Benjamin Kane Ethridge is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel Black & Orange. Beyond that he's written several collaborations with Michael Louis Calvillo, one of which is a novella called Ugly Spirit, available in 2011. He also wrote a master's thesis entitled, "Causes of Unease: The Rhetoric of Horror Fiction and Film." Available in an ivory tower near you. Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter, both lovely and both worthy of better. When he isn't writing, reading, guitaring, he's defending California's waterways and sewers from pollution.
Thank you for this interview, Benjamin. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
A: Well, aside from the things mentioned in my bio, I occasionally have a beard, love cinnamon gummy bears and deep red wine. I’ve been writing since I was seven years old. Initially novels were the only format I really enjoyed. I finished my first novel in middle school, another in high school, and then in my twenties began a few and stopped. Around 2006, I began writing them again and think I’ll just keep going from now on.
Please tell us about your book and why you wrote it.
A: Black & Orange is about a gateway that opens every Halloween to a hostile land of sacrificial magic and chaos. Since the beginning of civilization the Church of Midnight has attempted to permanently open the gateway with the ideal sacrifice. This year that sacrifice has come. And only two can protect it.
Martin and Teresa are the nomads, battle-hardened people who lack identity and are forever road-bound on a mission to guard the sacrifice. But matters have become more complicated this year. Teresa has quickly lost ground battling cancer, while Martin has spiraled into a panic over being left alone. His mind may no longer be on the fight when it matters most... because ever on their heels is the insidious Chaplain Cloth.
This was an incredibly fun book to write. I suppose I had many different reasons for writing it. It started off as a short story that had grown too complex. Thinking about its length and potential to go on longer, I decided to write a novel.
I didn’t want to write a conventional Halloween tale. You know, one that is set in a remote, smallish-town, something spooky is amiss and must be resolved by a pair of conflicted local sheriffs. Stephen King already struck that chord long ago and delivered just about as well as any writer could ever imagine.
No, I didn’t seek to tread that ground again. I wanted to redefine Halloween without abandoning all of the tropes that make the holiday terrifying. For instance, there are killer Jack O’ Lanterns in Black & Orange, but many readers have envisioned them more as demonically charged gourds than typical pumpkin manifestations.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: No. I remember vividly wanting to be a veterinarian, but having to see animals suffer every day kind of nixed that for me. As a child I had a terrible tendency to lie all the time, mostly make up stories and try to get my friends to buy into them. After a time I asked myself, “why not skip the lying and just write this stuff down.”
How did you feel the day you held the copy of your first book in your hands?
A: I thought it great looking. I was happy with it, but strangely I felt I should have been more enthusiastic about the experience. I think it might have been because I’m particularly suspicious about being happy—I feel that if I let my guard down something awful will follow.
How do you balance out the writer’s life and the rest of life? Do you get up early? Stay up late? Ignore friends and family for certain periods of time?
A: Ignoring family comes with the territory. For a long time I felt like time spent away from the computer was lost time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve learned that I can only invest so much of myself into writing anyway and that it’s healthy to visit with loved ones to gain their energy and love and give it back in return. We’re here on this ball of water for a short time. No number of books we publish and gain acclaim for can ever amount to the real love that comes from friends and blood.
What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?
A: It’s a struggle. You’re fighting a strong current, your wrists and ankles tied to cement blocks. With waves crashing over your every attempt, it’s easier to drown than to untie each complicated knot. If you get the ropes untied, you’re free to swim, right? Well yeah, in a tempest.
It’s natural to get discouraged when you write a story you believe fits a magazine perfectly, and they reject it in less time it took to seal the envelope it came in. The unfortunate news is that being published doesn’t rid you of disappointments—it might actually amplify it in some circumstances: bad reviews, poor sales, etc.
When shadows stretch over the process, I have thought of throwing in the towel, but I don’t indulge the idea very long. Writing is not always a career, but it is always a lifestyle. A writer has an abnormal mind. For the most part, we don’t want to experience life; we want to recreate life. This is inescapable. If you can give the life up, then you have to confess you belong to another species.
Do you ever experience self-doubts with your work?
A: Only when my fingers touch a keyboard.
Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?
A: Have that same moment of truth I had. Do you want this life? Is this who you are? A writer? We can all write stories, but do you have an irrepressible obsession to share them with the world? If you know for certain, the rest is easy. Start fighting those waves and untying the ropes holding you down. It may take a very long time before you’re swimming gentle waters, but others have succeeded. You undoubtedly can too.
What’s next for you?
A: The next novel is a dark SF number called Dungeon Brain and it wants a home really, really bad.
Thank you for this interview, Benjamin. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?