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Friday, November 25, 2011

Welcome Author Robert P. Bennett

Where do you hail from and what do you love most about your hometown?

I come from a town called Jericho, on Long Island. It’s a town of approximately thirteen thousand people. My parents, older brother and I moved here when I was a little more than a year old (I’m now fifty). When I was younger everyone on my street knew each other. The houses were not surrounded by fences, as the majority of them are now. And, all the children played together without the need to set up ‘play dates.’ Over the years the town has developed greatly. The library is no longer just a trailer. The houses are bigger and more elaborate. The roads have become more congested. But, and this is important, the town has become more diversified, the people are more interesting. 

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that childhood dream affected your career?

When I was younger I wanted to be a lawyer. Everyone in my family thought I’d probably be a good one, mostly because I argued a lot and always took the opposing side in every discussion. In fact, I still do. Unfortunately, being a less than enthusiastic student, I never reached that goal. However, I like to think those dreams and aspirations, which I maintained through college, gave me tenaciousness, a thirst for knowledge, and a need to fight for society’s disenfranchised. My careers, first as a social worker employed in a group home for mentally challenged men and then as a freelance writer focusing on issues of disability, came as results of those personal attributes.
Tell us about your latest book. Do you have anything new in the works and can you tell us a bit about it?

Blind Traveler’s Blues is the second in my Douglas Abledan Mystery series. It takes place shortly after the events of the first story, Blind Traveler Down a Dark River, but is a completely stand-alone story. It starts out on a dig site in Mexico and quickly transitions to Chicago, Illinois, where my protagonist is taking a much needed vacation. Fairly innocuous, right? Well, readers shouldn’t be fooled into complacency. It’s a race against time where dastardly and dark events are unfolding. Mr. Abledan’s mettle will be tested and readers are invited to share the ride.

Have you ever used contemporary events or stories “ripped from the headlines” in your work?

I write about disability issues. That’s what I started my career doing, journalism with a focus on disability issues. So, you could say that I’ve always used contemporary people and events in my writing. When I switched to fiction, I wanted to continue bringing the world of disability awareness to the masses, which is one reason I chose a blind protagonist. Also, I started writing fiction at a time when it seemed there was an uptick in the number and severity of earthquakes around the world, so it seemed reasonable to create a fictional world where severe earthquakes were a daily occurrence. I also try to sneak in a bit of real-world history into my fiction writing. There’s a lot of it in my new novel.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?

Writing by its very nature is a challenge. It’s hard to find the time to write. It’s hard to find the solitude. So many people and events pull you in many different directions. But, I suppose the most challenging thing, for me at least, is to focus on one particular thing to write about at any given time. Doing journalism, in a sense, is easier than writing fiction. In most cases you’re given an assignment by an editor and you go to work trying to find out all you can about the subject you’ve been assigned. Fiction is different. The world is filled with so many interesting people, events and stories. How do you pick just one to focus on? How do you select characters? Once those questions are answered, then of course, the challenge becomes how to build a believable world around the situations and characters you’ve decided on. My own philosophy has made that last challenge, at least, a bit easier. I’ve never really believed in “fiction.” In my view everything comes from a part of who the writer is and what he has experienced. So, I study people and events in my own world. I’m not sure how many other writers do this. How many write what they know versus what they can find out about?

What advice would you give to writers just starting out?

Don’t follow the adage ‘write what you know.’ You won’t grow as a writer. Rather, find the one or two things you are passionate about but have little knowledge of. Do research and write about those. Of course you’re always going to find traits and idiosyncrasies in the events and people you come in contact with. It is okay and natural to pepper your “fictitious world” with those things. The trick, in my opinion, is to use those things as springboards to discovering something new to write about.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

This is painful, but I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. My father developed brain cancer in mid-2000 and I lost it, I mean really lost it. I became wrapped up in my father’s illness so much so that I was not able to think about doing much with my own life. I lost focus. I lost my ability to see the outside world. So, and this should come as no surprise, I lost the ability to write. That lasted seven months, until my father passed away from the cancer in February of 2001. By some grace, either from God or as a parting gift from my father, I don’t know which; I regained my ability to write. I wrote a lot about my experiences. I wrote about my father’s battle with pain, confusion and sadness. I wrote about the similarities I found between my father’s illness and my own battle with disability. Since that time I’ve suffered with similar bouts of blockage. Perhaps as a result of the car accident that made me a paraplegic in 1988, though the linkage has never been proven, I now suffer from daily and often mind-numbing headaches. On my worst days I can barely move let alone write. I’ve found no redeeming grace, as I did after my father’s passing. So, I have to wait out the storms. Through some miracle that I can not name, or perhaps due to my aforementioned tenaciousness, despite the headache pain I’ve managed to write two books.

How did you deal with rejection letters?

It is a wise person who realizes that rejection is a part of life, but it is a hard lesson to learn. It is also a lesson that repeats itself from the very early stages of our life. Parents often reject the pleas of their children when they beg for a new toy. People of the opposite sex often reject the romantic advances of those they don’t find desirable. No one gets hired for every job they go after. With luck each rejection presents an opportunity for learning. The same can be said for a writer who receives a pile of rejection letters. The hardest ones to deal with are those that offer no explanation for the rejection, for these do no provide food for growth. I’ve received my share of rejection letters, from publishers and agents alike. Some have fed me pearls of wisdom or tools to focus future endeavors. Other, unfortunately, have not. I’ve learned that specificity helps, being specific about what you are asking for and offering. All too often a writer will cast a wide net, hoping that something truly tasty will become enmeshed in the tangle of less tempting morsels. I have found that editors and publisher do not like this approach. 

Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?

In my two novels I’ve written both grisly and explicit scenes, but never so much so as to offend or turn off a perspective reader. I don’t go into minute details about sexual acts. I don’t describe each mole on a body. I don’t write murder scenes depicting every drop of blood or every twist of the knife.

Bio: Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle.  His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised.  His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice.  His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns.  "It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken."  Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs.  Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at www.enablingwords.com

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