Saturday, July 9, 2011

Laughing at evil - meet fantasy author Daniel M. Bensen

The Kingdoms of Evil by Daniel M. Bensen
I was recently contacted by Daniel M. Bensen author of The Kingdoms of Evil, an epic fantasy humor novel. Interested by his work, I invited him to do an interview for Her Ladyship's Quest.

Because Bensen describes his fantasy as a humor novel for those who like to root for the bad guy, I thought he would be a good person to ask about why some people crave awesome bad guys more than heroes. I found his comments to be very insightful and help me to understand this increasingly prevalent character in fiction.

Why do you think some people enjoy rooting for the bad guy?

For one thing, the standards that define a hero are very narrow, while a villain gets a lot more leeway. So it's easier to create interesting bad guys. Also, since they don't have to respect the same rules that we do, villains can be larger than life, with hooks for hands and ominous cybernetic respirators. So they have always attracted a lot of attention.

But I think the reason for villainy's growing appeal is the dissonance I mentioned between the morality of the main characters in a classic fantasy and the morality of the modern readers. Fantasy heroes are based (with more or less accuracy) on the standards of behavior that govern legends and fairy-tales, those codes of conduct have become so different from the ones that govern our society, we just can't understand these people any more. Evil characters, who manipulate those around them, base their decisions on personal gain, and actively seek pleasure, are much more compatible with the way we live our lives. We've stopped feeling bad about the principles of enlightened self-interest that govern our society, and so we are becoming less tolerant of the my-heart-is-pure-I-kill-trolls kind of hero.

In my book, the Ultimate Fiend of the Kingdoms of evil is the sympathetic character, because he rejects the good/evil trap entirely, and focuses instead on what is smart and what is stupid. The person who believes in moral absolutes is far more dangerous.

Writing humor is arguably risky because it is so difficult to appeal to people's sense of humor, especially in written form. What made you venture into this dangerous arena?

The basic idea of was to highlight the clashes between the morality of classic epic fantasy and the morality of our society. And the best way to deal with such a profound clash of expectations is humor. I'm sorry, you thought it was a good thing to forge a sword specifically to kill people who look different from you?

Writing your novel took five years. What was your writing process like? Were there long stretches when you did not have a chance to work on it?

Not really, actually. I made a regimen for myself where I wrote for at least 30 minutes every day (it later became 60). I just wasn't very good at writing. I would spend all that time typing and deleting and retyping the same couple of sentences. To go back to the first question, at that stage, writing humor didn't seem particularly difficult compared to the gargantuan task of writing anything, at all. Things did get easier. Practicing every day really did help. So although the first couple of chapters took me a year, the last two
took less than a month. Now I'm on my second book (details here: http://bensen-daniel.deviantart.com/gallery/27912685) and I'm producing a chapter every three weeks or so. So take heart!

You currently work as an English teacher in Bulgaria. What is your native country and what is Bulgaria like?

I'm from the US, but I moved to Bulgaria in 2008 with my wife, Pavlina. It was hard to adjust to life here, at first, and of course it's difficult and time-consuming to learn a new language, but in general my experience has been positive. Bulgarian people are very interested in foreigners, and they are good at having fun. Living outside the US has also given me a sense of perspective I didn't have before, allowing me to see American culture from the outside. Some things we are actually doing really well with, others not so much.

My experiences abroad certainly impacted the Kingdoms of Evil. I mean, I wrote about a world where the laws of physics change when you pass over a border, so multinationalism is a huge theme. Also, readers in the know will find some sly references to Bulgaria (and to my other host country, Japan) in the novel.

Who is your favorite character in your novel and why?

Well, of course I like the main character, Freetrick. I wrote most of the novel from his perspective, after all. I like his sense of humor, and his backbone, which I did not mean to give him. My favorite supporting character, though, is DeMacabre, the obligatory evil adviser, and the father of the love interest. His were my
favorite lines to write ("How absolutely phantasmagorical to finally make your acquaintance") and the character turned out to be a lot deeper than I originally thought he would be. No spoilers, but he really is, if not a good person, at least an understandable one.

What have you been doing to promote your novel?

I made a website (http://www.thekingdomsofevil.com/) and I am releasing the novel page by page (with illustrations) to give people something to look at before they buy the book. I have also talked up the book on forums and review pages like this one. Finally, I found out that the TV tropes forums are good places to get advice and do some promotion.

6. Any additional comments?

Well, I could give some advice. Focus all your energy on writing the story. Not the world-building, not the back-story of the characters. You only know what will be useful once you know what the story is about, and you only know what your story is about after you finish it.

THEN you can go back and add more details. Nothing is more important than the story.

Where to get The Kingdoms of Evil

Online serial presentation http://www.thekingdomsofevil.com/

Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/66649

Amazon U.S. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004W3VWSK/

Amazon U.K. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B004W3VWSK

Thank you for the great interview.

Readers please comment with your thoughts about villains.

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