Friday, September 05, 2014

Author Interview: Ben Burgess Jr: Monster: Times Have Changed and Life is Strange: Wounded

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Ben Burgess Jr is the author of the award winning novel "Monster", the poetry book "Times Have Changed and Life is Strange" and the new novel "Wounded" He is an active performer of spoken word poetry. Ben Burgess Jr 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.


Your real name and pen name?

Ben Burgess Jr.

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood.

One of the best memories from my childhood would be winning the storytelling contest for three straight years in elementary school. Contestants had to memories a book and recite it word for word in front of a panel of judges. Winning the competition influenced my life and showed me that if I keep working hard and I put my all in what I want to accomplish, I will achieve it.

About your education

I have a Bachelors Degree in Business Management, and a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership

What career did you plan during your education days?

I wanted to open my own gym or become a Physical Education teacher. I was the fitness director at Bally Total Fitness at one point in my life. I was also a Physical Education Teacher later on.

What languages you can speak and write?

I speak and write English fluently and speak some Spanish, but I cannot write in Spanish.

What is your biggest source of inspiration in life?

My biggest source of inspiration in life first and foremost is my daughter. Everything I do, I do it to make her life the best it could possibly be. Another source of inspiration is to be a good role model for people. I want my hard work and positive attitude to help change the world for the better.

What hurts you most in this world?

 What hurts me the most is when some people ask “Who helped you write your book?” It makes me think that they don’t believe that as a African American male, I have the intelligence to put together a novel. I try my hardest to break stereotypes and to be a good role model for the youth. I used the negativity as fuel to continue achieving my goals.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?

I wrote my first novel “Monster” because I believed I had an important story to tell. I believed that my story was different and unique, and a book that would help to change the world. I tried to publish traditionally, but many publishers believed my book was too dark. There were times when I felt like giving up. I doubted myself and felt that I wasn’t good enough. I let (15) fifteen strangers test read my novel. All of them agreed that my book was well written and should be published. I decided to ignore what the publishers told me and self-publish. It has been one of the most rewarding and happiest experiences of my life. I have won the 2013 Readers Favorite Book Award for Urban Fiction, the 2014 Beverly Hills Book Award for African American Fiction, and I was a finalist for both the 2014 International Book Awards, and the 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards. I feel I’m living proof to anyone who wants to independently publish that if you have a dream to write a book, never give up. Work hard on your craft and accomplish your goal!

If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?

Muhammad Ali because I would want to know how it feels to be known world wide.

What is your favorite genre and why?

My favorite genre would be the Urban/African American fiction genre. To me, it’s easier to understand the characters in that particular genre because in some cases I can relate to certain aspects of their lives. I read all types of novels from different genres, but Urban/African American Fiction is where my heart is.

When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?

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. While in 8th grade, my 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 book. I continued to write throughout high school and college. My college professors told me I had talent as a poet and writer, so I decided to go to lounges that had open mics to perform my poetry. Hearing people cheer for me and appreciate my words, inspired me to keep writing. My first published book was a poetry book titled “Times Have changed and Life is Strange.” I wrote a poem for Mrs. Marcus titled “Holocaust”, keeping my promise. The poem “Ugly” from “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange”, is the poem that inspired me to write my first novel “Monster.” I reflected on my life, and felt it would be a good story that would teach and possible change people’s lives the way Richard Wright’s “Native Son” had done for me.

Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?

Currently I have three books currently published. I have my first book, my poetry book “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange”, my first novel “Monster” and my sophomore novel “Wounded”

Synopsis for Wounded:
Publication Date: April 17, 2014
Samantha Miller didn't have an easy start. Molested as a child and subsequently forced into prostitution by her drug-addicted mother, Samantha learned at an early age that men were not to be trusted. Being constantly preyed upon taught her to be a predator. Her target was women-specifically, straight or married women. As the headliner at a local strip club, Samantha capitalized on the gifts she was cursed with. In turn, her life quickly spiraled down a dangerous path of violence, seduction, and exploitation. When Sasha is brought on as the new bartender, she becomes Samantha's newest target. The last thing Samantha anticipated was falling in love. When tragedy strikes, what was once a challenge may prove to be her downfall. Can Samantha heal from her abusive past, or will she always be Wounded?

Synopsis for Monster:
Publication Date: April 16, 2013
Tormented while growing up for being dark-skinned, and the son of a womanizer who deserts his family regularly, Ken Ferguson longed for that feeling of being loved. Ken promised himself that he wouldn’t be a manipulating, deceitful man like his father, but after being cheated on and dumped by the girl he thought he would one day marry, he begins his transformation. Fueled by anger, and tired of being the “nice guy”, Ken drowns himself in one-night stands, threesomes, affairs with married women, and sleeping with one conquest after another. He adopts the philosophy of having no commitment and no attachments, but meets his match with Ashley, a girl that makes him want to stop his promiscuous ways. But Ashley turns out to do even more damage to his ego and his heart, wounding him deeply. With his philosophy reinforced, Ken spirals out of control and becomes a MONSTER. Sleeping with and mistreating random women he meets at bars and clubs, Ken uses sex to forget about his insecurities, his anger, and his sadness. Will Ken learn to let go of his heartbreaks, or will he be consumed by them and continue to be a MONSTER?

What are your forthcoming writings?

My next project is called "Love and Happiness" It is a sort of spin off from "Monster" based off a character named Karen that was one of Ken's clients in that book. A sample for "Love and Happiness" can be found in the back of "Wounded" *All of my books are connected in some way. For example in "Wounded" Ron is friends with Dr. Andrews. They were in the same Fraternity and roommates. Also the characters Will and Lou make a cameo in "Wounded" they are in the next book "Love and Happiness" I like all of my books to share the same universe.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to keep writing new novels that are unique and heartfelt. I plan to continue to promote my books and to try to reach as many people as I can. My dream is to have my books turned into movies one day.

What are the top four most important things you take care of while writing a book?

When I’m writing a book:
I try to write about a topic that either hasn’t been written about or is rarely written about.
I do as much research as possible on my topic. I people watch, interview people or go to different locations to learn more about the subject.
Finding an editor, proofreaders, and cover designer.
Finding a good typesetter. Presentation is everything. I try to make my books look as appealing as possible

How much real life goes into a fiction writing?

To me, art imitates life. I feel that real life instances play an important role in making fiction enjoyable and believable. If readers can connect with the characters and situations, I feel it enhances the experience.

Is high level of imagination important to have for an Author?

Yes. Having a strong imagination helps with the authors level of detail and the innovation of the story.

Your dream destination on Earth?


Your favorite time of the day?

Six Pm. It’s not too late or too early.

Your zodiac/ sunsign?

I am born on the last day of Virgo

Your favorite color and why?

Blue. I don’t know why I like that color. I’m just fond of that color.

What is the last book you finished reading? What is the current book you are reading? 

The last book I finished reading was “The Kid” by Sapphire and the book I am currently reading is “Forgive me” by Stacy Campbell.

Your favorite book and why?

Milk in my coffee by Eric Jerome Dickey is my favorite book. What attracted me to his work was the fact that it was different from the other Urban/ African American Fiction authors that I have read. I have spoken to him personally, and he has encouraged and supported my writing career. He has influenced me to not be afraid to be different.

Your favorite movie and why? 

My favorite movie is “Fight Club” I feel there are so many lessons in that movie. I love movies that make you think and question your own philosophies. I try to do that with my books.

Your favorite celebrity and why? 

Brad Pitt. My favorite movie is “Fight Club” I feel there are so many lessons in that movie and he played a great job as “Tyler Durden” Brad Pitt is also in another one of my favorite movies called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Your favorite food? 

Macaroni and Cheese

What comes to your mind when you think of India?

I think of a beautiful country that is strong in developing useful technologies.

Some quickies:

Sun or Moon? Sun.
Laughter or Smile? Laughter.
Morning or Evening? Evening.
Coffee or Tea? Coffee.
Mountain or Sea? Mountains.
Long Drive or Short Drive? Short Drive
Silence or Conversation? Conversation.
Water or Fire? Fire.
Air or Earth? Earth.
Mars or Jupiter? Mars.
Tulip or Rose? Tulips.
Red or Blue? Blue.
Left or Right? Right.
Glance or Stare? Stare.

State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote

Ten (2) letter words. "If It Is To Be It Is Up To Me" I think that we all possess the ability to do anything we put our minds to. Through hard work and dedication, I think we all can accomplish great things.

The last line of your autobiography would be… 

A dedicated man who works hard to change the world for the better.

 What made you interested in genre - Gay & Lesbian? 

I was working on another novel, my next novel "Love and Happiness" when my co-workers/friends told me I should write a book with a Lesbian protagonist. At first I thought it wouldn't be possible since I wasn't a woman and knew nothing about being Gay or the LGBT community. After going to Lesbian bars with them and talking to the women there, I decided to work on the book. I did a lot of research. I talked to fifteen women on top of the five couples I interviewed, to hear their thoughts, feelings, and philosophies about being a Lesbian and life in general. I listened to their joys and pains. I also mixed some of my family into my characters to add drama and heart to them. "Wounded" was the hardest book I have written so far. With "Monster", it was easier because 90% of that story was about me, but this story was a whole different world for me. It was both challenging and exciting at the same time. I wanted to tell an entertaining, enlightening story without reinforcing stereotypes.

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