Tuesday, March 11, 2014

INTERVIEW: Larry Benjamin

Today we are talking to the delightfully fascinating Larry Benjamin who gets bonus points for sending a delightful picture of himself and his dog! Larry has JUST been announced as a finalist for the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards! (So proud of you, sir!)

Hello Larry and welcome to The Hat Party! <3 Thank you so much for subjecting yourself to the RANDOMNESS that is a Raine O'Tierney interview! Please don your best hat, and let's get started!

Please introduce yourself by giving us a timeline of the 5 most important writing moments of your life.

Oh I’d start with the writing of my first novel, which became What Binds Us—seventeen years before it was published. After I wrote it,  got a few rejection letters saying there was no market for a gay romance novel like it. I put it in a drawer and forgot about it. Then in 2011, after being laid off from my job during The Great Recession, I worried I’d never get another job and wondered what the hell else I could do. I pulled out the manuscript and sent it out. Carina Press published it in 2012.

The next important moment came in 2013 when I read a tweet that asked about the moment you first knew you were gay. I remembered the moment and my first crush well so I tweeted: “I was 12 & in 7th grade. He was the new kid. His name was Jose. He walked into 4th period music, smiled & changed everything” That 124 character tweet became the partly autobiographical gay romance/coming-of-age novel, Unbroken.

The next big moment was when my first crush, who I’d reconnected with on Facebook, but never told I had a crush on him all through junior and high school, came across Unbroken and asked me about it. In retrospect, I’d probably not have had the courage to write Unbroken and admit so much in it, if I’d known he would one day read it.
If you could go back in time and have a conversation with 13-year-old yourself right now, what would you say?
I remember my 13-year old self well and I remember what my biggest fears were so I would I think I’d tell myself just three things:
This pain, will one day be useful to you.
You are not broken; you are whole, perfect, as you are.
You will love and be loved.
What is your biggest, most wildest, most extreme writing dream or goal? No dream is too outlandish.

Well I’m an extreme person, so I have a lot of extreme goals and extravagant dreams. My extreme goal is to win a Pulitzer Prize. Seriously.  I want What Binds Us and Unbroken to become movies. I want to be studied in high school English and discussed in college writing classes. I want to join F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Baldwin in the literary stratosphere. Less ambitiously, I want to be read. I want to document the LGBT experience in a way it hasn’t been before. I want to help people understand an experience outside their own and maybe that will help pave the way to universal understanding and acceptance.
Your thoughts on libraries: GO!
I’m too noisy for libraries. I always get shushed. But, I think they are terribly important.  Years ago when I was broke—I was so broke, I couldn’t afford to buy any books—I read a lot—so I started going to the library. I remember that year or two I read some amazing books, books I wanted to keep and read over and over again. I promised myself then that when things got better I would buy all the books I wanted. A few years ago when we were moving to our new house I had to pack 2,000 books.
Describe yourself using song lyrics.
Hands down that would be the lyrics from St Elmo’s Fire
Play the game
You know you can't quit until it's won
Soldier on
Only you can do what must be done
You know in some way
You're a lot like me
You're just a prisoner
And you're tryin' to break free
Don't know just how far that I can go
(Just how far I go)
Soon be home
Only just a few miles down the road
I can make it
I know I can
You broke the boy in me
But you won't break the man

I can climb the highest mountain
Cross the wildest sea
I can feel St. Elmo's Fire burnin' in me
Burnin' in me
If creating were poison to you, would you continue to do it?

Absolutely. Yes. There is nothing else to do. And I would hope the words I left behind, would live on to heal, to spread understanding, to bring some beauty to the world.

You have 200 words—Make. Me. Swoon. (PLEASE!)

I pulled him on top of me and wrapped my legs around him. His sleep hard-on slipped along the cleft of my ass. Suddenly awake, he pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked into my eyes. His eyes were wet and shining in the dim light. I nodded and kissed him. He kissed me back, his hands skipped over my face, my chest, came to rest on my nipples. And then he was pushing inside me.

The pain rose, terrible and undeniable but I refused to cry out, refused to admit what he should have known: I was tight because I’d been with no one since the day we parted. His eyes widened but he kept pushing into me, his enormous dick, unstoppable. And then he was past my resisting sphincter; the pain eased and he was moving in out of me steadily, slowly at first, then more hurried, more urgent, faster. He was a piston, driving into me, pushing me to the edge of a cliff, showing me something, something precious, something I thought had been lost.
I fell over. He tumbled after me, a scream on his lips pressed against mine. From his throat rose a shout, a garbled cry, a moan, a confusion of sound. In that cacophony, I heard a single intelligible word: my name. 


Jose! His name fell from my lips, an answering call, an incantation, a held breath finally released. Jose!
What is one mistake you’ve made during your writing career that you’ve learned and grown from?

I think letting my first book, What Binds Us, sit in a drawer for 17 years.

Explain your writing in 3 1/2 words.

Pages of blood, soul.
What is the most RANDOM thing to ever inspire you?

An abandoned church I saw in Barbados decades ago. I fell in love with it, took a photo and wrote a description of it. Eventually it became the setting for the wedding in What Binds Us.

And finally, for THE most important question of all: what kinds of dachshunds are the BEST kinds of dachshunds?

Well we’ve had a Yorkie, a Lhasa Apso and a Silky Terrier, all lovely dogs long-haired dogs.  We don’t have any badgers to hunt but I’d say the best dachshund is a long haired dachshund. Probably because I have no hair of my own. I am always drawn to long-haired dogs.

Thanks so much for having me. It was a bit like falling down the rabbit hole into an alternate utterly random universe but great fun. And a perfect excuse to buy another hat.

* * * *
26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in Gay Romance: Unbroken!

My parents, unable to change me, had instead, silenced me. When they'd stilled my hands, they'd taken my words, made me lower my voice to a whisper. Later, I remained silent in defense, refusing to acknowledge the hateful words: Brainiac. Sissy. Antiman. Faggot.

Lincoln de Chabert's life is pretty unremarkable until he comes home from kindergarten and announces he will marry his best friend, Orlando, when he grows up.

His parents spring into immediate action, determined to fix him, igniting an epic battle of wills as Lincoln is determined to remain himself, and marry whom he chooses, at all costs.


I was twelve, and in seventh grade. He was the new kid. His name was Jose Calderon. He walked into fourth period music, smiled, and changed everything. Until that moment, I had believed their lies, had ignored my own truth. I would change they told me, just wait and see. I would want to marry a girl, have children, and a dog, and a split-level house in the suburbs just like on The Brady Bunch because that’s what all boys wanted when they grew up and left childish things behind. Time, they said, would fix me, and I’d feel as other boys felt.

Time had passed and I was still…broken.

Jose. Behind long feathery lashes, he had enormous wide-set dark eyes that bulged slightly from the smooth nut-brown of his rather narrow face. Thick lips parted over square white teeth. His cheekbones were high, and sharp as a barber’s blade. He had a very pronounced Adam’s apple that made my heart beat faster every time I looked at it. He was the handsomest boy I’d ever seen.

His voice was rough, deep for a twelve year old, yet soft, like a shouted whisper. And he had a big laugh that started rumbling deep in his throat then suddenly burst forth through his lips, falling around him, and you, in an avalanche of joy.

Watching his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he spoke, or more often, laughed, the movement mesmerizing, seductive as his voice, his words, I wanted to press my lips gently against it. I wanted to feel its movement as words, laughter, his magic rose up.

They were wrong, I decided; I would marry him. We would adopt children and a dog. We would buy a farmhouse in Connecticut, just like Lucy Ricardo’s house in Westport, and we’d raise chickens.

You can’t fall in love with another boy, they’d told me. But I had! How could I not fall in love with the wonder of him?

This time I was smart enough to tell no one.

Because most teachers chose to sit us students in alphabetical order, I usually wound up sitting behind Jose. I’d stare at the nape of his neck, which his hair crawled down, like an army of ants, when he needed a haircut, at the delicate protuberant shell of his ear. His earlobe hung free, and tantalizingly close; I longed to take it between my teeth, and bite it gently.

Sometimes, I got lucky and he ended up seated next to me. While he looked at the chalkboard, I’d steal looks at his profile, at his long straight nose, at his thick dark lashes that curved upward in wanton profusion, at his lips parted in his perpetual smile.

In music, he was assigned the trombone. I had been assigned the trumpet but managed to convince Mr. Lowenthal, our music teacher, that while I was a lousy trumpet player, I had been born to play the trombone. Now, I cared not a whit about either instrument, my disinterest in both surpassed only by my inability to play either. But playing trombone meant I got to sit right next to Jose! Once in awhile he would reach out, and adjust the position of my trombone’s slide. I would look at his strong brown fingers with their crescent-shaped cuticles, and clean flat nails, and want to kiss each of those fingers.


About the Author:

Bronx-born wordsmith Larry Benjamin, is the author of the gay romance novels, Unbroken, What Binds Us  and the short story collection Damaged Angels. He considers himself less a writer than a wordsmith—an artist whose chosen medium is the written word rather than clay or paint or bronze.

Larry is a writer of gay-affirming stories of love, grit, passion, and family.  His characters are determined to find their place in the world; if they cannot find a place, they make a place. Even when their lives aren’t perfect, it's never because they’re gay but because they're human.  And like all humans they often suffer the consequences of ego and bad judgment.

Larry believes life is a series of starts and stops, beginnings and endings, and that sometimes it is in an ending we find our beginning. He tries to reflect those beliefs in his writing.

He lives in the East Falls section of Philadelphia with Stanley, his partner of 16 years, and their Silky Terrier, Toby.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryBenjamin
Blog: http://authorlarrybenjamin.blogspot.com/
Website: www.larrybenjamin.com