Benjamin Percy | Writer

& piano play softly] ♪
♪ ♪
♪ ♪
♪ (Ben Percy)
I had a kind of “Huck Finn”-ish
upbringing where I wasn’t supervised
heavily, so I spent my days
out in the woods, and I would
bang together tree forts, and I would build dams
and rivers and I spent a lot of my time
reading. Mass market paperback was what
storytelling was, and that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to tell those kinds of
stories, stories that gripped you, stories that
spiked your adrenalin, stories that made you turn
the pages so swiftly they made a breeze on your face. That’s how I sort of transcended
my circumstances and found some greater
sense of life. I’m Ben Percy, and I write
novels, short stories, comics, screenplays, essays,
articles, etc. [drums & keyboard play] ♪
♪ The stories that I write,
they don’t hold back. I’m known
as a scary writer, I have some pretty violent action-set
pieces here and there. The key to suspense is
withholding information. You always want to have
that carrot dangling tantalizingly
out of reach. And once your reader
gets to that carrot, there needs to be another one
waiting on the horizon. So in that way,
suspense operates like a turnstile of mysteries
or a series of trapdoors. So the previous owner of this
house is a hobby photographer, and this was his darkroom,
and I use it now for storage and for ideas–
this is my nightmare factory. Typically, when I’m working
on a novel or a screenplay, I’ll think about it for a year before I actually begin
to compose anything. So it starts off with just a
note jotted on a piece of paper and hung up on the wall. These range
from short story ideas, to comic book ideas,
to novel ideas. Right here I’ve got
a section on the brain, down here a section on death. I have a section over here
that’s going about art, and this
right here which has to do
with the creation of an island, that’s going to be
in a James Bond story. So you can just see like the, things sort of
take seed here and grow. This is my garden. To prove that I’ve
always been demented, here’s a research paper
from 1993 called, “Werewolves:” [chuckles] “Why and How the Legend Began.” I love that
it has a table of contents even
though it’s only 5 pages long. And you can see the brilliant
artwork in here, it’s why I don’t draw
the comic books. [chuckles] Even in 7th grade,
I was pretty lousy. Here are
all the “Green Arrow” issues that have been published
since I took over the series, and this “Rebirth” issue,
this is a number-one issue, and to be part
of that upswell of interest in that next generation
of storytelling– pretty special, pretty cool–
I’m going to get this framed. ♪
♪ ♪
♪ So your first audience when
writing comics is the artist. You’re trying to cultivate
an atmosphere for them, to show them what you see, while
still giving them the permission to change it
according to their own vision. And I’m talking about
medium shots or wide shots or close-ups, giving different
options for visuals. I can only take a story so far, and then I need somebody else
to come around and say, you put that in the wrong place,
or this subplot is irrelevant or this character is
one-dimensional. ♪
♪ ♪
♪ Graywolf Press
feels like family. They published my short story
collection, “Refresh, Refresh,” in 2007 and I’ve grown up
with them as a writer. Then they encourage me
at the same time to think about this book
of essays, “Thrill Me.” We think that you should
cultivate all of these poets’
and writers’ articles that you’ve been publishing
over these past few years. I never set off to write
a book of craft essays. And just over time,
over 10 years in fact, they became “Thrill Me.” (man)
Well, and some of it was
sort of seeing a vision for what a book could be, and
that’s what we do as publishers, that’s what we do as editors. These weren’t just individual
small craft essays, but in fact, a whole vision for what
contemporary fiction should be. So in a book like “Thrill Me,”
you not only have practical commentary on how
to craft a thrilling narrative, but you also have interwoven
throughout how, in your own career,
you learned how to do that. (Ben)
I feel like this book wouldn’t
exist without Graywolf. They helped realize it,
they helped manifest it in a way from first page
to final draft. ♪
♪ I spend so much of time alone that it’s great to be able
to get out and take the stage and see
the effect of these yarns that I have woven
on an audience. Please join me in welcoming our own 21st-century
Renaissance man, Benjamin Percy. [enthusiastic applause] This book is trying to cultivate the best of literary fiction
and the best of genre fiction. Encouraging people to think
about suspense and momentum, encouraging people to think
more critically about plot and how it can inform a story,
so that you’re not merely cultivating pretty sentences
and glowing metaphors. Though those, of course,
are important too. People always think
about this, they think
about the narrative gauntlet and I break this down
extensively. The thing to think about is
that there is another arc on top of this,
and there’s the emotional arc that every story
is a transformation story. I had gone through all of these
creative writing workshops, and I had earned these degrees,
and I had lost touch with why I wanted
to become a writer. And I recognized that it was
possible that I could take all of these skills
that I had cultivated from these creative writing
workshops and apply them to the kind of thriller
or horror story or comedy that I had loved
so much. “39 rejections–
remember that the next time you’re feeling low
at the keyboard or thumbing open a letter
addressed ‘Dear Writer.’ [laughter] And then pop the ‘Rocky’
soundtrack into your stereo, tape your knuckles and wrists,
ram your hands into gloves, step into that ring
ready to last 12 rounds
against Apollo Creed. Go the distance, thanks. [enthusiastic applause] [guitar,
bass, & drums play rock] ♪
♪ (Ben)
We’re here at Hot Comics
in New Hope, Minnesota for the signing of
“Teen Titans – Rebirth #1.” Sometimes I’ll be handing in
like 7 issues a month then other times I’m handing in
2 issues a month. I lose track
of where I am. Are you just writing
these 2 titles right now, or…? (Ben) I’m taking over James Bond
as well. (man) Oh, okay. (Ben)
Comic fans are
incredibly passionate. People just swarm out
in response to it, and some of them love it,
and some of them hate it. It’s addictive and energizing
knowing that there are that many people
out there hungry to read more
about these characters. So you feel like you owe it
to the fans to do that character justice and to put an
incredible print on this story
that might be going on for
a hundred more years. Childhood dream come true, being
able to write comics, I have to say.
I feel lucky and excited over there when
I sit down at the keyboard and get to dream this stuff up–
I’m writing comics, and I’m writing novels, and I’m writing screenplays and I’m writing essays, and I’m
writing articles and I’m always trying
to challenge myself
and reinvent myself. So I guess you never know what you’re going to get from me except a thrilling ride.

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