David Benem and the SPFBO

April 15th, 2016 input via mattcolville

272 authors entered Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (#SPFBO). David Benem’s What Remains of Heroes was one of the ten finalists.

All 10 finalists’ books are featured in the new StoryBundle, some of the proceeds of which go to charity. This interview with David is presented as part of that 

Matt Colville: First of all I wanted to congratulate you on making the SPFBO finals. How did you first learn of Mark Lawrence’s contest?

David Benem: I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence and follow him on Twitter.  Just so happened to read about it there.

MC: Did you feel any trepidation entering? Any hesitation?

DB: Absolutely.  When I entered, my book hadn’t actually been published–I was still finalizing cover art and interior formatting with my artist.  As a result I submitted a plain, coverless Word document.  I was happy with my writing and my story but worried that such a submission would be dismissed out-of-hand.  Luckily, the kind folks over at Fantasy Book Review overlooked that, and named it one of their top five of the first round a week before it was even available on Amazon.  I was thrilled when they put it into the finals!

MC: What Remains of Heroes was Fantasy Book Review’s finalist. How did you find out you made it into the final round? What was your reaction?

DB: I was ecstatic! Like many of the other finalists, the SPFBO caused me to develop a rather unhealthy relationship with Twitter.  With as often as I was checking the contest results, my guess is I saw FBR’s selection mere moments after it occurred.

MC: I read your blog post in response to an article in The Guardian writer’s about self publishing vs traditional publishing. What made you decide to go indie?

DB: I dabbled in query letters and agents for a time, but frankly I found the process and experience off-putting.  What was more, the whole industry was shifting; successful indie authors were being snatched up by the big publishing houses and in some case with more favorable contract terms, and traditionally published authors were becoming “hybrids.”  It seemed the right thing for me, and I’m happy with the decision.

MC: What’s the biggest misconception you’ve encountered about independent publishing?

DB: That we all suck.  More precisely, that indie authors don’t really care about the craft of writing, that we throw our crap into cyberspace because we either can’t produce work good enough for the “big boys” or are too impatient to spend enough time honing our writing.  I think every one of the books in the SPFBO finals—and many that didn’t quite get there—disprove that notion.

MC: Did you detect any change in the way independent authors are viewed online thanks to the SPFBO?

DB: I think so and I hope so.  With what the ten bloggers had to say in the end it seems it had some impact, and hopefully that impact grows with SPFBO 2.

MC: What kind of impact did the SPFBO have on your sales?

DB: I’ve been fortunate with sales, and 2015 was a good year for my book.  What Remains of Heroes released a week or so after being named one of Fantasy Book Review’s top 5 selections in the initial round of the contest, so I’m certain that helped it hit the ground running.

MC: Thanks to the SPFBO, we all got a lot of reviews for our work from sites that normally would never have seen it. What was your reaction to the reviews?

DB: That depends on which review you’re talking about!  My book ran the gamut, scoring low with a few and being named a contest favorite or second place by four others.  This resulted in a number of happy dances followed by fits of snot-bubble sobbing, and vice versa.

MC: Do you feel like you learned anything about your book from the reviews? Like a common theme running through them?

DB: If the reader connects with my characters, they like the book.  If they don’t, they don’t.  That holds true in looking over my Amazon reviews as well.

MC: I note in Beauty in Ruins’ review, Milne praises the way you play with established genre tropes. I think I’ve detected that as a common theme among the books that made the finals. When you were plotting What Remains of Heroes were you making a conscious decision to deploy or subvert certain genre tropes? Was that a particular goal of yours as a writer?

DB: Honestly no.  I’m a bad plotter.  In fact I hardly plot at all, which leads to plenty of mass executions of half-made characters.  I just started plunking away about a character (Lannick deVeers) who’s lost everything and chances upon a path to redemption.  I kept writing and just wanted to ride that out (along with the troubles of a few other characters).  In terms of tropes, I guess I always just shied away from the usual fantasy trappings.

MC: How did you come to pick fantasy as your chosen genre?

DB: I love the genre.  Always have, whether it be with books, movies, comics, whatever.  I’d always promised myself I’d try my hand at the dreaded fantasy trilogy, so this is the start of it.

MC: Who were your influences as a writer?

DB: Most recently Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and R. Scott Bakker.  Before that primarily Tolkien, Weis and Hickman, Lloyd Alexander, and a whole lot of AD&D.  Also, and just as importantly, John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian film, John Boorman’s Excalibur, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, the old Savage Sword of Conancomics, and most anything by Frank Miller.

MC: I presume all the finalists all look at our work a little differently once they made the top 10, how has being a finalist affected your perception of the work? Do you do more promotion now? Work harder on the sequel?

DB: There’s a sense of validation, for sure, and that feels great.  And it has certainly made me work harder on the sequel, especially now that I’m not constantly hitting the refresh button on the SPFBO Twitter hashtag.

Thanks to David for the great answers! The SPFBO was pretty spectacular. Mark Lawrence has already started the second one, and you can pick up all the finalists from the first one in the StoryBundle for cheap!



March 19th, 2016 input via mattcolville

His body is disintegrating. He is not of this world, and the strain of being here is killing him. He is not like us. He is not one of us. He can do amazing things.

He has one chance to return to his people. If he can make it to the rendezvous coordinates at the appointed time, he will live. He will leave us, and return to the world he belongs in. If he fails, he dies. (more…)


December 13th, 2015 input via mattcolville

The play, Macbeth, opens with three witches. “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” Great opening! Curtain rises and the first thing we see are three magical crones stirring a cauldron, babbling about prophecy. Fantastic hook for Shakespeare’s audience.

Justin Kurzel’s film of Macbeth opens with a funeral. A funeral never mentioned in the play, for a character that doesn’t exist in the play. A character Kurzel invented. Macbeth’s son. Died as a child, from a pox we later learn.

This is an important point, though I think it might be easy to miss, overlook amidst the lush and terrible beauty of Kurzel’s film. The first thing we see is a funeral, and then a war.


Children of Men

September 10th, 2015 input via mattcolville

Originally written in 2007, posted here in response to this great video.

When I was 13, I went with a couple of friends to see Wargames, a movie about a possible, computer-created, nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union. The movie opens, starkly, with two US Air Force officers sitting in a control room down in a nuclear silo, when the order is given to launch their nukes. Each must turn a key in order to launch the nukes, but the older officer cannot bring himself to do it. The scene ends with the younger officer (apparently) shooting the older officer, because the older officer would not thoughtlessly carry out his orders.

This is a shocking and humorless opening, but a necessary one since the film is ultimately about the threat of global thermonuclear war between two superpowers. It needs an opening like that to hook you. Convince you of the stakes and the seriousness of the matter. When I was 13, this seemed chillingly real. It wasn’t just plausible, it felt inevitable. From between about 1983 to 1987, it seemed obvious to everyone I knew that sooner or later there was going to be a nuclear war between the US and USSR. There was nothing anyone could do about it, so you might as well enjoy yourself. (more…)

Terry Pratchett

September 7th, 2015 input via mattcolville

The shortest unit of time in the multiverse is the New York Second, defined as the period of time between the traffic lights turning green and the cab behind you honking.

To me, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is life-affirming. It’s fun, funny, dramatic, human, brisk, and full of heart. It’s nourishing. It is a vitamin for your soul.

So I’m always surprised to discover friends who not only don’t read the Disc, they have no idea it exists! Madness! I guess it’s a US/UK thing. For a while, before J.K. Rowling came along, 1% of all books sold in Britain were Discworld books. But he never exploded in America like I think he could have. Perhaps because of the America’s attitude toward his chosen genre. (more…)

The Mad Max/Age of Ultron Podcast

May 26th, 2015 input via mattcolville

My friends Zane and Jason and I gabble for 80 minutes about Mad Max and Age of Ultron.

Just three nerds, talking about two movies.


Fury Road

May 16th, 2015 input via mattcolville

What is Fury Road about?

At one point in the film, the villain called Father and sometimes Dad, tries to kill Charlize Theron’s character, but stays his hand when one of the underwear models he’s kept as sex slaves puts her pregnant body and his unborn child between the literal and figurative father, and Theron’s surrogate mother.

If you’re still wondering what Fury Road is about, you have come to the wrong blog. (more…)

Justified Series Finale: The Promise

April 19th, 2015 input via mattcolville

There are three moments in the series finale of Justified that reminded me of everything I’ve loved about the show. The brilliant writing and acting and characterization. Here at the end, we can talk about what we’ve always known about the show. That’s it’s exactly as much about Boyd as it is Raylan.

We’ve been working toward the final confrontation between Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder and Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens for six years. Crowder was originally meant to be a one-off bad guy back when the show was episodic. But once the producers (of whom Olyphant is one) saw what they had in Walton Goggins, the show became a serial. Each season had an arch-villain and a formula and when the formula was fresh, as it was in Season Two with the completely original Mags Bennett, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Walton Goggins is now one of my favorite actors.



November 5th, 2014 input via mattcolville


If you’re in the mood for a melancholy, vaguely country-western song, go listen to this. It’s one of my favorite Queen songs. Beautiful, yearning.

This song is what Interstellar is about. Except this song is three minutes and thirty-eight seconds long, full of emotion and longing and I love it, while Interstellar is almost three hours long and so brutally insulting I wanted to punch Chris Nolan after only about ten minutes. (more…)

Roger Ebert

April 4th, 2013 input via mattcolville

If you love movies, and you love writing, eventually you start writing about movies and if you get paid to do it, they call you a critic. But really all you are is someone who loves movies, and loves writing.

If they publish your reviews in the paper, people who don’t love movies start to read them and they get a weird, twisted sense of what you’re trying to do. They’re not writers, they’re not crazy in love with film. They’re just looking for a way to spend a pleasant afternoon So they think, when they read your stuff, that you are telling them what to think. That you think your opinion and experience is objective truth, which is ridiculous.

But you probably don’t give a shit what they think. You audience is other movie nuts like you. Your writing is part of a dialog all those people are having with each other all the time. You don’t care if those people agree with you, you’re interested in the back-and-forth, you love reading new perspectives on films you love. You love going back to movies you overlooked and seeing them from a new point of view. (more…)