Benjamin Wallace is a self-published author who writes some of the funniest stories that I have ever read. Any writer looking for a great example of comedic writing that will make their readers fall out of their armchairs laughing should look no further than a Benjamin Wallace book. Consequently, any reader that enjoys a good laugh will not be disappointed.
He is the author of multiple comedic series including the Dumb White Husband series where he pokes fun at the advertising industry for their constant selection of goofy suburban dads as their designated fall-guy while the series’ protagonist bumbles through what would normally be fairly mundane adventures. He also has written several books about an invincible adventurer/private detective named Damien Stockwell and my personal favorite Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors, which chronicles a former librarian’s attempts to rebrand himself as a wandering force for good in the aftermath of a nuclear, chemical, and biological holocaust.
Benjamin was kind enough to agree to an interview and offered some great advice for any writer attempting to liven up their scenes with some honest-to-goodness, naturally-flowing humor. Enjoy.
-For the readers who are unfamiliar with you and your work, would you mind describing your personal background and what influenced you to become a professional writer?
I always wanted to write. I can’t really remember wanting to do anything else. Well, I did want to be an astronaut until I saw Moonraker and Saturn 3 in the same week. But, until recently, being a writer wasn’t that accessible. They need for food drove me to get a real job out of college and, back then, the choices to write for a living were either in journalism or advertising. I have an aversion to footnotes, research, and people in general, so I went into advertising and pretended that I would write books at night.
For a dozen years I never did. Shortly before ebooks broke through, I finally committed to putting a book together and things kind of lined up.
-What are you looking for your readers to get out of your books, and what tools have you found to be most effective?
I want readers to get to the last page, close the book and say, “that was fun.” Nothing more. If they’re smiling, I’ve won. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I’m not making any points that I’m aware of. I just want people to crawl into a book and enjoy themselves.
Humor is good for that. If you can make someone laugh out loud it would be hard to deny they’re having fun, so I try to make my books funny. But, joke after joke gets tiring and I think people will be surprised at the highs and lows they’ll find in my stories. In addition to humor I try to keep the pace moving with lots of action and adventure. I don’t stop to describe the smell of the flowers, I’m pretty sure people know that they would smell like flowers. There’s a certain satisfaction we get from finishing a book and I don’t want to take that from anyone.
–How would you describe your path to publication (i.e. agenting, self vs. traditional publishing, ebook sales, whatever you feel to be relevant)?
About the same time I was writing my first book I was also following agent blogs and publishing blogs. As I neared the end of the book these sites started to say things like, “don’t submit now,” “hold on to your book until the industry stabilizes” and “I’m quitting the book agency and starting a quilting blog.” So I never sent my book in. A couple of years later Amazon launched Kindle. I was just finishing up a second book so I threw it out there. I was fortunate enough that people found that first book and seemed to like it. This was encouraging so I just kept writing.
-How would you describe your writing process?
Frantic. For a first draft I write the story as fast as I can. It’s ugly writing. The entire purpose of my first draft is to tell the story and that’s it. For the second draft, I try to make it sound like a grownup wrote it. I do outline and have a pretty solid idea of where the book is going before I start and I generally have an idea of where I’m going to end up. All of this helps.
-One of the most enjoyable aspects of your books is the fact that they are inherently funny, and it does not seem like you are trying very hard to make them so. What do you feel is necessary for a book to have organic, non-stilted humor?
I think for a joke to work best it can’t look like a joke. The best jokes are always delivered with a straight face. You have to give the reader the credit they deserve. The minute you start to tell them that you told them a joke you begin to insult them and no one likes that. The second you belabor a joke—add a rim shot, a slide whistle or an elbow in the ribs—you’ve insulted the audience and ruined everything. (See anything Will Ferrell has ever done.)
You have to be willing to let a joke go. Not everyone will get every joke. And that’s okay. Sometimes they’re in there just for me. But if it’s something not a lot of people will get, it can’t be a distraction. And, dear God, never try to explain it.
–Do you have any future projects that you would like to tell your fans about?
I’ve always got a few planned out but I’ve been bad about announcing things before and not getting to them as fast as I’d hoped. I’ve always got a few short stories on the way. I really enjoy the short story format and don’t see myself slowing down anytime soon. The next novel I’m working on is the second in the Duck & Cover series followed by another Bulletproof Adventure of Damian Stockwell.
The best way to see what’s coming is to sign up for my newsletter, which I encourage everyone to do. You’ll get a free short story just for signing up.
–Presently, most of this blog’s subscribers are on the ground floor of the writing/publishing business. (A few might be on the second floor, and I’m probably in the basement). What do you know now that you wish you knew starting out?
Everything changes always. There is no normal. Not yet. The publishing industry has changed many times since I started really paying attention and that’s only been the last three years or so. Trying to chase a fad or duplicate someone’s success is a waste of time. Write a good book, get a good cover, and then write another good book.
People always love a series. If you’re planning on writing a few different series of books I think it would be wise to focus on one first. I wish I had done that.
Finally, and this may seem trite but it’s true, write for yourself. Tell yourself a story you’d enjoy and you’ll be able to find other people that like it as well.
Thanks again to Benjamin Wallace for agreeing to interview. Here are some links: