INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR BEN D’ALESSIO
This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Ben D’Alessio, author of the coming-of-age novel, Binge Until Tragedy. We talked travel, publishing, and the real challenges facing young people today as they struggle to find themselves after college. Check out his tips on how to get published and learn more about his life and work!
Have you always wanted to be writer or was it an interest that developed over time?
I remember the excitement I felt on the first day of first grade when I had my marble notebooks all picked out and ready to be filled with stories about knights and dragons and other mythical creatures (ironically I haven’t written anything considered “fantasy”) even though I couldn’t read or write yet. Throughout High School some of my favorite classes were the writing classes where I was able to explore different themes and genres. I did think I was going to be a writer then. However, in college I got distracted with other activities and solely wrote academically. Looking back, I should have been more engaged in school papers and magazines and using the time in college to develop my writing. It wasn’t until I lived in Spain, the year after I graduated, that I decided it was now or never to write a book. I was a teacher in a public school and had my nights completely free, so I started my first novel. Even then I would get discouraged and probably took a few months off from writing, which was a mistake. When I returned from Europe I had regained my confidence, gathered plenty of material for my book, and started to write seriously. I haven’t stopped since.
You’re from New Jersey but you’ve traveled throughout Europe and have even lived in London and Spain. Currently, you are based out of New Orleans. Each of these places has their own unique culture and climate. Do you find that location influences or inspires your writing?
Absolutely. I didn’t leave the United States until I was 22 years old. I spent a semester abroad in London my senior year of college. It sounds cliché, but it actually changed my life. I don’t think I would have finished Binge if I never went to London because that semester opened me up to traveling, which is a theme of the book (although none of it takes place in London itself). I suppose from London it was a domino effect. My second novel, which will likely be out as early as February 2018, takes place in New Jersey, my home state, and my third takes place in New Orleans.
Your debut novel Binge Until Tragedy, follows a recent college graduate as he travels to Paris after the suicide of a close friend. It’s been described as a kind of coming-of-age story that deals with many of the issues that young men and women must face once they have to start making their way in the “real world.” Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired this novel? Are some of the struggles that your protagonist faces inspired by real life experiences?
Travel definitely was a source of inspiration. I knew that for Binge I wanted the characters to visit a bunch of different places. The Drifters, my favorite book, has a similar theme of youths from different backgrounds joining each other to travel to different parts of Europe and Africa. The background to The Drifters is the 1960s, a tumultuous time for Americans. My book features that time after college when many (dare I use the word “Millennials”) are thrust into the “Real World” and don’t know what to do with themselves. Some because they don’t have a job or are putting off graduate school or simply don’t want the party to end. That being said, I think there are many reasons my protagonist wants to travel to Paris and it is for the reader to decide which reasons are genuine and which are not.
Concerning the real life experiences? Some here and there, but Binge is a work of fiction. I even wrote myself into the book as an ancillary character to distinguish Joel (the protagonist) from Ben (the author). But when you write a novel everyone expects it to be autobiographical and steadfastly clings to the idea that Character X is Real Life Person Y, no matter how much evidence you provide to the contrary.
Every generation faces their own unique challenges. Do you feel like young people today have a more difficult time transitioning from college to the “real world” than in years past? If so, why do you think this is?
While I can’t speak to the challenges faced by previous generations, it does seem like if you went to college you were guaranteed a career in the field you studied for and had very little debt coming out of school. The combination of student debt and poor job prospects is unlike anything other generations have faced after graduating from college, plus college degrees are not worth what they used to be worth. Graduate degrees are becoming the new norm and the catch-22 of “experience” — you need experience to get the job but you need the job to get experience — seems to be a recurring theme on job applications.
However, the good news for my generation, either out of necessity or out of new tech and engineering, is that we are willing to travel to different parts of the country and world to work and rarely stay on one career path.
Saving money to travel instead of for the house in the ‘burbs is also a theme for us, which is a good thing. If more Americans traveled internationally I don’t think we’d have the kind of issues over race and class that we’re still having today. When you start to travel you realize that the vast majority of people want the same things in life.
You donated 50% of the profits from the sale of your novel for the first few months after it’s release to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a charity that focuses on helping refugees of natural disasters or war. This must be a cause near and dear to you. Can you tell us more about this charity and why you chose to donate to them?
I knew I wanted to donate a percentage of the profits from my book to a charitable organization. At the time I decided on the IRC because they are an ethical organization that does great work. The refugee crisis is an important issue for me that I even wrote about for a law school essay. Thesis being, we should settle more refugees — it’s good for everyone.
At the moment, I donate 25% of profits to ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network). And plan to always have a % of profits go to X charitable organization.
If anyone has organizations that they would like me to set up donations to, I would be happy to review them and give them a few months on the “rotation.” No political campaigns please and not for your Kickstarter to get the newest iPhone 10. 11? I don’t even know anymore.
You currently contribute to sites like TheCreativeCafe, ranttnews, ExtraNewsfeed. Do you have any tips for writers who are looking to get their articles published or who might be trying to start a freelance career?
Get on Medium. It is a free site that is kind of like twitter but for blogs, in the sense that there is the chance your story, article, etc. gets read by thousands of people. You can follow writers whose work you like and can also apply to become a writer for a publication. I link my facebook, twitter, and medium page together to get as much exposure as possible.
Actually, Medium is now experimenting with a way for writers who get “claps” (Medium’s version of “likes”) to get paid. So far I can’t find a catch.
In terms of publishing in traditional magazines and journals, you just have to submit as much as possible, but without being obnoxious. Many magazines and journals have limits with how much you can submit, so definitely be mindful of that. Always read the guidelines to see what they are looking for.
How was the publishing process for you? Did you self publish or work with a publishing company?
I self-published with a company called BookBaby. They have excellent customer service and distribution. You can use as many of their services as you want and they have their own “bookshop” which offers the best royalty percentages I’ve seen. But they also distribute to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.
I use editors from Invisible Ink Editing, namely Samantha Gordon and Leah Wohl-Pollack, for the editing process and use bookbaby for the publication and formatting. For my next book, I’m working with a cover designer named Jenny from Seedlings Design Studio.
Are there any lessons you’ve had to learn the hard way through the process of publishing your first novel? Are there any tips that you could give first time authors?
Save money for these steps. Editing, cover design, formatting, are all essential. It’s definitely not cheap, but you’ve put year(s) writing your book, why cut yourself short? I’ve read self-published books infected with spelling errors and grammatical errors and get turned off. Trust me, no one needs an editor more than I do. Editors are worth their weight in gold. Not just to fix punctuation and grammar, but to tell you what works and doesn’t work, to catch plot holes, to let you know that John Smith on page 322 was John Schmidt on page 22.
The editing process should be broken into 3 parts: Beta read, line edit, and a final proof. I also recommend reading over the manuscript one time yourself after it is finished. Think of the editing process like a recovering addict — go through the steps.
I probably won’t even give the book a shot if the cover design looks amateur. Doesn’t matter how good the writing might be. EVERYONE judges a book by its cover. It’s worth the $300–600 to get a professional to create something you can be proud of.
All of these costs can be avoided if you want to traditionally publish. A publishing house will pay for the edits and cover design and everything. But it is extremely difficult to get traditionally published if you don’t already hold a top tier MFA or have a name for yourself some other way. And even if you do, your book might change in ways you never imagined and disagree wholeheartedly with. Plus it might take years, As in, many, many years to get on the shelves and online. And even then your profits are miniscule. Publishing houses are like hedge funds. They don’t want to take risks that won’t pay off. So your story about a dystopian America where men have sex with their assault rifles, turn East five times a day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, pay for items with “Thoughts and Prayers” tickets, and blow off steam in a virtual reality chamber where they are FREE to kill as many liberals as they want, probably won’t get published. (Actually, I wrote that story already, here: https://medium.com/@bendalessio17/freedomworld-f47e94553975. Shameless plug.)
In the end, I just want to write. I want to write, polish, and get my work out to my readers without parrying with the gatekeepers. But maybe that’s the path you want to take.
What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works now?
My second novel is going through the final proof next month. It will likely be ready for purchase by February, 2018, barring any hiccups.
I continue to write for my Medium page about whatever comes to mind. My next piece will likely be my reviews for $3 bottles of wine, why Midnight in Paris is really about the crippling effects of writer’s block, or the updates to my cat’s resume.
I am also about 17,000 words into my third novel and have been looking over a TV pilot from a couple of friends out in L.A.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If they enjoyed this interview and think anything I’ve mentioned sounds interesting, please check out my Medium page (https://medium.com/@bendalessio17) and follow if you’re also on Medium, follow me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/El__Ben), and like my facebook page for updates on my own writing and news from the writing world (https://www.facebook.com/BenDAlessioWriting/)
Also, anyone can email me at email@example.com with questions concerning my book or anything else I have written.