Interview

An Interview with Steve Benson

steve small

 

La Venganza, a new novel by Michael Steven Benson, is now available in both kindle and paperback format.

 

Congratulations! Please tell us a little about your book

The book is a crime novel called La Venganza.  I tried to avoid the hard-boiled, tough-as-nails characters that you see in a lot of crime fiction. There are some pretty tough characters, but my goal was to give them some balance in order to make them more real to the reader. In the story, the protagonist has done something stupid that gets him in a lot of trouble but also leads him to the most important thing that he has ever done in his life. It is primarily told from the point of view of Frank Millirons, a ranch hand, as well as the bad guys and several different branches of law enforcement. What I liked about writing it was being able to write several different stories that were related, which all came together by the end.

 

What was the impetus for writing it?

I wrote the first ten pages or so after just seeing it in my head. I had a pretty simple idea of a man on the run stopping in a small town. After some encouragement from friends, I just kept writing.

 

Did the book take any turns from where you thought it was going?

Absolutely. From the outset, I was determined to let the characters write the book. I had no real idea where the story was going until I was almost halfway through writing it. By then, I knew the characters well enough to work out a chapter by chapter outline including the ending. There was actually one character that I realized I needed in order to move the story forward. I wrote her in fairly far into the project, and she just kept pushing herself into more and more of the story. Now she’s one of my favorite characters, and I’ve actually already started another story with her as the main character. The great thing about the writing process is that characters can demand to be more a part of the story.

 

You have published the book as Michael Benson when everyone knows you as Steve Benson. Why is that?

My given name is Michael Steven Benson. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been called by my middle name. I just thought it would be nice to use my first name for something other than signing mortgage papers and tax forms. It’s also a way to have a pen name that’s not really a pen name.

 

You seem to have an abundance of creativity. You’ve made two movies and produced (as a silent but necessary partner) two plays during your time in Merida. Tell us about these other projects.

The two plays were written and directed by my wife, Jill. They were both a lot of work but very rewarding. It amazes me when I think back on how talented the cast and crew of each play was. The talent pool here in Merida is really incredible.

The first movie we did (The Dead List) was a fun project.  It was a ten minute zombie movie that we managed to talk all of our friends into. It didn’t have a lot of dialogue, but when I look back at it now, it did have some good, scary atmosphere and great acting. Tom Kuhn’s close up was one of my favorite parts, by the way. He and Debi were two of our anchor zombies.  I was also thrilled that we were actually able to license two songs for the movie, one from Lars Frederiksen. Again, we could have never done it without the help of everyone involved.

Our second movie (The Reading) was a little more ambitious.  It was a half hour short with quite a bit of dialogue. Jill came up with the idea for the basic storyline, and we talked about it for a week or so, hammering out the details. I wrote the first five pages one night and then Jill wrote the next five.  We just passed it back and forth until it was finished. This film was much harder to shoot and edit, but we were very happy with the end result.  Also, this time we actually had a premiere of the movie. It was nice to see a crowd of people watching something that we created.

 

Do you think that living in Mexico as a US citizen has influenced your writing? If so, how?

There is something about living in Merida that has given Jill and I permission to be a little creative. I’m not sure we would have done this in the US. The community here, Yucateco and Expat, is very receptive to people expressing themselves in art, writing, acting, music etc.

 

What authors have inspired you along the way?

My all-time favorite is Stephen King.  People often times think of him as just a horror writer, but in my opinion, he has written some of the greatest American novels of the past forty years.

Elmore Leonard is another favorite of mine. He had a simple, no frills style of writing that was very effective. He could paint a picture in five words that would take other authors a paragraph to achieve.

 

Can you describe what a typical day in your life is like?

Sure, but I can guarantee that it will be the most boring thing in this interview. I get up fairly early most mornings to start my online job.  I go workout in the early afternoon.  Try to do some writing in the late afternoon. We throw some tennis balls to the dogs in the evening and then go to bed. I really need to slow down.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I was born in Corpus Christie, Texas into a Navy family. I’m the youngest of four kids. We then moved to Hawaii, then to California where my Dad left the service. From there we moved to Oklahoma, to Iowa and then Missouri. By the time we moved to Missouri, I was the only child still living at home.  I also joined the Navy when I was nineteen, serving four years in the Seabees. I met Jill in Springfield, Missouri, and we eventually moved to Kansas City together and married. Jill was also a military brat, so we lived very similar lives before we met.  Over the years, I’ve worked in printing and computer support. Several years ago, I managed to get a degree in history …better late than never.

 

What would you like to accomplish in your artistic endeavors?

Well, if at least half the people who see or read my work like it, then I would be happy. Seeing a project through from beginning to end and knowing I did my best is very rewarding, regardless of any perceived success or failure.

OK, OK…I’d like to see a book of mine on the NY Times Bestsellers List and then have it adapted into an Oscar winning movie!

 

What’s next? A new movie? A new book? Something else?

Jill and I have started a full-length movie script, but we set it aside while editing my novel. As I mentioned before, I am also four chapters into a second novel.  I’m in no rush with either project, whatever happens will happen. Jill has also started a novel. I would describe it as a police procedural with supernatural overtones.

One more thing I’d like to say. Every creative thing I’ve ever done, or tried to do, is a result of encouragement from my wife, Jill. It’s one thing to share a project together, you kind of encourage each other as you go. This novel though is different. It’s something I’ve done by myself and is much larger in scope than anything I’ve ever attempted to write. Every step of the way, I’ve relied not only on Jill’s encouragement, but her opinion and advice. She’s a pretty cool wife.

 

La Venganza on Amazon.com

tramonto

 

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Fiction

Excerpt from La Venganza

by

Michael Steven Benson

 

Rufus, Wayne and the Ochoa brothers stood under a bank of trees that ran alongside a small creek.  They listened to the muted crying coming from the direction of Frank’s truck, parked thirty yards away near a large pond.  They had driven southwest of Pawhuska through an endless maze of dirt roads before finding a field with an open gate and no houses in sight.  The field was dry and the vegetation dead, so there were no tracks from the vehicles as they drove in.  It was a huge patch of land that allowed them to drive over three miles in before stopping.

Rufus smoked a cigarette while he watched Wayne fiddle with his phone.  He glanced over at the Ochoa brothers as they sat down on a small berm with their backs to the creek; they both fidgeted, obviously worried about the situation.

“Relax, kids,” said Wayne.  “I’m looking at the overhead views on my cell.  We’re several miles from the nearest house and over seven miles from the nearest town.  As long as we keep the vehicles out of sight, we’re safe.”

“How do you even get a signal out here?” asked Donny.  It was hot and humid; sweat flowed in small tributaries from Donny’s buzz cut.

“Satellite cell service,” replied Wayne as he held up his phone.  “Always pays to be prepared.  By the way, I know your burner phones probably don’t work out here, but I need to collect them up anyway.  We’re in some pretty desperate straits and the last thing I need is one of you calling your Great Aunt Florence to ask her to forward your mail to Bum Fuck Oklahoma.”

“Too bad we aren’t as prepared as you,” said Rufus as he handed over his phone.  Rufus chuckled slightly as he stood, stretched his back and then walked to the Impala where he sat in the driver’s seat.  He had never cared much for Wayne, not that Rufus cared much for anyone else since joining the group.  Wayne was different though; he seemed to always come out on the opposite side of what Rufus had in mind.  Wayne, who had been watching Rufus, spoke.

“You got a problem, Mr. Duran?”

“No I do not, Mr. Maggard.”

“Then what were you laughing at, if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“I just found your speech about always being prepared a little amusing.  Considering where we are and what’s happened.”

Rufus watched as Wayne placed his cell on the trunk of the car and walked to the open door on the driver’s side.  He wasn’t wearing his jacket and his gun was visible, strapped to his side.  “So you’re saying this is my fault?”

Rufus turned the ignition on and began dialing in the radio.  “There’s enough blame to go around, Mr. Maggard,” he replied, continuing to play with the radio.  Another loud sob came from the truck; Rufus looked up to see Inocente standing at the back of the truck.  His hands leaned on the tailgate, and his head hung low as he grieved his brother’s death.

Rufus looked up at Wayne who was still standing at the driver’s door.  “What’s the plan, boss?” he asked.  He had thrown in the “boss” to placate Wayne a little.  It seemed to work.  Wayne walked back to his phone, picked it up and spoke.

“Glad you asked.  The most important thing we’ve got to do is bring Inocente back to the realm of the living.  The quicker we get his mind off Tito’s death, the quicker we’ll get out of here.  That means we need to have a funeral for the dead, fat man in yonder truck.”

“Funeral?” Will asked.  “How are we going to bury him?  We’ve got no tools and this ground is as hard as cement.”

“Good question, grasshopper.  We don’t bury him in the ground.  We give him a burial at sea, or in this case a burial at pond.”  Wayne pointed to the pond next to the truck.

Donny shook his head and laughed as he looked at his brother.  “Grasshopper,” he chuckled.  Will hit him on the shoulder hard with a punch only a brother could deliver.

“Alright, stay focused Beavis and Butthead.”

“Yeah, stay focused, Butthead,” Will said to Donny.

“What we’ll do is weight down Tito’s body with rocks.  We’ll check the truck and the Impala for something to tie him up.  Jumper cables, rope, whatever we can find.  It won’t be easy, and we’ll get wet doing it, but it should work.”

“What will Ino think of us shoving his brother into a pond?” asked Rufus.

“I think he’ll appreciate our efforts in trying to find a semi-respectful way to dispose of the body.  He’s pragmatic.  He’ll think it’s a good idea.”  Will and Donny looked deep in thought; possibly trying to figure out what pragmatic meant.

“What do we do after getting rid of the body?” asked Rufus.  “Use your phone to call home for help?”

“Yes and no,” replied Wayne.  We call for help but not from home.  That would take way too long.  We’ll call some of the Ochoa brother’s co-workers.  They would be a lot closer than our people in Arizona, and a lot less likely to draw attention when they arrive.  They can deliver a car and a change of clothes for all of us.  Then we can find a hotel close by.  We’ll hole up there while I work out the details of getting back on Frank’s trail.”

“Frank?” Rufus asked.  “It’s too fucking hot to keep up that search!  We need to get to the nearest airport and fly home as soon as possible!”

Wayne put his hands on his thin hips and looked at Rufus.  “Are you going to be the one to tell Ino that we’re not going to find his brother’s killer?  If so, go ahead.”  Wayne motioned toward Inocente.  “Go tell him right now.  But first let me get the camera ready on my phone, so I can take a picture of him putting a bullet in your head.”

Rufus looked up at Wayne with his eyebrows raised.  “Good point,” he said.

Wayne ran both of his hands through his pompadour, trying to remember where he’d left off.  “OK, you three will meet the new car somewhere close but not too close.  I don’t want anyone knowing exactly where we are right now.  The three of you will change clothes before heading back.  I’ll have the delivery guys bring t-shirts and jeans for all of us, so we look different than we do now.  Then you three drive back here and pick up me and Ino.”

“What about the Impala and the truck?” asked Will.  “The Chevy was rented in my name.”

“We’ll park them both here and hope they don’t get found.  They can be traced back to the ranch though, so we can’t leave them forever.  We’ll send someone back in a week or so with the GPS coordinates and a couple enclosed trailers to pick them up.  Anyway, after you guys come back, we all go find a place to lay low for a day or so.  How’s that sound?”

Rufus hated to admit it, but Wayne’s idea impressed him.  It was simple but well thought out.  “Sounds fine, boss,” Rufus said.  “But I have one question.”

“OK, lay it on me,” replied Wayne.

“How the hell are we going to find Frank?  We can’t track him anymore because he’s not in the truck.  We have absolutely no idea which direction he went.  If he made it out of the county before the road blocks went up then he could be anywhere in the Midwest by now.”

“You leave that up to me.  I’ve got some ideas.  They may not pan out, but I’ll try my damnedest.”  Rufus didn’t say a word but wondered what Wayne’s ideas might be.

“Great.  Now I’m going to go talk to Ino about Tito’s body.  Will and Donny, you two start thinking about any dependable drivers who might be in the area.  When I get back, I’ll make some phone calls to track them down.  Rufus, I guess you can just sit there and look pretty.”

Rufus looked up at Wayne who had a slight smirk on his face.  He raised his middle finger to his forehead and saluted Wayne with it.  “Yes, sir, boss!”

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Poetry

Jasmine & Fowl

by J. Steele

Jasmine

 

1
My white veil hanging over the gate of the house
where I was led and laid at 14, stupefied
by someone fair-skinned, blue-eyed, smelling of fairy-floss,
someone my mother sent me out with to get me away
from the brown-eyed dark-skinned boy she disapproved of.
Red blood on my new blue-and-white striped pants. I lay obedient,
as I had been taught 7 years before by someone else my mother thought
was wonderful. Oh don’t mistake me. She didn’t “know” in either case,
but always “knew best” she believed, and I hate her for it
more than I hate the men.
2
My white intoxication, swooning joy, scent of heaven,
surf of seas ridden together. My illicit lover, years later,
so different this time. I no longer still or silent
but swept away by sense sharp and sweet, jasmine,
how could I love it now?
One thing about you the same as him,
that smell of fairy-floss.
3
My first year back down south after 20 years in the tropics
after sere summer, grey winter, after rain a gift
of winter jasmine over fences and gates.
Suddenly I’m floating in a dazed dream of sweetness.
But after all, that was last century.
I pick up my pen.

 

Fowl

The grandfather chopped off the chook’s head.
The chook’s fat body ran around the child
who stared at the chook’s flat head in the dust.
The chook’s eye stared at the sky.

The mother cleaned out the chook’s insides
Her hands were covered in yellow slime
as she said to the child “You used to be in me
like that.”

Their stupid clucking, ridiculous strutting,
ugly raw feet and sly eyes. The child thinks
adults are foul.

************

Judith Steele is Australian. Her poetry has appeared in Northern Territory and South Australian publications including Northern Perspective, Northerly, Dymocks Northern Territory Literary Awards, Friendly Street Poets. Poetry or prose has appeared on websites including The Animist, Four and Twenty, Islet Online (as Dita West), In other Words:Merida .

************

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Poetry

Encyclopedia and other poems

by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

.

Encyclopedia

Juan Pio Periz
finished the eight volume
Encyclopedia Yucatanense
completing the work
Father Pedro Beltran had labored over
for decades

Father Beltran had willed himself to stay alive
until he finished his labors
but did not succeed in this
partly because he was divided against himself
at least sometimes against himself
at the best of times ambivalent

Father Beltran was half man/half dog
but because he always wore a wide-brimmed hat
and his face and head were mostly human
and also his hands
he was able to keep the dog part of him
hidden
under his robe

until after his death
when his secret was discovered

His secret wife was half reptile/half bird
and spent most of her life
lounging among rocks

but did not have responsibilities
other than to Father Beltran
so hiding who she was
was not difficult

.
Marriage

Anthony of Padua
the patron saint of marriage
carries baby Jesus with him
like a football
tucked firmly in the crook of his arm

He constantly feels a failure
So much marital maladjustment
So much divorce

The Mayan God of Bees
constantly criticizes him
but Anthony has a come-back
He angrily asks why the bees are dying off

The Mayan God of Bees
who is
in the large sense
a climate change denier
also denies the bees’ imminent demise
(if the bees go extinct, he will be unemployed)
and Anthony argues that marriage is still viable
Do you see how gays are fighting for the right?
Fighting for the right to be miserable,
says the God of Bees

.
Beauty

With my flat forehead and crossed eyes
I am the most beautiful woman on the planet

My parents practiced cranial deformation
and also, early on
started me in the practice of
cultivating a convergent gaze
which is also a form of meditation
so I am not only alluring
I am enlightened

Dental mutilation has given me
a unique smile
and finally
body paint adorns my ample flesh

I am aware of the characterless anorexics
that the enslaved Norte Americanos worship
in their machine empire
and I feel sorry for them
They are static while I
easily move from the earthly level
to the divine
and back again

The gods made several attempts to create
the human being
and with me
their efforts
ended in triumph

.
Zip

It’s mean to say:
That chick’s so fat she’s got her own zip code
but I’m sitting in my Studebaker
outside the Chase Bank
on Oracle Street in Tucson
waiting for my old lady to come back
from exchanging
pesos

when this enormously fat white woman walks by
right in front of me
past the twin ATM’s
where the brick wall says: Chase What Matters

She turns and walks up the pebbled slope
to the bank’s glass doors
and I see the tattoo on her upper back:
94792
Damn if she doesn’t really have her own zip code!

She pulls open the glass door and struts into the bank
as if she’s about to rob it

I ask myself: Is that really her personal zip
or is it something she shares with others?
so I punch the numbers into my i-phone
94792
It’s the zip code for LaBobo Bankurung, Indonesia
Really?

.
My Dentist, My Lover

Even on Thanksgiving
my lover harangues me about my teeth
and gums
about Acid Erosion
and Periodontal Disease
Baby, you’re way beyond gingivitis, she says

Her concern is understandable
She’s not only my lover
she’s also my dentist
She “sexually assaulted” me
on my first visit to her office
while she had me helpless on nitrous oxide
I knew that cocaine enhanced the joy of sex
but I’d never realized that the same was true
for nitrous

This woman, my dentist, my girlfriend
is eleven years older than me
and sometimes I catch her examining herself
in the mirror
with a worried expression
She thinks I’ll stop loving her
as she ages
as wrinkles appear
and the flesh on her arms gets loose
She works out with dumbbells as we
watch TV in the evening
I think she’s gotten stronger than me
but I’m hesitant to test it out

But she’s right:
my gums and teeth are a mess
Maybe she’ll stop loving me if I don’t consent
to expensive and painful treatment
But I guess I’ll take the chance

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over eight hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for work published in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. He lives in Denver.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Scott3

painting by Skot Horn

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