Today author Benjamin Percy stops by and talks with Jeff about his book, his work and Marvel and more!
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Theme music by Ardus and Damn The Cow
zoom_0 and Benjamin Percy – COMBINED
Jeff Haas: [00:00:00] Well, let’s use a spoiler our country today on the show you a personal favorite of mine, Mr. Benjamin, Percy. How’s it going, sir? It’s
Benjamin Percy: going great. Thanks so much for having me on
Jeff Haas: definitely my pleasure.
I’m a big fan of yours. I’m a fan of yours with Wolverine. Your book. The ninth metal is fantastic. I was, I really enjoyed reading it. It’s a nice, quick perfect read for us. For me and my wife read it as well. So what I usually start off with, on my writing guys from, I always ask first, where does your love of writing come from?
Benjamin Percy: Well, I grew up an obsessive reader and I know this sounds a little romantic to say, but just about every evening, growing up when my family was not watching star Trek, the next generation or come through the legend continues, we were all sprawled out in the living room with books in hand, and my dad would be reading a science fiction novel, and my mom would be reading a Western novel.
And my sister, the black sheep of the family [00:01:00] would be reading a book on physics or something. And I would be reading. No. Is there a comic book might have been, you know, you see comics those reprints that I was obsessed with tales from the crypt vault for, or, or it might’ve been, you know, the wheel of time or, or, you know, an Agatha Christie novel or Stephen King or Dean Coons or, or who knows what, but it was always like a mass market paperback with an embossed title.
And, you know, I, I moved around quite a bit and that had something to do with it. Maybe, you know, always being in a new environment not necessarily fully fitting in and escapism was, you know, a welcome retreat. So. So it was the fact that I grew up often and lived in rural areas. You know, I didn’t have neighbors, I could hang out with.
So when you’re in on 27 acres of land, you know outside of Eugene, [00:02:00] Oregon, or around whatever, it was 10 acres of lamp, scrub land outside bend and Redmond, Oregon, you know, I would, I would retreat down the rabbit hole and turn pages. So swiftly, they made a breeze on my face. And that was, that was, you know, formative to my imagination.
So reading, reading books about, about dragons, about vampires, about robots with laser eyes, about, about you know, barbarians with wooly underpants, John genre was where I went you know, to play and, and the same can be said. You know, as, as a teenager, when I started to scribble out stories of my own, I was, I was emulating those who came before me.
And, and it wasn’t as though it was immediately crystallized in my mind that I would become a writer. And I grew up around ranchers and loggers and didn’t meet a [00:03:00] writer until I was in college. You know, but I had, I had fantasies in mind. I, you know, I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I, I, my parents are, are obsessive archeologists and, and hobby archeologists and rock AMS, fossil hunters.
And we were always. No. We were always out in the scab lands of Oregon, digging up fossils, visiting, visiting archeological sites. And then I went on my own to be on several digs with the university of Oregon and Oregon museum of science and industry sort of training for a path in that field. And ultimately decided that, you know, it wasn’t for me, it was, I was living a life of the mind all along, like what I had in my head.
Wasn’t the same as what awaited me in reality. So I was in a way that was training ground for me being a novelist, you know, I, there were no, there was no Ark of the covenant waiting out there for me. There was no, there were no, no Nazis to do battle with or, or, or beautiful women. [00:04:00] Certainly there are no women who was just, you know, inch after inch of soil.
And the highlight of the day was discovering a bone chip. And, and so, you know, I kind of eventually was able to for in a few different things, contributed to this, but eventually sort of train my sights on You know, building worlds of my own and becoming, becoming a short story writer, a novelist, eventually a comics writer and screenwriter as well.
Jeff Haas: Yeah. I really like the picture that you drew of or well described of you and your family sitting around reading books together. It’s one of those things that you don’t seem to hear as much, but it sounds like a, it’s great to hear that it was your family that got you into, into reading like that, that it became, it was a fundamental aspect of your childhood.
Benjamin Percy: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, there, there, there were always books in her hands. There was always a book, you know, You know, the bathroom in the, in the, in the kitchen, in the, in the car in a backpack, in a back pocket. If you’re waiting in [00:05:00] line a long line, you read a book. If you’re no, if you’re on a road trip, you read a book.
If you’re, if you’re lounging around late at night, you read a book and, and you know, that sort of engagement and conversation that came from you know, not just the study of craft, but, you know, the, the different tropes of the, of the genres were exploring. Like there was this part of our vocabulary. You know, we could, we could talk about.
You know, those who were members of the fellowship of the ring or those who were, you know, crew members of the Starship enterprise. We could, we could talk about them with the same familiarity that we might have some of our, you know, cousins or uncles. So yeah, that’s, that’s the world I grew up in and it was, it was training ground for wherever.
Jeff Haas: Oh, that sounds fantastic. And you grew up since you grew up in Oregon, but you chose to attend brown university. So what was your goal in attending brown, which is [00:06:00] literally on the other side of the country.
Benjamin Percy: I had no plan. I had no goal. It was pretty random. My science teacher, David Bermudez, he taught a number of science courses, including AP physics and that I had taken.
And I thought he was a really cool guy and he had gone to brown. And so that was the school I applied to. I applied early decision and I got in and I never applied to anywhere else. And I, I had never visited college campuses. I didn’t really know much of what was going on, you know, what to expect. It, it, you know, It was a solid educational experience.
I don’t think it was the right school for me necessarily. And it was certainly quite a lot of culture shock going from a rural Oregon to the urban east coast and, and the Ivy league crowd, you know, to give you an example of this. And the first day that I arrived at, walked into my dorm wearing Wrangler jeans and my roommate, [00:07:00] who I am friends with to this day.
But his response to seeing me as I entered the room was oh my God, I’m rooming with a hick
Jeff Haas: nice introduction.
Benjamin Percy: I, I struggled for the first year. I ended up on academic probation actually. But you know, I found my focus and it wasn’t just emotional focus. It was also academic focus. You know, I I’d come into the school with an anthropology major and decided I didn’t want to do that changed over to creative writing.
And part of that was, you know, some of this happened to me over and over in my career in my life. And that is I faced rejection and I found a way to pivot out of it. So I had, you know, I sat down with my advisor and my spring semester because I was on academic probation and failed a bunch of courses and gotten lousy grades in the ones that I did pass.
And he was one of the professors who had failed me in computer science. That was one of my issues with brown was that they didn’t have any direction. Like you normally would [00:08:00] go to a university and they have required courses. Brown doesn’t have any required courses, which for an 18 year old dumb ass, like me was not a good thing.
I needed somebody to tell me this is what you should take. Yeah. So I took a bunch of courses that were not right for me, including computer science when I didn’t know how to code. And anyways, I, I, I sat down with him and he’s like, and I asked him for advice. And he’s like, you know, not a lot of people have the guts to say this, but, you know, college isn’t for everybody.
He was basically telling me to drop out when I got up and obviously felt like a miserable smear of human waste. As I was leaving the office. He said, you know, it’s kind of surprising. You’re doing so poorly because your application essay is the best I’ve ever read. And that, that stuck with me. You know, I, I never saw him again.
I never spoke to him again, but that, that line stuck with me. You know, that summer I ended up working at glacier [00:09:00] national park. When I was going through, I guess, a bit of an existential crisis, I was thinking about dropping out. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but that line, you know, the, my application essay was the best you’d ever read.
Like that’s when I first started to keep a journal, that’s when I first started to write just snatches of stories and poems and songs, even, and I met a woman that summer. She was I was the gardener in glacier national park. I know it’s kind of a weird job at a national park, but I was the gardener. He was a waitress at many glacier lodge.
You know, I would write her, these love poems and love letters. And she said, one night we were watching the sunset over the Rockies and she was like, you should be a writer. And I was like, okay,
came back that next week, Mr. And changed my major to English. And I started taking creative writing classes and, you know, really buckled down. I ended up graduating with honors, which, you know, Screw you to that initially
Jeff Haas: it’s funny, the [00:10:00] power of a woman to convince you to do something just,
Benjamin Percy: and, you know, I ended up, I ended up marrying her.
Oh, it was fateful summer. Yeah.
Jeff Haas: That’s a, that’s such a cool story. When I went to college the first time around, I went as a, I was anthropologists major as well. The first time around I went in, I actually kind of focused on primatology. And I did that for a few years until I quit, but it kind of funny how many people start in the policy field and never do anything with it later in their life,
Benjamin Percy: which is kind of funny.
Do they all want to be Indiana Jones? I wonder,
Jeff Haas: I think that they don’t probably tell you that the fantasy of what it sounds like you’re going to be doing is close to the reality of what you really are.
Benjamin Percy: We would think is always the problem. I mean, I have a, I still have that fedora in my office that I got when I was a teenager.
Oh, I wonder how many people’s lives Indiana Jones ruined.
Jeff Haas: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure there’s quite a few people who realize, oh, that’s not what you do. There really isn’t the [00:11:00] mystical artifact. You’re going to find in a cave somewhere. You’re gonna be digging in a ditch somewhere really hot and humid.
Benjamin Percy: I don’t think that was true with snakes. There were a lot of snakes. Oh, one, one dig a actually there’s a scouting expedition with the Oregon museum of science and industry. And we would be going up and down all these canyons and discovering rock art sites and GPA, be asking them in and then mapping them out and such.
Yeah, that was that was the summer of almost getting bit by 30 rounds. I mean, it was like something that I have a Cormac McCarthy novel after awhile. Like we’d be killing these snakes cause we would have to, you know, be mapping out these sites and I’d have like all these rattles attached to my belt.
Well then the important question is though
Jeff Haas: the question, important question is, did you do the line though? Did you do the inner Jones? Why did it have to be snakes? Did he do it when you were there?
Benjamin Percy: That’s very [00:12:00] dangerous. You’re going first, indeed.
Jeff Haas: Well, it’s kind of great. I mean, obviously you found your calling when you became a writer because you became extremely successful, not only as a novelist, but as a non-fiction writer as well. You wrote a work called throw me essays on fiction and you also teach an online teaching course on writing suspense.
So. How, so how has, what you learned as a writer diverge from what you were taught about being a writer, or did you find that what you were taught is, was pretty close to the reality of doing it?
Benjamin Percy: So I, you know, that online course, you mentioned that it’s actually, it was a, it’s just a one-time deal on Skillshare where I sat down for a day and it sort of unloaded all these different techniques for suspense.
And you can just download that at any time if anybody’s interested. But yeah, I also wrote this, this book thrill me which is about suspense. It’s also about kind of that literary genre divide. It’s, it’s my craft arsenal. And, [00:13:00] and prior to publishing through me, I had taught as a professor for about 10 years.
Wow. That was my former life. I was a giant nerdy professor. And, and if I, you know, retreat even further into the past, when I was a student. I walked into that first creative writing classroom and sat down and I was ready to write those stories that I had told you about before I was ready to write a werewolf story.
I was ready to write a code and story. I was ready to write a story. You know, a mystical flaming sword or whatever. And, and the first thing that the professor did, and he looked like a mannequin, he was hairless and expression lesson. The first thing that he did upon going through the syllabus was to say, no, I put up my hand and he settled his dead [00:14:00] gaze upon me and said, yes.
And I said, well, what do you mean by this whole note, John rhe thing? And he said, I mean, mare dragons,
barbarians with wooly underpants. And I sat there for a moment taking this in before putting up my hand once more and asking very earnestly. But what else is there? Because I really didn’t know. I’d never read it. Or heard of flying Euro O’Connor or Leslie Silko or James Baldwin or Alice Munro or any of the other literary writers that I felt love with thereafter and every classroom that I ended up in year after year after year, I heard the same thing, no genre and plot was a dirty word.
Despite this, I never fell out of love with genre fiction. I fell in love with literary fiction. I never fell out of love was genre. And I eventually came to a [00:15:00] place where I felt most drawn to the people who are doing both in a way. You know, if you think about what is literary fiction do really well, literary fiction has characters.
So three-dimensional that they seem made of flesh and blood, not ink and paper. You know, the, the, the sentences are exquisitely rendered. The metaphors glow. The themes are subterranean. What’s the worst of literary fiction. Sometimes there’s not a lot going on. But you know, you can level similar criticisms, genre, fiction, genre fiction at its worst might have formulaic plots.
I’d have paper thin characters who are more types. You know, it might have pedestrian pros, but the, but the thing that even the worst of genre fiction never forgets is that stuff needs to happen. All six cylinders are always blazing and Joan or fiction. And, and so if you think [00:16:00] about the best of both worlds, I converging the best of literary fiction, the best of genre fiction.
You have, you know, stories written by the likes of Margaret Atwood or, or Cormack McCarthy or, or Dennis Lehane you know, or, or Ursula Kayla Gwyn or. Octavia Butler or, or I could just keep going. And, and I wanted to be in the similar space. I wanted them to write stories that were, you know, that were artfully told, but compulsively readable.
And so that’s also how I approached my teaching in the time that I was in the classroom. You know, I would try to, I realized that I had never been taught plot. I had never been taught structure really. You know, there was no, it was almost, it was frowned upon to even address that as though your story was somehow lacking if it had a firm’s spine or any inkling of genre elements in [00:17:00] it.
So anyways, I would, I started to, I tried to. To create, not just my own storytelling arsenal, but also my own teaching toolbox. And a lot of that you’ll find in that book thrill me, which I wanted to make sure that I wrote before I quit teaching so that I could continue lighting some fires under some minuses.
Jeff Haas: So what do you think general fishing gets such a bad rap?
Benjamin Percy: I mean, let’s be honest, John we’re fiction is. The the standard, if you go back through time, you know, to when we were grunting around campfires. Yeah. You know, it’s always been the adventure story, the ghost story, the monster story. But what happened in the mid 20th century with the rise of the MFA program and the academization of [00:18:00] literature, you know, a certain snobbery took hold and people seem to believe in the claim that literary realism was the standard.
It’s not the standard at all. You know, it’s a bullet on the radar, it’s a genre of its own. So, and I think that kind of gatekeeping, yeah. You know, it’s going away. The tide has shifted, you know, I graduated from college 20 years ago. So as I visit, I oftentimes visit campuses a lot now is you know, they’ll fly me in and I’ll run a workshop for some grad students and do a reading and we’re all go to a literary festival.
You know, we’re all teaching at a place like bread, the bread loaf writers’ conference. And, you know, because of writers like Karen Russell and Kevin Bruckheimer and Michael Chabon and others people, you know, the taxonomy that used to lock people in place, the fences that were erected that [00:19:00] you know, used to corral people into different corners.
Like, I feel like that’s some of that’s being burned down, kicked down and you see Sort of, you know, I’d say a different approach. And that approach sometimes is, you know, or look at Colson Whitehead, like he puts out a book zone, he’s a Pulitzer prize winner. He’s considered, you know, the great novelist of this time.
He put out an zombie novel called zone one, you know, just stuff like that keeps happening. And, and, you know, I think that ultimately what you have to do is look at, look at it. I don’t know, just look around it at great genre vehicles that exist right now. You know, I just finished watching Mera V stound, for example, by all accounts, that’s a police procedural.
You’ve got the dead body, you’ve got the shifting set of subjects, the twists, the troubled detective at the heart of the story and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But. What you understand by the [00:20:00] end of this tale is that, you know, the genre conceit is just a way in, it’s just the way. Cook your finger at the audience and say, come here you’ll probably like this, but by the end, it transcends genre.
It’s ultimately that show, what it’s about is not who done it. It’s about trauma and how different people respond to carry trauma and push past trauma. It’s about family and community and that’s, that’s the ultimate takeaway. And so that’s a perfect example of sort of what I’m talking about as being sort of neither fish nor fowl, both literary and genres.
I’m not really interested in, you know, the labels and all that. Like I’m just interested in stories that thrill me in the movement.
Jeff Haas: A story that’s meant to entertain is always seen as beneath a story, maybe meant to, I don’t know, inform on some level maybe or on sort of some dramatic level. [00:21:00] And I think stories that are meant to entertain, there’s so many potential layers that are found in those stories that I think it’s almost same thing with movies as well.
Like the officers or anything like that. I feel like they’re always, once again, given there’s treated as secondary and for some reason I never understood that.
Benjamin Percy: Yeah. Sometimes that happens. I mean, you look at, you’ll get Oscar season, right? That’s a time of year in the fall, those movies, those movies start to come out, but you know what?
Those movies are their own genre at this point. Yeah. And, and movies like the dark Knight or mid-summer or whatever are, are nominated. And even though they’re, you know, tremendously artful in the way that they were, they were written and produced.
Jeff Haas: I agree with you a hundred percent. You, you also honestly are, like I said, it’d be mentioned earlier.
You’re a very civil, calm book writer. You’re a very successful novelist. Is, are there the skills to be a good comeback writer and a good novelist? The same? Do they diverge in a certain area? Is there a, can you train for them the same way?
[00:22:00] Benjamin Percy: No, they require different skill sets for sure. I mean there’s, yes.
There’s certain crossover elements, but that applies to any storytelling. Medium. There’s always, there’s always fundamentals that they should share in common. But writing comics is, is a strict form. It’s 20 pages, it’s five to seven scenes. There’s usually a splash page. And the first five pages. There’s usually a splash page in the last three pages.
You have an, a plot of people out, a C plot and a deep plot. And the B plot of issue. One becomes the, a plot of issue two and so forth. You know, there’s generally a villain who is a reflection of the core wounds of the character, of the hero blah, blah, blah. He could keep going. But the, you know, the Terrence Hayes is a poet.
Says that the difference, if you look at the difference between like free verse poetry and form poetry, form poetry, like a sonnet or a villain L he says, you know, [00:23:00] it’s cool if you can break dance, but it’s bad-ass, if you can break dance in a straight jacket and comics writing, it’s like break dancing in a straight jacket there’s, but that constraint can sometimes be inspiring.
And it’s certainly. It certainly makes you more efficient. You have to do a lot in very little space and you have to, you have to sort of amplify common storytelling elements so that you know, I mean, comics are just sort of Technicolor in every respect anyway, but so that you can convince people to come back a month later.
I mean, it’s just insane if you think about, I mean, think about if your favorite show came out once a month, right. That would, that would drive you crazy. You’d probably lose interest, right. And yet we’re asking people once a month to hold onto that story in their heads and to drive to the comic shop and pick up their copy, you know, the story it’s, it’s just a crazy [00:24:00] obligation.
So you really have to just like crank up the volume as loud as you can, to make sure that that happens when it comes to audience loyalty and to fight attrition. But, you know, I am a better novelist because I read comics. I know. It’s not just, it’s not just that the, my, you know, newer novels are better because I’ve spent more time at the keyboard.
It is that, and that I’m more mature in that, you know, I have more life experience and I’ve read more books and everything, all that’s true, but it’s also because comics have just trained me to be that much more of an architect to be that much more aware of the component, parts of storytelling, because there’s such a strict form
Jeff Haas: when you’re going about running your novels.
Do you think then in terms of like a complicated, I have to think of in these tight scenes, I need to build every scene to make sure that it kind of ends on that splash page, even though it’s prose, you know, like a splash page idea that hooks up into the. A chapter
Benjamin Percy: or [00:25:00] absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you look at a comic book, right.
And it’s not just, it’s not just that final page, which is often a splash page. It’s almost every scene has a cliffhanger, right? Here’s commissioner Gordon up on a rooftop. And you know, he’s talking to Batman and then in the background behind them and the sky at planes going along, it’s a missile, strike it, the conversation’s interrupted and have seen something else happens in the next scene.
Like the Batmobile goes spiraling off a bridge and of seen, you know, you always are just ending in an addictive way and you see the same thing in you know law and order episode, right? You move towards the commercial break and the detective discovers the body in the alley. There are flashlight homes in, on the face and it’s not just.
The dead body, that’s surprising the discovery of dead bodies. It’s the star witness in the trial dumped on Cialis commercial, right? That’s the [00:26:00] commercial break and, and in the same way, like with novels. Yeah. You know, and I, I discovered this, not just from writing comics, but from breaking down books, you know, I, I, early on was just rereading and rereading and rereading books and blueprinting them and trying to figure them out one in which one that I did this for was the girl with the dragon tattoo.
Because everybody at the time was reading it and it was this big brick of a book. And I was just trying to figure out like, how, why are so many people reading this giant book? So swiftly and going to the thriller, the form alone seems to indicate that it will be a slog. And then one of the things I did was I went through that book and I read it three times.
And the third time I blueprinted it. And they stuck all these Different colored sticky notes in it to mark different cliffhangers and, and trouble points. And one of the things that I discovered was that here you have Miquel, blump Fisk the trouble journalist here. You have Elizabeth, Salander the troubled hacker.
Each of them have like four or five things you know, Mikelle Blomqvist he’s he’s got legal [00:27:00] problems. Professional problems. He’s got a romantic problem. He’s got familiar problems and he’s got serial killer problems, right? For each one of those things, I would have a different sticky note. Maybe it was like a Perry Winkle blue sticky note for a, I don’t know, is, is professional troubles.
Maybe it was a pink sticky note for his romantic troubles. I’d stick it in the book. Every time I saw this thing come up and I did the same thing for Elizabeth cylinder. She’s got a whole host of problems. She’d get her own sticky notes. And what I discovered was that it was like almost, almost every 25 pages, 25 to 35 pages is going to be this rotation that occurred where it’s like, you go from one problem and it would spike.
And it would usually spike right at the end of a chapter. And then the next thing would come into rotation and spike usually right at the end of a chapter. And I came to think of this as the dance of the flaming chainsaws. And you know, in the way that you compose a novel is not to create if you, if you conclude things in a chapter, [00:28:00] if you think about a chapter, almost like a short story and you bring up trouble and resolve trouble in that chapter, you failed because you’ve created a stop start, stop, start, stop, start, stop rhythm, where instead you want to rise towards a moment of emotional or physical peril and then cut away, not resolve that thing.
And then you just constantly have in this dance of the flaming chainsaws, just imagine these chainsaws like roaring towards you and then you somehow managed to flip it. Into the air again, but you only have a second to think about it. If it comes here, comes another before the other will come back down again and so on and so forth, so, so forth.
And this is really evident in the way that you, you know, if you’re reading comics, if you’re writing comics, this is, you know, explicitly obvious in comics in a way that it’s not always done in novels, but I sort of took that skillset and I apply it to everything that I write now. Yeah.
Jeff Haas: And in reading the, the, your, your newest novel, the ninth Metta, which likes, that was [00:29:00] fantastic, that you have multiple different characters, each one.
As you said about John Guy to kind of cycling through issues and you do have that cliffhanger ending at each chapter. So that wasn’t, that’s based on what you were discovering and only reading comic books, but also things like the girl with dragon tattoo.
Benjamin Percy: Sure. Yeah. And you know, if you think about some of the characters in that story in the, in the way in which I was sort of designing their narrative arc and their emotional arc you know, in, in comic books, you have a hero who has a core wound, right?
Spider-Man exists because uncle Ben was shot by a burglar Batman exists because Bruce Wayne was walking with Thomas and Martha went. From the theater through crime alley when they were set upon by robbers and, you know, gunshots, fire, and pearls and blood splatter the street. And we have our origin story.
So there’s this core wound. Right. And then, [00:30:00] and what you typically have happened is that the character is motivated by driven by that core wound. And, and that whatever villainous or antagonistic forces that they’re wrestling with, or an externalization of that core word and or of all of the many splintered weaknesses inside of them.
You know, so Batman is like a really obvious example of this with his rogues gallery. You can look at each of them and see them as reflections of some sort of some sort of internal problem that Bruce has. You know, if it’s, if it’s a joker story it’s directly tied to that crime alley moment. Out of that comes Batman’s want for law and order.
You know, he was his, want to fight chaos. Chaos is a pit demised in the joker. You look at, you look at a two phase. If it’s a two phase story, every two phase stories should be about is Bruce Wayne, the man and Batman, the mask, or is Batman, the real man and Bruce Wayne, the mask, [00:31:00] if it’s you know, free story that should be about Bruce’s internal coldness.
If it’s about a scarecrow story, it’s about that boy who was. Yeah, boy, who was afraid, who grew up to be the one who weaponized fear that’s whatever he scares Crow stories should be about. Right. So in the same way, if you look at my book, I’ve got all these characters in the ninth metal, and one of them, John frontier, right.
He’s struggling with this core wound part of, you know, it’s not so simple as just one thing, but you know, it sort of Springs out of one thing and that is, he blames himself for his mother’s death. Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and out of that death came a lot of. And a lot of bad behavior that he’s trying to rectify now, but he’s trying to atone for now.
And that drives his story. And he has a lot of secrets he carries around with them. So I won’t, even though this is right, right, right, right, right. But then, you know, you have, you [00:32:00] have villains in the story who sort of are they, they bring out these weaknesses. You know, you have a character in the novel, fabulous gun who wants to weaponize John, which is exactly what John does not want.
His greatest fear is to become a weapon because that’s, that’s what he’s, you know, what’s haunts him is, is the damage he’s done already. So yeah, sort of very comic booky examples. You’ll you’ll find, you’ll find their Genesis, you know, in, in me studying Stanley and Jack Kirby, you’ll, you’ll find them sort of that DNA in the pages of this novel.
Jeff Haas: I mean, in many ways, real ways. I mean, the origin of the character Hawkins I was getting is very classic comic book superhero. And in how his bag, I mean, without giving away too much of the story of what happens to them, Own family is kind of classic in that superhero trope as well. And his wish upon the media, which is make me [00:33:00] stronger so I can fight him is also once again, it’s, it’s very classic.
And also in my opinion, it, it also opens the door to so many other possibilities. Cause once again, he wishes upon the media is he gets the wish that comes true. Now, the question is, is a coincidence or is there a force that can enable the granting of wishes on some level? And I think that’s also as a very interesting layer to your book as well, that I think exists from the Hawkins character.
Benjamin Percy: no, the character who’s weak, who’s broken, who becomes strong. And the thing that he wished for ends up being occurred. You know, that’s a classic sort of term where, you know, the thing that you wish for ends up being the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you.
Jeff Haas: Well, the, again too, before we get too deep into the, into the now, cause I we’re going to do a little bit of a deep dive for our listeners.
What can you give us your pitch on what the novel is about?
Benjamin Percy: So it’s a age old Saifai construct at a glance. You know, [00:34:00] a comment comes streaking through the solar system. The earth spins through the debris field. We are introduced as a planet to unfamiliar elements elements off the periodic table, that up in the laws of physics, biology, geology that create chaos and the geo political theater.
And what I was trying to do was create a trigger of it. For a new world within our world. And this is, you could say, if you think about it in Marvel or DC terms, as soon as the new Dawn of heroes and villains, and what I was hoping to do was create it’s called the comment cycle. So a trilogy, I have three books, but it could be six books.
It could be nine books. You could keep going. It’s supposed to be infinitely generative. And what I wanted to do is create my own MC or [00:35:00] DCU. You know, you look at comics and one of the pleasures of reading them is that they are a shared universe. What happens in wonder, woman carries over to Batman, carries over to Superman.
There’s that ripple effect. The same thing happens in literature though, as well. We has her own literary shared universe Faulkner has his own literary shared universe. Stephen King has his own shared universe especially as the the dark tower series, which really threads together everything philosophically as well as you know, in terms of the narrative threads, all come together there.
But that I kind of wanted to create an amalgamation of that. And I learned from comic books when I learned from literature. In the comment cycle and yeah, this first book takes place in Minnesota, Northern Minnesota, and it focuses on the metal. And if you think about Omni metal, as, you know, having cousins in the Marvel or DC universe, you can say, oh, that’s some kind of like vibranium tomorrow.
That’s kind of like Adam, [00:36:00] Antia more unobtainium or whatever. You know, it’s a metal that is absorbent it’s absorbs kinetic energy. And this changes everything for the weapons sector, for the energy sector. And as a result of that, people from all over the world, Saudis Chinese, they all rush to. The middle of nowhere, bitch becomes the center of everything.
You know, you have rough streaming streaming in on trains. You have a rise in prostitution and drugs. There are bodies and shallow graves. It’s a BoomTown equivalent to a kind of Saifai Deadwood and there’s a family drama at the heart of it. And ultimately it’s less about these high concept elements that I’m discussing and more about the characters and how they handle wealth.
You know, struggled to keep [00:37:00] their moral compass in corrupt times.
Jeff Haas: And part of an element of the story. That’s very much its own character as well is Northwell. Minnesota is very much its own personality. And I know you’re very familiar with north wall, you know, having spent some time living there, how similar is the novel’s north fall to the real Northville, at least before the OmniMount, which obviously changes the whole element of Northwell.
It makes it it very interesting amalgamation of what it could be.
Benjamin Percy: Well, I mean, there’s no, I made up the town of north fall, but it’s very similar to Ilene, Minnesota, and it’s, you know, spent a lot of time in up north and it’s, it’s not only my favorite part of Minnesota. It’s become one of my favorite parts of the country.
You know, it’s a liminal space in that you don’t know sometimes what’s Canada and what’s the U S you don’t know what’s private or tribal. And there’s a lot of wars [00:38:00] going on over that. And it seemed to me, if you’re talking about a cosmic event, something that’s about a war of the worlds in a way, what better space as a backdrop than that.
And also due to the fact that Northern Minnesota used to be with the iron range, the center of the steel industry, All this iron or all this taconite came out of Northern Minnesota was shipped to steel mills around the world. Like so many rust belt cities rust belt areas in the Midwest. You know, it’s experienced economic decline.
Mining is still happening, not at the same rate, and there’s a lot of discussion, a lot of very heated discussion going on as to whether the boundary waters area should be mined for copper nickel. And in this debate, you know, hinges on whether it’s more important to protect wilderness areas or more, whether it’s more important to protect the economy, you know, help help the industry of the area where people [00:39:00] have area and, you know, people come to fisticuffs over this stuff.
And so I just thought like, with this dramatic. Legacy already invested in that real estate. What a perfect place to drop this bomb on this bomb blast. You have people, people, the people who populate the novel come from this from all sides. You know, I have characters who are part of legacy families, legacy mining, families who are trying to control everything.
I have characters who are like wilderness guides. We’re trying to bring, you know, wish that things would go back to the way they were. I have people coming from outside the state and trying to sort of re patiently you know claim their stake and so on and so forth. So I have government government agents who are running the experience experiments and blah, blah, blah, blah, just have this swirl of perspectives that all comes together in this sort of fishbowl scenario.
And. In, [00:40:00] in an area that otherwise would have been completely ignored.
Jeff Haas: And, and I really do love that you have that theme of how corporation, when they enter a small era can take advantage of the resources there. And the part that actually popped in my head was actually similar to the idea of like fracking, what fracking does when corporations buy areas.
And they do a lot of that, which can be dangerous
Benjamin Percy: to the area. I was looking a lot at two at North Dakota. And what had happened there, the Bakken oil formation, I’m just curious. This boom is this wild west nouveau wild west and, and thousands and thousands of people moved up there. And the motto of North Dakota for a while was a millionaire a day.
Oh, I’m in farmers, struggling. Farmers would sell off the mineral rights to their land for millions and you know, crime boomed. And, and I was, I had my, my binoculars trained on North Dakota, and then I transpose that onto Northern Minnesota.
Jeff Haas: And, and I think another interesting consequence of the arrival of the almond metal [00:41:00] or what you call the metal leaders, which is a very cultish group.
I kind of thought in my head a little bit of moments of like, sort of a heaven’s gate for a little bit to who believed the comment was coming, they were going to somehow they killed themselves, arrive in the comment and it’s going to be, I guess, like heaven. Tell me a little about the middle leaders, because it kind of is an interesting idea that the moment something really spectacular, like the army metal arrived like that comment immediately people’s first, or at least a certain segment of people’s first thought is create a religious theology around it.
And I was just going with the middle leaders seem to do as well as things such as these as drug, as a drug as well. They crutch, I guess I came up with the, you called it like start ups or something along those lines, but the term four. So tell me a little bit about the middle leaders and what inspired their career, because they definitely feel like a very symbolic representation of a segment of people.
Benjamin Percy: Sure. Well, we’re always, you know, all of us are looking for meaning in our lives and when he looked to the stars, right. That’s where people typically, you know, aim their [00:42:00] prayers. You know, they, you look to the cosmic as, as a. You know, sometimes as a forbidding omnipotent presence. And, and whether it’s the supernatural or the religious, there’s a lot to be said about the unknown, you know, that drives us to our knees and makes us ask for it makes us ask for help, makes us ask for guidance.
And, and I grew up around Colts in a few different ways. One, I grew up in central Oregon, not too far from the Raj Rajneesh compound. If you’re not familiar with the Raj niche, they are documented in this series called wild, wild west on Netflix. You should check out. So we used to go fossil hunting on the ranch.
And so that was, that was my backyard. So it was constantly aware of the Rajneesh in that trouble, in their troubled history. I was, I was also aware of cults because my, you know, I’ve got family members who were members of the summit lighthouse Colt that was run by Elizabeth prophet [00:43:00] and they believe the world is going to end.
And they Took over a bunch of caves in Montana and put vet ventilation systems through them and put all the ammo and food to last a lifetime. And they all went into the cave and waded out what they thought was going to be a nuclear Holocaust that never came because, you know, co 1 0 1, never give a deadline.
You know, eventually everybody left the cave and Elizabeth prophet was busted for something. And there was charges, I think, connected to a weapon, gun running and racketeering or something like that. Anyways, you know, I grew up in, cause I’ve always been fascinated by Colts. I saw people giving up their bank accounts.
I saw that firsthand. I saw people putting foil pyramids on their heads and chanting. You know I’m not as not a joke. I actually happened people who are blood relatives of me. No, I guess that that’s just in my hard wiring and I’ve always wanted to write about it. [00:44:00] And this seemed like a good opportunity for such an and yeah, there’s, there’s something to be said though, about how you can’t write these people off because something is happening.
Their eyes sparked blue, you know, when they, when they smoke the Stardust and seem to be in communion with something other, something, something connected to the comments,
Jeff Haas: origin, like what you said about the guided, because you don’t set a deadline, it kind of interested what do Colt people do when they realize the thing that they were thinking about as the deadline never happened?
So they just move on to the next one or,
Benjamin Percy: I think they usually create a new deadline. You see that with the Q and honors right now? It’s like, oh, well, March. Oh, Nope. It’s actually August. And I’m sure there’ll be another deadline once August
Jeff Haas: passes. Yeah. I think you did fantastic with your book. There’s a certain, the characters aren’t in many ways, would you say pure, good or evil?
A lot of the characters [00:45:00] have a lot going on with them that make some very complex. For instance, you have like John, the frontier who, you know, you, you think is a, is a hero, but there’s stuff, there’s other stuff going on. His family is in the family. You think he’s going to pretty early on you realize that there’s something weird going on with them.
The, the scientists with Hawkins as well. I mean, not a bad person, but she’s definitely not doing something on the level as well. The only character that seemed early on that seems very positive, a hundred percent is Stacy who it kind of feels like her optimism is, you know, it’s an interesting statement.
What happens to someone world like that to an optimist. And I was wondering if that’s what was kind of how, how you planted the characters. That they were complex in that
Benjamin Percy: way. Yeah. I mean every, every, every story is a transformation story and, and each one of these characters goes through the gauntlet and emerges changed about the other side.
You know, I would, I think you’ll struggle to find a story where that’s not the case. Maybe there are a [00:46:00] few checkoff stories that are three pages long where the character doesn’t really change and in a way that’s the point. But Dorothy, at the beginning of a wizard of Oz is singing, you know, somewhere over the rainbow.
And by the end, she’s cooking her heels together and saying, there’s no place like home. She’s gone from a dreamer to realist. And I think that that’s a similar journey to what you see in Stacy tool. She. Is described in the book as Pollyanna ish, you know, she’s calls herself a peace officer instead of a police officer.
She you know, wants the very best for her community, but she is going to have to sort of D she’s going to have to pull down the blinds on that sunny disposition in order to survive in this world. And she’s going to have to do some wrong to make some right. And, and yeah, all the characters occupy a kind of morally gray territory.
And sometimes they’re going from bad guy to good guy, [00:47:00] one of the Stacy’s journey. More like going from, you know, pure, lawful good to sort of like a neutral good or something like that. If you’re thinking about it in D and D terms, sort of a dress adjuster barometer.
Jeff Haas: And, and, and I think that nothing that you do that wasn’t, it was kind of an interesting twist is that another major conflict is between the black dog energy company and the first and the frontier family.
And let’s get early on in the story. Someone who like myself is thinking, well, frontiers will local group, the local family. So they’re probably the good guys and very quickly, you’re like, oh, wait a second. You know, there isn’t necessarily a, when you’re dealing with, with millionaire money corporation, they’re not necessarily the good guys.
And I thought that was a very interesting ways to make the readers kind of wake up to the idea of what, of, what they would expect from the local business. You know what I’m saying? It’s like a Norwegian
Benjamin Percy: American mafia where I put it all together. [00:48:00] Their company, I think it’s called Aurora metals. I, I came up with a few different names for it.
So I don’t know if I changed that to Northern lights, mining, or anyways, they’re they’re local company. You know, it’s been there for generations and they’re trying to control it all once again this, this legacy family but they’re running into trouble. As you said, from outsiders outsiders, like black dog energy, which comes from Texas and as mines throughout the world and, and, and oil reserves throughout the world.
And at anyways black dog, you know, it’s kind of like a cleaner lot with Western motifs and this as well. I mean, you can call it Saifai, but it’s all. Like a lot of Spotify elements of a Western in it. And you’ve got this, you know, Ronan coming into town, I guess you could say this gunfighter coming into town, which is a common entry point for westerns that’s John frontier, even the name of the family, frontier hints towards the Western.
And [00:49:00] then you have, you know, let’s say at the, let’s say the, the ruthless cattle Baron or the crooked sheriff, you know, that’s kind of the equivalent of the black dog energy. And so there’s this battle for turf. In the end, neither is neither fully good or fully bad. You’re going to root for the frontiers because you know them best.
And by the end, the ship might’ve been righted, you know, there’s a, there’s a character who sort of inherited all that seems to be, seems to be interested in doing the right thing more than others. But, but yeah, it’s, you know, it comes back to comic books again, in a way I’m just talking about, you know, here’s the influence of scifi.
Here’s the influence of crime. Here’s the influence of westerns, but here’s the influence of comic books as well. And that oftentimes what you see is in villains and heroes, villains are oftentimes either a dark mirror or an opposite of your hero. And so, you know, Zod [00:50:00] is a dark mirror of Superman that he has the same origin.
He’s also a Kryptonian, but he has the same power set, but he uses his skills for evil.
Jeff Haas: yeah. Sorry about that. So I guess somehow during the, I always have my computer plugged in while I do these interviews. And for some reason, I guess the connection at the wire was unplugged. So it literally shut me down. So I just had to plug it in real fast. Sorry. Sorry about that. That was not very professional.
Benjamin Percy: I know what I was before
Jeff Haas: we were introducing comic books and talking about how and, and villains being mirrors. Yeah, dark mirrors.
Benjamin Percy: Yeah. So you have Talya frontier. Who’s the muscle of the frontier family. You know, she’s taking people out with baseball, bats and fisticuffs, and then you have the muscle of the other [00:51:00] family.
Mickey golden, who, you know, is putting people in headlocks and trying to steal land out from other under them. And if they don’t comply, you know, you might have a dead dog and your doorstep, or you might, you might pay you a visit in the middle of the night with a knife in hand. So, you know, I have these two characters playing off each other and in all throughout the book, there are these different examples of dark mirrors.
And, and sometimes it’s a struggle to know which one of them to
Jeff Haas: root for. And especially because I think we naturally do go with lean towards the family and the local group as they can. They’re going to be your good guy, cause they’re local. But I like that you play on that and say, well, that’s not necessarily true.
Everyone has their own goals. Everyone has their own pursuits and not everyone’s going to be. And the assumption that are tied to locality is not necessarily going to be a good guess on your part.
Benjamin Percy: Indeed indeed. It’s a lawless frontier and and, and troubles a foot. So [00:52:00] yeah, even by, by the end day, I think that as things reorient themselves as the story stabilizes itself you know, I, I close off some of the threads.
I open up others, but it’s what I’m trying to do towards the end is to create a new sort of family. There’s all these broken pieces. And they sort of fit together as a new family as, as some of them ride off into the sunset and others ride into trouble.
Jeff Haas: And, and as you said, this is a series of books.
So when is the next book in this area is expected to be released
Benjamin Percy: cue from comic books, again, not just regarding the content, but regarding. The marketing and release schedule and with novels, you know, I see it as problematic that they come out as $36 hardbacks $27 hardbacks. That just feels really exclusionary to me.
If, if I’m somebody who’s inside the industry, who’s a giant [00:53:00] nerdy reader and I hesitate to buy a hard hardback. Like how do other people feel? Right? You look at comics by contrast. They come out as 2 99, floppies 3 99 floppies, and you have cheap wide distribution. You have word of mouth and it builds. And then maybe people pick up the trade, right?
The $10 trade, and then maybe people pick up a year later, the hard cover. And then they people pick up three years later, the omnibus deluxe edition. And that seems to me the right rollout, right? In a way that invites people in, in, in, in the same way, you know, you go to a movie and a drop seven bucks or whatever later on, I might buy that deluxe blue Ray.
If I really love the movie with the director’s cut, deleted scenes and everything, I might buy that I wouldn’t buy it up front without having seen the film. You know, you want to play [00:54:00] two collectors when you think about these hard back additions. So I am having this come out as a quick succession as a series of paperbacks.
And then later on, we’ll have a deluxe hardcover edition with. You know, some illustrations and extra stories and stuff like that. So they wouldn’t publish the first book until the second book was done. Second book comes out in January. Oh, wow. Okay. And then the third book is supposed to come out next June,
Jeff Haas: so, oh, good.
So this isn’t like a George RR Martin situation where like 10 years later, we’re like, where’s the damn sequel. Where’s the next book?
Benjamin Percy: No, the whole idea behind this was that it was just you know, that it would build enthusiasm and excitement and, and sort of be a constant part of conversation because it would be rolling out continuously.
Jeff Haas: Well, I want to say it’s the first book. I think it’s fantastic. I look forward to the second book coming out. You said in January and it’s a great it was great joy to talk to you, sir. Thank you so much. Hey, thanks for everybody. All right. Definitely. My pleasure. [01:01:00] [01:00:00] [00:59:00] [00:58:00] [00:57:00] [00:56:00] [00:55:00]