Joseph Bentz’s interview

» Posted on Aug 19, 2008 in Blog | Comments Off on Joseph Bentz’s interview

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Joseph Bentz’s interview:

1. What made you start writing?

In fifth grade we had to write a story that was several pages long, and that was when I first felt the joy of constructing a story and creating a world where I could play out the movies that took place in my brain. I was hooked. I’ve been writing fiction ever since.

2. How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?

My first novel was a fantasy novel, and I spent over ten years writing it. The first draft was 1,200 pages long and completely unpublishable. But I started over and wrote another draft of about half that length, and then I worked on a proposal and sent it out in 1993. An editor at Thomas Nelson championed the book and fought to get it published, which they did in 1995.

3. How do you handle rejections?

I wish I could say I handle rejections graciously, but my first reaction is usually gut-wrenching disappointment, followed by some rationalization about how the publisher’s vision is too narrow and they don’t know what they’re doing. After a few days of pouting, I set that aside and get back to work. I try to learn from any constructive feedback, but I’ve also realized that just because one publisher reacts to a manuscript a certain way doesn’t mean the next one will. One publisher rejected one of my novels because they thought it didn’t have a strong enough appeal to women readers, and the next publisher rejected the same manuscript because they thought it didn’t have enough appeal for men. A third publisher offered a contract for it because I guess for them, it was just right.

4. Why do you write?

You mean I have a choice? For me, writing is one of the most important ways I make sense of life. It’s how I figure people out and come to terms with why they act the way they do. I feel compelled to write. If I go to long without writing, I get restless and irritable.

5. What would you be doing with your free time if you weren’t writing?

If I weren’t writing books, I’d want to be reading books. The problem is that reading a good book makes me want to write! Besides writing, I also enjoy running, watching movies, having fun with family and friends, and sitting outside and staring at the mountains.

6. What are you working on right now?

Right now I have two books going. I am under contract for a non-fiction book on the Tipping Point between doubt and faith. I’m looking at what allows people to move from being sometimes passionate atheists or agnostics to being devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I’m also interested in how that pattern of doubt and belief repeats itself throughout the Christian life as believers go through spiritual crises or come up against faith-challenging questions. I’ve been looking at lots of conversion stories, and it’s been inspiring.

I’m also working on a novel that combines supernatural elements with history. It’s a supernatural thriller set partly in the present and partly in Germany during World War II.

7. Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

Yes, I think there is some of me in just about every character, even the ones who are least like me on the surface. Part of the fun of writing is becoming those characters during the time I’m writing about them. I don’t even use the term “characters” when I’m writing a novel. To me, they’re people whose thoughts and actions I’m trying to remember so I can tell their story. “Characters” sounds too made-up.

8. Tell us about the book you have out right now.

A Son Comes Home, published by Randall House in 2007, tells the story of a life-changing summer in an American family. Chris LaRue returns home to face his father’s illness, but must confront the pain of years past: the death of a brother, the break-up of an engagement, and the twisted truth of his family. Chris must decide how much of the truth he can bear to tell before it is too late.

9. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Lately I’ve been realizing once again the importance of making steady progress every day. For me, it’s far better to do a reasonable amount of writing each day rather than trying to write in long stretches of superhuman energy. If I hit a tough spot in the manuscript, where I don’t know where I’m headed or feel less confident, the best thing to do is to write myself through that problem, not go off and think or procrastinate. Often the answer comes as I write it.

10. How important is faith in your books?

Faith is an important element in every book, though it plays out in different ways. In A Son Comes Home, the Prodigal Son theme is important. The major characters are working out how to find their way back to one another, and they also—in various degrees—are finding their way back to the heavenly Father.

11. What themes do you like to write about?

In my contemporary novels, like A Son Comes Home and At Close of Day, I’m very interested in family relationships. A Son Comes Home focuses on the conflict between two brothers, between a father and son, between a teenage daughter and her parents, and so on. At Close of Day is about the relationships among three grown daughters and their elderly parents. In both books I use multiple first-person narrators because I’m fascinated by the way that, in families, what the real story is depends on whose perspective you’re getting it from. The way Dad tells something, and the way he sees reality, is often very different from the way his daughter will tell it. So I like to show the consequences of that difference in perspective.

12. How do you juggle writing for different houses?

I have written books in several genres—fantasy, contemporary fiction, and non-fiction Christian living books. Different publishers have been interested in those different genres, so it’s been a privilege to work for different houses.

13. What is your writing schedule like?

I teach college, so I have most of May through August set aside for writing. When I’m past the research and brainstorming stages of a book and am actually writing the manuscript, I set a quota of at least 1,000 words a day that I try to meet. I know writers who have a more ambitious quota than that, but for me, I know I can reach that on a good day, so it moves the book along pretty well. During the school year, I try to write at least an hour each day, and longer on days when I have a lighter teaching load.

14. You write fiction and non-fiction. Which is the hardest for you to write and why?

Whenever I’m writing fiction, I think non-fiction is easier, and when I’m writing non-fiction, it feels like fiction is easier. Ultimately, I’d have to say non-fiction is probably easier because I can limit it and organize it and fulfill the outline. Fiction is more complicated because there are constant choices about how much to tell, in what order to tell things, how much to describe, on and on. The truth is, both of them are hard. But I’d rather write than do anything else.