I am happy to have author Tantra Bensko join us today for an interview. Please help me welcome her today and her book
Remember to Recycle: Psychological Suspense
Tell us about yourself?
Thank you for asking, Candice. I teach fiction writing and edit manuscripts, which I adore. I’ve been active with many aspects of the literary community, shifting my focus over the years from Literary to more popular genres. My Agents of the Nevermind series is Psychological Suspense, which I love because it’s so representative of life; we’re manipulated individually and en masse to believe what people want us to believe, and the process of finding a way through that maze fascinates me. I enjoy the shudder of realization of more truth, even if it’s grim.
Glossolalia, the first book in the series, won a gold medal in the Intrigue category 2017 in Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. I’ve won quite a few honors over the years, but that’s my most prized one these days. I just wish it were socially acceptable to walk around with a giant gold medal on a shockingly bright striped band around one’s neck. I spend years on each novel and thousands of dollars, working with multiple editors to get it the best it can be so readers have a rewarding experience.
I’ve had a highly unusual life, what would seem like many lives in one. For example, I questioned the norms we’re handed by default and threw myself completely into living a life in the wilderness without relying on society and I got to know bears and sea lions that I lived with up close. I was trained in successful remote viewing as a child, had a job as a ditch digger, and played nearly every role imaginable in the visual art world – and that’s just the beginning.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The physical act of putting words down. I’ve not been able to sit and type for nine years because of a back injury, and the position I use is hard on my body. So, it takes a lot of dedication to push through the pain, but it’s worth it whenever I read a glowing review by a stranger who enjoyed the novels.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
This book, like Glossolalia, is Suspense/Thriller, so the rousing ending when a character who has been disenfranchised at the beginning takes charge and grows increasingly powerful to the point of changing the world at large – that’s revitalizing to write! Climaxes are so fun, so grand with all the elements of the story victoriously coming together as characters rally and find their strength to be brave and help people see the truth.
Scientific studies show readers are physically affected for a long time by the protagonists after reading even briefly, so I think writers must be too. That kind of ending has to be good for staying youthful and flexible with a strong immune system.
My favorite part is ultimately interacting with readers, so I hope anyone feels free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned that readers are even more open-minded about learning about the world situation than I’d hoped. I also learned that it’s super fun writing chapters from the viewpoint of an eccentrically brilliant, homeless, heavy-drinking man who goes through people’s recycling to get their cans to resell – and reads their documents to learn all about their lives. Part of me will now always be him.
I also researched in more detail about the White Helmet hoax in Syria. They’re a group of terrorists supported and armed by outsiders such as the US, but they represent themselves as homegrown neutral unarmed do-gooders. I figure if I’m going to write books that make people tense and scared about what the antagonist is going to do, I might as well make it about important things the real world, however, disguised, that people should be nervous about.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
I hope readers take away a stronger understanding of how propaganda and blackmail works to gather public support for proxy wars and coups. Some readers already are familiar with it, so for them, I hope they find entertainment, and inspiration to be more outspoken about media deceit that causes devastation to innocent countries. But that sounds like it’s a heavy, preachy book, and it’s about the characters’ quirky schemes to find love while escaping with their lives.
What are your future project(s)?
I’m polishing Encore, the third Agents of the Nevermind book, which like all the others I’ve drafted for the series, is psychological suspense; it’s also a Gothic. I studied in depth the method of writing a Gothic, so it follows all the tropes that should satisfy fans of that genre. A performance troupe’s hypnotist abducts an understudy he hypnotized to believe she’s the actress she substitutes for on stage; he whisks her away to a castle, while her friend Colin camps outside, risking his life to try to rescue her.
Learning about castles was wild – like the double portcullis, grates that suddenly fall down and trap an enemy entering a castle, so the people inside can throw hot sand and burning logs on him from the murder hole above. Good times!
I’ve also got other novels in the works that aren’t in the series, and the one I’m working on now I’ve fallen in love with. It’s a sexy Romantic Suspense and though it’s complex with many crime suspects, is much easier to write than the series because this time I don’t have to figure out how to dramatically explain lots of real-life current events, history or the alternative history, and there aren’t as many speculations about consciousness and esoteric practices. Ah, now, ease of writing is such a relief. Maybe not as much of a calling, not bringing into play as much of what I’ve studied at length. But it’s probably going to be my most lucrative and popular book so far because though my most devoted readers are particularly into my arcane knowledge and political analysis, most typical Romance readers are probably looking more for simple rollicking entertainment. The Agents of the Nevermind series is labeled Thrills for Thinkers. This new novel is more about the feels.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
Well, let’s see. Once I had a Craigslist gig in San Francisco coaching a couple adorable, very elderly aspiring male dancers to do tummy rolls. That was certainly memorable enough I’d consider it as a full-time career in a parallel world.
Do you have any tips for up and coming writer/authors?
Amazon removed dozens of honest reviews of each of my novels for no reason, so be sure you check your reviews regularly and copy them for your website before they disappear. As far as your website – some aspiring authors put their stories and poems there or on Facebook before they’ve been published. In case you don’t know – that means only very few magazines would consider them because few take reprints. So, don’t give in to the urge and don’t be evil and try to pass them off as unpublished and send them to magazines anyway.
Removing glue words from a manuscript is tedious but it’s rewarding to make your prose succinct and powerful. I grew up saying: stand up, sit down, come over here, etc. I can cut a book manuscript down by a fourth in word count by removing extra words without changing the meaning, no joke. Instead of, “I’m going to do it,” say, “I’ll do it.” Do it to it!
I tell students constantly not to include expository backstory near the beginning of a narrative, yet I do it too, on first drafts. It’s OK if you do it, to get the information down on the page, but then go back and find ways to integrate it into your story with emotional and realistic dialogue with subtext, or some other method. If possible, move it to a later point on the page. One way to avoid that kind of info dump is to provide obstacles to the revelation of the material, so the characters are aching for it. So, then, the readers will too, by the time you reveal it.
The technique of starting a 3rd Person POV with an Omniscient paragraph or two that provides expository isn’t often the best idea, in my opinion. At least the whole manuscript isn’t Omniscient so it might have a fighting chance with the public (old writers who have a huge following already can get away with that POV better.) But even a little bit of it there tends to delay the active tension, engaging voice, and a hook with forward momentum, and it scares readers into thinking the whole thing will be in that POV, which lacks the kind of intimacy we now expect. We’re used to living in a world in which only one person (us) is known to us. If everyone is known to us all times, it’s too estranged from our experience to immerse ourselves in it. Of course, there are always exceptions of books that succeed.
What if the homeless men going through your recycling know more about your life than you do? Like who is going to die.
One of the recyclers, Dave, wearing disguises he keeps under a bridge, memorizes the information in people’s bins. He, like many others, idolizes the Rescuers, a supposedly neutral, unarmed humanitarian aid group in a Balkanized country, as the possibility of WWIII looms.
The Nevermind Agents lie on the evening news to garner support for proxy wars. They say the Rescuers are unarmed, neutral, and giving humanitarian aid to a Balkanized country. Their movie about them is a blockbuster. Rescuer costumes are the bit hit for Halloween.
But it’s time to unmask them. And that requires a plan so ingenious, even the planner can’t know how it’s done.
Living not far away from Dave’s bridge, Becky donates generously to the Rescuers, making her finances even more insecure. She doesn’t know what to think when she finds things in her apartment moved slightly. The toothbrush is wet. There’s a stain on the ironing board. The cat food is nearly gone. Is it her imagination? Is someone messing with her mind?
Could it be Stan, breaking in because he loves her? He certainly loves putting her body into mysterious BDSM contortions for their videos. But what’s that muffled moan she hears in the background when she calls him on the phone?
Becky hires her friend to spy on Stan. The woman has gone underground since escaping from the Nevermind; she wears a wig, and a mask meant for burn victims. She has traveled across the country to befriend Becky, taking a chance on an anonymous message recommending she do so, though she doesn’t yet know the reason.
Tantra Bensko won the gold medal for Glossolalia: Psychological Suspense from the Readers Favorite Award.
She teaches fiction writing through UCLA X Writing Program, Writers.com, and her own Online Writing Academy.
With degrees such as an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, her Literary Fiction and poetry was widely published in magazines and anthologies, and later, a wide variety of Genre Fiction.
Her new series, The Agents of the Nevermind, is Psychological Suspense with subcategories such as Conspiracy Thriller and Political Suspense. For decades, she has studied the methods of social engineering through manipulation of mass beliefs.
She lives in Berkeley.