Interview with Ben Barrett, author of “Raisin”

The Author

ImageBen Barrett was born in Arkansas but has lived in a lot of places since then, from Pennsylvania to the Florida Keys.  He’s never been published in a magazine before and has never received any awards from his writing, but he does have a loyal fan following on the internet which he considers to be reward enough.  Ben has been writing since he was very young, when he saw an episode of FAMILY MATTERS in which Steve Urkel wrote a detective story.  The writing bug bit him and he’s been penning short stories ever since.  His first book, RAISIN, was published by Amazon in 2012.  His favorite writer is Stephen King, from whom he has learned a great deal about the craft of writing.  He considers a good time to be a good book, a bottle of Coke, and some Jimmy Buffett tunes.
When asked for an author photo, Ben answered “None provided.  I prefer people not know what I look like.  Kind of like Wilson from HOME IMPROVEMENT.”

The Interview

Q. In your bio, you said you already had a loyal following on the web. Where can we find your writing on the web, where do you have a following?
ImageA. I have actually spent the last five years or so of my life writing fanfiction on Fanfiction.net.  A lot of my readers have encouraged me to “get published” and I’ve had a few tell me I’m their favorite writer.  Most of what I’ve written there is slash fiction, though that’s not necessarily what I set out to do.  I prowled around the website for a long time, looking at the different stories people seemed to react well to. What I found is that in fanfiction, people seem to really enjoy slash fiction.  I’d say about eighty to ninety percent of the stories on FFN involve some kind of romance between two members of the same sex.  I mean, if you look at just about any section, from Harry Potter to South Park, you’ll find slash stories in abundance.  So that’s what I started writing simply because it’s what people on that site want to read.  However, that’s not all I write.  I’ve also written a lot of horror, some of which has gone out via email correspondence to those who want to receive such things, kind of like how Stephen King did “The Plant”.

Q. Was writing a novel very different from your previous writings? Did you find any areas specifically challenging?
A. Writing a novel was a lot different from my previous writing because it gave me more room to move around.  Whereas in writing short stories you’re kind of limited in the amount of detail you can give and the different plot turns and twists you can use, with a novel you don’t really have those limitations.  You can make it as long or as short as you want, you can add as many characters as you want (case in point: The Stand), and you can say pretty much whatever you want.  When writing short stories to post on places like Fanfiction.net or Fictionpress, you have to kind of censor yourself at times.  You have to stop and say “Is this going to get my story removed from the website?” and that sucks.  As far as finding areas specifically challenging, I’d have to say it’s the flip side of the coin.  While writing a novel gives you plenty of room to move around and do what you like, it also adds the extra challenge of keeping track of all the small details so you don’t end up contradicting yourself.  I remember one point in the story in particular when I was describing a minor character’s background and I described him as trying to help out his mother who was sick with the cancer.  Later in the story, I described him as trying to help out his mother, who was working long hours as a waitress to keep a roof over their heads.  I didn’t catch this little mistake until after I’d sent the manuscript off to my beta readers (and unfortunately, not one of them noticed).

Q. Without giving spoilers, of course, can you tell us if there is anything supernatural in Image“Raisin”? Are all of the monsters human monsters? 
A. There aren’t really any ghosts or ghoulies in the story.  As you said, the monsters are human.  There are moments that I hope will cause people to hold their breath, like this one scene where the main character, Brian, is being chased down the road by men in cloaks that jumped out from the woods.  I tried to shock my readers without having to resort to giant spiders or evil clowns.  Humans by their very nature are wicked to the core.  The Bible even says that.  If that’s true, why would I need to invent a monster when I can make it more realistic by making all the bad guys real?

Q. You say Stephen King is one of your favorite writers: do you like any other horror writers, and how do you feel your love of horror has affected your approach to telling the story in “Raisin”?
A. Well it definitely influenced my style.  The book reads a lot like a horror novel should: it doesn’t pull any punches.  One thing I’ve found that is true of Stephen King is that he lets the characters tell the story.  He talks about that in “On Writing”, and it’s clear from the content in his books.  If it comes to his mind while he’s writing, chances are it’ll wind up in the book, or at least in the first draft.  Take, for example, “It”.  There’s are scenes in that book that made me kind of raise an eyebrow, like this scene where one preteen Imageboy is… pleasuring… another in the junkyard.  Was it necessary?  Probably not, but it’s an example of not pulling any punches.  If it could happen in real life it could happen in his stories, and I’ve definitely tried to do that in my own writing.  I’ve learned my lessons well from reading a lot of King books, and I think by not just reading them but analyzing them, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of how horror works.  As for other writers, I’ve wanted to expand my horizons for a long time but haven’t really had the opportunity to do it.  I’ve got a big stack of books I’m reading now, and I just don’t have any more room on my TO READ list for anything else.  When a spot becomes available, however, I definitely want to check out Dean Koontz.  I’ve heard some very good things about him.

Q. You say that your book, which has a gay protagonist, is not intended solely for gay audiences. What do you consider the target demographic for the novel, and what do you consider it’s genre?
A. You know, giving it a genre was harder than I thought it would be.  When I came right down to it and had to pick one for the book at the time of publishing, I just picked “gay fiction”, although it could also be classified as horror, crime, drama and romance.  It’s got elements of all of those genres in it.  That’s what made it so hard to place and hard to sell.  After all, if I have these different types of genre all thrown together in a big literary stewpot, then it lessens the appeal for hardcore readers of certain genres.  Those who only want to read horror might be turned off by the romantic aspects of it, those who only want to read crime might not want to read it because it has horror in it, and those who like drama might not like it because of the gay themes.  I suppose this has a lot to do with me not picking a target demographic when I started writing.  I just went to work one day and five years later I had a book.  I never stopped to think about whether I should write it to please this group of people or that one.  I just wanted to write a great story.

Q. Earlier, you mentioned that Hollyville was based on a real town. In what ways did the geography and culture of the real town help inform your story? Were there particularly frightening or intimidating places or incidents you chose to write about?

A. Well its where I grew up until I was twelve, and I always found the place very creepy.  The house we Imagelived in (which is, by the way, the same house the main character lives in) was especially creepy.  There was a presence in the basement that was just pure evil.  At times we could hear what sounded like growling sounds coming from down there.  My mother, who isn’t frightened easily, wouldn’t go down there until she absolutely had to.  Also, my little brothers, who were just toddlers at the time, would have long conversations with someone none of the rest of us could see, someone they referred to as simply “the man”.  As for the town, it was one of the most unsettling places in the world.  People I’ve shown pictures of it to have refused to look at any more.  It always feels like eyes are on you while you’re there.  And yes, I chose to use some real life incidents in the story.  One of which was a group of hooded figures who snatched a member of my family, no lie.  It was because of something that my uncle did that really made these people angry, and a member of my family actually disappeared.  My grandfather had to go out into the woods and make a promise to these people that what my uncle did would not happen again.  He couldn’t see them, but he knew that they were there and listening to them.  He told them he wanted his kid back.  When he got back, the person who had been taken was back and my uncle never went snooping again.  We know they were hooded figures because my uncle saw them outside the window before this disappearance happened.  So I incorporated these hooded figures into the story.  It makes it that much more frightening to me because these people actually exist.

Q. I understand you’re working on a sequel? What can you tell us about that?

A. The sequel is temporarily on hiatus to be honest with you.  The first book hasn’t proven to be that popular so I’m going to work on other projects for awhile.  Besides, I spent five years of my life working on the first one and I need a little break.  I can tell you, however, that the second one will end in a cliffhanger that will lead into the third one.  Also, I will expand a great deal on details that seemed to be quite small in the first one.  I can say JK Rowling is to blame for that one.  She really enjoyed putting in things that seemed so small but turned out to be really important, and I really enjoy her books, so I tried to incorporate some of that into my trilogy.  We’ll see how that goes.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers that we haven’t covered yet?
A. Well, Sumiko, I’d like to take this time to tell people about my website ben-barrett.com, which I’m still building.  There’s not much there right now, but I invite anyone who’s interested in my writing to check back periodically.  I’m planning on posting short stories and excerpts there.  I’m also building a community there for people who love fiction.  Anyone can join who wants to join is welcome to.  Anyway, thanks for having me.  It was a blast answering your questions.  Take care!

Where To Find the Book/Author:

You can buy “Raisin” at Amazon.com (search “Raisin Ben Barrett”) or through Createspace at https://www.createspace.com/3940412
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~ by Sumiko Saulson on September 12, 2012.

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