren the arms dealer and her team of body guards in the Four Horesemen Universe, or it’s Lieutenant Nathan Ward and his squad of fellow mounted cops in the Fallen World Universe, or it’s Necromancer Adelvell and his band of undead misfits in my Necrolopolis universe, there’s someone for every reader to relate to, to root for, to laugh with, and to cry with.
- What are specific techniques you do well?
I’ve been told that I do believable dialogue, with the characters having unique voices that don’t require too many tags to keep up with. I’ve also been told that my action sequences read like a movie or anime scene. Easy to visualize, easy to follow. I’m a harsh critic of my own writing, so I don’t know that I agree with that! But, I’ve heard it enough to give it credence.
- What are some favorite successes you’ve achieved, especially things you had to struggle to overcome?
Completing this first novel all the way to the point of submission. I’ve drafted two other novels, both years ago. I never went back and edited them because they would need to be completely rewritten. I just didn’t know enough. With Blue Crucible, I feel like I’ve finally come around to understanding story structure enough to pull off a full-length work. Is it going to be perfect? No, and nothing I write ever will be. Nothing anyone writes ever will be, save for the Bible (And the writers had a little bit of help from on high for that). But, it was written to the best of my ability at the time, and I know the next book will be even better.
Another success, again involving Blue Crucible, has been to finally start writing with a lot more emotion. The protagonist, Lieutenant Nathan Ward, goes through hell during this book. It begins right on the day the bombs drop in Chris Woods’ Fallen World universe, and he witnesses as his hometown disappears off the map, along with a good bit of the country. He’s distraught, he’s upset, he’s barely holding it together. There are times where he breaks down and weeps. That’s hard for me to write, because it’s not comfortable for me to experience or see. But, with the encouragement of a couple good writer friends I pushed through and showed a lot more raw emotion than I ever have. And I think that’s where my writing’s been the weakest all these years, so I’m excited to see how readers view some of those emotional scenes.
What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?
- What are some of the challenges you have faced that frustrated you?
My own resistance to writing is a personal challenge, and I know I’m not unique in that. Writing, as much fun as it is, is still a brain-burning task. It’s not difficult in the sense that we’re solving complex math equations (Well, maybe the hard sci-fi writers are) or performing life saving surgery or commanding thousands of employees or soldiers, but we’re still utilizing a lot more of the brain than we do in a lot of everyday tasks, even everyday work tasks. And the brain doesn’t always want to do that, so when it comes time to sit down and do the gritty work of writing, distractions abound! Suddenly the most amazing thing in the world is cleaning the toilets or washing the car or cooking dinner, and the writing doesn’t get done.
The other low point came when I went to my first writer’s conference and found out just how deeply political the traditional publishing industry has become (Or always has been, and maybe I just never noticed). I left there having made a few acquaintances and having met a lot of wonderful people, but overall I was very discouraged. It seemed like the industry was stacked against certain demographics and certain political and religious persuasions, and it didn’t matter how good a story you could write if you fell into those categories. My dreams of traditional publishing weren’t dashed exactly, but they were tarnished quite a bit.
And then I went to LibertyCon in 2017, and my whole perspective changed. Baen, Chris Kennedy Publishing, Copperdog Publishing, and other big to small presses out there just wanted a good story. We could have our differing views as writers and professionals and still be colleagues and even friends. What mattered was the skill and the professionalism.
- Do you have any creative failures which taught you something? What were those lessons?
Lots of rejections, which I know is normal. I’ve had so many short stories get rejected from contests, from magazines, from token publications that I could reroof the house with the manuscripts and the rejection slips.
That said, the only thing that helped me more than the first time I received an editor’s feedback on an accepted piece (Venessa Giunta, if you’re reading this, thank you so much!) was the first time I received a personal rejection message. When an editor or assistant editor takes time out of their busy schedule to tell you why your manuscript didn’t make the final cut, you know you’re on the right track. Because they don’t do that unless they see something in your writing, something they want to see more of. The rejection still stings, but take heart! You’re in the top 5% to 10% at that point.
- How do you overcome normal slow points like writer’s block?
In the past, before I wanted to make this a career I would try waiting for the muse to strike. That never seemed to work, but it made for a good excuse to get distracted with other things. Good things like work and car repairs and chores, and bad things like marathon sessions of video games and other entertainment.
Now I just do the clichéd thing that always works: sit down in a room with limited distractions, and it’s either write or stare at the wall. Staring at the wall gets old after about five minutes, so I inevitably put my fingers to the keyboard and type. After about an hour, I’m typing nonstop, and before I know it, six hours have gone by and it’s time for dinner.
- Which mistake would you try to keep other creators from making?
Don’t wait. I spent years wanting to write, and dabbling in it, but I wasn’t really, truly serious about it until 2013 or so, when I started studying the craft. I’ve been writing regularly since about 2008 (with starts and stops before that, through high school and college), but I didn’t look to improve my abilities and technique until several years into it. So, yeah, wherever you’re at, realize you can do better and strive to be better. Don’t let other people talk you out of it, and don’t talk yourself out of it. If it’s something you want to do – if it’s something you’re driven to do – then just sit down and do it. And know that there are people out there eager to read what you produce, and even more eager to see you improve with each work.
- If you could go back and tell yourself anything about writing, what would it be?
The above statement, in all its form. I should’ve focused on writing as a career from the beginning. I always pushed it aside as a “Well, maybe by the time I’m 25. Maybe by the time I’m 30. Maybe by the time…” Nope, little Ben, sit down and get to it. This is what God’s put you on this Earth to do, and you need to do it before He smites you for your indolence.
- Favorite Muppet?Do Rigel and Pilot from Farscape count as muppets?
- Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Does Hatsune Miku count? She’s a little on the artificial side, but what singer isn’t these days?
- Favorite Superhero? All Might from the anime My Hero Academia, followed by Deku, the protagonist from that series. Greatest superhero saga I’ve ever seen, hands down. Highly recommended.
- Favorite 1970s TV show? Dukes of Hazzard for the 70’s. Magnum P.I. and the A-Team for the 80’s.
- Favorite Weird Color? Stanky Bean, closely followed by Dorkwood and Bank Butt.https://www.geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Screenshot-51817-1211-PM-625×908.jpeg
- Favorite Sports Team? Haven’t watched much sports since high school, so I’ll have to say, “Whichever team my friends aren’t rooting for in the Superbowl.” It’s fun being the contrarian.
- Best Game Ever? Whichever Superbowl it was that the Patriots came from behind and completely dominated. It was like a switch was thrown at half-time, and then they just owned the field. Or maybe they owned it the whole time and decided it was time to show that.
- Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
- Best Present You’ve Ever Received? Salvation of the soul is the greatest gift God has given me. After that, it’s the love of my wife. And after that, the cover art for Blue Crucible. I never thought my first book would have such epic artwork. Chris Kennedy has my gratitude.
- What Cartoon Character Are You? If we’re talking western animation, then J.T. Marsh from ExoSquad. If we’re talking eastern animation, then Naofumi Iwatani from Rising of the Shield Hero.
- Your Wrestler Name? Sweet Tea Man
- Your Signature Wrestling Move? Something akin to the Atomic Elbow Drop, like the “Deep Steep” or the “Dentist’s Drill.”
- What Do You Secretly Plot? To unseat the publishing giants and restore the writing world to one that’s based on merit and entertainment value.
- How Will You Conquer the World? By southernizing everyone with sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, and gumbo.
- Best Thing From the 80s? The NES, followed by Rototech and Bubblegum Crisis.
- Favorite Historical Period? Toss-up between Medieval Europe and Revolutionary America
- Most Interesting Person In History? Joan of Arc. Illiterate peasant girl who rallied a failing army, liberated a city, and died a martyr’s death without ever once relinquishing her faith. I’m looking forward to meeting her on the other side.
- Steak Temperature? Medium and above.
- Favorite Chip Dip? The hot bacon cheese spread we make for Christmas Eve every year. https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/hot-bacon-cheese-spread/
- Favorite Cereal? Honey Bunches of Oats, all the way. After that, Waffle Crisp.
- What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? Whatever it is, I’m washing it down with sweet iced tea.
- Beverage(s) of Choice? Sweet iced tea.
- Do You Have Pets? I serve in the Court of the Calico Countess alongside her castellan, Earl Grey.
- What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Vin Diesel, ‘cuz why not?
- What Question Should I Add to the Lightning Round? Least desired and most desired cause of death.
Tell me again where we can find your stuff?
- Website/Blog: BenjaminTylerSmith.com
- Twitter: @BenTylerSmith
- Facebook: Benjamin Tyler Smith
- Blue Crucible will be out in early April! Look for it on Chris Kennedy Publishing’s site!
- I’m working on the sequel to Blue Crucible and the first Jackie Warren novel in the Four Horsemen Universe. So, expect lots of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and military sci-fi action for 2020!
And where can we find you?
I will be at FantaSci and LibertyCon this year. Hope we can meet up there!
Do you have a creator biography?
By day Ben earns his bread as a necro-cartographer, and by night he writes about undead, aliens, and everything in-between. His first novel is Blue Crucible, published by Chris Kennedy Publishing and set in Christopher Woods’ post-apocalyptic Fallen World universe. Other works include short stories set in CKP’s Four Horsemen military sci-fi universe, the Sha’Daa dark fantasy/horror universe by Copperdog Publishing, and pieces that wound up as finalists for Baen contests both in 2018 and 2019. He is working on the sequel to Blue Crucible, as well as a Four Horsemen novel, both of which will be finished by the end of 2020.
Married to a saint of a woman, ruled by a benevolent calico countess, he can be found at BenjaminTylerSmith.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@BenTylerSmith).
Thanks to Benjamin for taking the time to answer my questions.
If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.
Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: https://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.
Have a great day.
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels
- Website: www.robhowell.org
- Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rhodri2112
- Blog: www.robhowell.org/blog
- Shijuren Wiki: http://www.shijuren.org/World+
- MeWe: https://mewe.com/i/rob.howell1
- Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/robho
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/Rhodri2112