Today I’m doing interview with Ben Kuser, author of “Running Beyond”- very inspirational novel.
You can read my review⇒ Here.
So, here is more about author and book.—–
Ben is a university staff member and has been a wildlife biologist, environmental writer, community development executive, and long-time outdoor enthusiast. He is an endurance runner (and has been for over 35 years), completing many 12- and 24-hour runs. Ben currently lives in Ottawa, Canada. Feel free to contact Ben on LinkedIn and share your comments.
Q. When and how did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author?
A. My various careers have always included writing. I started writing outdoor programs when I worked for the Mass. Audubon Society in 1977. I became drawn to freelance outdoor writing, with regular weekly outdoor columns in several Saskatchewan newspapers and features in Canadian nature magazines. Working for Scouts Canada’s National Office included responsibilities for 3 magazine articles a month on outdoor/environmental programs and youth activities.
Q. Tell us more about your book.
A. The story is a mother/daughter relationship involving running and the outdoors, the meaning of friendship, career upheaval and challenges of starting life over. Resilient Dinah takes on challenges facing working single moms while determined Selah faces decisions about life after high school. The moral questions the story addresses are: How do you stay true to your values in a world that doesn’t seem to have any? How do you move forward when you no longer have the strength to take one step more? Does strength come from mental, physical, emotional or even spiritual sources? These are underlying questions Dinah and Selah must face as they push themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of in order to achieve their goals.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
A. The idea for this book came from many childhood and adult experiences plus a desire to help people make positive choices in life. There are very few fiction books that combine running and the outdoors with today’s issues facing single working moms and young women. As well, I wanted to promote ideas related to conserving natural resources, corporate community investment (my MBA thesis), treatment of seniors and children, and of course, living a healthy lifestyle.
Q. How did you come up with the title of your book?
A. Running Beyond Empty speaks to how we move forward when we nothing left to give, when we feel totally empty. Yet somehow we must find the strength to carry on because others depend on us or our own survival is at stake.
Q. What sort of research did you do to write this book?
A. I grew up around the Catskills, so I was familiar with much of the area where the action occurs. While the story is fictional, I wanted to accurately describe scenery and imbed believable facts. I researched the natural history of my setting, local legends and history spanning 400 years, WW II facts, and even common sayings. Combined with my childhood memories and running and outdoor experiences, these became the backdrop to the story.
Q. What book(s) have most influenced your life?
A. I have a liberal arts approach to learning and reading. Publications ranging from biographies, natural history, the New Yorker magazine, historical fiction, science discoveries, and world travel, are just some of the readings I enjoy. The internet has unlimited articles on new discoveries. My writing has been greatly influenced by the late Jean Shepherd, perhaps the greatest storyteller in modern American times. The license plate on the character Bill the ranger’s jeep reads FLIK LIVS. This is a rabbit hole. If you follow it online to flicklives.com, you will find a website devoted to all of Jean Shepherd’s radio shows on WOR New York plus his writings and history.
Q. What draws you to this particular genre? Do you think writing will stay in a specific genre?
A. There is a saying to write what you know. I don’t know any vampires or zombies so that was not an option. I like believable fiction with a good sense of humor and some food for thought.
Q. What was your favorite chapter (or part) of writing this book and why?
A. Each chapter was fun. I purposely wrote them like a soap opera so there are several character story lines in each part. It was satisfying to reach the later chapters as the various plots started to come together and climax.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing the book? Was there anything that you deleted or altered?
A. The first novel I wrote was called “Storm King Wildlands Reserve”. It was self published and turned out to be too long with too much trivia. I cut out 35,000 words (200 pages) and refocused the story which became Running Beyond Empty. The hard part was being ruthlessly self critical with the manuscript and my own writing.
Q. This I personally want to know. Johnny and Blackie were my favorite characters in the book. I could guess it but still, I would like to know more about this mysterious duo. Where they were disappearing and from where they were suddenly popping up in this book? How did you get idea about these characters?
A. 🙂 🙂 Johnny and Blackie are an odd couple, aren’t they? As mentioned in (A. 2), I believe there is a spiritual source of strength, namely God. So, I needed a way to portray this element. Dinah prays for help like many people do, and her fortune cookie delivers the answer (I believe God works in mysterious ways and likes Chinese food). Some people believe God waves his hand and things just happen. However, I think he would end up with a repetitive stress injury from all the waving. I think prayers are answered two ways. First, God sends strength through advice. His voice however, is so quiet it is referred to as a sliver of silence. We must clear our minds of clutter and distraction to hear it. Is this the small voice Dinah hears?
Second, for special cases, God uses a corporate management structure to delegate response to a customer facing field team (God is a very organized boss). Johnny is the Prophet Elijah, who in folklore is said to appear to poor families in desperate times of need and leaves them with hope (at the BBQ, in the discussion about the whereabouts of Johnny’s sock, Blackie remarks that Johnny is the prophet in their outfit). Blackie is a burned out and very depressed Angel of Death (hence his tattoo). He sees mortals living in paradise, and wasting opportunities to enjoy the world they live in. Reflect on his dialogue when he and Dinah are at the lookout point. The story illustrates different kinds of justice in the world, and maybe there is such a thing as divine justice (or perhaps karma). And Johnny knows that to keep the Angel of Death away, you just have to poke fun at him. Where the pair disappears to and come back from is a mystery to me. I just write what I know. 🙂
Q. Is there a message in your book that you hope readers will grasp?
A. The book has lots of take away messages. Life is about learning and growing. Learning how to cope and overcome difficult situations includes believing in yourself, behaving ethically, and being a real friend. I hope one or more of the messages help provide support and encouragement to those having a tough run through life.
Q. Do you read book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
A. I do read reviews along with getting verbal feedback. I appreciate all comments and recognize that readers have different biases for style, genre and story expression. Readers who have been very happy with the novel are those who related most to the characters and their circumstances and felt someone understood what they were going through. Warning: I know of 4 women who after reading my book started running and signed up for their first 5Km race. I cheered them on.
Q. What are your future project(s)? What’s it about? (*if relevant)
A. I have a sequel in mind, but I want to see the reaction to this novel before moving on. It would be about the two teenage characters, Selah and Norm, as they start their first year in university together.
Q. If your novel made into movie which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead characters?
A. I should live so long to see my book become a movie 😉
Q.What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A. Write from what you know. Take chances on being creative. Be a verb.
Q. What is your favorite motivational phrase?
A. Some of my favorite motivational phrases are at the beginning of the book. It helps set the tone for what readers can expect from the story.
Q. Currently reading
A. Currently reading lots on northern climate vegetable gardening. I live in Canada with a short growing season.
Q. Favorite book/ foods / Colors/ Music/ TV show/ Film
A. Too many to list. However, I bake a lot (love the Great British Bake Off series) and my favorite date square recipe is at the end of the book as a thank you to readers. The opening paragraphs reference a song by Esperanza Spalding called the Radio Song. I encourage readers to listen to it on Youtube and be inspired.
Q. Whom you will recommend your book?
A. The target audiences are young adult women (15-25) and mature single moms. People who enjoy running and outdoors, appreciate stories about supportive relationships, and a bit of mystery, trivia and humor will enjoy the plot lines.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
A. I ran the Ottawa Marathon recently on May 28, 2017 and ended up having to DNF at 20km. Very unexpected and equally disappointing after all the training. However, I listened to my body (very hard) and decided stopping was safer (even harder). Life is not all about reaching the finish line. It about learning how to deal with setbacks along the way. I learn a lot about myself each time I race, and I will apply those insights to my next long run, and to life.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I am on LinkedIn where readers can see my background and contact info.
Thanks for the opportunity to share a bit more about my novel and myself. I look forward to any comments.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.
(Ben gave me this brilliant abbreviation for my blog and I love it so, I’m going to use it in all my blog now onward. Thank you Ben. :D)