Benny Lawrence

I first became acquainted with Benny Lawrence when she participated in a Virtual Living Room weekend. I liked her sense of humor and thought she'd make an interesting interview. I must say, I'll be more careful in the future when I ask those I'm interviewing if they have any questions for me. Please welcome Benny Lawrence.

AJ: What genre(s) do you write in and what drew you to this genre?

BL: You don’t mess around, do you?  A difficult question right out of the gate.  I write in the genre of…um…books with lots of women in them!  And then the women kiss other women and like it!  And then there are pirates or devious Victorian villains or hallucinogenic toads or other things that entertain me!  Of my two published works and one about-to-be-published work, one is historical fiction (with Victorian lesbians), one is medieval fantasy (with bondage lesbians), and one is science fiction (with futuristic lesbians).  All three have a mystery element, and just about everyone is sarcastic.

Probably I hop between genres so much because that’s what I’m like as a reader.  I’ll read just about anything from Chaucer to cereal boxes, but I always hope for strong female characters, I always want some humour, and I always hope that the author can surprise me and, best of all, outsmart me.  That’s what I try to write myself.

AJ: In my book, Awaiting My Assignment, I tried to surprise the readers. From what I gather from those who write to me, I was only 75 - 80% successful. I envy people clever enough to write mysteries. Based on my record with AMA, I figure that most folks would figure out my mystery on page two.

Tell us a bit about your book(s).

BL: Shell Game is a fantasy adventure novel with a mystery twist (and it has lesbian bondage pirates).  It's set in a medieval society being ripped apart by a brutal civil war (the book has pirates; the pirates are gay).  In this setting, Lynn, a young woman from a remote village, is captured and imprisoned by Darren, a ruthless pirate queen—but neither young woman nor pirate are what they appear to be at first glance.  As the war heats up and Lynn's secrets are revealed, the pair's ability to survive will depend on their ability to rise above the societal rules which have doomed them.  It's a story about (gay bondage) rejecting definitions, reframing the rules, and living outside convention.

The Ghost and the Machine is a Gothic-style thriller about a young woman named Kit whose life is all about illusion.  Set in the nineteenth century, the book tells the story of Kit’s life as the operator of a chess-playing automaton called the “Rajah,” and as the chattel of the Rajah’s creator, Diana Rushmore, who won Kit in a card game years earlier and will stop at nothing to keep her pawn in her power.  When the Rajah is booked for a private performance at the home of a mysterious Countess, Kit may have an opportunity to break out of her box- or it all could be another level of deception.

The coming-soon Rabbits of the Apocalypse can be described thus: Civilization in shatters, human trafficking, rabid religious groups...There’s no doubt about it, the future kinda sucks.  In the remote desert town of Lafontaine, Casey Prentice is trying to survive the endtimes by keeping her head down.  But living small and staying out of trouble ceases to be an option when a paramilitary organization known as the League descends on the town.  When Casey takes in one of the League’s escaping prisoners, she brings herself into conflict with the powerful cult, and invites a whole new kind of danger into her life.  Because the town of Lafontaine has a secret...and if the League discovers it, then the apocalypse will be the least of Casey’s worries.

There are also some handcuffs, because my sense of shame has been missing long enough for it to be declared legally dead like, thrice.

AJ: When will your next book be released?

BL: Rabbits will probably come out in the late summer or fall of 2014.  I don’t have a release date yet; when I do, I will send up some fireworks.

AJ: Tell us a bit about your main character(s). What makes them unique or interesting?

BL: Difficult to answer this without giving too much away.  I often write in the first person because I like to surprise people if I can, and one of the best ways I know to surprise people is to tell people from the limited, flawed perspective of only one or two people.  Lynn, Darren, Kit, and Casey are all, in their way, very unreliable narrators, and it’s inadvisable to take what they say too literally.

They’re also survivors, all of them.  I tend to put my characters through some rather rough stuff, so I try to make them strong enough to compensate.  They have different coping methods—denial, escape, sarcasm—but they don’t wallow too much.  They’re too busy figuring out how to live.

And they talk a lot.  When I want to show people falling in love, I usually show them making each other laugh.

AJ: What is the profession of your main character, and why did you choose this profession? 

BH: Shell Game: Pirates.  Why pirates?  That question does not need an answer.  It is like asking, “Why ice cream?”

The Ghost and the Machine: Operator of fake chess robot.  I don’t think that needs to be justified either.

Rabbits of the Apocalypse: Desert warrior, plumber, roofer, shoemaker, lab rat, and sometimes dentist.

I may have a little problem writing about people with normal careers.

AJ: When I was in high school, I hated writing anything. Book reports and other writing assignments were painful for me. If they assigned a 500 word project, they never got 501 words from me, ever. Thankfully, things changed later in life. What about you? When you were in high school, did you enjoy creative writing?

BL: Creative writing got me through high school.  I went to a Christian girls’ school where I was, let us say, less than popular.  My girlfriend of the time, being much more sensible than me, went to a school elsewhere; last thing every night, we’d give each other writing assignments to do during school the next day.  When things were rough at school, I’d slink off to the computer lab, check my e-mail, and find what she’d written for me.  That’s how I really learned that writing can be a way to reach out.

AJ: What are your ambitions for your writing career?

BL: To write more and more.  To write better and better.  To narrow the divide between what’s in my head and what I put on paper.  To write things that make people laugh or make them think, or help them connect, or help them cope.  To help pay the rent of a few hardworking publishers.

AJ: Which writers inspire you?

Wilkie Collins, especially in The Moonstone, which may just be the greatest detective novel ever.  He had this magnificent trick of using multiple first-person narratives to tell a story, the same way multiple witnesses testify at trial, so you don’t get the truth until everyone has had a chance to talk.  In coming up with this format, he was influenced by his legal training, so, as a lawyer, I fangirl over it madly. 

Joan Aiken is out of fashion now, but I adore her.  She wrote magnificent young-adult books about young women in trousers rampaging around the countryside, saving themselves and each other.  If I had to live inside a book, it would probably be one of hers.

Diana Wynne Jones.  She’s all about twists and turns and keeping you guessing until the very end.

AJ: If you were to be reborn who would you want to be?

BL: Ooh.  Fun.  But I would have to ask many questions before answering.  For starters, are we talking about reliving the life of a historical personality, or being born again in the future?  If the former: Alan Turning, Dr. Sara Josephine Baker, or the scribe nicknamed the Goldsmith who worked on the Book of Kells.  (I figured those three out long ago, because you never know when a genie is going to pop out of a lamp, and it wouldn’t do to be unprepared.)

If we’re talking about being born in the future, then I assume I can give my fantasies free reign, so…I’d be the head professor of the Martian School of Interplanetary Law and a space detective.

AJ: Do you have any fears/phobias?

BL: I read the Classics Illustrated version of Dracula when I was seven and it drove a stake of terror into the back of my brain that’s never really gone away, though it was worst in my late teens.  I still sleep with a tin of garlic mints balanced on the windowsill. 

Now, does anyone want to page Dr. Freud and ask whether it is somehow meaningful that my greatest fear as a young woman was that a man would come into my room?

AJ: I once worked in a bomb factory. What was the strangest job you ever had?

Once upon a time, when I was but a little Benny, my then-girlfriend and I went through a rough patch with her family when her father walked in on us…well…doing something other than homework.  There was a period of time when I wasn’t welcome at her home, so I snuck into her workplace one day to help her with her job.  Her job was culturing children’s stool samples.  I spent the day in a lab coat digging into samples of frozen excreta and diving under the table when anyone looked into the room.  It’s no bomb factory, but does that count?

AJ: Absolutely!  Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?

Ah, marketing!  Why, marketing is a virtual cornucopia of fun and frolic and...bluh, no way to keep that up.  No.  Sorry.  Marketing makes me break out in a rash.  It’s fun to chat with readers, but throwing myself at people like a desperate Girl Guide short on cookie sales is never really going to be my happy place.

AJ: What are your views on social media for marketing?

Excellent, because it allows me to market without leaving my cave.  What with work, and then the more work, and the additional work, and then the overtime, I rarely escape into the outside world.  So if I couldn’t use social media, probably no-one would ever read my books until space archaeologists found a few copies under a rock six thousand years in the future.

AJ: Which social network worked best for you? If you’d prefer, what techniques for marketing work best for you?

BL: Any format which allows me to blither on and on and on at people, it seems.  Personal e-mails, blog posts, literature forums—anything which gives me a chance to stand out a bit.

AJ: Describe your writing environment: pen and paper, laptop? Quiet room, music? 

BL: My favourite place in the world to write is the Toronto Reference Library, but it's not open late enough for me to be there as often as I'd like.  Because of my lawyerin', I don't get home until eight or nine most evenings, so I tend to do my writing in the middle of the night, or whenever I can catch a few minutes here and there.

What do I need to write?  Well, I have to be conscious...Wait, no, that's not true. A good part of The Ghost and the Machine came from a hallucinogenic dream I had when I was suffering from plague and sleeping about four hours a night. I have to take writing moments whenever I can get them, whether I'm at home or away, whether I'm jubilant or sleepy or homicidal with PMS or hanging upside down. I've written in airports, on buses, in the dark, in hospital, while lying under pieces of furniture...I'd never finish anything if I didn't. 

But when I'm writing dialogue—especially if people are fighting—you can usually find me in the bathroom, screaming at the mirror and gesticulating wildly. 

AJ: Do you have any questions for me?

BL: Ha ha!  You have fallen into my interrogative clutches and now you must answer the question I ask everyone, especially at lawyer parties. 

You must spend the next twenty years in a sealed nuclear bunker.  You have ample iron rations to survive that time period, in the form of a dry and unappetizing biscuit.  However, you also have the right to bring one crate filled with a single foodstuff of your choice.  One foodstuff only—if you choose chocolate, no peanut butter; if you choose steak, no seasoning.  We assume that the food in your crate will remain perfectly preserved throughout the next twenty years.  Your choice, if you please?

When I first made up this game, I did not realize that there was a winning answer.  There is.  I have now received it from a brilliant woman who works in the field of latex.  Forty points if you guess it.

AJ:  Wow! You don't even know me and you've banished me to a nuclear bunker for twenty years. Alas, I’ve searched for the perfect answer to your question. I’m quite competitive, so would love to garner the extra forty points. Sadly, I’m allergic to latex, so no clue. 

I’ll have to go for a boring, serious answer. Almonds…yep, I’d take almonds. With almonds, one can make almond flour—and maybe pancakes. You didn’t say I didn’t have an electric grinder, and I must have water, right? So theoretically, I could make pancakes, couldn’t I? Gee, now I’m depressed just thinking about twenty years without pancakes.

BL: It’s not the forty point answer, but I like your reasoning.  Two pancakeless decades would depress me too, but two decades without tea would turn me into a raving shelter-ripping-down maniac, so I’d have to prioritize.

AJ: So are you going to tell us the forty point answer, or will it always remain a mystery?

BL: "The forty-point answer is bacon, and this is why, as explained by my latex loving friend: "Dude, post-apocalypse, bacon will be currency.  If I owned the world's last box of bacon, I would rule the wasteland."  I'm a vegetarian myself, but it's impossible to fault her logic."

AJ: Do you have any questions you wish I’d asked that I didn’t?

BL: “Are your books perhaps chimeric amalgamations of other books begun and abandoned much earlier?”  Why yes, yes they are.  The DNA for Shell Game derived from several incomplete projects, including a post-nuclear apocalyptic fable about an ineffectual butch in possession of a harem, and then another thing with lots of dragons.  I like it better in its current form.

AJ: Ok, I’ll admit I had to go look up the word chimeric! Thanks Benny, for an interesting, fun, and upbeat interview. 

BL: Thanks so much for inviting me to the party, and congratulations on the release of Anything Your Heart Desires!

AJ:  Thank you very much. 

To learn more about Benny, check out her website:

Her books are available here:  The Shell Game           The Ghost And The Machine 



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© JEN 2014