MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR BENJAMIN M. WEILERT
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
I’m Benjamin M. Weilert, and I mostly write Science Fantasy. That is, the science is a hard science that you’d encounter in the real world but it’s contained in a fantasy setting to make it more entertaining.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
After I graduated college, one of my cousins turned me onto National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). At the time, I had recently been writing short stories for fun, as well as writing a collaborative forum role-playing story based on the fictional world of One Piece. Combining these two things together with my life-long interest of Isaac Newton, I wondered if I could give famous scientists superpowers based on their discoveries and set it in a fantasy world somewhat similar to One Piece. That’s how my first book, First Name Basis, was born.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
I’m probably one of the few people actually writing what I consider “science fantasy,” even if it’s probably more in line with classic Young Adult literature. Having studied science for five years to earn my Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering, I realized there are a lot of cool concepts in science that most people won’t have a chance to learn about unless they get into these specialized and technical fields of study. I wanted to condense down ideas like quantum physics, artificial intelligence, and chemistry into their core concepts so that they’d be simple to understand, but still entertaining to learn. While these references might be a little subtle, the basic ideas represented in my writing are faithful to science. By putting this hard science in a fantasy setting, I can remove some of the limitations our world has on science and show how interesting some of these concepts can be at the very limits of their applicability.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
I spent about nine months in research for First Name Basis. I broke down the book into a half-dozen broad scientific concepts and started to build up the ideas I wanted to explore. This resulted in chapters that focused on the moon, optical illusions, and electromagnetism, just to name a few. I also read the classics of science fiction by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to get a sense of how to convey solid scientific facts in an entertaining manner.
Can you tell me about your Series?
The Fluxion Trilogy consists of three books: First Name Basis, Second to None, and The Third Degree.
First Name Basis follows Isaac, a lone wolf who created the powers known as “fluxions.” After learning that someone else has also created fluxions by a different method and is using them to support the evil organization Testament, he sets out to confront this individual. Along the way, he picks up a few stragglers who help him on his journey, teaching him how to trust others again after being hurt by a past tragedy.
Second to None takes place 1,000 years before the events of First Name Basis. When General Amedeo learns about a group of individuals who are able to naturally harness the powers of the objects around them, he sets out to create an army strong enough to defeat these “Naturals.” Meanwhile, a lightning-type Natural by the name of Benjamin is searching the world for other Naturals. He teams up with fire-type Natural Tecumseh and water-type Natural Penny before learning that there’s an enormous military who wants all of them dead. After Tecumseh’s sacrifice to destroy Amedeo’s Tower of Lebab, Benjamin and Penny recruit other Naturals to fight with them. In the climactic battle, legions upon legions of soldiers are forced to battle with the god-like power of Benjamin and Penny. Will their strength in numbers be able to defeat the Naturals once and for all?
The Third Degree finds Albert traveling to the future and meeting up with Isaac to let him know that the fluxions created 1,000 years ago are actually powered by a set of statues carved out of pure fluxionite. In order to keep the power of fluxions out of evil’s hands forever, Isaac teams up with Benjamin and Albert, as well as all the friends he gained during the events of First Name Basis, to destroy the 12 Caidoz statues and put an end to the curse of fluxions forever. However, these statues are not only difficult to find, but difficult to destroy. This is in part due to the efforts of Ophiuchus, a powerful being who wants to prevent the destruction of the Caidoz statues for his own nefarious purposes. Will Ophiuchus succeed in keeping his power, or will this rag-tag group of friends travel across time and space to finally stop him?
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
I personally like The Third Degree, but First Name Basis is a close second. I‘m always frustrated by authors who create these huge worlds with multiple sub-plots and unexplainable phenomenon and artifacts. What I managed to do in The Third Degree was to introduce a realistic way for time travel to take my characters back to some of these locations and explain how there’d be a boat perched on top of a volcano and how certain items ended up on the moon. I made sure to tie up all the loose little ends for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
The inspiration for the series was probably born from some of the TV shows I watched as a kid. Shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy and The Magic School Bus made science entertaining in a way that I hoped to emulate via writing in the Science Fantasy genre.
Was it always meant to become a series?
At first, no. I found writing First Name Basis to be a bit of an ordeal, mostly because I forced myself to do so via my very first NaNoWriMo. However, because I did win NaNoWriMo that year, one of the sponsor gifts for winning was five free proof copies of my book provided by CreateSpace. In polishing up this book to self-publish, I realized there was a lot of lore referenced that I could extract into a prequel. That’s how Second to None was born. From there, I really wanted to finish up the story I had started and tie up all the loose ends in the series, and that’s what led to The Third Degree.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
I don’t actually write on a daily basis. Most of my writing is focused during November and NaNoWriMo. During that month, I usually write on weekends and weeknights after dinner. I work for a living, so my writing is mostly at the “serious hobby” level right now. When I am writing in November, I usually have a goal to write at least as much as my cumulative daily word count, which is roughly 2,200 words per day. Most days I do better than that, but there are definitely a few weeknights where I just try to get in the minimum 1,667 words for that day.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for nine years now, so I have at least five books in various stages of being published.
The Buried Colony is a hard sci-fi book along the lines of The Martian in that it explores how our current technology, developed 15 years into the future, could get a group of six individuals outside our solar system by 2035.
The Constellation Tournament is a trilogy of science fantasy books that explores numerous astrophysics concepts while also delving into the mythology surrounding some of these constellations. What if these constellations had to fight to determine who controls the North Star? What if the Zodiacs were chosen by their ranking in the tournament? Could winners of certain sides of the brackets gain the ability to control black holes and supernovas? These three books explore all these questions and more.
The Slumberealm Gambit is the first book in a science fantasy trilogy that explores the idea that there is a parallel universe we can all access via our dreams. This Slumberealm uses the extra dimensions observed in our universe to build a reality where nearly anything is possible.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
Character names are immensely important. For The Fluxion Trilogy, all the character names are based on real scientists. Sometimes I do have to resort to anagrams to hide the more obvious references, though. Similarly, all the constellations in The Constellation Tournament share the names of their celestial counterparts. More recently, I’ve found that www.behindthename.com has helped me craft meaningful names for my characters that either tie to the themes in the books or to the characters’ personalities.
Where do your ideas come from?
Honestly? A lot of my ideas come from “what if” scenarios. There’s still plenty in this world that science has been unable to explain, so if I can take what we do know and apply it in a creative way to give an explanation for the unknown, then I feel my job as a writer has been accomplished. Some writers can get away with a pretty broad suspension of disbelief, but I almost feel that can beget laziness. How much more believable would werewolves and vampires be if there was a scientific explanation for them?
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
I wrote a short story for a Steampunk Superheroes anthology that I liked more than I thought. I ended up doing a bit of research on 1890’s San Francisco and realized that steampunk isn’t just a way to include modern science in a historical context, but a way to do some speculative historical writing as well. I’d certainly need to do some more historical research than I have for past books, but I think steampunk would be fun just for the limitations that it provides in terms of the scientific possibilities.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Editing. Hands down. Most of my stories are already pretty polished in their first draft form (I do a lot of prep work to make sure there aren’t any huge plot holes), so these stories end up wearing on me when I have to go through them three or four more times to make sure that I haven’t missed anything in terms of proofreading, grammar, or structure.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I think they’re probably a waste of time that could be spent on writing or editing. If you can’t sell a book based on a two-line pitch or a one-paragraph synopsis, how is a video going to sell it? I did make a trailer for First Name Basis, but that’s just because I was so excited that I had even written a book in the first place.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
In writing? Probably having won nine-straight NaNoWriMo challenges. At this point, I’m writing the 50,000 words to win in roughly 11 days. Otherwise, I’d consider climbing all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains with my father my best accomplishment.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Exploring the unknown. When I come up with a new idea, I can’t wait to write it. Building the world and the characters to support the interesting “what ifs” brings me joy. There are a lot of similar plots and storylines out there, but when I can create something truly original, I like to bask in the glow of filling a gap that hasn’t been covered before.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Right now, I’m in the process of querying The Buried Colony. Based on whether or not it can be traditionally published, I’ll likely keep up being independently published for the next decade. I certainly have enough stories that I want to write in the next ten years, and I look forward to getting them out there for others to read.
Have you always liked to write?
Not always. I used to write little picture books when I was in first grade, but once I moved up the grades in Elementary school, I started to hate the writing assignments. Part of it was because I was forced to write something instead of me being able to choose what I wanted to write about. When I started writing short stories for fun in college, I found that it was fun again. Since then, I enjoy the times that I get to write something new. Whether it’s a novel or short story, the raw creative process is something that I always feel energized from.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
A lot of my advice can be found in from my YouTube vlog, Writer Rant. I see a lot of amateur mistakes that would easily be fixed by two things: read as voraciously as you can, and get someone else’s outside perspective on your work. By reading as much as possible (making sure to read both popular and independent books), aspiring writers can see how the professionals do it and can also start to recognize some of the mistakes that they should avoid in their own writing. Similarly, by having a trusted set of readers, these new authors should try get the unvarnished truth about their writing so they can improve. After all, writers can’t grow if they don’t know where their weaknesses are.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
Well, I don’t write for a living, but if I were to have another “non-day job” type profession, I’d probably be a photographer. I’ve already seen some success with this through stock photo sites like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
Yes, mostly because I don’t get nearly enough reviews to be able to ignore them. In general, I don’t respond to either type of review. The few bad reviews I have received (aside from a troll who didn’t like what I was saying on YouTube) helped me to recognize some of the weaknesses in my writing, so I consider them to be constructive criticism. The good reviews I will take and craft into Instagram posts as promotional material. After all, they’re essentially testimonials of people who liked reading my books.
What is your least favorite part of the writing / publishing process?
Aside from editing, which I mentioned before, I hate marketing. This is mostly because I’m no good at it. Sure, I have the social media presence. I have regular web content. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get people to buy my books based on the marketing that I’ve done.
What are you working on now?
I’m polishing and submitting The Buried Colony to agents, but once that process is self-sustaining, I’ll be polishing up 400 blog posts I’ve written over the last seven years and collecting them together into a book that I plan to publish in September. Cinema Connections shows how movies are connected to each other in ways that you might not consider. While the 400 movies contained in this book aren’t necessarily the “1,001 movies you must see before you die,” they can help answer the question, “What should we watch tonight?”
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
I don’t want to give too much away from The Buried Colony, but there’s definitely some exploration of the capabilities of some very cutting-edge technologies. From 3D printing to artificial intelligence, humanity will need to harness these capabilities if we ever want to realistically escape the solar system. One tidbit of information I learned when researching this book is that DNA is the highest density data storage medium in the world. In fact, one gram of DNA could store the entirety of human history (i.e. movies, books, TV shows, articles, websites, etc.) almost four times over. It’s technologies like this that I used to realistically send six humans across our galaxy.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
My love of science is probably the main reason. The fact that I combine it with fantasy is probably because I also enjoy the world-building that comes with the fantasy genre. I didn’t necessarily choose to write science fantasy as much as it was just the natural way for me to explore all the ideas I had rattling around in my head.
Where did your love of books come from?
I definitely read as a child, and had books read to me when I was young. I didn’t really get into reading for pleasure until after college. After five years of reading nothing but textbooks, I had to force myself to read for fun again. Fortunately, I had a number of lengthy work trips that left me with little to do in my hotel room but read.
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
H.G. Wells and Jules Verne obviously come to mind, mostly because they were well ahead of their time when it came to writing about science. I grew up on Dave Barry and his humor columns, so he’s a favorite as well. In terms of modern authors, I particularly like the works of Robin Sloan (Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore), Andy Weir (The Martian), and Daniel H. Wilson (Where’s My Jetpack?).
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
Considering that he appears across two trilogies, I liked writing Ophiuchus in The Third Degree, as well as in The Constellation Tournament. Writing a villain is somehow so cathartic. We always want good to triumph over evil, but when evil makes it a challenge to win, the eventual victory is that much more satisfying.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing energizes me as I explore new ideas. Editing exhausts me as I rehash the same ideas over and over again.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Inertia. It’s hard to get started writing or editing after a long time of not doing it regularly. I can get easily distracted by the numerous other things I have to do (or want to do), so often it can get pushed to the bottom of my priorities.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to be original, which is probably why I don’t really have any readers (ha ha). After all, why write Ender’s Game again when it’s already been written? I also don’t want to chase trends so that my books have a more timeless quality to them. It’s great to ride a fad for a while, but then you’re always trying to hedge your bets on what the next big thing will be. At that point, writing becomes an exercise in being derivative, and I don’t think that’s a formula for quality.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m part of a group called “The Midnight Writers” with J.L. Zenor and Lena M. Johnson. For the most part, being friends with other writers provides some level of accountability. They know what projects I’m working on and when I want them to be finished, so I can usually rely on them to ask me how those projects are progressing (even if these projects have stalled). Similarly, I’m also friends with A.L. Kessler, Kevin Ikenberry, and Sam Knight, whose prolific publishing schedule motivates me to get at least one book out each year, instead of three or four.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
Actually, I kind of already have. Fourteener Father: a memoir of life above 14,000 ft. chronicles the 20+ years that I spent growing up and climbing all of Colorado’s “fourteeners” with my dad. Since I started this journey when I was eight, I was able to chronicle my life up through my teenage years, college years, and finding my independent life. Throughout these life milestones, I could always rely on our adventures in the Colorado wilderness to learn life lessons about perseverance, adversity, and accomplishment.
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
“What famous author do you most want to emulate?” While my writing style is somewhat along the lines of Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut, I think I’d want my writing process to be more along the lines of Stephen King. Not only is he quite prolific, but he’s quite inspirational with how dedicated he is to the craft. Not only is his book On Writing a fantastic resource, but I’d suggest aspiring writers watch his discussion with George R. R. Martin to get a sense of how professional he is with his writing.
Where can your fans find you and follow?
Website: www.author.benjamin-m-weilert.com (sign up for the monthly newsletter under the “Connect” tab)