Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2012 - (Page 14)
interview with ben H.Winters
by Melissa Hartman
Ben Winters says that he was “probably bound to be a writer of some kind,” but he has actually become a writer of almost every kind. He wrote the books and lyrics for three musicals for young audiences: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, A (Tooth) Fairy Tale, and Uncle Pirate. He is the author of two novels for middle-grade readers, The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman and The Mystery of the Missing Everything; a supernatural thriller for adults, Bedbugs, which has been optioned for film; two mashups of classic novels, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (a New York Times bestseller) and Android Karenina; and The Last Policeman, a detective novel. He is now working on a sequel to that novel, as well as a book of scary poems for kids to be released next year.
Can you tell me a little about how your interest in writing developed? Were you always interested in stories?
Definitely. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I wrote a series of stories about a pig named Piggy-Wiggy, which I remember vividly. Basically, Piggy-Wiggy would have an adventure, and then he would die in a surfing accident, or be eaten by a shark, or fall oﬀ a cliﬀ. They were your basic fourth-grade-boy adventure stories. They were each about a page and a half long. My friend would illustrate them and then we would pass them around. That was my first memory of wanting to write something and have people respond to it. lived literally across the street from this publishing company called Quirk Books. I met the people who worked there and got to know them, and I wrote a couple of small, goofy non-fiction things for them. A couple of years later, they had this huge success that was surprising even to them—a book called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which became a phenomenon out of nowhere. They knew they wanted to do a sequel, and fast. The guy who had written the original book wasn’t interested in doing another one, so they asked me. My editor called and said, “It’s going to be called Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. You’ll be turning Jane Austen’s novel into an action adventure novel.” I started that day. And that book, because it was coming on the heels of this huge novel, was a big hit. Suddenly I was a fiction writer. I wrote another book in that series, called Android Karenina, but when they asked if I wanted to do another one, I said no. I didn’t want to wake up in 20 years and be the guy who just wrote those novels.
Your latest book is summed up on its cover by this question: “What’s the point of solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?”
Right. It’s a detective novel set six months before a giant asteroid is going to strike Earth, and my hero is a homicide detective who is nevertheless trying to solve a murder. I wanted to create a character almost pathologically committed to his work. In figuring out how to frame that, I came up with the idea of having him work when nobody else is really working. That’s how I got to the end of the world—I wondered in what situation there would be no point in solving murders.
What kind of books did you read as a kid?
I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. I read Orson Scott Card. I read Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series when I was probably too young to understand them, and The Phantom Tollbooth, which is a great, great book. Tuck Everlasting is another one that really stayed with me. I also loved comic books. Truthfully, most of my reading before I was in high school was probably comic books, which I still love.
but detective Hank Palace sees a point.
Yes. He’s just a simple, small-town guy, but he’s a hero. He believes in doing what’s right, no matter what. I’m really enjoying writing the second book because I love this character. It’s going to be a trilogy, and at the end of the third book, I’m going to have to kill him. The world is actually going to end. So it’s kind of a bummer. But part of what’s fun about writing it, and hopefully reading it, is seeing the diﬀerent ways that the world is going to pieces.
How did you go about publishing your first book?
It was a weird process by which I became a professional novelist. My wife and I were living in Philadelphia for a year, and we
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2012
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/december 2012
In My Own Words
Well of Dreams
Making History Personal
A World Full of Stories
The Month of Writing Dangerously
On the Frontline of Digital Journalism
Once Upon a Summer
Awakening the Storyteller
Selected Opportunities & Resources
On the Doorstep of Discovery
When You’re Ready to Do Research
Off the Shelf
Exploring Career Options
One Step Ahead
Planning Ahead for College
Mark Your Calendar
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - November/December 2012