Author Interview with Warren Benedetto

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Warren Benedetto, author of Baby Food in the All Dark Places 3 anthology.


1. How long have you been writing?

I have been a writer for most of my life. I wrote (and illustrated!) my first book when I was 7 years old. It was entitled Johnny and the Jersey Devil—I’m from the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, where the Jersey Devil haunts the woods—and I sold it to my dad’s friend at work for 25 cents. It’s horrifying to think about, but that was almost 40 years ago.

2. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Always. I wanted to go to college for writing, but my parents insisted that writers didn’t make any money and I’d never get a job after college. Instead, I went to Cornell and majored in Biology … and still didn’t have a job after college. After bouncing around Hollywood for a few years doing non-writing jobs, I decided to go back to school for screenwriting and got a Master’s degree from USC. After that … still no job. Lots of debt though, so that was cool.

3. How do you develop your plot and characters?

Like many writers, I’m constantly on the lookout for the one perfect technique or framework that is going to finally make writing easy. I have an incredible toolbox of plot and character development tips and tricks that I have compiled over the years … which I completely ignore as I stumble blindly in the dark, hoping I’ll bump into something resembling an idea.

With screenwriting, I typically follow a rigorous process of outlining and note cards before I start writing, since structure is so important for movies. With fiction, I’m much more freeform. I mostly write short stories, so I prefer to work off the seed of an idea—maybe a general sense of the major beats, or the ending I’m working toward—and kind of discover the story and characters along the way. Then, once I have a draft, I’ll go back and rewrite to reinforce those things that emerged organically during the first draft.

If it’s a longer fiction piece, I’ll usually go back after the first draft and create an outline. I do it in a Google Sheet, which allows me to create columns for each character and subplot. Then I color-code that sheet so I can very easily see at a glance where a character goes missing for too long, or where I lose the thread on a subplot. I can also filter the sheet so I can look at each character or subplot in isolation to see if each has their own complete and coherent story, with a beginning, middle, and end. I’ll make adjustments in the outline, adding and deleting scenes until the structure feels right and every character has a fulfilling arc. Then I’ll go back to the narrative to write any new scenes that need to be added and to patch any holes I created by cutting stuff.

4. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

It totally depends. Sometimes, the title comes first. I’ll often hear a phrase or see something and think, “That would make a great title for a story.” For example, this summer I got a title from my wife’s sunblock. The brand was “Wet Skin,” and it was the kid-strength formula. When I read the label, I read it as “Wet Skin Kids.” I thought The Wet Skin Kids would make an incredibly creepy title, so I wrote that down, and eventually it became an incredibly creepy story.

Other times, the title will emerge from a piece of dialogue or narration. I’ll write something and I’ll immediately realize, “Ah, that’s the title of this story.”

If I’m lucky, I’ll find a title that has a double meaning that only reveals itself at the end of the story. My story Baby Food—which appears in DSP’s All Dark Places 3 anthology—is about a couple considering having a baby, so that seems to be the reason for the title. It’s not until the end that you realize that the baby food is actually … well, you’ll have to read the story to find out.

5. What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Derek Sivers wrote an essay (and a book) entitled Hell Yeah or No. The premise is that, whenever you’re trying to decide whether to do something, you should ask yourself whether your answer is “Hell yeah!” If it’s not, you should say no.

Success to me is being able to “Hell yeah!” to as many things as possible, while being able to say no to everything else. It means being able to follow your passion, instead of being mired in obligations.

Every story I write is like trying to solve a puzzle. I know there’s a solution, but I’m not quite sure how to get there. There’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of “what if I tried it this way?” When I finally crack a story, I get the same sort of rush one might get when solving a Rubik’s Cube for the first time or when beating their high score in Tetris. That’s my first measure of success: did I write a story that I love? If so, that’s a big win for me.

(Only about 20% of the stories that I finish actually hit that mark. Sometimes, writing THE END is more of an act of surrender than a declaration of victory.)

Beyond being personally happy with the story I wrote, obviously any positive feedback from readers is highly rewarding. That can come in the form of sales, positive reviews, a complimentary tweet, or whatever. Every time someone says, “Hey, I like that thing you wrote,” that’s success for me.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

I only recently started writing short fiction again after a long hiatus. In the two years since I started back up, I have finished 70 stories totaling about 135,000 words. It’s hard to pick a favorite, because I feel like I’m still learning how to write a great short story, so the shine rubs off pretty quickly even on the ones I initially loved.

At the moment, Baby Food (in DSP’s All Dark Places 3) is at the top of my list, if anything because it’s one of the newer ones and therefore has had the benefit of me learning from all the mistakes I’ve made in the past.

I also quite like my free story The Door Is Open, which was written around the same time as Baby Food.

And, just to contradict myself completely, I’m still pretty fond of the free first story I wrote when came back to short fiction: They Say Crows Can Remember Faces.

7. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

I’m always amazed when I surprise myself while writing. I’ll be happily typing away, and suddenly I’ll write a sentence that completely sends the story in a new direction. And I’ll think, “Wow, I did not see that coming.”

How could I not know? I’m the only one here. The words are flowing from my brain, through my fingers, and into the keyboard. And yet, somewhere along the way, something short-circuits, and my hands type something that my brain wasn’t expecting. It’s crazy. I’m also surprised by how much I know about the art and craft of writing … and how little I’m able to apply it in my own work. I have an academic understanding of story, character, and structure, and I can apply that to analyzing someone else’s work with no problem. But when it comes for me to write my own stories, it all goes out the window. Every time I sit down to write, it’s like I’m a newborn left to fend for itself in the woods, with zero understanding about how the world works. Forget knowing how to write—I’m just lucky I don’t get eaten by wolves.

8. Where do you get your inspiration?

Literally everywhere.

Sometimes, a word or phrase will strike me as being a great title, or a great first line, or a great ending. Sometimes I’ll see a news article with a setting, a situation, or a character that inspires a story. Sometimes, a key image or scene will occur to me, and I’ll build the story around that.

For Baby Food, it started with the line, “Cut it out,” which is what my mother used to say to me when I was misbehaving. It occurred to me that it could also refer to needing to literally cut something out of someone’s body. That was the key moment I started with: a woman saying, “Cut it out,” to her husband. That led me to wonder: what did she want him to cut out, and from where? How did the thing get inside in the first place? Who or what put it there? How horrible of a thing must it be for her to want him to literally cut it out of her body?

For over a year, all I had was that line, the scene it suggested, and those questions.  Months later, I read an article on CNN about a family that was hiking and found a water bottle with the words HELP ME scratched into it. I filed that away as a separate idea to use someday. Months after that, I was considering whether to write a story for an anthology about arthropods. Somehow, all those dots connected, and I realized that the woman saying “cut it out” had been hiking, had found a bottle that said HELP ME, and somehow a giant insect was involved.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

9. Who is your favorite author and why?

Stephen King, obviously. I don’t think there’s any horror writer on Earth who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s who wouldn’t put him at the top of the list.

The first Stephen King book I read was Thinner. When I was twelve years old, I found a copy of the paperback stashed on a top shelf in my mother’s closet. It had a white cover with a bloody red handprint on the front, which I thought was awesome. I asked my mom if I could read it. She said no—it wasn’t appropriate for a kid my age. Well, of course that meant that I had to read it. Every day, I snuck into the closet, swiped the book, read a few pages, then returned it exactly where I had found it. I was hooked.

For the next six years, I read nothing but Stephen King books. There were so many great books already in his catalog— and he was pumping out like six new, cocaine-fueled books a year at that point—so there was no reason to read anything else. I’d occasionally try to read books by other authors, but I was usually bored within a few chapters. Something about King’s writing not only kept my interest, but also fueled my own imagination. Whenever I was reading a King book, I’d find my mind brimming over with story ideas. There are a few other specific books that have made an impact, but I haven’t found the authors’ other works nearly as compelling. Fight Club and The Road are two examples. The House of Sand and Fog is still my favorite non-Stephen-King book.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can find updates on new releases, as well as plenty of free stories, on my website. They can also follow me on Twitter.

Author Interview with Lincoln Reed

Dragon Soul Press took the opportunity to interview Author Lincoln Reed. Thus far, he is a featured author in DSP’s Mistletoes and Mayhem, Imperial Devices, and Valiance.


  1. What was your dream job when you were younger?

Ever since I could walk, I was passionate about baseball, playing every summer and practicing all winter. It was my dream to become a professional baseball player. The closest I came to accomplishing that goal was participating in a professional tryout with the Atlanta Braves organization. I didn’t play professionally, but I did have a fun college baseball career at Taylor University.

  1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the age of six. I have a strong memory of loving books at a young age and wanting to write one of my own.

3. How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first series of short stories at the age of nine, but didn’t develop a serious interest in a writing career until my undergraduate years. I had my first short story acceptance after completing my MFA at Miami University (Ohio). Since then, I’ve completed two full novel manuscripts and have had more than 15 short stories published in various print anthologies and online magazines. I love writing and plan to craft stories for as long as I’m able.

  1. How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

I’m always working on new plots. As a writer, I hold the perspective that nothing in life is wasted. Every experience, heartbreak, and adversity can be a source for material or inspiration. I’m currently working on an outline for a novel about one of my characters in the story “Why the Ship Burns” featured in Dragon Soul Press’s Valiance anthology. I love westerns and would love to add my voice to the genre.

  1. Who is your favorite character?

Of all the great characters in literature, it is difficult to choose a favorite. I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The books and films are fantastic. Aragorn and Gandalf are two of my favorite protagonists. I also enjoy any book featuring characters Jack Reacher and Walt Longmire.

6. How do you handle writer’s block?

I adhere to Jack London’s advice on writer’s block. According to London, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” I may not always know what to write, but I push myself to meet deadlines. Often inspiration comes when I am disciplined in my writing schedule.

  1. How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?

I need to know the main character’s backstory and their motivation before I start writing. I believe it is important for a writer to have an understanding of their character’s journey. When writing about an unfamiliar topic, I do my best to research or speak with people who are informed. As my high school English teacher once told me, “Writer’s write what they know, and then they know more.”

  1. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I am a vigilant self-editor. During my MFA years, I had a mentor who helped me realize the importance of creating fresh writing. As a result, I often proofread my work aloud, especially the dialogue. I have a strong dislike for echoes and redundancies. As an editor and a professor, I often find writers (myself included) repeating the same word several times in a sentence or paragraph. I’m always encouraging my students to strive for crisp writing and word choice. I believe strong self-editing is crucial for literary success.

9. What is the best part of your day?

The best part of my day is spending time with my wife, Gabby. She’s my best friend. I’m thankful for each day we get to share together.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Readers can find more information about me at my website. I can also be found on Twitter.

Writing Resources

As writers, we often find ourselves needing a little bit of help to navigate the task that is crafting a story. But sometimes, we don’t always know where to turn when we need a little bit of a creative boost. It is usually in those times of need that we turn to the internet for some inspiration. And below, I have put together a list of my favorite online sources for when I need a little nudge. 

Writing resources:

Fantasy Names Generator

Have you ever found yourself completely stuck as to what name you should give a character, or what to call a new piece of technology in your world? I’ve been there a few times and that is how I discovered Fantasy Names Generator. If you haven’t already discovered this website, then you really need to go check it out. It has literally a category for everything from troll names to steampunk city names to actual human names from the 20th century – chances are this website will inspire you if you’re ever stuck for a name. It’s also got a generator for character descriptions or story prompts so if you’re experiencing writer’s block a browse usually helps to give the creative wheels a turn in the right direction. 

Artbreeder

I love creating visual representations for my characters. There is something about seeing them come to life that makes their story that much more tangible for me. Unfortunately, I did not inherit my mother’s fine art skills. Instead, my repertoire for “fine art” is limited to questionably symmetrical star doodles and lopsided stick figures. And turning my characters into stick figures isn’t exactly inspiring. Thankfully, that is where Artbreeder comes in. It’s a free website where you can create characters. And it’s so much fun! Another app that I like to use on my phone is Dollify since it gives you more of a cutesy/anime look to your characters. 

Pinterest

Okay, I will admit, this one is pretty obvious. Most of you probably already use Pinterest for creating mood boards. But I thought I’d include it just incase. I cannot state enough how much I love mood boards. And Pinterest is my favorite place to search for and create mood boards. Not only have I found mood boards to be a great way of plotting out scenes or reinvigorating myself with creative energy when I hit a writer’s block, but sharing them with your followers on social media is also a great way to drum up interest in your work. 

Grammarly

Yes, regular spell check on your computer is great. But if you want that little bit extra, Grammarly is excellent. It will catch things that the regular spell check on Microsoft Word might not. And if you are choosing to do some self-editing of your manuscript, I highly recommend getting Grammarly, it’s worth the money.

Facebook Groups

If you’re stuck looking for like-minded people, look no further than Facebook. Especially in today’s current climate with the COVID-19 pandemic it’s not like we can just go out and attend writing workshops and stuff in order to meet fellow writers. So, going online and finding a Facebook group is a great way of still being able to get the benefit of having a writing circle but also remaining socially distant. And even during non-apocalyptic times, online Facebook groups can still be a great way to connect with other writers in your area or from around the world. I am personally a member of several, my two favorite ones being the Fantasy and Scifi Writers and the NaNoWriMo group. The F/SF one is great for obvious reasons, since it’s right within the two genres I tend to write and read the most, the members really understand the struggles of being a F/SF writer. And the NaNoWriMo one is another great resource as there are writers of all genres in that one. And it gets particularly busy around November, so it’s a wonderful support system to have if you ever participate in the NaNoWriMo challenge because it’s literally thousands of other writers going through the exact same struggle as you trying to finish 50k in 30 days. 

What are some of your favorite writing resources? Let me know!

Author Interview with Isabella Cheung

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Isabella Cheung for an interview. She is a featured author in DSP’s Lost Love anthology.

  1. When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I don’t think I really considered myself a ‘writer’ until I reached eleventh grade in high school. I’ve been writing for fun ever since I was a child, but I never really thought of it as something I could succeed in until I started doing it more. I was more-so into the fine arts (to specify, drawing) up until that year, when I took a Creative Writing course. Being in that class somewhat introduced me to writing for myself, rather than in a strictly academic fashion.

  1. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

My writing/creative process tends to come in little bursts, which makes it difficult to bang out an entire story all in one day. For me, good ideas tend to come late at night (a decent amount past midnight!), so I’m consistently stuck trying to decide whether to get a good night’s sleep or write! (It’s usually the latter).

  1. How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I usually don’t come up with a title until I’ve finished writing the story in its entirety, and even then, it can be somewhat difficult for me. I tend to try and pick-out words or phrases that catch my eye throughout the story.

  1. Who is your favorite character?

In the stories that I’ve written, my favorite character would probably be Irina, a fallen angel from my most recent story, An Angel’s Desire. From other series that I’ve read, my all-time favourite character would be Will Herondale from Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices.

  1. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

While I haven’t made much progress on it recently, having to balance different workloads, I am in the process of drafting my first novel, which will hopefully be part of a four-book series in the future.

  1. On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

Being an English Major, I tend to do a fair bit of academic writing throughout a typical day. I try to fit in at least fifteen minutes of writing in my free-time, whether that be planning for an upcoming project, or even a bit of drafting. Recently, I’ve had a bit of time off, so I have been writing a lot for my current WIP.

  1. Who is your favorite author and why?

I don’t think I could narrow it down to one author in particular, but a few whose works I tend to enjoy are: Cassandra Clare, Rick Riordan, Sarah J Maas, and Leigh Bardugo. Reading their stories is like stepping into an entirely different world and having the adventure of a lifetime. I think it’s cool to be able to read their books and think about the amount of planning and creativity it takes to invent these mystical worlds, and then apply it to my own writing.

  1. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Funnily enough, when I’m not writing I tend to be ingesting hockey in any sort of way (reading articles, scrolling through game highlights, etc.). I’m a huge fan of my hometown team, the Vancouver Canucks, and find the sport fascinating to watch. Playing it, on the other hand… it’s safe to say that I probably shouldn’t be put in skates too often!

  1. What are you reading now?

One of my friends recently managed to get me started on Sarah J Maas’s Throne Of Glass series, so I’m currently burning my way through those books. I’ve also recently read Stalking Jack the Ripper, by Kerri Maniscalco, and These Violent Delights, by Chloe Gong, both of which are great books for those who are big fans of mystery and historical fiction, like myself.

  1. Where can readers learn more about you?

I’m currently in the process of setting up a website for myself, but I’m available on Facebook, Instagram, and Linktree.

Killing Characters

This seems to always be a divisive subject amongst writers. Some writers wouldn’t dream of killing off one of their characters, while other writers are more than happy to recreate their own versions of the infamous Red Wedding from Game of Thrones within their own works. Within the realm of fiction, character deaths can extend beyond just those of the villains. Side characters and even some main characters can be subject to meeting an untimely death. These are the characters that readers will mourn, especially if they happen to be a fan favorite. As writers, we know that not every character’s story can end in happily ever after. But killing characters can be a delicate art. You don’t want the death to be pointless, you want it to mean something. Below are somethings to keep in mind when you’re contemplating a potential character death. 

Positive Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Kick off the inciting action or to reveal a hidden secret. Sometimes our main character needs to experience the death of another character in order to get them to begin the proverbial hero’s quest. But at the same time, you don’t want the death to come across as cheap writing or cliched. You want this to be meaningful to the plot. In order for the death to be meaningful to the story’s plot, ask yourself if this inciting action can be kicked off any other way? Or can this hidden secret that is integral to the plot, can that be discovered any other way? If not, then you can proceed with the character’s death.

2) To motivate other characters. Again, death can be a great motivator to both heroes and villains. But you don’t want it to be the sole purpose of their motivation, meaning don’t kill a character just to get your hero or villain started on the path of their character arc and development.

3) To highlight a universal truth within your story’s universe. Sometimes some character deaths have to be sacrificial for the greater good of the story. If death is the only way to highlight a universal truth in your story, then do it. Or if you’re writing a series and you get to a point where there is no other way to illustrate a continuing theme then use a character death. 

4) It’s the only logical way of ending a character arc. There are plenty of ways for your character to come full circle and grow. Death doesn’t always have to be the answer. However, there are times when it is the only answer. As the writer of the story, you will know if this is the only way of wrapping up a character’s arc. 

Negative Reasons to Kill a Character:

1) Solely for the purpose of shocking your audience. No, no, no. You will only make your fan base angry. Don’t alienate your fan base.

2) To start some drama. If you’re killing a character just to spice things up within your story, then you really need to re-evaluate your plot. There are definitely tons of other ways to shake things up without having to kill a character. My personal rule is if you feel your story needs something shocking like a death to save it, then you really need to start from scratch again. 

3) Just for the character development of someone else.Yes, sometimes either a hero’s backstory or even a villain’s backstory will include the death of someone close to them in order to get them started on their respective paths. However, killing a character just for the purpose of further developing another character is not necessary. You can achieve the same effect with a less tragic accident. For example, if your story is about two brothers who haven’t spoken in 10 years, you don’t need to reconcile them by having them lose their mom in a firey car crash. Simply having her hospitalized with a broken leg would be enough to get them back in town and have to face one another and eventually reconcile. You still achieve the character development but without the character death. 

4) You’re unsure how to further the character’s storyline. This more applies to minor characters who sometimes serve their purpose in a story, but then we, as writers, don’t know what to do with them. While the topic of what to do with minor characters after they’ve served their purpose is always up for debate, killing them off isn’t advised. It serves no purpose and if they happen to be a well-received minor character, this can end up angering the fandom. 

5) You don’t like them. We’ve all had characters that we don’t like in our stories. And I’m not necessarily talking about villains. Sometimes as writers we create minor characters or even major characters that, as we get into the writing process, come to find we don’t actually like writing them. Either they’re too boring, we’ve gotten sick of writing them, or we simply can’t connect with them. The easiest solution to this is to remove them all together from the story. Make it such that they’ve never existed within our story’s universe. Sometimes I have found that these characters I don’t like are simply in the wrong story and once I find where they fit, they work much better. I’ve also found that if a character is easily removable from the story, then they were irrelevant to it anyways. Of course, problematic characters aren’t always easily removable like this. Sometimes a character needs to be in a story but we, the writers, just can’t stand their story anymore. Don’t kill them off, find another less dramatic way of writing them out.