Dragon Soul Press had an opportunity to sit down and interview Author Benjamin Chandler. He is featured in DSP’s Imperial Devices anthology.
- What inspired you to begin writing?
I enjoyed making up stories as a kid, either playing with toys or drawing comics, but I never considered becoming a writer. It wasn’t until I was an adult in grad school, getting my MFA in book and paper arts, that I took a couple creative writing classes and realized I how much I enjoyed playing with words.
2. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
As a reader, I like good prose—unique word choices, novel metaphors and similes, style, that pretty, creative stuff. I like sentences so delicious I want to reread and then eat them.
3. How do you come up with the titles to your books?
I struggle with that. I wish “Untitled” was as acceptable a title in the writing world as it is in the visual arts world. I often try to make my stories’ titles as simple and brief as possible—just the barest bridge to lead the reader into the text—though that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes my titles sprawl like jetsam across a beach.
4. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Aside from thinking of a title? Probably daring to share it with the world. There certainly is pleasure in crafting a good story, but after writing “The End” an internal voice speaks up, wanting connection, validation. It’s heartening to learn someone else in the world appreciates and connects with my work, but it’s scary to put the work out there and hope for that connection to happen. The Specter of Possible Rejection is a hard shadow for me to peek from and wave my work around for others to see.
5. How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?
Little. For me, it happens as I write. Histories or the rules of the world develop in my head as the story moves along. Eventually, though, a passage needs a certain detail and I start drawing maps or making lists to fill out the world beyond those big ideas. I have a big, fat notebook full of fictional month titles, mountain names, monster doodles, character sketches, vocabularies, diagrams, sub-plots, and maps that I end up referencing to as the story’s world expands chapter by chapter. I can’t keep it all in my head; I forget.
6. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
I have about a half-dozen ideas currently knocking around my head, though I’d be surprised if even half of those reach the “start typing” phase. I’d love to flesh out one idea I have, but it might be too ambitious (which is a polite way of saying, “It’s a mess”). It’s about Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the man who constructed prehistoric animal sculptures for the Crystal Place exposition in the 1850s. The sculptures are hollow, so the story’s hook is that one morning Hawkins goes to his studio and finds a dead body inside one of his unfinished dinosaurs. The Body In The Iguanodon (working title). Then Hawkins helps solve the murder. I thought up other ideas that could play in the book—contemporary paleontologist Richard Owen haunted by the ghosts of extinct animals; a man who is able to pull images of the past with some kind of spiritualist camera; Hawkins trying to balance his two families (he was a bigamist); the fact that Hawkins and I share the same first name adds a nice meta layer—but it all just sits in my head, a murder mystery/weird tales/meta/paleofiction octopus of ideas. It’ll probably never see the light of day.
7. Who is your favorite author and why?
The answer to this question changes with my mood. Some days it’s Thomas Pynchon, some days Ursula Le Guin, other days Salman Rushdie or Umberto Eco. Today I’ll say it’s Marilynne Robinson. Her characters are so real, their emotions so true, her prose so careful—I read her novels in wonder.
8. What are you reading now?
I am reading an older novel about a centurion in love with Pontius Pilate’s wife called Hear Me, Pilate! I downloaded it from gutenberg.org on a total whim and am enjoying it way more than I thought I would. I’m only a handful of chapters in, but I find the book veers close to pulp in its tone at times. It’s a lot saucier than I anticipated—lots of feisty women in clinging, sheer robes and the oily, muscular men who love them against the backdrop of ancient, dusty cities. When the occasional theological elements arrive, they seem out of place next to sultry ancients. I’m curious how the novel plays out, (I mean, I have a good idea about where it’s going…. “What is truth?”, &c.) but I’m not deep enough into it to be able to recommend it or not.
9. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I love to cook and eat almost any cuisine. Living in a small city in Slovakia, I can’t find the Thai, Mexican, and Indian restaurants I used to frequent in Chicago, so I’ve had to learn to make curries and the like from scratch, improvising with available ingredients. (There is a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant in town, though.) I also like to draw with my oldest son, play Godzilla with my youngest son, watch cooking shows and comedies with my wife, and make cocktails for myself. During non-pandemic times I enjoy bowling and playing disk golf.
10. Where can readers learn more about you?
I tweet: @blchandler9000 and I have a semi-retired tumblr of paleofiction at antediluvianechoes.tumblr.com