Toby Bennett: Musings from a cigar smoking dyslexic horror writer

I am very pleased to introduce Toby Bennett to guest post on my blog today. Welcome, Toby!

Toby Bennett was born in 1976 in Cape Town, South Africa. He holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Cape Town. Like many writers he has had a varied career that has included graphic and web design, database administration and technical writing. His true passion lies in creative writing and to date he has written six novels and a fair-sized collection of short stories. Find him on Amazon or visit: for more info.

Want more information on Toby’s books? Check out the list here!

Toby Bennett is one of the novelists featured in Bloody Parchment: Hidden Things, Lost Things, and other stories

It’s all very well guest blogging but when the initial glow wears off you realise that you’re actually going to need something worthwhile to talk about. So here I stand before the metaphorical microphone, “Tap, tap is this thing on? Am I glad to see you ladies and gentlemen, I’ve only typed fifty five words and boy are my arms tired!” Drum roll please.

So I thought I might say something about writing. I am a writer after all, or at least that’s what I answer (rather than feckless lay about) when people ask me what I do. I’ve sold a few books, not bad for someone that people thought might never learn to read or write. Yup, with any luck the spell checker is hiding the fact that I’m terribly dyslexic, or whatever they are calling it these days, (yes, I still use the term dyslexic, I spent long enough learning how to spell dyslexic without them re-naming the syndrome, sadists! What’s next —  a hurdle race for the blind?). I’ve always wanted to write, I’m not sure if part of me knew that I could do it despite everything, or that I wanted to do it so much because some people thought I couldn’t, all I know is that these days I have to write. I’m pretty laid back by nature but there is something prickly in my soul that prods me with lit cigars until I sit down and write something (“Oh for a muse of fire…” sounds nice till the abuse sets in). My cigar-happy passenger’s promptings have meant that I have six titles on Amazon and another two in editing, and somehow it still doesn’t seem like enough.

I write fantasy and horror with varying degrees of success. I recently had over seven thousand people download my book “Heavens Gate”. Yes it has vampires in it but the story is actually about the man eating them. I’m hoping that so many downloads means I’ve done something right. we’ll see since I’m about to embark on the inevitable sequel “Heaven’s Guardians”. It’s really great to be able to have a platform like the kindle to let you get your work into other people’s hands. I can’t say enough about how this kind of opportunity has changed things for writers. It’s also interesting to note how the goal posts shift as one starts to be read more. When no one had read my work I used to say “If I can connect just one other person with my work then I will consider my efforts worthwhile”. Three days at the top of the free SF lists on Amazon gave me a very different perspective. I’ve had a brief taste of a wider audience and I sometimes find myself obsessively checking my Amazon sales figures. It’s then that I have to keep reminding myself to stay Zen and remember why I write.

As far as I am concerned, an author’s priorities should run as follows: Above all write what you want to write. Write to please yourself because if it is not something you have some joy and passion in the reader will pick that up and why should both of you be miserable? Your second consideration should be the reader, they have to take the trip you have prepared so next to your own happiness their enjoyment is the most important. You can’t please everyone but if you can put some of that joy or excitement you felt while creating the book in for them you should do alright. The absolute last consideration should be whether people will pay for it… that doesn’t go for you readers; don’t take your authors for granted. if you want them to be able to work you need to pay them… But writers you should know the deal, if you need to pay them… But writers you should know the deal, if you wanted to make money you might have had a better bet signing up for NASA training! Every year a million more novels hit the slush pile and only thousands of those will ever be seen by the public. Once again we have to thank Amazon and their Kindle for giving writers a better shot at reaching a wider audience. I started out to say something about writing but the more I thought about it I found I also wanted to say something about us as readers. What I want to say boils down to this:

“We should always be demanding more, both from ourselves and our authors.”

I’m a firm believer in reading whatever flicks your switches and I hate literary snobs who tell you what a good book is. That’s something that should be very much in the eye of the beholder. But we have to be on guard against the modern tendency to take our entertainment for granted. We live in a world of sound bites and instant truths. Modern literary wisdom holds that there’s no one out there who can digest a sentence of more than twenty words and more and more there seems to be no willingness to take risks or try something different.

I wouldn’t presume to tell you what you should read but I do believe that writers should at least be trying to create something new rather than just replicating things that have been popular in the past. It is individual readers and their personal tastes who provide the impetus for new idea’s and different types of story. Consider the difference between off the rack clothing and a designer suit. A book produced to a commercial formula will satisfy the greatest number of readers, but perhaps there is something to be said for that cult classic that reaches only a small audience. In the past commercial concerns often meant that simple ideas won out over the more exotic and complex concepts. The great news is that isn’t true anymore, writers can take a chance and you can get hold of their work because of sites like Smashwords and Amazon. I’m not saying every literary experiment will work, but there has never been a time when authors could have a more intimate relationship with their readers. It’s a great time to be alive and it’s a time filled with opportunities for readers if they are ready to take a chance and try new things.

So what should people be reading? Well, who am I to tell you?

Read outside your comfort zone. Look for less mainstream works that you might avoid if you had to pay the full price of a hard copy edition, and if you find a treasure for goodness sake don’t keep it to yourself. Get on review sites like Goodreads or post a review on Amazon and help others find something worthwhile. From personal experience I can tell you it makes an author’s day when someone actually gives feedback on their work, which if you enjoyed the book, seems like a fair trade.

Well, those are a few of my thoughts and the end of my guest blog, phew! It probably goes without saying that the opinions expressed here are very general and are meant as food for thought. It all boils down to this: you should demand more of your writers, go to places that scare you and make sure that you support the Authors you feel have delivered.

All the best and happy reading.

Toby Bennett

About S.L. Schmitz

S.L. Schmitz lives in Indian Trail, NC with her husband and son. There is an ever-changing menagerie of cats who graciously allow the family to share the house with them. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys scrapbooking, drinking martinis, and making snarky comments about a variety of topics. Feel free to email her at thedeadgirl25(at)yahoo(dot)com

Posted on September 20, 2012, in About Me and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Well said, both of you! I agree that perfect books are few and far between. For me, The Little Prince is one of those rare, perfect stories.

  2. Hi, Alan I hear you and as I say there is no reason that you should plough through something that doesn’t do anything for you. You needn’t be any kinder to books than the average publisher might be. If you’re not hooked within the first few pages then the book may not be for you. Reading should be engaging after all. Now I know that it might sound expensive (both in time and money) to just read the first few pages but here we have to thank Amazon yet again. You can read the first chapter or so in the kindle store without having to spend hard earned cash. I suppose you could do this with physical books as well but there is a difference between furtive reading in a book store and reading something at your leisure.

    One thing I can say is that Authors, particularly those working without the support of a publishing team, are often offering you labours of love. That doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate things you don’t like but it might merit a bit of leniency when you think just how hard someone has worked to bring their creation into the world. I may be optimistic but I hope that anyone reading my books will be like the audience at a good stand up show, sure they’re looking for substance but hopefully at heart they’re on my side and wanting me to entertain them.

    Waiting for the perfect book is like waiting for the perfect lover: You could wait a very long time and even then half your friends are going to ask you what you see in this (person)…er book! I really like what you said about finding the treasure for yourself, if you were trying to meet new people you wouldn’t send your friend to a club and ask them if there was anyone there you might like. You’d go yourself and your chances of finding the right (book) … I mean person, would go up. Now, to expand this metaphor to the point of bursting and splashing us all in analogous fluids, some books do have the odd wart but sometimes if you can look past that you find something beautiful, sometimes that wart can even become a beauty spot in the right eyes.

  3. I’m not an literary experimentalist by nature. I tend to be annoyed when a poorly written book has taken up my time when I know of more great novels than I can read in a lifetime. But this certainly makes me think twice. Maybe I should participate in the exploration rather than just waiting for the treasure to shipped back.

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