Benjamin Phillips: More than what meets the eye
Meeting the Rising Writer No. 29
Benjamin doesn’t create characters out of nothing. He creates them from himself and not in the way writers would think. Benjamin Phillips, or Benjamin W. Phillips as he’s known in his written works, has schizophrenia, and he has learned how to turn a mental disability into a tool, creating characters and uncovering things that bring life to his writing.
Benjamin has agreed to a virtual interview to share his story, as well as what he is working on. He has two novels signed under contract with Rambunctious Ramblings Publishing Inc., and he’s working on a third known as Void, in which he hopes to accomplish more than a story; he wants to inspire those with disabilities to reach their potential.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am writing a science fiction novel called Void, and I am in the process of publishing a young adult fantasy novel called Shards of the Crystal Rose, as well as an adult high fantasy novel series called The Raven’s Blood Chronicles. The first book in that series is called Mirrored Sisters.
When will these books be published and where can they be found?
Shards of the Crystal Rose is scheduled for release in mid-2017.
The other two novels have not yet been given release times because Mirrored Sisters is still in the editing phase, and Void isn’t complete yet.
What can readers expect from your books?
I think my readers can expect to go on a fun adventure through the many worlds that I have created and meet and befriend the characters I have built. They can also expect to be challenged in their ways of thinking about themselves, the characters, the stories, the world inside and outside of the novels…to try to see that the world is a much more complex and complicated place than we often lead ourselves to believe and often, little of it is as it first seems. Mostly, though, they can expect to have a good time with good people.
How did you begin working on it?
For my most current project, Void, I’ve had the idea going for the last 18 months or so, and it was inspired by my girlfriend, who was born blind, when she made some offhand remark about there hardly being any hero-style characters in literature that are blind, and even less showing an intelligent blind young woman that worked in or around space vehicles. From that conversation, the novel grew into the first two chapters I have now, and I’ll continue working on it in the weeks ahead.
What inspires your writing?
Well, it depends on what I’m writing, really. For example, as I had already said, Void was inspired by my girlfriend. Whereas The Raven’s Blood Chronicles series had been inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role-playing dice game. Shards of the Crystal Rose, however, was born from an annoyance with mainstream media, especially TV shows like Criminal Minds, constantly depicting mentally ill people as the villains in their weekly episodes. That angered me because more often than not, I noticed that they’d get the symptoms of the illness wrong, or they’d cite really ridiculous statistics or other things like that. It felt to me that these shows were only perpetuating the fear and hysteria that the media heaps on those of us, like myself, who have mental illness challenges and I wanted to do what little I could to try to change that.
How have your novels helped you portray that?
In Void, I am hoping that the novel will show (since it’s not finished yet) that just because someone has an apparent disability, such as Aurora being born blind, does not mean that they must be relegated to a life of sympathy or to be shunned. Aurora is an engineer on a space-capable vessel and she can take apart and put together those engines faster and more accurately than any of her sighted crewmates. She had to push herself to get there, and I am hoping that my novel will make those of us who have disabilities, be they physical or mental (or both), want to dream and push ourselves to achieve everything we want in life. I am also hoping that the novel helps show others that just because someone is seen as “disabled” does not mean that they can’t do what they want to do in life.
What would you tell someone going through a similar circumstance?
Everyone’s experience with schizophrenia, other mental illnesses, or disabilities, and life in general, is truly unique, so I really don’t have much advice on the subject here. However, my best advice would be to follow your instincts. Mine told me to stop the medications I was on and use my writing as my medication instead. Yes, I have good days. I also have bad days, too. And, I even have epically horrible days, but then again, so does everyone. Medication doesn’t work for me, but that’s just my experience. For others, medication may actually help them. I’d encourage people to research as much as they can about the medications and other treatments out there and never settle for anyone saying, “This is the only way there is!” or “We’ve always treated (blank) like this, so it’ll work for you, too!” Because, sometimes, the best treatment may end up being something you hadn’t expected.
Give us insight to your main character. Who is she?
In Void, the main characters are a pair of adopted sisters named Pepper “Spice” McCormick and Aurora Quincy. Pepper is a Marine and an asteroid miner, whereas her sister, Aurora, is a blind engineer serving aboard the cargo ship, Nighthawk. Neither of the sisters knows that they’re related to each other, nor who their biological parents are.
Pepper and Aurora’s purpose is to expose the corruption in the World Central Alliance (WCA), the government that has replaced all of the current governments of Earth starting in 2020, but the story itself takes place in the year 2116. Failure means that the government will have a weapon of mass destruction so powerful that it can halt all nuclear fission within any star, including our own sun.
Where do your characters come from?
I get my characters from my mental illness, schizophrenia. Every character a reader meets in my work is one of thousands of voices I hear on a daily 24-hour basis, and usually, most of them never shut up. Not all of my voices are sweet and cute and nice. Some of them are downright nasty little buggers, but I have learned, through training with social workers and psychiatrists, to use writing to give my voices a chance and a medium through which to speak. So when the annoying commanding voices start speaking to me and telling me to do things like “You must hurt so-and-so because I said so! Grr!” I just grab a pen and paper and write down what they say, and describe what they look like and then, before I know it, I’ve got a whole character to play with.
What/who are your favorite or most reliable support groups?
My most reliable support groups are the Rambunctious Ramblings Publications Incorporated (RRPI) family and the Rambling Writers Café group on Facebook.
What is the biggest mistake you think you make while writing?
Using adverbs far too often.
How do you overcome it?
Editing. I edit and edit until I get it right!
What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
I hope that someday my writing helps to change people’s views of those of us that are mentally or physically disabled; that they see that people with these challenges are just as normal as they are and are just as capable of doing the same things that they do, such as being an engineer, for example.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give other writers?
Don’t bother listening to the people that tell you won’t make it in the world of writing. You’ll get there. It may take time, and a lot of it, but you’ll get there. You’ve got a story to tell and out there in this world there will be one person that desperately wants to read it, so write it.
How can readers and fellow writers discover more about you and your work?