Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The ReaditDaddy Interview with Ben H. Winters, Author of "The Last Policeman" and the second book in the trilogy, "Countdown City" (Quirk Books)

Ben H. Winters. Looking very relaxed for a man who brought about the end of the world
 Here at ReadItDaddy we've loved Ben H. Winters' "The Last Policeman" books (and you can check out our reviews of Book 1 and Book 2 here). So we were delighted when the man himself agreed to an interview.

ReaditDaddy: Hi Ben and congratulations on the success of "The Last Policeman" and on the publication of the next book in the trilogy "Countdown City" - Tell us a little bit about yourself and your books.

Ben H. Winters: A little bit about myself: I’m your basic bassist-turned comedian-turned-journalist-turned-playwright-turned-novelist. I’ve lived all over the United States (and, during college, in Oxford, England, for a year) and have landed for now in Indianapolis, Indiana. My wife is a law professor, and we’ve got three small kids.

A little bit about my books: I’ve written in various “categories”, as the marketing folks like to say, from humorous nonfiction to supernatural thriller. But The Last Policeman and its sequels feel, to me, like the kind of writing I will do for my career, which I guess I would call serious-minded genre fiction. Big plots, big situations, big ideas. 

ReaditDaddy: Tell us about your typical 'writing' day - what gets you up and motivated in the morning?

Ben H. Winters: In terms of what gets me up in the morning, you may refer back to the three small kids mentioned in answer #1 (Yep, we wholly identify with that - ed). 

But, usually, between family responsibilities and teaching gigs, I get about three or four hours of strictly writing time a day, and I have evolved over the years a rather complicated system of using that time productively: I divide the hours into distinct blocks of time, and then assign each time block a specific task. I try not to think in terms of word counts (“I must write 1500 words today!”) but rather in terms of substantive time spent (“I must spend three hours today inside the world of this book!”) It works for me, and I’ve gotten a bit crazy about it.

ReaditDaddy: We don't mind telling you that we found "The Last Policeman" unputdownable (I still haven't caught up with the night's sleep I lost because I just could not bear not to finish it in one sitting, and went straight back in for a second reading too!) Why do you think the book has struck such a chord with people?

Ben H. Winters: Thank you so much, and I hope that you find Countdown City and the third one, which I’m writing now, to be as compelling. 

I think the chord I’ve struck is the one that we all share, every single one of us: we will die one day. You will and I will and all of your readers will and so will all of mine. 

All The Last Policeman does is make it specific: Not just, we are born to die, but we are born to die on October 3 of this year. So, uh, now how do you live? Now how seriously do you take your job, your mortgage, your wedding vows? Something about weaving those questions in to a classic tough-guy-noir storyline resonated with people.

ReaditDaddy: Hank Palace is a fascinating character, really focused on duty despite facing the inevitable end of the world. Did you base him on anyone in particular?

Ben H. Winters: I did not consciously base this character on anyone, but it has been pointed out to me in retrospect that he bears a strong resemblance in certain ways to my father. His career was not in law enforcement, but my dad is quite rigorous in his sense of commitment to responsibilities, of all kinds; the sort of man to very carefully check and double-check that he’s left a fair tip on a restaurant bill, while everybody else is impatiently waiting. 

There’s more than a bit of that in my man Hank.

ReaditDaddy:  Not sure if you're allowed to answer this but we hear rumours that "The Last Policeman" could end up as a TV series. Any flesh to put on those bones or are you sworn to secrecy? (We loved the idea of Jim True-Frost as Palace btw! Absolutely bang on the nail!)

Ben H. Winters: I can’t tell you much, not because I’m sworn to secrecy, but because I don’t really know anything. A well-established production company has taken the option, they are developing it, and hopefully it will one day be on a pilot, which would hopefully one day be a TV show. Which’ll be great if it happens, of course, but I try to carry the whole Hollywood-comes-calling side of this career in the basket marked that would be nice, as opposed to the one marked things that will definitely pay my mortgage.

ReaditDaddy: You're a busy bee, with novels and writing for stage in a constant cycle. We're a children's book blog but we obviously read and review other things too - any thoughts on writing for children? (heck of a tough audience!)

Ben H. Winters: Oh, indeed. I’ve actually written two novels for young readers—The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman and a sequel, The Mystery of the Missing Everything, both published by HarperCollins here in the US. 

They feature a dogged and idiosyncratic seventh-grade girl named Bethesda Fielding; in the first one, she discovers that her nerdy band teacher was once a punk-rock singer. I love writing for kids, and I certainly intend to do more, especially as my own little ones get older and begin to engage with real books.

ReaditDaddy: How does it feel to write something that people have set in their minds has a fairly predictable end (After all, The Last Policeman is set in a world shortly before a massive meteor will wipe out all life on the planet). How do you keep building the element of surprise?

Ben H. Winters: Hopefully what keeps this trilogy interesting is that though we do know how it ends, in the big-picture sense, each of the three novels has its own complete story, a mystery that is discovered, reasoned out, and solved, against the backdrop of the impending doom. 

So we’re invested in seeing Palace do his thing, and all the ways the doomsday threat impedes his work, and—again, hopefully—we’re also invested in watching him struggle to remain tough and true to his values as the world inches toward chaos.

ReaditDaddy: So one night you come home and on the 6 o'clock news there's an announcement that a gigantic meteorite will wipe out all life on earth in six months. What would you do? :)

Ben H. Winters: I always wish I had a more interesting answer to this question, and I think the problem is I’m just not that interesting of a person—I mean, hopefully my work is interesting, but I have no secret desire to do daredevil tricks or fight a polar bear. If I was suddenly on this limited time frame, I think I would hunker down with my family, probably keep some sort of diary and then go bury it in the yard before the big day, on the off chance that humanity survives (which it probably would not), I can have contributed in some way to the slow rebuilding of the species.

ReaditDaddy: Fantastic stuff, and thank you very much for a fascinating interview and insight into what you do. We absolutely cannot wait for Book 3 :)

Update: Massive congratulations to Ben for his recent Edgar win for 'The Last Policeman' - Well done and great acceptance speech! 

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