Jim Arnold – Benediction

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

It’s called Benediction. It’s a darkly humorous tale of a middle-aged gay man’s journey with prostate cancer. I know it sounds like a downer, but really, there’s a lot of humor there.

Tell us something about yourself.

This is my first book, though I’ve been writing screenplays and teleplays for awhile (not that any of them were made into a movie…). Fourth-generation native Californian, but I was raised in Wisconsin. I think that both of these geographic influences (California and the Midwest) figure into my writing in different ways.

What inspired you to write this book?

Although this book is a novel, I did have cancer myself and I think writing this was a way for me to deal with that experience and learn from it.

How did you choose the title?

There’s something about one-word titles that seem clean and simple to me. It’s really kind of a play on words: main character’s name is Ben, he’s a bit of an addict. A Benediction is a service in the Catholic church as well, and Ben goes through a kind of catharsis in the book. So, I felt it worked on a number of levels.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I sent out the standard query letters to book agents and got a stack of nice rejections. About the same time I talked to a friend of a friend who’d had a great experience in self-publishing, so I decided to go that route and it’s been no looking back!

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

That was the thing that all my teachers would say about me, that I was good writer. Also, both my parents are writers so I thought it might run in the family. I never thought about a novel, though, until this book and now I love that process.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I work best in the early morning, and commit to two hours a day, six days a week at the very minimum. Usually, there’s coffee and incense involved.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

In a character list, I write out all letters of the alphabet, and when I assign a character a name, I remove that letter from my list, so I don’t use it again (unless absolutely necessary). I’ve had a great teacher who was adamant about not using names which begin with the same letter, as it confuses readers. Also, I often use internet lists of popular boys and girls names, which you can conveniently also search by year – so if you’re male character was born in 1979, Jason would be a popular choice; if he was born in 1920, not so popular, but maybe very unusual.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

Since it was my first book, the amount I learned would probably fill a book on its own. Certainly, I also learned about the publishing process. I learned that you have to treat writing like a job, like a business, because it is, and to get anything accomplished. I do think I became a better writer through this process, being able to see better what’s good and what needs to be done over. And over, and over…

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

Several things – from the writing perspective, I would have made more a point of outlining chapters – that’s worked really well for me in subsequent writing, though I know a lot of novelists don’t work that way. I would have strategized the marketing even more than I did, and do it well in advance and ask for opinions.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I’ve been heavily influenced by writers who were either primarily non-fiction (Joan Didion) or whose fiction writing was informed by a journalistic tradition (Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote).

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Yes! It’s about half done. It’s called “The Forest Dark” and it’s a family drama about how we were in our twenties and how we are in our fifties – from the perspective of a man and woman who are long time platonic friends.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

For writing: take writing classes to hone your craft, and, if you can make it a habit, you can do anything. For publishing: Weigh all the options, educate yourself about the publishing industry and self-publishing, and make the best choice for you and your book.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

Anybody who wants to be enlightened about a form of cancer men don’t talk about much, much less write novels about!

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Buy Benediction at Amazon.com

My Book site: http://www.eurekastreetpress.com

Friend me! Facebook.com/jim.arnold and there’s a Benediction fan page. Or, you can follow me on my blog: http://jimarnoldblog.com/blog