Ben Gamble first emailed me back in mid-May and I’ve had it in my local author tickler file ever since.
While he grew up in Summerville, Ben now splits his time between here and Greenville, as he had attended Furman University where he majored in history and Spanish. He wrote and released his first book, a comedic fantasy novel, “Dragons Suck,” back on May 14. The book is also in the genre of satire for young adults. On June 8, he had an author book signing event at Main Street Reads. Author D.J. Butler, who is the national best-selling author of “Witchy Eye,” reviewed Ben’s book, stating, “In Ben Gamble, readers may have found the next Terry Pratchett. The self-aware humor and deconstructed fantasy of ‘Dragons Suck’ shows flashes of true depth and an epic heart.”
Regan: How did you come up with the title, “Dragons Suck”? Is the story autobiographical or symbolic?
Gamble: I think a title like “Dragons Suck” gets across that the book is going to be just a touch irreverent. Most people are taken aback, but I think in a good way. You don’t see a lot of titles like that very often. People usually ask, “Why do Dragons Suck, huh?” I tell them it’s because dragons used to beat me up and take my lunch money in the third grade. There’s a quote I really like: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Harkness is autobiographical to an extent – I am certainly a touch sarcastic and maybe a teensy bit cynical. Yet I think part of the story is Harkness realizing that just sitting around and pretending like you don’t care about anything and making fun of the people who do, gets you nowhere. Those guys never save the world. I’ve got a big soft spot for fairy tales and this book is that quote about dragons mixed with my sarcasm and cynicism. I do think this book is a fairy tale, just one with a lot more profanity than the ones your grandma read to you. Hopefully.
R: What led to you thinking of this story idea growing up?
G: I started writing this story my last year of high school. You look around and you see all these stories – “Star Wars,” “Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter” – and they’ve all got these teenagers who step up to save the world. They’re altruistic, kind, heroic and brave. I remember looking around at my school friends, thinking…man, if one of these guys has to save the world, we’re all going to die. I wondered what it would look like if you took that hero’s journey, kill-the-dragon-and-save-the-girl type of story, but you put a real teenager in it – someone snarky, cynical and only mildly insecure. Somebody who’s more worried about whether anyone saw the zit on their face than going off and slaying dragons. Acne is worse than dragons! Dragons never kept anybody from getting a prom date.
R: You say you’ve always had a passion for writing but was it easy?
G: Easy! Editing is the tough part as it’s a lot of close reading and trying to make sure all your ducks are in a row and my ducks have a tendency to wander off. Writing itself, however, is a blast – people usually say there’s two kinds of writers, “planners” and “pantsers.” Planners have it figured out from the get-go and pantsers are flying by the seat of their pants. I’m definitely a planner which is the boring answer. I knew the ending of the story before anything else. Writing is like putting together a puzzle for me – you know the picture on the box you’re trying to make, and you have to put all the little pieces together. The most fun part was getting in Harkness’ head and coming up with all the sarcastic quips and little jokes.
R: Did you have a lot of editorial guidance?
G: I presented the finished product to the publisher and then got more feedback at that point. I think the most important help you can get is someone honest enough to say, “Hey, dude, this part is terrible”, which I also had in abundance.
R: How are book sales? Where can one find your book? Is there a sequel planned?
G: Sales have been going really well. I believe we sold 500 copies in the first month, and more and more since then. I’ve been thankful for everyone who’s bought a copy or told a friend or posted on Instagram or come to a signing. You can find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Permuted Press website – or even a local bookstore. Main Street Reads here has them as do the Barnes & Nobels in the Charleston area. Without giving away too much, I think everything gets wrapped up pretty nicely but, who knows? I don’t have any sequel ideas at the moment, but I never need much convincing to write something sarcastic again.
R: Any other story ideas for another book? What’s next for you, grad school?
G: I have a few other ones written! I think the next one will be for a slightly younger audience and a bit more serious than funny. It’s kind of a modern-day fairy tale. I worked at a summer camp as a camp counselor one year and wanted to capture some of that feeling in writing it — the feeling of when you’re little and the darkness outside the campfire can go on forever, and there’s still the chance that magic is in the world. It’s about a girl having to go into the woods to save her lost dog and, of course, just as in real life, there are all sorts of monsters in the woods waiting for her. Next for me is anyone’s guess! I’m currently managing book publicity and job hunting. A graduate program in history or law school are possibilities, but I’m not in the mood to write another essay for a little while. Really, all this book stuff is just me passing the time until my modelling career takes off or I can marry rich.
Mary E. Regan, Columnist, is a Publicist with her ProPublicist consultancy. Story ideas? Email: Mary@ProPublicist.com.