E: I’m speaking to Ben Burgess Jr about his latest release. First off thank you for speaking with me today. Tell us a little about yourself, Ben. What inspired you to become a writer?
B: I’m a father, a poet, an author, a teacher, a personal trainer, and a Detective for NYPD. I wear a lot of hats because I like to uplift and help people. I grew up in Queensbridge, which is located close to Astoria in Queens. I moved to Freeport, Long Island at the end of 7th grade. My goals for writing are to 1. Have my books on the shelves of major bookstores and 2. To have my novels made into movies (THAT’S THE DREAM!!!!!)
When I was in her 8th-grade class, I read Richard Wright’s “Native Son” I read that book, and it was life changing for me. I knew I wanted to one day write something that could have the same effect on people. While in 8th grade, my English teacher Mrs. Marcus gave the class a poetry assignment. My poem was on basketball. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember my teacher was blown away by it. She encouraged me to keep writing. She was one of my most influential teachers, and I promised her if I ever wrote a book, I would write a poem about the Holocaust for her. (She was Jewish and had family that were survivors.) My dream was to publish a poetry book. I continued to write throughout high school and college.
My college professors told me I had talent as a poet and writer, so I decided to go to lounges that had open mics to perform my poetry. Hearing people cheer for me and appreciate my words, inspired me to keep writing. My first published book was a poetry book titled “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange.” I wrote a poem for Mrs. Marcus titled “Holocaust”, keeping my promise. The poem “Ugly” from “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange”, is the poem that inspired me to write my first novel “Monster.” I reflected on my life and felt it would be a good story that would teach and possible change people’s lives the way Richard Wright’s “Native Son” had done for me.
E: Writers face a lot of challenges in establishing their careers. How have you overcome these difficulties? Any advice for our inspiring authors on coping with the stress of getting published?
B: I wrote my first novel “Monster” because I believed I had an important story to tell. I believed that my story was different and unique, and a book that would help to change the world. I tried to publish traditionally, but many publishers believed my book was too dark. There were times when I felt like giving up. I doubted myself and felt that I wasn’t good enough. I let (15) fifteen strangers test read my novel. All of them agreed that my book was well written and should be published. I decided to ignore what the publishers and literary agents had told me and self-publish. It has been one of the most rewarding and happiest experiences of my life. Between my Three novels, I have won twelve awards so far. I feel I am living proof to anyone who wants to independently publish that if you have a dream to write a book, never give up. Work hard on your craft and accomplish your goal!
E: Love & Happiness touches on some serious issues, including infidelity and trust. What inspired you to write the story?
B: As an author, I am a huge people, watcher. I looked at my life, my friends, family, and strangers, and I felt like I haven’t seen many books that both men and women could relate to. I thought a book about relationships and marriage told from both perspectives would help all readers (both men and women) to learn from the characters mistakes and see themselves and life in a different way.
E: What was the hardest part about crafting Karen and Chris? Did their voices come easy to you or did you struggle with finding their voices?
B: The hardest part of writing my book was writing from the female perspective. Being a straight man and trying to write in the voice of a woman is extremely difficult and challenging, but with a lot of research through interviews and observations, I dedicated the time to trying to overcome that challenge. Honestly, a piece of me is in all the characters. At one point in my life, I was Karen. Some points I was Chris. There are times when I’m similar to Pops and Lindsey. If I had to pick one character that I feel I am similar to right now in my life, I guess it would have to be Chris.
E: Music can inspire us. I know when I write I listen to specific playlists. While writing Love & Happiness did you have any particular songs you listened to? Or do you write without music?
B: I love to listen to music while I’m working. I feel that certain songs help with the tone I’m trying to set in the story. Some of the songs I listened to when writing “Love and Happiness” were: “Jealous” by Beyonce, “Climax” by Usher, and “unfaithful” by Rihanna
E: Over the years the romance genre has grown. What are your thoughts on its current trends? Anything particular you’d like to see in the future?
B: I think with the whole “50 Shades of Grey” craze, a lot of authors believe they need to follow that blueprint for their books to be successful. I feel like as an author, we should aim to find new creative ways to tell our stories and we should try not to shoot for the same “cookie cutter” formula that other books lately are following. I think once readers get tired of the same old derivative books, this will inspire authors to aim at creating new engaging content.
E: Indie publishing and self-publishing are bigger than ever before. It gives authors a lot of opportunities, ones that they were denied when the only way to sell was to get with one of the big name publishers. What are your thoughts on the current industry? Where to do you think things will go from here?
B: When I wrote my first novel “Monster”, I tried to go the traditional route. I was told that my book was “too dark.” I was told that my book was “good, but not great” and it would never have mass appeal. Hearing negative feedback from literary agents and different presses was depressing. I continued to let more test readers critique my book, and they all agreed that my book was good. I self-published, made numerous bestseller lists, and have won numerous awards with my independent book. With the huge success of independent authors, I feel in the future major publishers and authors will have to be more open minded with signing new authors to their companies. There are so many independent authors that are doing well without the assistance of a major publisher. I think right now a lot of major publishers are pushing for the same old stories and are scared to try new things because their main concern is profit. My philosophy is if you produce a great product, the profit will come. When you focus mainly on making money, you’ve lost before you started.
E: Lastly, do you have any pearls of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers? Any advice for aspiring writers who are trying to break into the market?
B: To the readers I say, never judge a book by its cover, and keep in mind that just because a book was published independently doesn’t mean it isn’t great. I feel that sometimes independent books have an unfair stigma of being a lower quality than books that are traditionally published. There are many independent authors that are great, but haven’t been discovered. It is important to try out independent authors as well as traditional ones.
To the writers, I’ll say There will be lots of times when you want to give up. There will be times when people will talk bad about your book or sales might be low. Never give up. Believe in yourself and believe in your work. Listen to critiques and push your pride to the side. It doesn’t matter how great of a writer you believe you are, you can always improve. There will be those who will not be fans of your writing, but you should never give up. Keep improving and learning your craft. Edit and re-edit. (*always have your books professionally edited. You want people to take your book seriously and not feel that it is amateurish.) Learn from your mistakes, take classes and read other authors. Research the industry. Two of the most important things to do are: 1. Find a credible editor and 2. Promote, promote, promote. You have to put your heart and soul into your work. While it will be hard, and you will go through trials and tribulations, in the end it’s worth it when your book is entertaining people, and it’s successful.
When we got home, I decided to put all our bickering aside and make love to my husband. While Chris pleased me sexually, our busy work schedules had reduced our lovemaking to mundane quickies. I knew if I was bored, he must be too.
To spice things up, I’d read magazines, watched porn, and gathered tips from my friends. He loves lacy lingerie, so I wore my black bustier, black French-cut panties, and fishnet stockings. I lit scented candles and put on soft jazz to set the ambiance in the bedroom. Chris walked in.
“Damn!” he said.
He tugged on my lingerie to take it off. I couldn’t hide my smile. His hands hungrily roamed my body.
“Easy, baby. Enjoy what you’re looking at.”
I felt self-conscious as he groped me because his earlier comment about me looking chunky, kept replaying in my mind.
We made love. I used a lot of the new ideas I learned to spice things up, but he didn’t seem to notice. Chris always has the decency to make sure I cum, but again we ended up having another quickie because he had to wake up early the next morning. He rolled over on his side and went to sleep almost immediately after. I frowned, shook my head and stared at the ceiling. Was it me? Is this how marriage was supposed to be? Had we both gotten too comfortable?
I decided I’d start going to the gym and get a personal trainer. I hoped working with a trainer would change me enough that even Chris would have to say something positive about it. I didn’t imagine how much it would change me.
Ben Burgess Jr is the author of the award-winning novels “Monster”, “Wounded”, the poetry book “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange” and the new novel “Love and Happiness” He is an active performer of spoken word poetry. Ben Burgess Jr uses his love of writing to inspire and influence youths to strive for what they believe in, and to never give up on their dreams. His poetry book “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange” and his novel “Monster” are currently used in schools on the lower east side of Manhattan. Ben Burgess has a BA degree in Business Management and an MA degree in Educational Leadership. He is the proud father of his daughter Jaelynn and is active in trying to improve urban neighborhoods and communities.