Interview with Author Ben Willoughby

Today I have the privilege of interviewing one of my favorite indie authors, Ben Willoughby. We first ran across each other on Twitter, and since then I’ve gotten to know him and his writing. So without further ado, let’s chat with Ben.

CW: Tell us a little about yourself.

BW: First, thank you for inviting me to partake in this interview! I’m flattered to have the honor of talking on your blog!

CW: You’re welcome.

BW: My name is Ben Willoughby, and I’m a happily married husband with a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter who turned three last October. I’m an indie writer who’s mainly dabbled in fantasy as well as horror. I have a dieselpunk trilogy I’m currently working on. In my full-time job, I’m a graphic designer.

CW: You’re a bit like me. Writing in several different genres. What did you read as a child?

BW: I really got into mysteries and science fiction as a kid.

For mysteries, I ate up every single Sherlock Holmes book Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, as well as many of Agatha Christie’s Poirot books.

For science fiction, I read a lot of HG Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, and AE Van Vogt.

When I first started writing for fun at thirteen, I tried to come up with my own mysteries, but could never really finish them. Some have said you should write what you enjoy, but I’ve found I can rarely figure out how to do a straight up detective novel.

I also read heavily into military history. My dad was an officer in the army (he’s since retired), so I grew up with a lot of his old books laying around the house, and was exposed to them. By middle school I had a better knowledge on events like the Napoleonic Wars or World War II than most kids my age.

While my family was stationed in Europe in the mid-90’s, I would go to school and read Erwin Rommel’s World War I memoir Infantry Attacks, and I got to go to the Waterloo battlefield for my thirteenth birthday. I could never get into historical fiction – I think the only historical fiction book I read was The Killer Angels, which was later turned into the movie Gettysburg.

CW: Very interesting. Similar interests, you and I. Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

BW: I do artwork, whether it’s sketching or graphic design. My main full-time work for the past decade has been in graphic design, as well as motion design and editing. This has helped me in my writing, since I’ve been able to design my own covers. With the exception of Gods on the Mountain, where I used a freelance artist to paint the cover for me.

I also do a lot of personal study on various topics. My favorite subjects are military history and theology.

And of course, when my daughter is awake, and is in the same room as me, she always desires daddy time.

CW: Yes, there is always the requisite “daddy time”.

BW: There is.

CW: Being a writer, you’re also a reader I would guess.

BW: Yes.

CW: How many fiction books do you read a year?

BW: I read quite a bit, though I don’t know if I can really pin a number on it. If I had to “guesstimate,” I would say about two dozen a year. Part of the problem is finding the time to sit down and read – I’ll get involved in another project, or have to spend time with the family, and by the time I’ve sat down in a place where I can read, I’m too tired to mentally focus. I’ve been getting better about it recently, however.

I also read quite a bit of non-fiction on top of fiction. I recently read a book on what life in England was like at the turn of the first millennium, and am now going through a book on Martin Luther.

CW: What book do you think everyone should read and why?

BW: This is a hard question to answer, because obviously not every book is going to be for every person’s taste. Any book I say, there will most likely be someone out there to say it’s not for them, or could never, in any way, edify them.

CW: Fair enough, so tell us instead about a book that has influenced you as a person.

BW: I used to have an enormous, single volume of Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible.

CW: Hey, I had one of those! A great Puritan commentary.

BW: Yes, it is. His analytical way of thinking, and explaining everything as if he were writing a sermon, influenced how I read things in general, which was carefully, word for word, and with a larger picture in mind. It did way more to assist my understanding of comprehensive reading than any test I took in school did.

CW: Spot on about Matthew Henry. Okay, you are being exiled to a small island in the Pacific. You can take 3 books with you. What books would you take and why?

BW: a. The Bible, to maintain my faith and knowledge in true wisdom.

b. The Encyclopedia of Military History by the Dupuys. I used to read that for fun as a kid. There’s enough information in there to pass away eternity and a day.

c. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, because that’s good sci-fi. (Also, fudge the movie.)

CW: Very interesting choices. So now tell us about a book that’s influenced you as a writer.

BW: It’s hard to pin this down exactly on any one book, because obviously we glean from everything we read, and there are plenty of authors out there who have influenced us. If I had to point to one (in a collective sense), it might be George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The earliest books did a great job not only in character development, and every character feels different in their motivations and desires, but the worldbuilding was also excellent. Westeros felt like a real, functioning world. I won’t say his worldbuilding is perfect, as there are a few parts I find a tad bit contrived (eg., one house ruling the same position for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years), but compared to other works, it’s much more polished. To step into the story is to step into another land.

It’s a bit sad for me to say all this, and I hesitated doing so, since I’ve stopped reading the series long ago. George R.R. Martin takes decades to write one book (confirming my earliest fears that he was the new Robert Jordan), and his storyline has gotten bogged down in so many subplots he’s now admitted he’ll have to write several more books. Also, it’s quite obvious he’s sold out to HBO. But that’s another rant for another time.

CW: Of all your books, which one is your favorite and why?

BW: I find myself still going back to my novelette The House That Homed. It was a lot of fun to write (about three-quarters of it was complete, on-the-spot improvisation) and it showcases my sense of humor, which admittedly is pretty unique and relies heavily on non sequitur. Whenever I pick it up and reread it, there are scenes (like Officer Bruce’s meltdown) that still make me crack up. There are also some parts that will reenter my head as I’m out and about and make me chuckle (like the “It’s the Kickstart guys again” line).

CW: Oh, yes, The House That Homed is fabulous. Superb dark humor. Now, if I hadn’t read any of your books, which one should I start with and why?

BW: In all honesty, probably one of the last ones I published, Mannegishi. I think it’s the much more polished of much of my work, in terms of development, story, and build-up. I was also pretty proud of how I developed each of the individual characters, and how they relate. This was the book where, at a pinnacle point in the romance subplot, my wife actually lamented, “I don’t even care about the aliens anymore!” It was also a lot of fun to write scenes involving exchanges between certain characters, such as the scene where Rick and Lucy have some brief convos, or all the scenes where Sam and Rick go at each other, and so I feel like those scenes really work.

CW: I haven’t read Mannegishi yet. It is, however, on my list. Thank you, Ben Willoughby, for chatting with us today.

And now here is a bit more about Ben, where you can find his books, and get in touch with him.

Ben Willoughby was born in the United States and, being a military brat, ended up seeing a lot of it (along with a foreign country or two). At a very young age, he found a love for reading. At the age of 12, he found a passion for writing. In his late 20’s, he decided to pursue publishing many of the ideas and concepts he had developed over the years. He currently lives in Ohio with his loving wife and young daughter. When not writing or reading, he spends his spare time sketching and smoking his pipe.

You can find Ben’s books at:

https://www.amazon.com/Ben-Willoughby/e/B00WV2OQI2

Ben’s website is: http://benwilloughbyauthor.blogspot.com/

And you can find him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/BenWilloughby84)

and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13877156.Ben_Willoughby)

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Book Review: Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

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Horror tales come in all shapes and sizes. They can be visions of great cosmic terror or they can be the evil wishes of a child. The story can be one of psychological torment, or one of unfathomable gruesomeness. There are some who don’t see horror as a separate genre, but as a particular effect given to a story of dark fantasy, or science fiction, or slice of life.

And whether or not we like to read stories that frighten us, or listen to them told around a campfire, many of us do. Enough so that horror has gotten its own BISAC genre code and is exceedingly profitable to publisher and writer alike.

My first foray into the realm of the horror story was by means of the tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Not much later came the stories of Saki. And then those two gothic adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles and “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”. From there I read Dracula and Carmilla and discovered the work of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard’s weird fiction.

I’ve even ventured into the realm of the weird and terrible with a few tales of my own. However, there are a few writers today who write doggone good horror stories and unfortunately remain for the most part unseen. One of those writers is Ben Willoughby and I hope this review, and upcoming reviews of his work, will help to bring him a broader audience.

Mr Willoughby has five books out now in the horror genre. I’ve purchased them all and read two. (He’s writing them faster than I can read them!) Today I want to talk a bit about his novella Daddy’s Girl, which is a ghost story that is very well done.

The ghost story is perhaps the most venerable form of the supernatural horror tale. Certainly it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest within this category. The ghost story plays into our beliefs about life after death. Even today, where the Western world has moved beyond Christianity and pretty much any traditional religion, the ghost story still works. Still plays upon our imagination. I think this is because it’s primal. It taps into the core of our hopes and fears surrounding the greatest of all mysteries — death. And no matter how materialistic we’ve become, few of us want to die. Even believing in an afterlife, few of us want to end our existence here. It is what we know. We fear the unknown.

Mr Willoughby’s tale, Daddy’s Girl, plays on our emotions from two directions. The first is the child’s need for and love of his or her parents. We children may dislike our parents telling us what to do, but when they aren’t there we crave for someone to step in and take over that role. Many of us don’t ever grow out of that need for someone to watch over us. Politicians and demagogues use this to gain control. They feel our pain and tell us lies so we feel good. The bond of child to parent is ever with us.

The other bond is that of parent to child. We as parents will do anything to spare our children at the very least the hardest knocks of life. We teach them and guide them and support them. Children a visible form of eternal life. Through them we in a sense live forever.

Mr Willoughby has combined these two powerful bonds into a tale of parent-child love. The parent’s watchful eye, ever present, protecting his little girl.

I don’t want to spoil the story and so I will leave the storyline alone. Do, though, get yourself a copy of Daddy’s Girl. The book will tug your heartstrings and give you something to think about. As well as scare you into the realization your determination may be stronger than you even realize.

What I like about Ben Willoughby’s writing is that he has a simple and straightforward way to tell a story. It unfolds before us on the page and does so without a mass of purple prose. There is an economy of words in his style and to my mind that allows me the reader to participate in the story. He isn’t telling me everything. Just what I need to know. Which means he is able to paint the atmosphere and mood and generate empathy for the characters without excess verbiage. And that is the hallmark of a good writer.

I very much recommend Daddy’s Girl. I also recommend Raw Head, which I hope to review in a future post. And I look forward to reading his other offerings in the realm of terror.

Ben Willoughby is a fine example of the good things the indie revolution has to offer. If only we take a chance and are willing to read widely.

Comments are always welcome! Until next time, happy reading!

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Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Having just published the third book in my Justinia Wright, PI series and two short stories which take us back to a time before the series begins, I’ve had mysteries on my mind. And of late, I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

I find the showed delightful. The characters are superbly drawn. They have history. They have issues. They are like real people. The mystery, on the other hand, is usually light and often flawed. On one episode, Miss Fisher gets an important clue by looking at a typewriter ribbon – a carbon typewriter ribbon. Oh, did I mention the era is the 1920s? Now that is what I call I gaping plot hole. But in spite of such faux pas, I thoroughly enjoy the show because the characters are so very lifelike. And the show is really about the characters.

For me the best stories are not plot-driven, but character-driven. I don’t give two hoots for the plot. In my mind, the plot is only there because the characters do something. Where’s the plot in Waiting For Godot? The story seems to get along quite nicely without one. Or how about The Remains Of The Day? The plot, such as it is, is merely the vehicle for us to listen to the ruminations of Stevens. Or what about The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress? Lots of plot there and yet the plot is merely the vehicle for Heinlein to present his picture of a libertarian utopia. In that sense, any plot could have worked. The plot in and of itself is non-essential. It’s the characters acting (giving us a plot) that is the real story.

Another example is Raw Head by Ben Willoughby. Willoughby creates two characters, has them do their thing, and the result is a strongly character driven story. Just as Ray Bradbury said it should be.

Christine by Stephen King, in my opinion, is a case of where the plot actually gets in the way of the story. And I think it was probably due to his having to write his book to a certain length for the publisher. But whatever the reason, two-thirds of the way through the book the story was told and yet King went on having the car create more and more senseless havoc, gore, and mayhem. For me, the extended and senseless plot ruined the book. Plot to my mind is highly overrated. Follow the Bradbury formula and your story will be told. After all, that is the real point of the plot. To tell a story. And your characters will do that for you.

So if the writers of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries leave gaping plot holes, why bother watching? I think there are lots of reasons. Namely, the characters. Miss Fisher, a complex rich socialite with the past. Her companion, doc, who is in some ways miss fishers polar opposite. Inspector Jack Robinson, I somewhat stated police detective who gradually appreciates Mrs. Fisher’s talents. Constable Collins, who provides us with comic relief. And the list goes on.

Of course, this setting also contributes to the charm of the series: Melbourne in the 1920s. It is the perfect stage for larger than life liberated woman to walk apart.

There’s lots to like in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Do give the show a try.

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