Well first off, thanks for inviting me to your blog! It's an honor!
As for me, my name is Ben Willoughby, and I live in the southeast United States. I’m very happily married to my beautiful wife Mary, and we have a wonderful little one-year old daughter.
I’m an indie author, and my genres include fantasy and horror. My wife tells me I need to work on a romance novel, but I haven’t conceived one yet.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
I have a horror novel coming out on April 26 called Deadly Whispers. It deals with the concept of ASMR – or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s the nickname for that sensation you get whenever a sound or action triggers a relaxing feeling in your scalp (eg., tingles). I first discovered the term while watching an instructional massage video for relaxation purposes; I soon discovered that there’s a whole subculture for it. If you go on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of ASMR videos, with someone (mostly women, though some men do it as well) speaking to the viewer and simulating various sounds with a high tech microphone.
Eventually I came up with this idea: what if someone did some really disturbing ASMR videos? I had the vision of a beautiful woman gutting someone alive and using their organs for the purposes of sound. I developed around that idea, and came up with the storyline of Deadly Whispers. I wrote it intending it to be a dark comedy, albeit with some serious elements thrown in. Granted, I have a very sick sense of humor. Just recently, when I was editing the book, I was reading one of the murder scenes. The dialogue by the killer is exactly like dialogue found in most ASMR videos, but he’s doing terrible, horrible things while she’s saying it. I started cracking up reading it. My wife asked me what I was laughing at, and when I told her, she just rolled her eyes.
Introduce us to your book’s characters. What is it about these characters that appeal to you as
|Available April 26, 2016|
The story focuses around three key characters.
Rob is a man suffering from a quarter-life crisis, mainly from the fact he’s still single. Out of desperation, he goes on a mail order bride website. There, he comes across a beautiful Eastern European girl named Anna. He eventually falls in love with her, and she moves to America to marry him.
Anna, who I just mentioned, is a beautiful woman who does ASMR videos. As is probably already inferred, she’s not alright in the head, and her ASMR videos involve someone suffering or dying. There’s a reason she does this, which is explained in the book.
Finally, there’s Mike, who is Rob’s best friend. He’s a private detective in his day job, and he begins to suspect Anna. He puts his smarts to good use in order to find out the truth about her.
As I wrote the story, I realized near the end that it had developed into a relational triangle with Rob as the central point: Anna does love Rob, and wants to keep her relationship with him; Mike, like any good friend, doesn’t want his buddy ending up with a crazy girl. I think most readers can sympathize with either Anna or Mike in this regard: most women will know what it’s like to want to make your relationship work, even if outside forces threaten it; most men will know of at least one friend in their life who ended up with a crazy girl and were nearly destroyed by her.
One thing I was actually quite proud about is my wife, who loves romance, felt a real connection between Rob and Anna. She actually told me, “If there weren’t so much killing in this story, it would actually be pretty sweet.”
Does the title relate to the story?
It’s actually in reference to a lot of ASMR accounts that have the word “whispering” or “whispers” in the title, because using the sound of the human whisper is so common in ASMR. (In fact, it’s actually seen as overplayed in some circles.) The working title was Deadly ASMR, but changed it to Deadly Whispers to connect it closer to the subculture. I’ll admit it’s not the most clever of names, but it works for what it is.
Tell us more about the cover design. How involved were you with creating the cover?
With the exception of my fantasy book Gods on the Mountain, I do my own artwork for my book covers. Given I do graphic design in my day job, I have some experience with that. My goal is to try to come up with something to catch a viewer’s eye that also won’t end up on the website Lousy Book Covers. (Which, by the way, every indie author should go to; take a gander, then pledge to make your own covers better.)
With the cover for Deadly Whispers specifically, it just plays on the idea I mentioned earlier of a violent ASMR artist. A woman’s slender hand holding a bleeding heart up to a microphone probably gets the point across about the book’s content!
Also, if anyone thinks it looks way too violent, they should probably know that the initial cover design was a lot cleaner. When I shared it on Twitter and asked for feedback, people told me to make it MORE bloody.
Tell us something about your book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.
|Available Now at Amazon|
People who have followed my work will know I’ve written horror in the past: I wrote about a pregnant woman plagued by a demon in Raw Head; I wrote about a young woman protected by her deceased father in Daddy’s Girl; I wrote about a haunted house in The House That Homed. Almost all of them (save perhaps House, which was comedic horror) scared my wife.
This story, however, absolutely terrified her. This surprised me, because there are no monsters, demons, or ghosts in it, just normal people. However, I can’t even talk about the story with her for a few minutes before she says, “Alright, let’s talk about something else!” In fact, I ruined ASMR for her forever – she can’t watch an ASMR video, or hear someone talking in an ASMR-inspired voice, without becoming freaked out. She also told me once, after reading a chapter, “You know, if I didn’t know you personally, I’d think you were a sick man.”
Potential readers might also be amused to know that there’s a scene in the book that was inspired by a nightmare my wife had, as a result of reading a few chapters. I won’t say which scene, though. You’ll have to read it and guess!
Give us a summary of your book in a tweet.
“A dark comedy about a murderous ASMR artist.”
How much of your experience is in your writing?
It depends. The pregnancy in Raw Head was heavily influenced by our own experiences with the birth of our daughter. In Daddy’s Girl, a lot of what Alex and her father did in the morning was what my own daughter and I did in the morning. The deep depression that Edmund suffers from in Gods on the Mountain is based on my own struggles with depression.
In Deadly Whispers, a lot of the sweet (albeit cheesy) talking between Rob and Anna was inspired by the way my wife and I talk to each other. Some of the dialogue in the scene where Mike and Rob play video games was directly taken from playing video games with college buddies. The scene where Mike’s policewoman friend, Sabrina, is checked out by a lesbian barista, came from a real incident where a female friend of mine was checked out by a lesbian hostess.
|Available Now at Amazon|
Describe your writing process.
Obviously, every story starts with an idea. I think that’s a given. (No pun intended – wait, was that a pun?) A lot of my ideas come from reading too much into something, or researching a subject, and then something just clicks. For example, I was talking with a neighbor, and she told me about the Spanish version of the bogeyman. I researched the name, found other bogeymen and folklore spirits, and came across the story of Raw Head. From there developed the idea for my novelette by the same name.
Before I write the story itself, what I first do is sit down and write a synopsis. I jot down all the characters I can think of at that moment, any locations I’d need to remember the name for, and then a simple summary of what happens in the story. When I sit down and work on the actual manuscript, I open up the synopsis as well, and reference it whenever there’s need to do so.
I know a lot of authors shy away from doing this, because they’re afraid it’ll hinder creativity, but I use my synopsis as a guideline, not a measuring stick. If I come up with another character, I go back and I add it to the character list. If I come up with another location I might need to remember the name of, I go back and add it to the location list. If I want to change the story around, I’ll go to the summary and shift things around. In other words, my synopsis and my manuscript really feed off each other, rather than one controlling or limiting the other.
By the by, a lot of my writing happens at night, when I come home from work. Partially this is because that’s often the only time I have to write, and partially this is because my wife enjoys it. She says hearing me type relaxes her and helps her sleep. I am not making this up. I guess in some ways my typing is her own brand of ASMR!
How much research do you put into your work?
As I said before, a lot of my work is inspired by my reading or experiencing something, so many times my research actually comes before the creativity. For example, the reason I knew about what happens to pregnant women at the gynecologist, as seen in Raw Head, was because my wife and I experienced it firsthand with her pregnancy. I didn’t need to research it, because I was often there, in the room, when the stuff was going on. I was likewise there in the delivery room when our daughter was born, so I didn’t need to research what happened during a delivery.
With Deadly Whispers, I had already read a bit on the world of ASMR, and was very familiar with various ASMR personalities. A few ASMR artists are actually referenced in the book, albeit not by name. Anna herself was, in terms of looks, based on a specific ASMR artist, though I won’t say who – I don’t want to ruin her career!
What are your hobbies, interests outside of writing? Do any of these activities find their way
into your books?
|Available Now at Amazon|
I like to draw, I smoke a pipe, and (mandatory if you’re a writer) I like to read, both fiction and non-fiction.
A lot of my interests definitely end up in my work, whether as minor points or parts of the character. Edmund’s love for history and theology in Gods on the Mountain comes from my own love for those topics. That Alex’s dad rides a motorbike in Daddy’s Girl comes from my own riding a motorbike. Jenny’s love of HP Lovecraft in The House That Homed comes from my own love for his stories. In Deadly Whispers, the love Mike and Rob have for Mike’s Hard Lemonade (no pun intended) comes from my own love for it.
It might be humorous to add here that, in The House That Homed, the characters of Homes and Scomes – two homeless guys addicted to Mountain Dew Kickstart – came from my life as well. I like to drink Kickstart, and my wife accused me of being addicted to it.
What is the best advice and harshest criticism you have received as an author? What have you learned from either?
In college, I took a screen writing class. My professor told me these words:
“You are the most erratic writer I’ve ever met. I’ll tell you why. Your dialogue sucks, but your descriptions are beautiful.”
He was absolutely right. I was trying too hard to be clever in my dialogue, while also taking a lot of what I had learned from other writings to come up with interesting set ups or deeper scenery. I’d like to think I’ve learned since that advice was given a decade ago, and that I’ve created better dialogue and rely on subtlety when necessary. I suppose I’ll let my readers decide that.
What advice might you give aspiring authors?
The advice I might give aspiring authors is this: don’t fall for the trap of therapeutic thinking. I mean when you take positive-thinking to an irrational level. Not everyone who hates your work is evil. Not every critic is just a hater. Learn to weed through compliments as well as your criticism. You can learn from your enemies as much as you can be harmed by your friends. I know all this isn’t very popular to say, but I say it nonetheless.
Too often I think people have this idea that if someone gives you anything less than a 3-star review, they must be Hitler reborn. I got a 2-star review for Gods on the Mountain, and another author asked if the reviewer was a personal enemy of mine. I didn’t really care – the vast majority of people who have read and reviewed/rated Gods loved it, so I can’t complain that somebody out in the world doesn’t like it.
What kinds of books did you read as a child? Did the genre you read most influence your decision to become an author of the kind of books you write today?
When I was young, I took a huge liking to Science Fiction. I loved the works by classic sci-fi authors like HG Wells and AE Van Vogt. In my preteen years, I got sucked into mystery novels, especially those about Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. In college, I finally started reading the fantasy genre, especially books by RA Salvatore.
I can’t really say anything specific inspired me to write. I just started to write and create when I was a preteen, and found that I really enjoyed doing it. I started out writing comedy action stories in middle school and high school, then got into more serious stories in college. Whatever I wanted to write, I wrote it. I guess in some ways I still operate by that principle today. I don’t want to fit myself into the niche of “fantasy author”, or “horror author”. I know a lot of authors out there do that, and have made good money doing that, and more power to them. It’s just not for me.
What specific authors or books influenced what you write today?
George RR Martin had a big influence on my fantasy writing. I loved how in depth he got with world building, even in some aspects that other fantasy writers never thought about. Westeros felt real to me. I won’t say everything about his world building was perfect (eg., the same house ruling a nation for thousands upon thousands of years), but it inspired me to put more thinking into the world of Calambria for Gods on the Mountain.
HP Lovecraft had an influence on me in just how weird or surreal you can make horror. My initial idea for Raw Head was more like a murder mystery movie, going back and forth between a police detective and a pregnant woman. Then I remembered the weird dreams my wife had during her pregnancy, and decided to go a less conventional route.
Victor Hugo also had an influence on me when I started to commit to indie writing. What I love about his work is that he has this amazing talent to build every single character in his book, no matter how minor. If there was a janitor who appeared for one page in his book, he made certain you didn’t forget about that janitor. By contrast, I’ve read some books today where you forget someone’s best friend because of how non-memorable they are.
What types of genres do you read now for pleasure?
I still read non-fiction and fantasy whenever I get the chance. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of horror for fun, including Richard Laymon’s stuff. I also need to give a shout-out to Kristopher Rufty, who has some fun novels.
Do you have any favorite characters, and if so, what is it about them that appeals to you?
Do you have any favorite characters, and if so, what is it about them that appeals to you?
If I had to give a favorite literary character, it would probably be Roose Bolton from the Song of Ice and Fire series. A lot of people who have only seen HBO’s big budget fanfiction are confused by that, but if you read the books, he was what I can only describe as “deliciously creepy”. Martin captured his sociopathic nature through his actions and words without beating you over the head with it. Roose was partially the inspiration for Rhys, the main villain in Gods on the Mountain.
What is next for you?
I have another horror novel I’ve been busily working on that I hope to release before the end of the year. The current working title is Mannegishi, and it’s an alien story mixed with Cree folklore. It harkens back a bit to Raw Head, with families and individuals going about their daily lives, dealing with normal issues, but having all that interrupted by supernatural powers.
I’m also working on a sequel to Gods on the Mountain called The Merchant Rebellion. It’ll have Edmund and Diane return for another adventure, and will feature more Celia and of course the beloved Fulk. I certainly intend to write even more Edmund and Diane adventures in the future, and haven’t forgotten about them.
On a side note, I sometimes joke with my wife about making a Deadly Whispers 2. I only do that because I know how much it makes her freak out. I don’t know if I’d actually do that, however – it would depend on how well the first book was received.
You can reach Ben Willoughby at the following places: