Bestselling author Ben H. Winters talks about mashup novels, Benjamin Franklin, Leo Tolstoy and his new novel “Android Karenina”…
Hi Ben, welcome on Veronika Asks! Could you please briefly introduce yourself?
Thanks for having me!
My name is Ben, I’m a writer who lives in Brooklyn. Although I’m about to move to Boston, slightly further up the eastern seaboard of the continental United States.
Then, if you could describe yourself with three words (No, Ben H. Winters won’t make it. I’ve already heard this one …
Hard-working, well-meaning writer/father.
“The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman” will be published in September 2010. How about a little pitch?
Sure. It’s a “young adult” novel, about a nerdy, soft-spoken middle-school Band & Chorus teacher who turns out to have been a punk rock singer, a fact that makes her students go crazy.
Can you tell us more about your mashup “Android Karenina” (out in June 2010)? Why rewrite this novel (and not Romeo & Juliet, for example, although they’d both look great on the moon)?
After my last “mash-up novel”, the Jane Austen parody Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, I was itching to do another one. Tolstoy is one of my favorite authors (very original, I know) and I figured why not be audacious, be brave, and try to re-imagine the greatest novel ever written?
What would Leo think?
Well, I think he’d be a little confused, at first. But there’s a lot of material here I think he’d respect, and he’d like how I’ve maintained many of the major themes of his work, including mankind’s complex and often scary relationship with technology.
You also wrote “Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters”. Why did you pick the mashup genre (or did it pick you)? Aren’t you afraid of the Tolstoy and Austen diehard fans?
Indeed, it picked me; the whole thing was the idea of the folks at Quirk Books, I’ve just been lucky enough to get to play in this strange world they invented. And for the most part, the fans of these writers have been delighted by the whole thing. Just like a great movie version, a parody version of a classic work is another way of re-imagining, re-engaging, and re-encountering a beloved piece of writing.
You don’t plan on parodying “War & Peace”, do you?
One massive Tolstoy parody is enough for me, thanks very much.
Is there a mashup you’d love to read but are unlikely to write yourself?
I think it would be cool to see someone do one of Shakespeare’s plays, but not only write it, actually produce it — A Midsummer Night’s Terrible, Terrible Nightmare, or something.
What about your life before you became a bestselling novelist? Do you remember the very first story you penned?
I remember writing a series of extremely silly, page-and-a-half long stories about a pig who had extraordinary adventures. This was probably in grade four or five, so around nine or ten years old. I believe his name was Piggly-Wiggly.
How did you break into the publishing world? How much time did you spend looking for an agent or publisher?
That’s a long, boring story, that probably has elements in common with the boring stories of lots of other writers: a lot of dashed hopes, a lot of support from good friends and family, a lot of trying and trying again…and then, finally, things start to line up the way you want them to. I try to be as grateful as I can about each success I have, and as realistic as I can about what the future might hold.
What is a typical working day for Ben Winters? Do you have some writing habits?
The thing I try to stick to most of all, is to work for at least three hours before I go on the internet. It is the greatest eater of time ever devised by mankind.
If you could meet any person and ask him/her one question, who and what would you ask?
Of all the figures of history, I am most fascinated by Benjamin Franklin. I’m not sure what I’d ask him — he knew everything. The man invented the rocking chair, discovered electricity, and saved our young country several times over. I might, however, ask him how to get old without losing one’s marbles in the slightest, because he seems to have done that too.
* Happiness for my children.
* Enough money to live on, not so much as to screw me up irrecoverably.
* Some sort of unlimited ice cream arrangement.
You write books and work on musicals. Is there something you haven’t tried yet and would love to?There are several people I’d love to write biographies of. But the amount of time and energy required to write a really good, complete biography, is extremely daunting to me.
And here is the famous “Nothing-to-do-with-books-question”: you’ve found $100, how will you use your newly acquired money?
The right answer: Donate it to a favorite charity — I really like Doctors Without Borders.
The honest answer: Waste it on ice cream and books.
Can you tell us more about your projects? Who’s your next co-writer? Shakespeare? Wilde? Casanova?
I’m working on the sequel to The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman (yes, even though the first one hasn’t come yet!) and preparing to start on an idea I have abut the aforementioned Benjamin Franklin.
Author & Book: John Irving, P.D. James, Charles Dickens (who can pick one!)
Movies & TV shows: The Blues Brothers ; The Sopranos
Food: Grilled cheese sandwiches
City: Chicago, Illinois
Music: When I write I listen to opera (as I write this, The Magic Flute); otherwise, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan
Place to write in: The roof of my apartment building
Quote or Motto: “Time is what we want most, and use worst” — William Penn
Saturday night. Disco & Restaurant or Home, Books & DVDs? Cinema and restaurant, if we can get a babysitter!
Going on holidays. Beach or Mountains? Beach
Sleepy Little Town or Crazy Megapolis? Currently live in crazy, would love to end up in sleepy
Pick a DVD: Comedy or Weepy Drama? Comedy
Like To Travel or Hate to Move? Like to travel
Sport Lover or Couch Potato? Couch potato, though I do like to take long walks
Leader or Follower? Leader
Shy or Easy-going? Not sure these are really opposites, but I’m definitely easy-going
Serious or Funny? Well, I wrote something called Android Karenina, so I suppose I have to go with funny!
You can learn more about Ben H. Winters and his books at www.BenHWinters.com