Welcome to Cheri's 20 Questions! My interviewee is the wonderful Benny Sims. Benny was born and raised in Tennessee and currently lives in Huntsville, AL, working for an aerospace corporation. He is divorced, and the father of two adult sons. He's always been attracted to the arts: music, literature, movies, paintings, etc. and has been writing for over three decades.
Tell us a little something about what you write: My favorite genre right now is thriller/mystery/suspense, but I’ve written a novel with supernatural elements, and I’ve been known to dabble in horror. No matter what I write, I like a lot of action.
Cheri: What is the first book that made you cry?
Benny: The first book that comes to mind is “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch. I read this to my kids when they were very young, and the first time I read it, I couldn’t finish because I got choked up. It’s very powerful little story.
Cheri: Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Benny: The thought of having to write wears me out, but I get energized once I force myself to begin, because there’s an immediate feeling of accomplishment. I once heard that writers don’t like to write, but they love having stories written.
Cheri: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Benny: Dude, you need to stick with writing instead of chasing a dollar. It’s the only thing you’re ever going to do well, and you’re never going to catch that dollar, anyway.
Cheri: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Benny: Instead of writing during weekend binges, I’ve started to write a little each day I’m able. It’s a totally different dynamic that helps the story stay fresh in my mind. Plus, when I leave too long a gap between writing binges, it’s possible to tell where I’ve stopped and started, because the writing voice changes. You’d think my writing would stay the same all the time, but no, not this guy.
Cheri: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Benny: I bought a stand-up writing desk. Or maybe it was an extra-large computer monitor. I can’t decide. I guess I’m gonna go with the writing desk, since that’s how I prefer to write. I know it had a bigger impact on the quality of my writing than the large monitor.
Cheri: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Benny: In sixth grade, I wrote a short story that made my classmates laugh. It hooked me. But there was also another experience much later in life that taught me the power of words. I visited Washington, D.C. went to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. His writings are etched on all the walls, and his use of simple language to make a powerful statement really had an impact on me. I’ve got the simple language part perfected. Now all I need to do is work on the “powerful statement” part.
Cheri: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?
Benny: “Sunset and Sawdust” by Joe Lansdale. He writes the best dialogue I’ve ever read. Some stories can be overwhelmed by too much dialogue, and others have far too little. He uses the right amount, and makes his characters talk the way real people talk.
Cheri: As a writer, what would you say is your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Benny: A dragon. No, wait…that’s probably already taken. I can’t say a mosquito, because nobody likes those, plus that makes absolutely no sense. How about a beagle? Yeah, let’s go with that. I don’t know why. I just like beagles.
Cheri: How many published, unpublished, and half-finished books do you have?
Benny: I have one self-published novel, another that will be published by Pandamoon next year, and three others that have been shelved until I get time to finish them. A couple of them are only one or two chapters along, but the third is right around 40,000 words, so I’d say it’s around halfway completed. I also plan on writing a sequel to the one being published next year.
Cheri: What does literary success look like to you?
Benny: I guess it looks different for everybody, but for me, there are four things that would equal literary success. First, I’d love to see one of my books on the shelves of a bookstore. I would also love to go on vacation and see a total stranger reading one of my books on the beach. The third thing would be to see “Based on the novel by Benny Sims” on the opening credits of a movie. Lastly, writing for a living. I don’t have to necessarily be wealthy, although that would be awesome. I just want to make writing my only job.
Cheri: What do you feel is the best way to market your books?
Benny: I think two things are vitally important, although I’m not even close to being an expert on marketing. First, an eye-catching cover, because people often do judge a book by its cover, and then brand recognition. I’ve got to get my name out there so that people associate it with good novels. I think all that starts with a good social media platform, and that involves book reviews, connecting with other authors, and creating a buzz about my name.
Cheri: What kind of research do you do, and how much time do you typically spend researching before beginning a new book?
Benny: Google is one of my best friends, but I rarely do much research before I start writing. I consider my whole life to be a form of research, and I rely on my past experiences to give me an idea of how to frame a story. Once I start writing, I find I need information about a location or a type of character, and that’s where the internet comes to my rescue. If I can’t find any information I need, I make it up.
Cheri: How do you select the names for your characters?
Benny: Several ways. I’ve used an online name generator, a phone book, or my imagination. I’ve even used the names of people I despise from my past, but I make sure their character gets killed off in some horrendous way.
Cheri: Do you hide secrets (or Easter Eggs) in your books for people to find?
Benny: Nothing about me personally…at least, as far as I know. But I’ve slipped some plot secrets into some obscure passages here and there.
Cheri: What was your hardest scene to write?
Benny: My half-completed novel has a scene where the main character, a really bad guy, has to dig deep into his own emotions in order to deal with a horrible personal tragedy. It took me a long time to write it, with several rewrites before I was satisfied with it. When I finished it, I was mentally and physically drained.
Other than that, the next most difficult scene was the final scene of my novel “Code Gray.” When I wrote “The End,” it felt like one of my children had grown up and moved out of the house.
Cheri: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Benny: Developing a plot, and twists to that plot, that are good enough to create a marketable novel. I’m always worried that nobody will want to read the slop I write, and a novel isn’t an official novel until somebody reads it.
Cheri: How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
Benny: Way too long. Years. My first novel, from Chapter 1 until I wrote “The End,” took nearly two decades.
Cheri: What is your favourite childhood book?
Benny: “The Call Of The Wild” by Jack London. I bet I read it four times between the second and fourth grade.
Cheri: Where/when do you find yourself most inspired?
Benny: I get my ideas while I’m doing some mindless task, like mowing the yard or washing my car. I also get inspiration from reading other great books and watching well-made movies and TV shows.
Cheri: Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Benny: I subscribe somewhat to the Lee Child school of thought. His only advice is to ignore all advice. You can’t write a book by committee, so write what you write, the way you want to write it, and let your novel be a live, breathing thing. But since that’s his advice, I ignore it.
Cheri: Thank you so much for answering my questions, Benny; it's been a pleasure having you!
Stay tuned next Thursday for another edition of Cheri's 20 Questions!
Award winning historical romance author, Acquisitions Manager for Pandamoon Publishing, wife, and stay-at-home mom of four. Chocoholic, nerd, & bath bomb enthusiast.