Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Interview with Walter Bennett


Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
Leaving Tuscaloosa follows the journeys of two young men, one black and one white, through 36 hours of racial turmoil in a town in the deep South during the hottest part of the Civil Rights era. Both young men, once childhood friends, are forced to face their destinies on issues of race, common humanity, and their own moral character. Their winding journeys through hatred, love and lust, moral choices, and increasing violence, come together in a moving, gripping climax.

Do you have a favorite character?
My favorite character is the black liquor-store owner, Rosemont (Razorblade) Greene. He is a wily survivor and represents one of the essential instincts that got African Americans through so many years of oppression. He is also a very reliable and acute observer of life and the other characters. But the main reason I like him is that he more-or-less walked into the novel and started talking. He really got the story moving, and it was all I could do as an author to keep him from taking over. He knew a lot more about writing a novel than I did.

What is your writing process? Do you listen to music or do you like silence?
I need time alone and space to write. And silence. I am amazed that some of our best writers—fiction and poetry—write in coffee shops, etc. Writing is a very private and intense process for me. I do not listen to music, but sometimes I read other writers including poets, to get me started. Silvia Plath, for some reason, is a favorite. Ditto Craig Nova, Graham Greene, and James Salter.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
My muse is fickle, as they say, but when she’s hot, she’s hot, and I trust her a lot more than I do any linear outline I could come up with. I basically wing it. When that works, magic starts to happen (see Rosemont Greene above). That is the true joy of writing. Perhaps things would go faster if I outlined, but the few times I’ve tried to do that, the outlines got quickly pushed aside into the dustbin of wherever worthless outlines go.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
Molly Tinsley at Fuze Publishing was my editor, and a terrific editor she was! I’ve also had a lot of readers from a number of writing groups and writing classes. They helped tremendously.

Did you hire a graphic artist for your book cover? Were you actively involved in the creation?
Yes. Pam Chastain from Chastain Designs in Durham, NC, created the cover for the book. She did a first-rate job. I met with her and gave her some of my own ideas. She took it from there, and what she produced—first try—hit the nail on the head. A much deeper and more moving and engaging cover than I had imagined. It really captured the tone and atmosphere of the story.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
It’s available on the Fuze website (and I’m told by the marketing department that there will be a Valentine’s sale, so go to www.fuzepublishing.com).  It’s also available through most ebooks options—Nook, Ipad, etc. And in print at numerous independent bookstores where I have done many readings.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Hell yes. It’s a real problem for me. My main love is writing. Marketing anything is way down the list with things like taking out the garbage and emptying the dishwasher. I think Facebook and Twitter, along with Amazon, box stores, and fast food (leaving out politics and religion), are ruining society. I’ll admit, though, that I like doing readings and meeting with book clubs where I get to talk about my work. I guess it's partly an ego thing, but I'm proud of this novel, and I like to engage with people who take it seriously.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
Leaving Tuscaloosa was published by Fuze Publishing, an independent, hybrid press.  While self-publishing has become a popular choice for writers, given the frozen state of the publishing mainstream, I wanted a publisher who not only provided a service, but was also financially and emotionally invested in my work. Fuze diverges from the traditional publishing model in the extent to which the publisher and writer commit to work as a team. Fuze is carefully selective. Its editors are terrific. Its promotion network is increasingly effective. I would suggest to a new author who is considering alternatives to the traditional agent-publisher route to look into new small presses.

What’s next for you?
Got another novel in progress which should be finished within the next 10-20 years. It will blow the socks off of the writing and publishing universe. Meanwhile, some short stories and essays, a couple of which are just published or in the pipeline.