Q: Today, I’m joined by speculative fiction author Ryan Benson. If you can, I’d love it if you can share a little bit about yourself and what types of stories you enjoy writing as well as which genres you write in?
A: First off, thank you for the interview. My background is in the biological sciences. I was a biomedical researcher and a lecturer in Boston, Massachusetts, before I moved south. Now I live near Atlanta, Georgia with my wife and children. I enjoy writing all different types of stories, and try to focus on theme as well as plot. My stories also tend to be on the darker side, but I like to end them with a glimmer of hope or positivity.
Until recently, I only wrote short stories and micro fiction, though I’ve now dipped my toes in the novel writing process. I started in shorter fiction because I had so many stories to tell and writing one long work was too daunting. It proved to be a wise choice because I’ve written many bad short stories that I’ve abandoned. I know if I’d tried a novel, I would have been hammering away at an awful story until either the book or I fell apart.
As to what genres I write in, my favorites are science fiction and horror. However, I have published stories in all genres, from romance and slice-of-life to satire and humor.
Q: What can you tell us about your latest release and where can we find it?
A: My newest release is a fantasy short story, “Do Turtles Quest?” published in On Spec Magazine. Tabitha, a reluctant little turtle, is asked (pressured really) by the wood nymphs to leave the safety of her pond and embark on a journey to free a mythical creature from a pet store. Up to this point, Tabitha has never left the pond, and suddenly, she undertakes this solo rescue mission. It’s easier said than done when she confronts horrors, both human and supernatural, as she struggles to complete her task and survive.
Q: Speaking of your short stories, what is your favorite one that has been released, and what is it about?
A: It’s so hard to pick a single story, but one horror story, “7734,” jumps into my head. I’m fond of the protagonist, Roberta Henson, and of the plot itself. It was the first complete horror story I’d ever written, but it went through countless drafts, and a much revised and higher quality version was published last year in Night Terrors Vol. 1 from Scare Street.
In the story, Roberta Henson, an up-and-coming academic, leads an expedition to the Arctic to discover the resting place of a sunken ship. After they find the shipwreck, the group faces technological malfunctions and a growing obsession with the number 7734. Madness, mayhem, and possible supernatural events ensue, leading to the climax where Henson learns the meaning behind the number 7734.
Q: Do you have any dream markets that you hope to one day see your work published in?
A: I had to think about this question for a minute. I suppose my dream markets would be the first short story magazines I ever read, like Analog or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I was thrilled when On Spec Magazine published one of my stories. Other than the great fiction, editorials, and interviews, On Spec just had this vibe to it I loved and wanted to be a part of.
In reality, my dream market would be any that would allow my story to appear on the LeVar Burton Reads podcast. Now THAT would be a dream come true. Both Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation were big parts in fostering my love of science and writing, so I’m a big fan of Mr. Burton.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A: Though I now live in Georgia, I was raised in Massachusetts. My experiences there definitely play a part in my writing. I haven’t set many stories in New England, but that part of the world is so rich in the spooky history of Native Americans, Puritans, the American Revolution, pirates, and lost sailors. It’s fertile ground for folk horror and ghost stories. My hometown was founded in 1725, but was still fairly rural when I was a child with a lot of woods, conservation land, and old farms. As kids we would visit the old colonial graveyards, and there was even a neighborhood rumor of an Indian burial ground in the forest across the street from my house, but we never found it.
We also had the Hockomock Swamp/Bridgewater Triangle, nearby, which was the site for everything from gigantic snakes, UFOs, and Big Foot. Then, of course, there is Salem, a town I still love when the crowds are gone.
Embarrassingly, in my pre-internet days of the 90s, my friends and I planned a visit to the (unknown to us) fictional Arkham University of Lovecraft lore once we got our driver’s licenses.
Despite its long history, MA is very progressive and puts a significant focus on education. There are many world-class universities in the area, and growing up, I attended camps and seminars on topics like molecular biology or marine biology. My mind would take that science and begin imagining the fiction.
Most of all, I lucked into great childhood friends, siblings, and cousins who shared my love of Halloween and renting horror/sci-fi tapes from the local video store. We still get together once a year for a weekend of movies and all things horror. A group of friends like that could be anywhere, but I was lucky enough to find it in a small Massachusetts town.
Q: What is your favorite speculative fiction genre to read?
A: I like them all. Variety is the spice of life, and I feel there is a gradient between all the speculative fiction genres, so it’s hard to pigeonhole a story. Having said that, nothing is better than a great science fiction story and how they can make us look to the future and question our present. In general, though, I usually enjoy horror/bizarre/weird stories the best.
Q: Circling back above, which is your favorite to write?
A: I say I’m a speculative fiction writer because I blend a lot of sci-fi and horror, and I don’t want my reader to go in expecting one straight-up genre. A lot of times I won’t think of a genre until I want to submit the story. Then I have to see what genre conventions the story fits. The ‘funnest’ genre to write is horror because you can really go crazy. I know it’s cliché, but reading or writing horror can help purge you of a lot of the negative feelings you experience in the often banal, sometimes traumatic, ‘real world.’ Sci-fi is similar in that the sky is the limit, but you still have to ground a story somewhat in science, so it takes a bit more thought.
Q: If you could write a story with any writer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
A: To try to give an original answer, I want to say anyone other than Stephen King, but he is one of the main reasons I took the jump into writing. Other than his wicked imagination, he’s an amazingly fast writer, so that would help me (a slower writer) keep up the pace.
Q: Have you written any characters who you’re itching to tell more stories about? If so, who are they and where can we read about them so far?
A: I have a couple. One is Tabitha, the turtle from my just released short story, “Do Turtles Quest?” I’ve written a few chapters of a new book with her further adventures. The tone of the chapters has veered way off what I have established in the short story and is darker. Now I’m enjoying deciding if I’m going to embrace that change or try to keep it consistent with what I’ve already published. I realized a consistent tone from story to story may help keep established readers, but nothing prevents me from changing it up when I need something new.
I have a few other characters I am fond of, like Roberta Henson from “7734” or Simon from the story “Purple Twilight,” (published in The Sirens Call Publications #44) but I feel I have given them both the conclusions I wanted.
Q: What are your favorite author resources online, from websites to tools?
A: I’ve started using Scrivener since I began a novel. At first it was a pain to learn a new program, but the longer and more complex this novel is getting, the more I appreciate this software. Scrivener is great for organizing a long piece of writing. I also swear by Grammarly or ProWritingAid. I am not the best at editing my work, especially for grammar and typos, so both these programs are godsends, though they are far from perfect. I still have to check all of their suggested changes before accepting.
There are so many great websites for writers, but my go-to’s are The Write Practice, for different writing tips and motivation, and The Horror Tree and Submission Grinder are my sites for finding new markets.
I’m part of a few useful Facebook groups. One of the biggest is the Horror Writers Association. It is helpful and a good place for keeping up on conferences, workshops, and networking with established authors. ‘Get Writing Horror,’ administrated by Joe X Young, is an awesome Facebook group unaffiliated with a publication. The group is welcoming to new members and I can’t suggest it enough for horror writers looking to network or have their questions answered.
Q: What inspired you to start writing?
A: I had written a decent amount of fiction and even poetry in grade school, but that all ended when I went off to college. The studying, papers, jobs, and a new social life all took precedent. Maybe I thought I was taking the practical path. Looking back, I would have been happier if I had squeezed in some pleasure writing.
I began writing fiction again over a decade later when I encountered a tough time in my career. In short, I had some success, but I would not be able to do what I’d spent decades training and working towards. It turned out to be a pretty frustrating, scary, and heartbreaking realization. Needing something to distract me from my troubles, I started reading novels for pleasure and came to the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. I was immediately hooked and fell in love with the world of Roland Deschain and his ka-tet. I had also discovered True Detective on HBO, which has the best writing, directing, and acting of anything I’ve seen on television to this day. These stories re-energized me during that dark time and got me thinking, “If I could write something even half as good…”
After that, my amazing wife gave me the push I needed to finally submit a story to a contest. So with that, I won seventh place in the competition and published my first work of fiction nearly fifteen years after I had last written a story.
Q: Can you tell me about any author friendships that have grown over the years?
A: I have made more than a few great author friendships. I’m hesitant to name names because I don’t want to leave anyone out. The initial writing community I joined when I was trying to figure out how to write was the Write Practice. Even now, years later, a lot of those early contacts remain. It’s a helpful online resource for writers and I am still part of their critiquing community. We trade feedback, answer questions, and offer support by sharing, reviewing, or purchasing each other’s work.
The friendliness of the writing community on social media was a positive surprise to me. The horror writing community is probably the most welcoming. It’s very easy to socialize and pick the brains of other authors and sometimes even editors.
Right now my author friends are almost all online friendships. In fact, I’ve only met one ‘writer friend’ in person. However, when the pandemic eases, and people begin meeting up again, I’ll hopefully have more opportunities to meet other authors in person. There is an awesome creative community in the Atlanta area, and I need to take my introverted self and dive in.
Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
The main thing I’d like to share is that anyone can be a writer. That’s not to say it’s easy, but if you have a story to tell and you don’t mind putting in the work, go for it. Hell, even if you never plan on publishing, I think everyone could emotionally benefit from writing a short story, poem, or even an outline.
In that same vein, I’d suggest you write what you like (unless you’re being paid, of course). You still have to seek out feedback and take criticism, but remember why you write and what you want to say. I’ve had people tell me my stories are too weird, and I’ve had people tell me at least twice that my horror stories aren’t horror. I’ve sold those same stories to HORROR magazines and podcasts.
And, of course, never underestimate the power of leaving a review for an author. In the digital age, reviews, even a sentence or two long, are so crucial to a book’s success. Many authors (myself included) also love receiving feedback on their work. A review or a share on social media is easy, free, and can go a long way in helping a writer.
Last but not least, you can find me on Instagram @ryanbensonauthor and Twitter @RyanWBenson.