Good morning, foodies, and welcome to another freshly-baked Starving Interview! This week, we sit down with Benjamin Westbrook, the chef behind this week’s review treat, Infringement, and see what makes this baker do what he does!
Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
I’m Benjamin Westbrook, author of “Infringement” and the soon-to-be-released sequel, “A Haunt for Jackals”. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live with my family in Missouri.
Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
I do still have to keep a day job, but I hope to someday spend all of my work time in my writing kitchen. When I’m not working or writing, I’m spending time with my family, running, hiking, or diving into other chefs’ literary cuisine.
What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
I’m presently adding the final ingredients to my second dish, “A Haunt for Jackals”, which is the sequel to “Infringement”. This dish is slated for release in late-February, 2016. I’m also reworking my very first dish, which isn’t connected to “Infringement”, and hope to have a new-and-improved manuscript ready by April, 2016. There are no past pieces of literary cuisine. My culinary career began with “Infringement”, but I have at least another five or six novels swimming around in my head at any given time.
What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
I’ve wanted to put the chef’s hat on since I was twelve and I read “The Outsiders” for the first time. From that point forward, I was almost always consuming some literary dish or other, and dabbling in my own creations. It wasn’t until after I graduated from law school that I was able to finally complete a dish (three years of working toward one goal finally taught me persistence and perseverance).
Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
I don’t know that I have a specialty yet. As I continue to cook up works, maybe one will develop, but so far my focus is on telling good stories, although not necessarily in the same genre(s).
Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
So far, my style seems to be to let the action tell the story. I’m not big on exposition, at least not for my first two novels. I like the characters to reveal themselves to the reader along the way, and tend to use a heavy amount of dialogue to that end. My next project is very different than “Infringement” and “A Haunt for Jackals”. While the action is present, it’s more of an introspective conflict for the characters.
Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
I’ve always been drawn to many of the Russian flavors. Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov are my favorites. I also really love Somerset Maugham, Raymond Queneau, Michael Chabon, and certain Hemingway dishes. Lately, thanks to my children, I’ve developed a strong taste for the Harry Potter novels, which I never fully appreciated before.
Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
So far, I’ve stuck with a generally omniscient 3rd person POV. I’m experimenting with 1st person in the dish I’m reworking, but I’m not yet convinced it’s the right perspective for that story.
Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
I tend to fall somewhere in between. Saucy adjectives, when used in the right places and amounts, can transform a good dish into an outstanding one; however, much like salt, too many sprinkles can ruin the flavor.
Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
So far, I’ve really dealt with man v. man and man v. self. I think the man v. self conflict is ever-present, regardless of the other conflicts playing out in the story.
What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
It really depends on the dish. A constant in my recipes is the progression (or regression in some cases) of my characters. I want them to grow, even if it’s by just a pinch, and to learn something by the end of the story. “Infringement” is definitely plot-driven. The action is intentionally constant and the pace quick, but most of the characters, and particularly Declan Parker, find themselves different in some way by the closing line.
We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
My favorite word chefs are Tolstoy and Chekhov, and I’ve always loved the slow build in a Tolstoy novel. There’s not generally an obvious “hook” in his opening chapters. I think the first bite hook is largely dependent on the literary cuisine. Because of its pace and content, “Infringement” called for a hook that was big, yet unexpected. Something full-flavored and spicy. The novel I’m in the process of reworking now allows for a more subtle hook, more character-based. Something more akin to a hint of cinnamon and apple to tickle the reader’s palate, as opposed to an explosion of flavor.
The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
Definitely pie. Pumpkin, pecan and apple are my favorites (though not all together), with a good French silk not far behind.
Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
The first piece of advice I’d offer is to read a lot. Taking in a wide-array of literary dishes is beneficial in so many ways, including sparking an idea, becoming familiar with other chefs’ techniques, and simply opening my mind to places and people I wasn’t familiar with previously. My other advice, which I’m sure has been said before, is to write often. Even if it’s something small, even if it’s just a spark which lights up a couple pages, write as often as possible because each word, each line, can become something unexpected.