Today I'm hosting an author Q&A and a great giveaway, courtesy of Ben Dehaven. Ben is here to talk about his book Confessions of a Self-Help Writer, which was #1 Most Wished For Book of the Year on Indie Bound for over 14 weeks, and caused quite a stir as the truth behind the fiction found its way to the surface (as the truth tends to do).
Stay with us to the end for a chance to win copies of the book or a $50 Amazon gift card.
KB: What inspired you to write your latest book?
BD: Confessions of a Self-Help Writer (The Journal of Michael Enzo) is a work of fiction based on factual events. Originally, I wrote this work as an act of revenge and an act of forgiveness. As one reviewer put it:
“The reader of “Confessions” is forced to question DeHaven’s motivation... Does he truly want to ruin Enzo’s legacy or is this an act of love? Reaching out to someone who is still lost.”
So in a way, yes, I was trying to flush him out. But that was personal and never meant to be publicized. I hoped people would get a great laugh out of the fiction character who was a con man, and who almost destroyed me. But now if someone found the truth, maybe this would be the last self-help book they would ever read - because it’s the mind of a mad man who was writing those books. Confessions of a Self-Help Writer was the #1 Most Wished For Book of the Year on Indie Bound for over 14 weeks and was getting amazing reviews as a book of “fiction.” I was thrilled - but prior to that some of my original intentions came out, and lead to articles like this one: Nearly Ruined By A Con-Man, This Writer Feels Avenged By Telling The World His Story.
One reviewer said, “I think this is a multi-platform fail.” I hope so, and wish the actual backstory would have never come out. I had no trouble letting this ride as a book of fiction and hope readers will enjoy it for that reason. If you want to believe that inside is the voice of a real person whom might have influenced you in some significant way, it’s an interesting way to read a book. There is a reason I don’t ask friends if they have seen any good movies lately—I want to go in with a fresh slate.
A Huffington article in the next few weeks will also explain that the book is based on factual events and Radar is desperately trying to find out who Enzo really is.
KB: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
BD: Getting sued right out of the gate didn’t help, or cutting the manuscript from over 600 pages down to 180. But the hardest part of writing Confessions of a Self-Help Writer (The Journal of Michael Enzo) was dealing with painful memories from the past. There are a few chapters that are so vivid I refused to edit them personally. In particular I can’t make it through “loneliness” without crying, because it hits so close to home, and I have yet to replace that love.
Then of course Oprah has a new book and I would love to draw a corollary, but then I run the risk of using Oprah’s name to promote something, and what’s left in the “legal gas tank is empty." The opening line to Enzo’s Journal is “There is nothing more jarring to a person’s self-esteem than having Oprah explain your entire existence is not interesting enough to carry a 5 minute segment.” That being said if you listen to Madison Morgan's interview questions, you will hear some of the mystery that makes this such a crazy story.
KB: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
BD: Throughout the body of Confessions of a Self-Help Writer there are tidbits of advice that I tried to link to other Enzo works. Upon re-editing them I really took them to heart.
The most important thing I learned was when you write a book you can use your loved ones for inspiration for characters, but don’t make it so blatantly clear it hurts them.
KB: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
BD: This is the last self help book you will ever read. Not because it’s a self-help book in the traditional sense at all, but because you will see the mind of a twisted man who spent a good portion of his life writing self-help books. If nothing else, I hope readers can either find a couple of good laughs, or look at this person’s life and say, wow - my life is not that bad, why am I not helping myself?
KB: How much of the book is realistic?
BD: Sadly, all of it is true, but I’m not sure many readers realize that it is. So is it realistic? I guess it depends on your vision of realism. If you are looking for a celebrity expose, you are going to have to dig deep, because I can’t legally give much. I actually had a few negative reviews that were based solely on the fact there weren’t enough celebrities mentioned. I completely understand your frustration if that happens and you were misled -that is not my intention. In fact the only thing that was ever said was Enzo was a celebrity ghost writer. He was.
But if you are a vine reviewer who is vetted in the art of literature are you then admitting that the only reason you accepted this “come from nowhere author” is that at your core you are a gossip whore, who’s just been let down? Seems like a conflict of interest to me. LOL. Actually she was the only one who got the thesis of the book: “disappointment that it did not deliver on a promise... Perhaps that is what I did learn about the self-help industry, after all.”
KB: So is this book based on someone you know? Are they events you observed yourself?
BD: I’m limited in what I can disclose about my involvement with the actual Michael Enzo. That being said, I can tell you that Enzo is not the real name, which in a way opens the door to the possibility he could have written for anyone. There is a Michael Enzo Twitter Feed and a Michael Enzo website. And below are some of the excerpts from the book. I’m not saying he worked with them, just quoting book passages.
George Clooney--“I hit Clooney in the face with a snowball during filming ER.”
Martin Scorsese--“One time I actually sold a paper gangster a Scorsese journal about how he kicked Heroin. It’s amazing how people want to hear about the struggles of famous people.”
David Mamet--“I was jammed up to my bookies, I was strapped and I thought I knew how Teach felt in Mamet’s American Buffalo. I was a low-level aging gangster who needed a score to set things right.”
Charlie Sheen—“Self-destruction is inevitable because existence is a full-time job. He told me and I agreed.”
Chris Rock—"Even when telling jokes that would make Chris Rock Blush”
Drew Carey—"Cleveland is a rough freak’n city. Don’t let Drew Carey fool you.”
KB: What’s your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
BD: I’m lazy, followed by bouts of insane commitment. When I write, I’m an addict. I write sloppy and loose, my grammar and spelling are terrible. I have no idea what diagraming a sentence means. I have to write with a legal felt tipped pen, so everything for me is long hand. Its funny, because I type quickly, but after I have the long hand version, I usually use the dictation software to read the story into the computer. It’s amazing how many problems you will find when reading something out loud.
I don’t like people to look at me when I am writing. I feel like an asshole. But I don’t feel weird editing in public. Which seems strange-because how in the world would the people watching know the difference? I guess I feel like I am “wide open” when in the groove and don’t want to let too many people see that. I’ll spend months throwing ideas on paper, but then I drive till the tank runs dry, check into a hotel and lock myself down until I have something to work with.
I am the type of writer that wants to connect with people, but never have Matt Dillon play me in a movie (although he did personally request a copy of Confessions - Jesus save me).
KB: Give us an insight into your main character.
BD: Michael Enzo, a quixotic adventurer who admits freely to lurid depravity, substance abuse, and emotional complexity, is an author and investment guidance counselor who has saved more people than Gandhi and Mother Theresa combined. He has ghost written 108 Self-Help books for movie stars, politicians, business leaders, and greedy publishers. He is currently in hiding from the Federal Government and possibly being hunted by organized crime.
Hypocrite isn't a strong enough word for someone who writes self-help books purely for profit. Two of the world's ten wealthiest used Enzo as a ghostwriter and while they attribute their status in life to Enzo’s words, not a single one willingly admits to knowing him.
The most disheartening admission presented is that Enzo would only fall back on his tremendous gift, of writing self-help, as a last act to pay debtors and sustain a ridiculous lifestyle. Enzo, wherever you are, pick up a self-help book and give it a read. Who knows, you may have written it.
KB: How long did it take you to write this book?
BD: I don’t know if a book is ever finished in the eyes of the author. The truth is most of this book was blasted out over 30 days, but to build the timelines, secure the permissions, and go through a ton of edits, it took a little over a year.
KB: Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your book?
BD: Arroe Collins Suggested Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have been perfect or maybe Leonardo DiCaprio, but I’d like to see Edward Norton take a swing at Enzo. We had a bunch of celebrities and publicists ask for ARC’s and a few of them threw up red flags in my mind. I’d almost rather have an unknown. Craig Stark actually worked with Enzo and I think he is completely underrated.
KB: What are you working on now?
BD: I’m working on a screenplay re-write for a small studio and trying desperately to get the non-fiction version of Confessions off the ground.
KB: What book are you reading now?
BD: Currently I am reading a lot of treatments for The Stone Group, which owns Lagniappe Publishing. I have known everyone there for years and they put a lot of trust in me. Fools. Lol. Also, I just received a copy of Gaiman’s latest book. I’m excited to see what all the fuss is about. I’m still a Gaiman virgin—one of the last.
KB: What books have most influenced your life?
BD: As a child I was tricked into an antique shopping event with my mom and bought a 5 cent book called “4 Minute Essays” by Rev. Brown. It was a tiny brown hardcover pocket sized book full of stories hiding underlying moral questions. Each of the lessons had completely different writing styles and it was the first time I felt an author purposely pull the reader out of the text and toy with them.
The opening story is about a young man who wants to be a church deacon, but because he is unable to read or write, they won’t accept him into the church. A cigar salesman observes him weeping outside and takes pity on him. The salesman tells him to go into town and sell some cigars to take his mind off his predicament. He does as instructed and years later he owns multiple stores and has become a pillar of the community, helping everyone he can. One day he runs into the bank in a fuss and asks the teller to extend him credit for an emergency. The teller hands his statement over and the main character says, “I need 250,000 can you please lend me the money.” Confused, the teller says "Sir you have over thirty million dollars in the bank! Can’t you read? If you are this wealthy, just imagine what you could have been if you could read and write.” He looks up and smiles, “I could have been a church deacon.”
KB: What books/authors have influenced your writing?
BD: Anything by Ginsburg, Brown, Fitzgerald, Mamet, Bukowski, Salinger, Hemingway, Lucado, Palahniuk, Updike, Millhauser, Vonnegut, Frost, Kafka, Steinbeck, Solondz, Tolstoy, Peale, Malcolm Gladwell, Faulkner, Joyce, Dickenson - I could go on forever, but that’s what Goodreads is for.
KB: Do you have any advice for other writers?
BD: Make peace with the fact most people think writing is easy. Never stop writing, but learn how to do something else and love it as well. Get involved with other writers; they will give you honest opinions and valuable guidance. Understand that there are a million great stories and thousands of great writers. Find out what it is that makes yours unique. Read everything you can possibly get your hands on. Read stuff that makes you uncomfortable. Decide whether you want to be an artist or a best selling author. Just like in acting-there are actors and there are movie stars. They are often not the same. Make peace with that and decide who you are writing for.
Regardless of what anyone tells you, unknown authors are discovered by word of mouth, be good to your friends, because in this day and age, Emily Dickenson would still be in the attic crying. You have to sell yourself. Be realistic about the product you’re producing and what the outlook is. Very few writers are ever “discovered” and with being able to self-publish so easily, the playing field is thicker than ever. Start by writing for yourself always.
KB: Do you ever experience writer's block?
BD: I seldom do because most of my ideas come from everyday life. I once dreamed of traveling the world, but then realized how much there was to see just in America. (I still took a job in Spain and traveled - that’s a constant credit card reminder.) I think ideas are like the story of my almost travels. Once you realize how rich the environment in which you exist is, its easy to find material.
Also, I keep a journal of every book I’ve read and add notes, ideas, even the most obscure thoughts. It is impossible not to find something to like in every book. Whether it’s a writing style, a quote, a description, something not to do, or even a piece of dialogue there is something to steal. I have a ton of titles of books to work with and have no idea what they are about yet. To me that’s really exciting. This way, when I am looking for ideas I have an inspiration reference point to turn back to.
KB: For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
BD: For me personally I like paperbacks, the more worn the better. Books are one of the few things that truly get better with age and the only thing I know of where love is reflected by abuse. The more beat up the better. And if someone loans you or gives you a book that has been torn, ripped, written in, and smells like mold - they’ve just given you a piece of their soul. So be grateful.
KB: Do you have a special time and place to write?
BD: Any clean well lighted place will suffice. But, if I am writing dialogue, I like to be in a busy spot, or a bar. But if I am really working through something I would prefer days alone in an ice cold hotel with a room service menu in hand. I often times will spend tons of time organizing thoughts, characters, and an outline. Then when it's time to get some serious writing done, I will grab all my materials, a laptop, my bug out bag and fire box - and I will drive until the tank’s dry, check into a hotel, and turn off the world until I am at a stopping point.
KB: Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
BD: For Confessions I wrote ten pages a day for thirty days, then drove into the mountains with a 5th of vodka, a carton of cigarettes (when I smoked), and my dog. I emerged ten days later with 38 pages. I thought a 10% return was pretty good!
KB: What is the hardest thing about writing?
BD: Adjectives. LOL. Seriously though, I often jam so many moist, delicate, smelly descriptive lines into something it reads terribly. I have to remind myself to leave room for the readers to interpret for themselves. Finding time is a challenge lately while taking care of my mom who suffers from Lupus. I used to be challenged by worrying about how my work would be interpreted, but as I got older, this hasn’t worried me as much.
The hardest part about writing overall is to get enough people interested in what you have to say to turn a profit, and if you want to be a working author, you can’t entirely take this out of the equation. While this hasn’t limited what I have wanted to do, I think the hardest thing in writing is keeping that idea out of your head while trying to create.
KB: Where can we find you online?
Blog: On the front page of bdehaven.com or for old writing http://bdehaven.wordpress.com
Amazon Author Page
Amazon Book Page
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