I first met Canadian author Benjamin T. Collier at Write! Canada a few years back. Since we’re both members of The Word Guild, I’ve been able to keep up with his writing progress, and I was glad to hear that his first novella, The Kingdom, released in spring 2011.
Janet: Welcome, Benjamin, and thanks for taking time to join us. Novellas are sort of that middle ground between short stories and novels, correct? The Kingdom is fantasy, something I’m reading more of these days. Would you tell us a bit about the story?
Benjamin: I’m very happy to chat with you. Thanks for the invite.
Yes, the story was simple enough to fit in under a hundred pages, and I felt that adding more just to make it novel length would’ve only served to bulk it up and slow it down. But it was definitely too long for a two-page short story. I was fortunate to find a publisher that does books of this length.
The story begins with a once-glorious kingdom that now lies in the hands of a corrupt steward. And it is up to Princess Nevaeh to restore the kingdom to glory. It starts off in a very fairytale setting and then quickly heads off in a different direction. I hope to keep the reader on their toes.
Janet: The cover art is beautiful. Where did the story idea come from?
Benjamin: I grew up with movies like Beauty and the Beast and Shrek, films that take the known formula of fairytale stories and turn them on their head in ways that speak to people’s hearts. And although the messages in those stories hit very near to my heart, they all fell short of hitting my soul. The Kingdom was written as my attempt to write a story that spoke what was really on my heart. Though in this case it’s written for mature readers.
Janet: One of the extra challenges to writing fantasy and other forms of speculative fiction is the need to invent new worlds and people. Tell us a bit about that.
Benjamin: I’ve written full length fantasy novels before, and I do enjoy the process of inventing new people and cultures and figuring out how they work. But with The Kingdom being a novella I didn’t have as much time to introduce the reader to the peoples and cultures of Allandor and the surrounding regions, I only had time for the peoples and cultures who were relevant to the story, and other aspects of the world are only mentioned in passing.
I think one of the strengths of fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan is having their characters casually mention this or that person, place, or event, without going into detail over it. It makes the world more intriguing to the reader and gives it a sense of age and history that pulls them in. I hope to emulate that skill.
Janet: Emulating the masters is a good way to go. Do you have a favourite character in the story?
Benjamin: I think I would have to say Ruth, the wyvern. Just because I’m an animal lover. 🙂 I tend to gravitate toward the characters who are most different, even if they’re so different as to be another species.
My second favourite is probably Roy. He’s a particularly fun character to write, whether it’s his dialogue, behaviour, or even the personality that the narrative takes on when it’s from his perspective.
Janet: I’m looking forward to reading about them. What one key thing do you want readers to take away when they’re done?
Benjamin: As with most of my writing, my hope is for people to come away with a different perspective on the way that God works and the love that He has for them.
Janet: Any thoughts of a sequel? What projects do you have on the go now?
Benjamin: I’ve considered a sequel. 🙂 But nothing’s been determined yet. Before The Kingdom I also wrote two sci-fi/fantasy novels that I want to go back to and revise now that my writing craft is more developed. But probably the next thing I’ll work on is updating and editing my autobiography (about my life with autism) and get that ready for publishing.
Janet: You certainly have plenty of project ideas. What got you started writing?
Benjamin: I’ve always been a storyteller, but up until the age of five I was non-verbal, and could only communicate through drawing pictures. I’ve always been a big fan of movies and video games, and as a kid I drew a lot of pictures about various video game and movie characters.
For me, writing creatively started as me jotting down notes and background information about the characters I drew. These eventually turned into full-fledged short stories, until one day I decided to take my latest idea and see if I could actually write it down as a novel. That’s when I realized the career path that God was taking me down.
Janet: That’s an interesting way to get here. What do your family think of your writing?
Benjamin: I think they were surprised at first. Books weren’t my first love. But after years of seriously pursuing this as a career my friends and family have seen over time how different parts of my life and personality all come together in this one journey. Now they’re very excited for me. My mother in particular gets excited every time she sees my name on the book cover.
Janet: It is exciting to see someone discover and pursue what they’re designed for! What do you like best about the writing life?
Benjamin: The hours. 🙂
Writing creatively is something I’ve been able to do for my own enjoyment for years. But if there’s a way that my writing can be shared with others, and that they can be blessed through it as well as I am, then it’s great confirmation that I’m doing what God made me for.
Janet: What do you like least?
Benjamin: Deadlines. I don’t know if it’s an autism thing or just me, but time limits and I don’t get along. I manage my deadlines well enough, but they’re one of the more stressful aspects of the business for me.
Janet: Some people thrive on deadlines, but I agree with you. They’re stressful. Writers are told to read widely and voraciously. I think that’s one of the perks of the deal. What are you reading these days?
Benjamin: I’m almost finished my second read through the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’m in the appendix right now – which is several chapters in itself). I read it years ago but I was given The Silmarillion for Christmas and I wanted to get the world fresh in my mind before I read it.
Janet: Love Lord of the Rings, although somehow I’ve never read The Silmarillion. Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Benjamin: I think the song that’s meant the most to me over the years has been “Trust Me (This Is Love)” by Amanda Marshall. It’s a song that’s come up often on the radio as I’ve been going through a bad time, and it brings me comfort.
Janet: Thanks for sharing the song. I hadn’t heard it in a while. The chorus is so encouraging, and isn’t it funny how God will bring a song along just when we need it? What do you like to do to get away from it all?
Benjamin: Video games are my most common pastime. In particular I am attracted to games with deep customization options and tools for creativity. My main game lately has been Little Big Planet 2. Occasionally on my blog I’ll have a post that’s just about what I’ve been up to in that one game alone.
Janet: What’s the most surprising or zany thing you’ve ever done?
Benjamin: That might be the skit that some friends and I did at a youth retreat. They went to a wrestling match and I had a fight with my sweater – which I lost. Later on the sweater tossed me through a door into someone’s house and I started savagely beating it with a random boot prop and got my revenge. I still have that sweater, but it was never the same after that.
Janet: I’m giggling—thanks for that image! Thanks so much for taking time to let us get to know you a bit, Benjamin. May the LORD continue to bless you and make you a blessing to others—in every area of your life.
Readers, you may enjoy a photo of the author at rest. (Scroll down to see the photo caption.)
I’m hoping to pick up an autographed copy of The Kingdom at Write! Canada. The print book is available through the standard online and retail outlets (may have to be ordered into your local bookstore), and the e-book is available in Kindle format and through Books on Board. Visit Benjamin T. Collier’s blog to learn more about the author and his book. Chapters.ca Amazon.ca