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.