I love talking about anything to do with the supernatural/paranormal. As a writer of stories involving such phenomena, I particularly love talking to other writers of the same ilk. To bring elements of the paranormal/supernatural into our writing, we must have a concept, some sort of idea, of what those elements are. Personal experiences (if any), how we think, feel and believe all have an impact on the stories we create. Given that, I am always curious to know the motivation behind writers of supernatural/paranormal fiction. Jeff Bennington has several awesome books out that include these elements and I’m excited that he’s agreed to “guest” on my blog and chat about it!
Once Jeff agreed to an interview, I fired off a bunch of questions. Though I gave him the option to pick and choose, he replied with “I don’t think there’s a single one I didn’t want to answer. I’ve never really considered many of your questions, so this was really a self-examination of sorts. Perhaps knowing that will make this interview a bit more interesting to your readers.” I think you’ll agree that we did indeed get an interesting interview! With so much to “chat” about, this post was done in TWO parts. Part II will be published on Monday (April 30th). Be sure to come back, for there’s lots more great stuff to share!!
So without further ado (my questions to Jeff are in bold print, any replies I made to his answers are in italics):
It is my understanding that you’ve had some paranormal experiences. Would you like to continue experiencing them?
I have had three distinct experiences over the course of my life, including one that is recurring. I didn’t seek out the spirits that I’ve encountered, although I have to be honest, I always wished I could experience something supernatural for my own knowledge. Maybe that’s what has made me open, and thereby receptive to what’s out there. But would I like to continue experiencing them? Not necessarily. Once you experience something beyond your existence, you are forced to reckon with the fact that there is more to life than what we see. Although I’ve always believed in the possibility that ghosts exist, actually experiencing this for myself was the real deal, a true gift. Yet I realized that if ghosts exist, than other entities exist as well, like angels, demons, and who knows what else. For that very reason, I’m not really that interested in diving into the occult or the dead or anything dark that could enter my home or intrude upon my family. I don’t want to give anything evil a foothold.
Do you think they (ghosts) can be helped? Do you believe they NEED help?
I’m not sure. That isn’t anything I experienced. Is it possible? Sure? Can I help a ghost? I don’t know, maybe. I’m not sure I’d really know if I helped a ghost or something else. What may seem like freeing a ghost, may release it from one location only to send it into another realm, and I’m not referring to the “light”. But then again, I have never tried to help a ghost, so I am only throwing out random thoughts.
I can understand your reservations concerning the spirit world. My own experience has taught me that there’s a difference between a ghost and other supernatural entities and so I believe you’d know which one you were dealing with. I’ve never given it any consideration that we might have the power to banish ghosts into other realms other than the “light”. I hope that isn’t the case! It really makes me wonder, though, if our actions could do so with other supernatural entities … sending them somewhere we really did not want or intend for them to go. It’s an interesting thought. I can almost feel a story forming! (smile)
Have you ever tried to contact a spirit? Do you think it would be neat to do so?
I have not. Would it be neat to talk to a spirit? Maybe. But I would never really know for sure if it was a spirit of a dead soul or something malevolent deceiving me. So again, dabbling may not be in the cards for me. I’ve heard too many stories about evil entities that have come out of Ouija boards.
I have had some experience with the Ouija board actually. It’s not a game, that’s for sure. I think it’s a pretty powerful tool for opening a doorway between our world and the spirit world. Done right, though…handling it properly, it can offer some pretty interesting interactions with spirits who have passed from this life to the next (because it can also create interaction with other entities…demons and what not, I think people should know what they are doing before using the Ouija).
When writing your stories, do you ever get a little spooked?
Ha ha! That’s funny. Good question. But no, I don’t really get spooked when I write. I might get a chill down my spine, but not because I’m scared. The chill is from an outpouring of emotion. When I write, I have a pretty good idea where the story is going so there aren’t really many surprises for me, unless I have an “Ah hah moment”. The reason for this is simple: I get to view the book on both a micro and macro scale. I see the bigger picture, arranging the setting and characters as I deem fit. I also see the details, holding each idea in my hands like tiny puzzle pieces. When it’s all said and done, I’m usually surprised at how much people like what I write, because by the time I’m finished with it, I’m rather tired of it and numb to anything that could otherwise be shocking. The reader, however, is not, but that is by design. Keep in mind, I’ve probably read the book over twenty times by the time it’s finished.
I know what you mean! I think my friends and family believe that my stories magically flow out of me. I might be a couple weeks into writing a new story and they’ll be like, “You aren’t finished YET? What’s taking so long?” When I finally do finish the story, they seem to think I do nothing more than a quick read over to find any obvious errors before sending it off to the editor for a “check” and then bam…time for publishing! In truth, a lot of time-consuming effort is required to get a book ready for the critical eyes of the public! We read it and read it and read it and tweak it and tweak it and so on until we’re about tired of it already!
Do you think you stir up spirit activity when writing your supernatural thrillers?
Wow. Another good question. I never thought of that, but I suppose it’s possible. Now that you mention it, I starting writing Reunion in 2009 and encountered a very frightening spirit in 2010 and another soon after that. So was that coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, if I do stir things up a bit, even if it’s within my own awareness, I’m not afraid because my beliefs regarding eternity promise that “He that is in me is greater than he that is in the world.”
I certainly believe that the more open you are to the spirit realm, the more likely it is that you will encounter a spirit. For example, my wife is very skeptical, and yet when I had my ghostly experience in a cabin we shared with some friends, two of us encountered the ghost on two separate occasions. The next morning we discovered that the cabin registry was filled with accounts of a ghost named “Earl”! Had I but known his name, I could have helped him. My point is, I’m open and I have seen three spirits of some kind; my wife is skeptical and she has not.
Do you fear death?
What do you think happens once you “cross over”?
I believe that there is a heaven and there is a hell. I also believe that both of these realms are vaguely defined in terms of where the line is drawn and exactly where these planes of eternity exist. Therefore, I believe that there is a gray area between the two that can be crossed over and that spiritual entities of all kinds can crossover from one side to the next. In fact, the bible tells us that Satan himself is free enter Heaven to report to God.
With that said, I believe that when we die we get exactly what we always wanted. If you want nothing to do with God, that’s what you get. If you want to live for yourself, that’s what you get, eternity with yourself. If you want to hurt others, that’s what you get forever and ever. If you live a life filled with regrets, that’s what you get when you die, regret. However, if you choose to serve others, if you choose to seek the God of the universe, if you choose to live a life bent on kindness, a life like the original zombie, Jesus, the ultimate ghost, then I believe you will get exactly what you were looking for.
I do not fear death. I actually look forward to it. And I hope that I am so exhausted from trying to live with purpose that that’s what I get, an eternity with purpose. I do not desire to be lost in the gray matter.
I agree with you on the idea that we get what we expect. But, do we get it for “eternity”? I just don’t know, but I’m hoping not! Eternity is an awfully long time and I’d like to believe that we don’t stop learning, whether we are in physical life or in spirit. It’s all quite a mystery isn’t it? Our beliefs have a lot of pull in this respect. Like you, I don’t fear death. People shouldn’t fear it unless they are living a life they know might create problems for them on the other side. And if that’s the case, they should change what they are doing!
How much of your beliefs are in your books?
Everything I write stems from what I believe, including plot lines and themes, all bundled up in a whirlwind of creativity that is uniquely mine. I want to write books that rate high on suspense, but do not leave a reader with a sense of shallowness. I want my books to have a depth that readers can relate to without coming across as preachy. But that’s easier to do if you do not put God in a box.
Can you give us some examples of how your beliefs have influenced your writing?
Sure. As strange as it may seem, my beliefs about eternity have driven me to write supernatural thrillers. The supernatural is frightening and unknown to many, so its very nature stirs fear and creates suspense. But for me, its any easy medium to work with, like a canvas, the paint goes on smooth and easy. Sci-fi or fantasy, however, would feel like working with raw iron, sharp and cumbersome. I could never write in that genre. Besides, like many writers, I write what I see play out in my head, like taking notes from a movie, so I create scenes that I’d love to watch on the big screen.
You like to write horror…why? Do you like to be scared out of your wits?
Actually, I don’t necessarily like to write horror per se. I think my suspense thrillers are light on horror, and higher on suspense. In fact, I write each chapter with an ending that begs the reader to continue, a tool I incorporated very heavily in Twisted Vengeance.
Certainly the use of the word “horror” is subjective. Some would put my book in the horror category because it has ghosts in it but I certainly don’t think of it as horror. Your books contain some horrifying scenes (things we wouldn’t want to happen to us!) but more than that, they are suspenseful (of the edge-of-your-seat variety!) and they do create quite the “thrill” when reading them. For me anyway, I probably think of your books as”horror” because some scenes in them made me cringe! In all truth, however, you have blended several genre elements very well (horror, suspense, thriller, mystery) not going overboard with one or the other. That’s why, though I don’t read “horror” per se, I enjoy your books!
Do you write an outline or does the story just develop?
When a book idea hits me, I jot down the synopsis asap so I don’t forget it. Later when I have time to really think about the general plot, I write short biographies for each character and a brief summary of each chapter. I know I have a full length novel when I can come up with 25 or 30 chapters in the beginning. Those chapters usually sprout roots and grow into a full length novel.
I find it very impressive that you can come up with brief summaries for each chapter before you even write the book! I’m sure other writers work similarly. I have no clue what’s going to happen in a chapter or even how many chapters I’m going to have until I sit down to write them.
I love the idea of writing short biographies for each character. I would probably find my own writing to go smoother if I’d do something like that. A great tip! Thanks.
Have you ever been uncomfortable with how a story has developed?
No, but I do have a two book series that I’ve written that I’d be embarrassed to let you read in its current state. But as far as story development goes, I think I have a natural feel for developing story lines that work. The good thing is I spend less time fabricating and more time honing my craft.
A sign of a true writer…where the effort to come up with the story isn’t so much the hard part as honing your craft…making the story better, the sentences stronger, the picture clearer. It’s a lot of work!!
Have you ever experienced an “epiphany” while writing? An ‘OMG, where did THAT come from’ moment?
YES! That is where all of my “twists”are born. I have no idea where they come from; they just sneak up on me and freak the sh** out of me. That is the only time I get freaked out. Once I know the twist, I have to make sure I fit in all the details that allow for plausibility.
I can so understand this! I think when we are in the creative flow, those moments are bound to happen and when they do, we find them as exciting as the reader does! I had one of those moments at the end of my book and had to go back through the entire thing and make sure it all fit together. It’s a fascinating process. I certainly got that “oh wow” moment when I read Twisted Vengeance! It also made me want MORE!
This concludes Part One of this awesome “chat” with Jeff Bennington! In Part II we get more into a discussion of Jeff’s books and really, if you are a fan of supernatural thrillers, you don’t want to miss the next post!!
Please feel free to comment on the above discussion and ask Jeff anything you like. I know he would love to hear from you! Also, if you haven’t already read his books and would like to, here are the links (the one on the end: The Kindle Book Review is Jeff’s blog, readers and writers alike should take a look!):