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Interview with Dianna T. Benson

Award-winning and international best-selling author Dianna T. Benson may write suspense, but she also seems to have lived it through the endless twists and turns of her life, from facing multiple publishing roadblocks to her husband’s battle with cancer to a career switch from travel agent to EMT
Dianna, from reading content on your website I know you have experienced quite some inspiring and difficult moments along your life’s journey so far from battles with your husband’s cancer to top publishing offers dashed. What do you think has influenced your writing the most? Even after all the roadblocks, what has urged you forward on your publishing pursuit?
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Yes, my journey to publication has been interesting, filled with super highs that dropped suddenly with no warning. To hit three of the highlights: I had a contract offer from B&H, but they discontinued their fiction department; I turned down a four-book contract to focus on my young family of five during my husband’s cancer treatments; and, a film agent requested a screenplay of The Hidden Son after reading the book, but she suddenly retired due to a health issue just weeks before I completed the script.

Long before I received the contract offer from B&H and long before I signed my nine-book contract with my publisher, I pondered this question: Am I enough right now without ever being published? I answered the question with a second question: Would I ever quit writing? The answer to that is no – not only am I not a quitter (I’m one of those people who don’t know how to give up), but God gave me a brain that automatically develops scenes and dialogue on a continual basis daily. With this thought in my mind’s forefront, I was able to answer the first question above: Since I have no control over the publishing industry, my love of writing and my natural writer brain keeps me writing, no matter what.

My love for storytelling is so strong it guides my professional life, but my EMS career keeps me grounded. When my dad was killed in a bicycle accident (I was a junior in high school), I watched the EMS crew that day and thought: “I’d love to do that job so I can treat patients while counseling their loved-ones and bystanders deal with the traumatic event.” I finally entered medic school at age 33, still yearning to help people through an emergency and I knew an EMS career would be beneficial for my writing since I write suspense.

A part-time EMT and Haz-Mat and FEMA Operative for a decade, I’m able to keep my writing career in perspective – as an author of fictional suspense, I’m not saving lives; I’m an entertainer. Full-time EMS crews and firefighters save lives, and I write in hopes to honor them globally by depicting the realism of the job and what all that entails working emergency scenes.

Having written many suspense storylines, do you have any specific writing or brainstorming methods to conjure up new storylines? Where did the idea for Persephone's Fugitive come from?
Like my respiratory system inhales and exhales, each day throughout the day my mind instinctively creates scenes and dialogue, always suspenseful in nature and often opening scenes – this is my ongoing daily writer brain at work. With opening scene ideas in abundance for me, I keep a document of them all and pull from that list when the time arises.

When I start a new book, I take an opening scene idea and simply write from there on paper with a pencil, allowing my muse to play until I have a full rough draft for my eyes only; meaning, I lock away my inner editor and critiquer and just have fun with the characters and the story, writing at the seat of my pants (at times I’m a plotter, but I’m definitely more a pantser).

Persephone’s Fugitive was inspired by real events, a situation that occurred during one of my EMS shifts while my partner and I were treating and transporting an injured and handcuffed psych-ward patient to an ED (emergency department).

A few pieces of advice you note on your website are: “If you want to be a published author, don’t listen to anyone (including yourself) say your writing isn’t good enough.” and “Keep writing. Keep submitting. Never give-up.” Is this advice someone gave you or you came up for yourself?
I created this advice slogan on my own. If it worked for me, it can no doubt work for anyone.

Dianna, you and I share a past career. We are both former travel agents. That type of job usually comes with quite a few opportunities to travel the U.S. and abroad. Where have you been able to travel due to work or holiday? How have these differing environments affected your writing? And are you planning any future novels within other international settings?
I’m so glad to meet a fellow former travel agent. I’m guessing, Morgan, you loved your travel agent career like I did. I’ve traveled all over the USA (including Alaska and Hawaii), South America, Central America, Canada, and the Caribbean (including Grand Cayman). My husband and I are scuba divers and love diving in Cayman. Fall 2012 I finally made it to Europe (my lifelong dream) – my husband and I visited Paris and London. This year is our 25th anniversary; to celebrate we’re taking our family to Bermuda. In three years – after our youngest daughter heads to college – our plan is to travel around Australia and New Zealand to enjoy the amazing diving and climbing.

I love writing international settings, and it comes so easy with my vast travel experience. Like with my EMS career, writing my firsthand travel experience provides authenticity to the story. Since the Cayman Islands are British owned and government operated, my Cayman Islands Trilogy is popular in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and all over the Caribbean. With The Hidden Son, I became an International bestseller, so I definitely will continue to provide global settings for readers.

In regard to your quote, “Subtle inspirational is a thread I love writing and it fits within my characterizations and plotlines like a key puzzle piece,” sometimes it is hard for writers, especially those just starting out, to infuse their stories with faith without verging on preaching to their readers/characters? How do you go about balancing the inspirational thread in your novels? What is your advice for other writers to approach this?
Life is hard, but I believe that’s the point. Through our trials and tribulations, God is building our souls, so when our flesh dies our souls are developed to where God wants them to be for our life in eternity. In Persephone’s Fugitive (and in all my books), I want readers to see how my characters don’t just “get through” or try to “get over” the difficult stuff in life; instead, my characters accept the pain that difficult events in their lives cause and they move forward with a renewed sense of understanding in themselves, in life, and in God.

This applies to me as well (not just my characters). Every stepping stone in life (large to small and everything in between) leads me in the right direction for me at that time in the chaotic river of life. God's hand is always there but I must choose to reach for it so He can keep me balanced to prevent me from falling into the river. In the times I'm floundering in the flowing river from a fall, I reach for God's hand, and He lifts me out before I drown.

Since I trust in the words above (in the two above paragraphs) so deeply, I organically weed that belief into my stories and characterizations, hoping to inspire through entertaining without preaching.

In the “About Me” section on your website, Dianna, you mention you haven’t always been a reader but that one piece of advice to writers is to: “Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Revise, revise, revise.” Do you think not reading as much set you back initially as a writer? Do you think you would have started your writing career earlier or differently if you were more of a reader in the beginning?
Yeah, I really didn’t read much before I was a junior in high school, when my dad was killed in a bicycle accident. I was on my own from the day of his death until I married my amazing husband, and during those rough years alone I became an avid reader for comfort and escape. I never stopped reading and I’m still an enthusiastic reader.

In 1993 I started writing my first suspense when our oldest daughter was a newborn and I was working from home as a travel agent. I started submitting to agents in 2000, and after I completed my fifth manuscript I signed with my first agent in 2007. My journey to publication was long, yes, but I was enjoying my two other careers (travel industry and EMS) and being a mom of three; even more than that, though, I was sidetracked by several major health crisis that struck my young family of five, starting with my husband’s cancer in 2009 and then my son’s and oldest daughter’s health battles, which only recently resolved.

Reality is, my family wasn’t ready for me to embark in a career as a published novelist until I signed with my traditional print publisher in 2012, so it’s all good. Every author’s path is individualized and unique. Timing, chance, and God’s plan are huge factors on where our lives head and when, all of which we are unable to control.

The following answer you gave to the “How did you become a writer?” question on your website was quite interesting: “The day President Reagan was shot, Dianna was in fifth grade. From that real event that day, she developed all sorts of fictional scenes and dialogue, something she did constantly with everything. When she asked friends, classmates and teachers what scenes and stories they created because of the attempted assassination on the President, none of them had a clue what she was talking about. At that moment, she realized she was the only person she knew who did this sort of thing everyday.”

What do you think it was about the assassination attempt that really grabbed your young writer’s heart?

Simply, I realized I was the only person I knew who wrote scenes and dialogue in their head on a daily ongoing basis. Being in fifth grade (so young), I honestly thought everyone else did this, too. That day I understood that wasn’t the case, and I realized: “Hmm, I guess I’m a writer.”

Dianna, where did your personal quote, “The grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s just different,” come from and what does it mean to you?
This is my own personal quote I devised (I don’t think anyone has ever written that phrase and claimed it as their own). It actually means a ton to me: It’s a great reminder every day that we all have our vigorous mountains to climb (which better us) and our beautiful plateaus of peace and happiness to enjoy.

So I try to stop looking around in envy and live my own life in gratitude, soaking up God’s amazing nature in the process.

What books are in your To Read pile right now? Do you prefer reading physical books, e-books or a mix of both?
I’ve actually never read an e-book. There’s just something about a physical book – I love sprawling out on the couch, holding a paper book to disappear into the story and ride the characters’ worlds with them. A screen of some sort in front of me gears my mind into work mode (the opposite of relax mode for reading, and creative mode for writing), the reason I write my first drafts on paper with a pencil at a beach, a lake, in the mountains, or lying on my couch. But obviously I’m weird since something like 85% of all books read today are e-books.

Any parting words?
Thank you, ACFW and Morgan, for interviewing me and featuring my newest release, Persephone’s Fugitive. I enjoyed our time together.

Dianna, thank you for being our guest!

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