Catching Up With Community: An Interview with Ben Kushner.
If you're looking for a great new podcast to listen to, or a new series to dive into, then read ahead to learn all about Ben Kushner's amazing projects! He's a really supportive member of the writing community and it's an honor to finally have him on Agora!
First things first, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am an 18 year old author and podcaster who grew up in Montgomery County Maryland, just outside of DC. Throughout Elementary school, I was a passionate reader. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Eragon and the Hobbit taught me the power that stories had to enchant, delight, and inspire. Those books ultimately convinced me that I wanted to be a writer, and I haven’t turned back since.
What has your writing journey looked like?
I began writing Shattered Lion in 7th grade as one continuous book. I finished in 9th grade and then laboriously went through the process of rewriting most of what became Volume 1 which, after several rewrites, I published in July of 2020 as Volume One of the duology. Throughout the first half of 12th grade I rewrote the last 80 pages of Shattered Lion Volume Two and then worked with my editor to have the book ready for publication by April 25th 2021. The journey involved late night writing sprees, extensive research on Russian geography (read it and you’ll learn why), and a whole lot of self doubt. In the end, it was a true labor of love.
If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?
David Baldacci. He’s been my favorite author since 5th grade when I read “The Innocent”, and since then I’ve read every one of the 42 books he’s released, and I’ve seen him speak twice at the national book festival in DC. He was my introduction to the thriller genre and is probably the author I’ve read most. I would love to sit down for lunch with him and ask him about the art of thriller writing. I would also thank him for the hours I’ve spent in a large comfy chair, entranced by one of his pulse-pounding thrillers.
Could you pitch us your Shattered Lion series?
Shattered Lion is the story of Jan VanRijn, a Dutch soccer (football) player who, after witnessing his sister’s kidnapping, vows to return her to safety and bring those responsible to justice. Volume one is a fast-paced adventure thriller that lands Jan in Russia, the Netherlands, the United States and Japan. It is a story of scheming, violence, espionage and intrigue. Volume two is a darker, almost dystopian thriller. It is the story of a man whose mind, soul, and body have been shattered by the tragedies he has encountered. But still, he must endure. He must go on. He must continue to fight for the sake of his friends, his sister, and indeed, the world he sees crumbling around him.
What was the biggest reward of writing these books?
The biggest reward was the process at large, and learning that I had the capacity as a writer to go from an idea in my head to a printed novel in my hand. Through the process I learned that I had the patience to self edit, rewrite, work with beta readers, work with an editor, get a cover developed, format the interior and then sell and distribute it. That process and all it requires: patience, resilience, creativity, and adaptability is something that I can take from Shattered Lion and apply to all other aspects of my life.
Do you have any plans to continue the series? Any other projects you're working on?
While I definitely believe that the world of Shattered Lion has stories left to tell, I am not currently planning to write a third installment of the series. I spent six years in that world, and when I published Volume 2, I made the conscious decision to move on and embark on a new writing adventure. I am currently working on a series of fantasy novellas which follow the story of a potioneer named Embrosk on a quest to collect a series of books suspected to hold ancient, magical secrets. Each novella will be around 25,000 words, and I am hoping to publish them using a traditional publisher
You also have an amazing podcast! Can you tell us a bit about that?
The Ben’s Book Shack podcast is a podcast that explores the art of storytelling and the power of books to bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye. While it began as a podcast which primarily featured young readers and writers, it has expanded to include storytellers of many different age groups, mediums, and genres. I have featured guests from six different countries, and we have discussed everything from how to write villains, to the translation process, to the ways that writers can use detective stories as an avenue for social criticism.
What inspired you to start a podcast?
I originally started the podcast as a marketing strategy for Shattered Lion. I figured that podcast listeners have a lot in common with readers and that the communities might overlap and thereby increase Shattered Lion’s readership. However, since then, the podcast has grown from a marketing strategy into a creative project of its own which I work on for the simple sake of meeting interesting people and producing valuable content for my audience of readers and writers.
Have you come across any challenges?
Initially, I had a ton of trouble getting guests to come on the podcast. I would search through instagram for hours to find members of the writing community who would be willing to talk to me for 40 minutes. Then, a couple months ago there was a massive shift and suddenly I was getting several emails every week from people requesting a guest slot on the podcast. Since I am a one-man podcast team, I couldn’t possibly feature everyone, so the challenge became sorting through the requests to determine who I would select to fill those slots.
Do you have any advice for others wanting to start a podcast?
If you’re looking to start a podcast, audio quality is a must so I first recommend that you get a good microphone (for equipment suggestions Buzzsprout has a great youtube channel that you should check out). I would also suggest having a clear, segmented structure to your podcast. We’re all human and therefore can have a tendency to ramble a bit. While you should be able to talk extensively about your podcast’s topic, when you start to ramble, you start to lose listeners (trust me--I know from personal experience). However, if you have different segments that you regularly do, and you keep those concise, then your podcast structure will be much cleaner.
What is your favorite aspect of hosting a podcast?
My favorite thing is just talking to other writers. Whether they’re a short story writer from South Africa, a space opera writer from the Czech Republic, or an historian from England, I always enjoy sitting down with people to talk about our shared love of the written word. It has helped me learn that even though everyone tells stories in their own unique way, storytelling itself is universal.
Where can people find you?
My podcast is available on stitcher, spotify, apple podcasts, and anywhere else you get podcasts. Just search for Ben’s Book Shack. I’m also available @bensbookshack on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can purchase print copies of Shattered Lion direct from my website www.bensbookshack.com. You can purchase ebook copies off my website or from any major ebook distributor including amazon, barnes and noble, and kobo.
Anything else to add?
I really appreciate this opportunity to talk about my books and my podcast. The writing community spans continents, cultures, and languages, and I am so honored to have even a small corner of that community listening to my podcast.
Thank you so much for the interview, Ben! To all the readers, please check out his projects and give a follow over on social media. Thank you for reading!