Today I’m so thrilled to have dragged Larry Benjamin onto my site. Larry is one of the first MM writers I reached out to when I published my first book and we’ve been friends ever since.  I’m not sure how I became interested in his first book – What Binds Us, but I liked it so much, it was the first book I reviewed on my site.  Larry’s latest book – Unbroken comes out today so I thought it would be a good idea to have him on as a guest so he could tell you about his new release. If you’ve never read one of his books, you should. What Binds Us is a great place to start.

Guest Author: Larry Benjamin

Welcome Larry, why don’t you start by telling everyone a bit about yourself. 0012

Thank you. That question always makes me squirm. On some level I’m afraid there’s not much to tell, that I the only things worth knowing about me are in the in the words I’ve written, the characters I’ve created. I’ve been writing since college but as I get older the urge to write became more powerful, more urgent.  I now juggle writing, dogs, my partner of 17 years and a full time job in corporate communications for a global chemical company.

Let me start with a bit of hero worship, What Binds Us is one of my top five favorite books – M/M or otherwise. 

Thank you. You are so kind. I remember when I finished writing What Binds Us, I was sure I’d never write another book. That I only had one book in me and that was it.

What_binds_Us._final

I know a bit about why you wrote What Binds Us, but I’m sure most people don’t. What inspired you to write this story?

Let me start by telling you something I’m not sure many people know. What Binds Us sat in a drawer for 17 years before being published. When I first wrote it and sent it out, almost every rejection said there was “no market” for such a book. I wrote it after seeing the movie Philadelphia which despite all the praise heaped on it, I thought did a poor job of capturing our lives and in particular the romantic relationship of two men who love and care for each other. Like most gay men at the time, I’d lost a bunch of friends to AIDS, and I thought they deserved to have a better more complete story told. After writing several editorials complaining about the movie’s deficiencies, someone wrote and said if I thought I could do better, I should. Unable to resist a challenge, I sat down and started writing The Sun, the Earth and the Moon, which eventually became What Binds Us.

What happened that it took 17 years to get it published? Didn’t it gnaw at you knowing it was there, finished, ready for the world to devour, and no one was getting to see it?

Actually, no. Once it got rejected a couple of times, I gave up.  It always seemed like a long shot. As kids we were pretty much taught that a career as an artist was a bad idea, impossible to achieve. My parents would no more have supported me becoming a writer than they would have me becoming a basketball player or a rapper. The fact that I am at my core a writer was irrelevant. It wasn’t until I learned to believe my own truth over another’s that I started writing again. In a way, that is what Unbroken is about—refusing to deny your own truth in favor of someone else’s.

Shifting gears, Unbroken. Talk a bit about your new book.

perf5.250x8.000.inddUnbroken is part coming of age novel, part romance and part love letter to the boy I fell in love with at 12. From the beginning, I wanted Unbroken to be more than a great love story. I wanted it to be about discovering yourself in an often hostile world.  I wanted to capture what it’s like to wake up one morning and realize you’re different. I wanted to show what it is like when others make you feel broken. I wanted to show our young people that we each have the power to unbreak ourselves. I wanted to educate and pay homage to those who revolted at Stonewall in 1969.  Rereading this I have to laugh—it all sounds so ambitious. In the end I hope I tell a compelling story.

That’s all? Nothing else? Wow, talk about being a slacker.

I know, I know. I take everything way too seriously. When I start a book, the actual writing process is chaotic and I’m never sure where it’s going but before I start writing, I write out what I want the book to accomplish and use that to guide the story.

Is this your first book with this publisher?  How was it working with them?

Yes and no. I first met Deb McGowan at Beaten Track after What Binds Us was released. I came across an offer to advertise the book on the Beaten Track website so I sent it to her. She read the sample chapters and liked it so I send her the book. A friendship was born. When Damaged Angels came out as an eBook she negotiated with Bold Strokes Books to obtain the print rights. She has been a fan and a strong supporter and she really gets my work so going to Beaten Track with Unbroken made sense.

Was it different working with a publisher who wasn’t just someone from ‘corporate’ but someone you were/are friends with?

It was, mostly because I think we were both aware that we wanted the friendship to survive. After the first round of edits we realized the friendship was one thing and the book was another and we both wanted to deliver the best book possible. And we both have pretty thick skins so it worked out fine although we retain some sensitivity over my use of emdashes. I still insist I am not “emdash- happy.”

What else have you written?

perf5.250x8.000.indd Unbroken is my third book. What Binds Us, which you’ve already mentioned—and read—was my first book. Damaged Angels wasmy second book. I stepped away from romance with that collection of short stories. All in all I’ve released three books in about 18 months.

Do you have any other manuscripts sitting in a draw for almost two decades that we can expect to see in the near future?

Funny you should ask…I found 5 short stories I wrote at some point. I only have hard copy I wrote them so long ago.  I think 3 of them could turn into something, but we’ll see.

You consider yourself a wordsmith – and I think that’s an apt description for your works – do you chafe working with editors or do they generally leave your work unchanged?

I’m always nervous when the editing process begins. I choose my words carefully, according to a certain rhythm I hear in my head so I’m always worried I’ll have to change my words.  Before I submit a book I try to make it perfect. I went through 22 drafts of Unbroken before I felt it was polished enough to submit.  Our biggest issue in edits was comma usage.  I use a lot of commas but hate Oxford commas. Because I’m so comma obsessed, my editor compiled a document with every comma she added or deleted so I could approve/reject. The document was 12 pages long! But for the most part the words themselves did not change.

You recently lost your Coco, tell us something about her that makes you smile.

Yes, we lost our Lhasa Apso after a 4 year battle with heart disease.  The day I picked her up from the ASPCA, I put her in the back seat and started to drive home. She started to scream. Panicked, I quickly pulled over and rushed to her aid. She settled down. I got back in the car and started to drive. She started to scream. I pulled over 4 times before getting home. It turned out she was afraid of the car—evidently she wasn’t used to riding in a car. I later learned this was called it “vocalizing” and was a fear reaction. But trust me, it was screaming. She’d drool. She’d shake. We tried everything—peppermint, candied ginger and finally Benadryl which resulted in us arriving at every destination with a half drugged dog. Her fear eventually faded to a kind of muted terror.

That reminds me of our first puppy – Odin. He flew from Oregon. We picked him up at the airport and he threw up three times on the way home.  It took a few years before he’d stop throwing up in the car.

My first dog would throw up after 90 minutes in the car. Exactly 90 minutes. So, every road trip was planned with a stop every 90 minutes.

Tell us something interesting that is not in the blurb for Unbroken?

The character Jose in Unbroken, is actually based on the boy who was my first crush. While I was writing the book it just so happened I reconnected with him. He knew I wrote and looked up my books. When he read the blurb for Unbroken, he wrote me. I confessed, after 40 years, that I had been in love with him al through junior high and high school.

Have you let him read the entire book yet?

0057He’s reading it now. I’m a nervous wreck.  Not only do I describe those feelings I had for him in school, in this fictional version of us, we go way past being casual acquaintances. I tried to explain that to him and his response was, “I get that: go big or go home.” I went very big.

Have you ever based characters on anyone you know?

I’m laughing. Most of my characters are based on real people. Sometimes it’s just an element of their personality, sometimes it’s the way they look. My mother appears a lot. My partner appears in one of the stories in Damaged Angels. The first night I spent with him I stayed awake and watched him sleep—does that sound creepy? Anyway, I wrote a description of him and the light from the window. The story isn’t about him but the main character was based on that description. In Unbroken, Lincoln is the character I have created who is most like me, I think. Jose, was actually based on my first crush, who was also named Jose.

What’s your favorite place to write?

I have an office on our third floor. It’s painted chartreuse, my favorite color. I find it cheerful and inspiring. I write at a gorgeous cherry leather-topped desk I bought when I signed the contract to publish What Binds Us. That’s my official writing space, but I’m a bit of a nomadic writer. That is, I write anywhere and everywhere—at the dog park, at work, in the car sitting in traffic. Driving through Jim Thorpe, PA to visit friends, I was so taken with the town I started writing down a description of the town as we drove. That description eventually became the fictional Halfryta, New York in Unbroken.

What’s your least favorite part of the writing process?

Writing a synopsis. I hate those. I’ve ranted about those in various blog posts.

Since there is always another story to tell, what are you working on now?

Generally after I finish a book, I stop writing for a while. I’m always amazed by writers who say they have a million ideas for books in their head. I don’t. I just try to relax until an idea grabs hold of me and then I’m off. So, I’m not actually working on anything now, though I do have a picture of a house where the next story will be set and I’ve written the first line but I have no idea what the story will be about. Here’s the opening lines: She looked into the enchanted mirror. Egg-shaped and old, it was foggy and veined except for the very center where her face appeared, and saw exactly what she was: a nurse; a doctor; an ancient healer.

What have you read lately that most people haven’t read but should?

Well I was going to say Unbroken, but I suppose that would be pushing it. Would it? Can I get away with that?

Yes, that would be pushing it. Try again.

0027 Okay that was pushing it I know. When I was a kid, my mother used to say, “Give Lawrence an inch and he’ll take a yard.”  I’d sayGeorge Durrells’, My Family and other Animals. He does such a great job of using words to paint a portrait of a family, a place and a time in the distant past. I’d also say Purpose. Months after reading it, it remains with me.  I’ve seen where readers have wondered about a sequel but I don’t see that. I see it as a TV series. I’d love to know what happens to Gar in the future, There was so much promise at the end of the book.

If you could meet any writer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

There’s actually two writers I’d like to meet. F. Scott Fitzgerald—The Great Gatsby is my favorite book and is, in my opinion, perfect. And James Baldwin. I’ve been heavily influenced by both. They were both so gifted and had such a talent with words. To be able to discuss their books and talk writing in general with them would be awesome.

What’s a fun – non-writing – day for you?

Well first it’s a day when I don’t have to get up to an alarm clock. I love it when I wake up naturally and the whole day stretches before me with nothing marked on the calendar or my to-do list. In that case, I like nothing better than taking the dogs—well, now it’s just the one dog—for a long hike in the woods and settling down by the creek to rest and day dream while they splash around.

Besides reading and writing, what else do you enjoy?

I—along with my partner—am obsessed with houses. Our house is buried in “shelter magazines.” We’re on our second old house so you’d think we’d be over it but we’re not. Every realtor in Philly knows us because we tend to show up at a lot of open houses. And we never miss our annual neighborhood house tour. Both our houses have been on the tour. Besides hanging out with the dogs, my favorite thing to do is look at houses.

You couldn’t pick something simple to collect, like tea cups or music boxes? You want to collect houses?

Collecting tea cups or music boxes would be too reasonable; I am not a reasonable man. Thanks for being my guest, Larry, now it’s time to plug UnBroken –

Blurb:

perf5.250x8.000.inddMy parents, unable to change me, had instead, silenced me. When they’d stilled my hands, they’d taken my words, made me lower my voice to a whisper. Later I remained silent in defense, refusing to acknowledge the hateful words: Brainiac. Sissy. Antiman. Faggot. Lincoln de Chabert’s life is pretty unremarkable until he comes home from kindergarten and announces he will marry his best friend, Orlando, when he grows up.  His parents spring into immediate action, determined to fix him―his father takes him to baseball games and the movie “Patton”―igniting an epic battle of wills as Lincoln is determined to remain himself, and marry whom he chooses, at all costs.

Buy Link:

http://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-ebook/dp/B00F2JLEMW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379114042&sr=8-1&keywords=unbroken+%26+larry+benjamin

Bio:

Larry Benjamin is the author the gay romance What Binds Us and Unbroken and the short story collection Damaged Angels.  He considers himself less a writer than a wordsmith—an artist whose chosen medium is the written word rather than clay or paint or bronze. Larry was born in the Bronx (New York) to parents from St. Croix, U.S.V.I. and attened the University of Pennsylvania.  He now lives in the East Falls section of Philadelphia with Stanley, his partner of 17 years, more than 2,000 books and their dog Toby.

Contact Larry:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WriterLarry Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryBenjamin Website: www.larrybenjamin.com

Excerpt:

Brainiac

They hurled words like stones: “Brainiac. Sissy. Faggot.” I sat on the ground, surrounded by a circle of boys bigger and tougher than I. They’d taken my glasses so I couldn’t see. I could only sit there helplessly, trying not to cry, trying not to hear the names they called me. I let myself go silent in defense, refusing to acknowledge the hateful words: Brainiac. Sissy. Faggot. I refused to acknowledge their hostility, this hostility, this constant hostility, which seemed to be driven less by the fact that I was almost certainly gay, than by the fact I had never denied their accusations. I knew instinctively that to deny, to lie, was to agree they were right, I was wrong, I was broken. That I would not, could not, do. Looking back, I realize I’d let them, those savage boys whom I did not know or care about, silence me, take my voice away. It would take years, but I would find my voice. I would learn to make myself heard over the sounds of war. “Hey,” Jose shouted suddenly. “Hey!” I couldn’t see him through the circle of boys, but I recognized his voice, that deep, thunderous rumble. “Come on,” I heard Elsie say. “It’s just that faggot. This happens to him all the time. He’ll be fine.” She’d known me since fourth grade yet still, to her, I was “just that faggot.” “My name is Lincoln,” I wanted to shout. “You’ve known me since fourth grade.” Instead I remained on the ground fighting new tears. Jose pushed through the circle of boys. “Leave him alone.” He must have seen my raw, naked face for he turned to the boy holding my glasses. “Are those his?” he asked, pulling them out of his hands. “Get lost!” The boy, surprised, shrugged as if it made no difference to him, and he and his posse of tyrants turned and walked away. Jose crouched beside me; bouncing on the balls of his feet, he looked at my scattered books, my knapsack open, empty. His eyes went soft, dark with concern. He turned, and said something to Elsie. Then to me, “You okay?” I nodded, tried to smile, cried instead. “Hey,” he snapped. “What?” Elsie popped her gum, stared at him. “I said, give me a tissue.” She sucked her teeth, reached into her purse and handed him a single tissue as if it were her last dollar. He glared at her, dark eyes flashing. She reluctantly handed him a handful more which he gave to me. “Dry your eyes and blow your nose,” he instructed me. I did as I was told. “You okay?” he asked again, handing me my glasses. I took them from him, put them on. “Better now,” I said trying to smile. The boys gone, Elsie moved closer, hovering at the edge of our interaction. Her eyes darted around; she looked everywhere but at me. She appeared less concerned about returning danger than about witnesses to this. “Okay,” Jose said. “Let’s get your books, and we’ll walk you to the bus stop.” He glanced at Elsie who said nothing. At the bus stop, Elsie sulked on a bench, again looking everywhere but at me. Jose talked to me of little things: did I understand that Shakespeare passage we’d read in English today? Why does the cafeteria always smell of fish? Finally the bus came and we were each released from his prison. “Thanks,” I said as the bus drew to a halt. I was reluctant to leave him, my dashing young hero, but happy to put the day’s events behind me.