„Loose Talks” with writer Ben H. Winters [interview]
In today’s Loose Talks, I talk to writer Ben H. Winters. The author of the novel The Last Policeman, which I have the pleasure to patronize. Below you will find a short biography of the author and my recommentation about the Last Policeman. My full opinion about the Last Policeman can be found on the blog in Polish. Have fun reading.
“The end of the world changes everything, from a law-enforcement perspective.”
― Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman
Marta Korkus: How did your adventure with books begin? When did you start writing?
Ben H. Winters: I’ve always loved to write, starting when I was a young kid. I read a ton of fantasy and science fiction when I was a teenager, and I studied literature in college. So it’s always been a part of my vision of myself, although it took me a good chunk of my adulthood to become a professional writer. I experimented first with other careers, including in comedy and theater.
What writers inspire you? Who are your favorites?
Ben H. Winters: That’s such a wonderful question. Favorite writers of all time would probably be Patricia Highsmith, Richard Price, Ruth Rendell, John Le Carre. Maybe put Charles Dickens on there. Recently I have loved books by J. Robert Lennon, Attica Locke, Lori Rader Day, Tana French, Colson Whitehead…
What is the genesis of the Last Policeman ? Where did the idea for him come from? Were they rethink about our behavior collected over the years or maybe some event?
Ben H. Winters: To be totally honest, the idea was very mercenary, very commercial, at first. I wanted to do a super cool detective novel, of a kind we had never seen before, and I thought: a-ha! What if the world is about to end. That will be very dramatic and exciting, right? But then as I wrote I realized I had sort of stumbled upon a mechanism for thinking about something much deeper and much more powerful than the mystery, which is the whole point of human existence. Why do people do the things they do, how do we organize our lives, given that for all of us, death is a looming reality.
In your crime, you present human behavior just before the apocalypse. Some make dreams come true, others get stuck, others go crazy. Which solution would you choose?
Ben H. Winters: I suspect that I would read as much as I possibly could, and I would try to shield my children as much as possible from being affected.
People who live in today’s world often feel almighty. Do you want to show through this novel issues to deal with adversity?Something of which we have no control?
Ben H. Winters: That’s a very smart question, and I think it goes to the heart of what the book is about. We do tend to presume that we are the masters of our own destiny, and part of what the novel deals with is the fact that this is absolutely not so. There are so many factors outside of our control, so many ways that life can surprise us—good ways too, by the way, it’s not just adversity that takes us by surprise—and we are always trying to figure out how to deal with that. In The Last Policeman, the asteroid might be seen to represent a lot of different things, and „uncertainty” is certainly on the list!
Which element of the story was the most difficult for you to write?
Ben H. Winters: Oh, the plot. The plot! Mystery plotting is always the hardest thing. Not the emotional plotting, or the character arc, but the nitty-gritty of who did it, how did they do it, and how are we going to reveal all of that to the reader in a way that is surprising but feels honest and inevitable. That’s the part that always kills me.
Henry’s uncompromising desire to discover the truth in spite of the impending end of the world is worthy of praise. Did this character from the very beginning be so oriented to the world and the existing situation, or did you modify it during the creation of this story?
Ben H. Winters: I think he was pretty well formed from the start. Once I had the concept in mind, it was a question of, what kind of hero would we be most interested to watch during this kind of time and place? What sort of man or woman would be a compelling hero (and a compelling narrator), and I felt like a cynical, world-weary character would just be dull and depressing. We want to see someone working against the grain.
Have you thought about creating other variants of this story?
Ben H. Winters: Beyond the two sequels? No. It’s done.
At the Last Policeman, we right away meet with the stifling climate of the novel. Did you want to create such an atmosphere from the beginning? So that the novel has more negative emotions than positive ones?
Ben H. Winters: I just really tried to honestly create what this world would be like. It wasn’t a matter of wanting it to feel more negative or positive; I just wanted it to feel real. There was a lot of research, a lot of really trying to get my head around how things would be. So there is a lot of negative, of course there would be, but hopefully the hero’s spirit, which is generally positive, forward looking, even funny at times, is what pulls us along through the bad stuff.
You have created a world in which we can observe marasmus, falling ideals and vegetating people. Where is the place for hope in all this?
Ben H. Winters: In the human spirit! In the human spirit!
In Poland, the first volume of the series has been released so far. Can you tell my readers about the next volumes? What they can expect without revealing important issues.
Ben H. Winters: Each volume in the trilogy has the same basic shape: There is a mystery in the foreground, one specific „case” that Henry is solving, while in the background the world continues to change and devolve as the asteroid gets closer. In the second book, he is on a missing person’s case, and on the third book it’s another murder, although one that is much more personal.
Do you work on a new novel? If so, can you reveal some details to us.
Ben H. Winters: Since the conclusion of The Last Policeman, I published a novel called Underground Airline, a dystopian novel about race and racism in America; I am now at work on a book on what one of our president’s advisors called „alternative facts”; it’s a political mystery novel about the terrifying decay of objective reality.
BIO of Ben H. Winters:
Benjamin Allen H. „Ben” Winters is an American author, journalist, teacher and playwright.
In 2012, Winters published The Last Policeman, the first in a trilogy of detective novels set in a pre-apocalyptic United States. That book won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in the category Best Paperback Original was an Amazon Best Book of 2012 and was nominated for the Macavity Award for Best Mystery by Mystery Readers International. The second novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City, was published in July 2013; it won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction. The third book in the Policeman series, World of Trouble, was published in July 2014. It was nominated for the Edgar Award in the category of Best Paperback Original and for the Anthony Award.
Me about The Last Policeman:
Ben H. Winters created a world where hope is virtually non-existent, human life is not worth much, and insensitivity and indifference are the order of the day.People do not fight in the face of destruction and vegetate. It is a world with brutal rules, full of contradictions. It is an image of a society whose being revolves around an impending disaster. Where in all this is a place for righteousness, love, friendship or even a little normality? Winters in a thoughtful way shows where you can find them and why they are needed. As and it proves that hope dies last. The last policeman is an interesting study of human nature in the face of doom embellished with criminal-sensational and apocalyptic motifs. The reading, which absorbs, becomes memorable and sharpens the appetite for subsequent parts of the story. I recommend.
“You want to pray to someone, pray to Bruce Willis in Armageddon.”
― Ben H. Winters, The Last Policeman