Sunday, April 3, 2016

Author Interview with Ben Burgess Jr

The "Love and Happiness" book tour continues this week and we have a wonderful interview from the author, Ben Burgess Jr. Ben has a lot of great things to say about writing, marketing and more, so let's get started!


Please tell readers about Love and Happiness

Love and Happiness is a romance story that makes you think. It’s told from both Karen and Chris’s perspectives so you can see where both of their heads are at.

Karen is cheating on her husband Chris, with not one man, but two. On the outside, her life seems perfect, but on the inside, Karen feels neglected. Out of fear of losing Chris and breaking up her family, Karen ends the affairs but when Karen's dirty secrets are revealed, Karen must decide if she should sacrifice her happiness for her husband's love, and Chris wonders if he should stay with Karen because he still loves her despite her infidelity.

Where do your book ideas come from?

My first novel “Monster” was based on my personal life and experiences. My second novel “Wounded” came about while I was actually working on “Love and Happiness.” “Ken” from “Monster” makes a cameo appearance in “Love and Happiness.” I didn’t want fans to think I was a one trick pony or feel that my book was derivative so I was stuck with how I would write it.
My co-workers (Who happened to be lesbians) asked me to write a book with a Lesbian protagonist. At first, I thought it wouldn’t be possible since I wasn’t a woman, and I knew nothing about being Gay or the LGBT community. My co-workers decided to take me to a Lesbian bar. (They took me to the Cubbyhole, which is the first bar I mentioned in Wounded.) After going there with them and talking to the women, I decided to work on the book. To make the book feel as authentic as possible, I did a lot of research. I interviewed fifteen women and five couples, to hear their thoughts, feelings, and philosophies about being a Lesbian, and life. I also used one of my family members as a basis for my character development, so I felt personally invested in creating “Samantha.” For my latest novel “Love and Happiness,” I used real life relationships as my inspiration. I talked to several married and divorced couples. I asked them what they enjoyed and hated with marriage. I wanted to know what they wish they could change or what they regretted not doing. With all of my novels, my goal is to make people think. I want to help people see things from different perspectives to help the world to be more open minded.

Who's your favorite character?

My favorite character to write would have to be Karen because she was more of a challenge. To write as a woman when you are a male is hard. I did a lot of research. I interviewed close to twenty women, asking them all types of questions about marriage and infidelity. It’s a lot of work to develop a female character as a male author, but I loved showing the different layers of her personality.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

When I was in 8th grade, 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.

Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote?

My 8th grade 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.

How do you handle writer’s block?

When I have writers block, I do several things. Sometimes, I’ll force myself to continue writing. Sometimes, I’ll read a book that is a different topic than the one I’m writing. Sometimes, I’ll take a break from writing altogether to recharge my creative batteries.

What do you think makes a good story?

I think a strong plot with strong dialogue and believable characters help to make a good story.

Do you think most authors understand the importance of marketing their work?

I think most authors have difficulty marketing their book because there isn’t an exact formula for success with marketing your book. What works for some authors, might not work for another. I try to observe different authors and stick with what I found helped and was effective.

What are some of your methods for self-promotion?

To sell your book effectively, I believe it starts with you. You have to talk to all types of people. Personally, I set a goal to sell (5) paperbacks a day to five complete strangers. To sell a lot of books, people have to know your book exists. I search for credible reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads. I also do research on the internet for other well know reviewers. Word of mouth is definitely important, but it can only go so far. I use all of the popular social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Pinterest) to advertise. I use press releases, advertise in local newspapers, and enter book contest to promote and spark interests for potential readers and reviewers.

What’s your writing schedule like?

I write whenever I have the time or as soon as I have an idea. I have a Samsung Note 5 so if an idea comes to mind, I literally write it down or use the voice memos to record my thoughts and write them out when I get time. I try to write something every day, even if it’s only a paragraph. I’m a huge perfectionist so I’m constantly editing and re-editing while I’m writing. Once my project is completed, I edit again to try to make my work the best it can be. When I’m writing, I can have music or a movie playing in the background, but I totally zone out and focus on writing. I turn the internet off when I’m working on my laptop because honestly, I usually end up looking at Facebook or checking out stuff on ESPN. To include my daughter in my writing process, she puts her desk next to mine while I’m writing and practices writing her letters and/or doing her homework.

What kinds of things do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love playing with my daughter. I like doing puzzles with her or playing sports with her. I love basketball and boxing. Those are two of my favorite sports. I love to read of course, and I’m a big movie buff. I love going to the movies and watching all types of movies.

Who would you say has been a major influence in your life?

My biggest inspiration/motivation is my daughter. As a parent, I want nothing but the best for my child. I look at her as an extension of myself. I didn't have a great childhood. My parents didn't have a lot of money, I was insecure about myself, I lived in poverty, and I missed out on opportunities due to a lack of funds. While my childhood wasn't the best, I had a great role model – my mother. I watched my mom struggle to pay bills, work two jobs, put herself through school all the way up to her doctorate, and moved us out of the dangerous neighborhood we lived in, into a house in the suburbs. She did all of these tasks on her own. My mother did the best she could to push for me to have better opportunities than she did. She drove me to want more out of myself and to become the best person I could be. That is exactly what I wish to do for my child. I want to instill in her that strong work ethic and will. I want her to realize that with hard work and dedication, she can do anything she puts her mind to. I want her to see how I juggle being an NYPD detective, personal trainer, father, and author. I love her, and I want to be that positive role model she looks up to like my Mother was for me. Every achievement, every award, every acknowledgment I receive, I want her to understand that I put 100% into everything I do. I pray that it pushes her to be a great person.

Do you ever use friends, family members or acquaintances as character models?

I love to people watch and I’m constantly thinking, so when I observed different relationships I felt this book “Love and Happiness” needed to be written. I felt the story would help both men and women think and that is what I always try to do when I’m telling a story. When I’m developing my characters, I like them to be layered. I don’t want to make perfect characters because no one is perfect. I develop characters that have strengths and flaws because I feel that makes it easier for readers to connect. I put pieces of myself into every character, but I also look at the personality traits of strangers, family, and friends to inspire me for my character development. I like to do research also by interviewing strangers to get different perspectives on topics.

How do you deal with any criticism?

There are different strokes for different folks. There will be some that just don’t feel my style of writing or the story I’m telling. In this business, you have to have thick skin, you can’t take everything personal. I listen to constructive criticism that I feel is helpful. As a writer, I try to work on my flaws and improve with every book, but it’s impossible to please everyone. I work hard to write stories I believe a majority of people will enjoy.
 
What types of books do you like to read?

I like to read Urban/African American Fiction, Drama, and Contemporary Romance.

What would readers be surprised to know about you?

I think readers would be surprised to know that I’m actually an NYPD Detective.

If you could spend the day with a famous author who would it be?

I would want to spend the day with my favorite author, Eric Jerome Dickey. He was crucial in my decision to become an author. He has also supported me and has given me advice about the literary industry.

How would you spend the day together?

I would probably ask him questions about the industry. What’s touring like? How did it feel the first time he saw his book in print? Etc.

Are you working on anything new now?

My next project is titled "Daddy's Girl" Which will be a story of the trials and tribulations of a single father raising a bi-racial daughter on his own. The daughter character in this book will be "Lynn" from my first novel “Monster.” Here, you will see her origin, and learn more about her character. After that novel, I will begin working on another book called "Black and White."

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

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 think 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 growing 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.


Ben Burgess Jr. and Daughter Jaelynn

ABOUT BEN BURGESS JR

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 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 a 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.



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