Today, I get to introduce my amazing writing friend Christina Benjamin. She is an award-winning YA author out of St. Augustine, Florida, and I seriously breezed through her first book in 50 page chunks without realizing it. Her voice is fabulous and her characters instantly hook you in. Now, my 13 year old is hooked! After reading this interview, I know you will be too:
ENGLE: Tell me about your book. What’s it about? Where did the story idea come from?
BENJAMIN: My book series is called The Geneva Project. It’s a young adult fiction series and they’re the first books I’ve ever written. I’ve always loved writing and reading, but never really had the courage to pursue it full time. I did a lot of blogging and some freelance writing, but nothing like this. I was inspired to start my own series when three of my favorite iconic series ended. I finished the last book in the Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the Twilight series all in the same year. As a reader and mega fan that was devastating for me. I’d become so attached to the characters and the amazing worlds they existed in that when the books ended it was like losing a friend. I know I’m not the only obsessed fangirl that felt that way, but I also didn’t know what to do about it. One day during my lunch break, without having a new book to replace those I was mourning and after having enough with the boring office TV shows, I decided to go into the old meeting room that no one ever used. I sat there with my laptop thinking maybe I’d surf the web, but my fingers itched for more and I had an inkling of an idea. What if I wrote my own book? Then I could make my own amazing characters! And I’d never have to say goodbye to them! And I could decide who lives and dies and everything else in between! Yes, that was the answer. Instead of being an obsessed reader, I’d be an obsessed writer! I instantly opened a blank word document and wrote this sentence. My name is Geneva Sommers It still gives me goosebumps! Those 5 little words have been powerful enough to change my life!
ENGLE: That’s so awesome! And here you are working on book three! One of the challenges faced by authors is visibility in the market. What have you done to bring your book in front of the consumer?
BENJAMIN: I published my books on my own indie label, so it’s definitely hard to get exposure or even know where to start sometimes. But for me, I do what I love and that is actually going to schools and talking about my books to my main audience, young adult readers. I’ve driven anywhere and everywhere to visit schools that show an interest in having me speak to their students about how important language arts are. I make it fun for the students by getting them excited to read my books. I get them involved in the creative process of developing characters, setting a scene and telling a story. I do giveaways, trivia, book fairs, etc., but my favorite is always the school visits. Kids just have such inspiring spirits and it keeps me encouraged to keep writing.
ENGLE: What is an interesting or bizarre fact we don’t know about you?
BENJAMIN: Shortly after I started writing my first book, Truth, I found out I was pregnant. I was over the moon with excitement about the birth of my first child and this fueled my desire to write even more. My book now had a purpose. I wanted to make it something wonderful that I could share with my son. I wanted the world I created in my story to be beautiful and enchanting, full of fun and mystery that I was sure we’d spend hours discussing. I wanted the characters to be role models he could look up to, who would stand up for what’s right and follow their heart no matter what. I passed the long nine months joyfully and secretly writing Truth. One of the most special memories I have of writing my first novel is that I shared it with my son first. He was the only one I let into the magical world I was creating. I hadn’t told a soul I was writing a book. Not my husband, who I shared everything with, not my family or my friends. I was afraid that would make it too real. What if I didn’t finish? What if I did and it was terrible? The only confidant I had was my unborn son. I would talk to him about whatever I was writing. It was so fun keeping our little secret, and in the end that’s why I named the 2nd book in The Geneva Project series, Secrets. My son and my book were my best kept secrets. I eventually did tell the whole world about both. My son, Dalton Liam, was born in June of 2012 and my book in December of 2012. For a brief moment, I really felt like I was living a dream, and perhaps I was, but in February it became a nightmare. My son was diagnosed with a terminal genetic disorder. He passed away 5 days after his first birthday. I live by words, but there are none to describe the grief and darkness that follow such an event. The only thing that brought me back to the light was writing. I couldn’t talk about how I felt, so I wrote about it. I wrote until I hurt so much I thought I would break, and then I wrote even more. Writing was my escape and I realized it might be that for many people out there. Writing and reading are such amazing, therapeutic, healing crafts and somewhere along the way, they healed me to the point that I remembered why I wanted to write. With a renewed purpose, I quit my job, sold my house and moved to a town where I’d had the happiest memories with my son. I poured my heart and soul into writing my second novel. I’ve always been someone who’s believed in purpose. For awhile I felt I’d lost it, but for now I feel it is to share the love of literacy. My hope is that it can empower others to take charge of any situation they are faced with in life. For now, my goal is to share my books with as many people as possible. In the beginning I simply wanted to write for fun and then to share something fun with my son, but now I realize it can be more than that. I want my books to bring joy to as many children as they can by sharing a fun story about friendship, adventure, courage and self-discovery. The main character Geneva writes in a journal and when I speak to students I encourage them to do the same. I know from experience how helpful a place blank pages can be.
ENGLE: I can’t imagine how hard this journey has been for you, and how rewarding at the same time. You inspire me with your smile and positive attitude. How do you come up with your ideas and what’s a typical writing day like for you?
BENJAMIN: Most of my ideas are a mash up of my crazy imagination, my life experience and the things that I love, like nature, music, art and animals.
Typically I make myself write for at least an hour each day when I’m working on my books. Most of the time, I find I’ve been at it for about 3 hours and forgot to stop and eat, in which case I get hungry and make bad food choices.
ENGLE: If you were trapped on a deserted island with one book, one drink, one friend from literature, and one song what would that look like?
BENJAMIN: I’d probably bring A Mid Summer Nights Dream by Shakespeare, Sangria, Harry Potter (so he could use his magic wand to get us out of there when we were sick of being stranded,) and hmmm…. the song is the hardest. How about I bring one CD? It would be Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming.
ENGLE: Now that you’ve wet our whistles, where can we find your book? Do you have a website/facebook/twitter you’d like to share
BENJAMIN: My books, The Geneva Project – Truth and The Geneva Project – Secrets are available online at Amazon in paperback or Kindle, Barnes and Noble for Nook, iTunes for iBooks, Kobo, or your can order personalized signed copies directly from my square store, where you’ll find all kinds of fun Geneva Project merchandise, including the journals that go along with the book series. I absolutely love interacting with my fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Reader feedback is amazing. So if you’ve read my books, please reach out. I love hearing from you and I always try my best to respond. You can email me and follow my journey for The Geneva Project as well. If you’re in Florida, you can find my books at some great local book shops. Bookmark It! in Orlando, FL, and Rembrandtz Gifts in St. Augustine, FL and Second Read Books in St. Augustine, FL.
ENGLE: And a as fan, I love your book Truth. As soon as my son finishes Secrets, I get my turn to start it! Last question and my most favorite: If you could be a Muppet who would you be and why?
BENJAMIN: I’d be Super Grover. He was my son’s favorite character. Every time I see Grove I think of him.