As you may already know, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing author and artist recently. His name is Benji Alexander Palus and we met at a book awards ceremony, where both of us took home an award (in different genres). What a great guy–funny, witty, and multi-talented! I somehow convinced him to do an interview with me–see what he had to say…
The magic pumpkin is your debut novel. Please tell us what inspired you to write it.
BAP: I actually didn’t know that I was about to write a book, even ten seconds before I wrote the first line. I was very depressed at the time, recently having had to say goodbye to a child that was my whole world. Writing the book was a way to spend time every day with him and his brother. I had glanced at a photo of the painting that I used for the cover (a Christmas gift to the two boys from five years before), and the first sentence of the book popped into my head, so I wrote it down. Once I started it just poured out. It was like I was watching the boys’ adventures and simply writing down what I saw and how it made me feel. The story grew and became more complex, and six months later I had written a novel that I hadn’t known was in me. I think I was more surprised than anyone!
What genre do you consider your book?
BAP: That’s a tricky question with a book like this. Fantasy would be the short answer, I guess. Although it’s also listed under the categories of Juvenile Fiction because it deals with so many childhood issues, and Visionary/Metaphysical because of the complex symbolism and metaphors.
Explain some of the symbolism in your book.
BAP: That’s even trickier. The story symbolizes childhood innocence and its loss, though it can also be read as a straight adventure story. I think that’s why it appeals to so many different age groups. Everyone will get something different out of it. I’m a bit hesitant to actually explain much of the symbolism. Firstly, I’m afraid to give anything away, but even more because I’ve gotten so many responses about what certain things mean to different people. Some find meaning and themes in the different colors that prevalent throughout the book. Some have dug deep into the terrible things that the boys go through and found parallels in their own lives that would never have occurred to me, as well as what the monsters represent. In fact, I had to have much of the symbolism pointed out to me by readers, strange as that may sound. I’m finding that the best part of the book being published is that through discussion with its readers I am learning more about the story and about myself. As always, others will see things in our work that we cannot. I absolutely love that.
While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
BAP: Well, the characters are based on real people, so most of what happens in the book is based on things that the boys actually did or said, although my own childhood did creep in, and though I tried to keep the characters purely themselves, some of the things that Owen says or does were based upon my own interactions with him and his brother, especially in the scenes when Owen comforts Oliver, though it was more like reliving memories than actually inhabiting the characters.
I understand your writing has won some awards. Please tell us about it.
BAP: Gladly! So far, The book has earned Honorable Mentions in the Wild Card category in the Paris, San Francisco, New York and Beach Book Festivals. It was also a Finalist for Juvenile Fiction in the Indie Excellence Awards, and most recently it won Best Children’s Book in the DIY Book Festival in Los Angeles. Every award has been a thrill and an honor! I was actually able to attend the awards dinner for the New York/Beach Book Festivals where I was lucky enough to meet a lovely and talented author and her husband. Oh, wait…that was you!
It was me, and it was an absolute honor to have met you! Just looking at your book cover, which is one of your paintings, I noticed that you are also an extremely talented artist. I later saw many more stunning pieces that you’ve painted. Would you say you were born with this gift or did you study art?
BAP: I consider myself a self-taught artist, having no formal training in fine art. My dad had me tested for artistic ability when I was two years old. I tested very well and have been encouraged ever since. I’ve always loved paintings, especially figurative, of which I still consider myself a student. I never miss a chance to study and reflect on works that move me or to read about painters that I admire.
What is your favorite medium to work in?
BAP: I work exclusively in oils. I know that I should work in other mediums, doing charcoal or watercolor studies, but the truth is that I’m pretty lazy. I prefer to experiment and make mistakes on the canvas, simply painting over what I don’t like. That way a critical fluke won’t be lost, and I’ve always had trouble doing anything more than once. I don’t even keep a sketch book, shameful as it is to admit it.
Do you offer your artwork for sale? If so, how can people find it to purchase it?
BAP: Yes, most of the work is for sale. I am not represented in a gallery at the moment, but people can purchase original paintings through my website at Benji Alexander Palus Fine Art or online from Daily Paintworks at Daily Paintworks – The Benji Alexander Palus Gallery of Original Fine Art
Is either writing or art your full-time job?
BAP: I wish! That is the dream, the lifelong goal! Until then, I’ll still be serving drinks to Bourbon Street tourists.
When you aren’t working on art and writing, what else do you like to do?
BAP: That’s about all I do, really. I don’t get out much, preferring to stay home and work on writing or a painting. The older I get, the more boring I become, lol. I enjoy going to movies, and reading, of course. I like to travel, but I can’t afford to do much of that. I also enjoy photography – always on the lookout for a future painting reference. What else…does eating and drinking count?
Do you have any other plans for a book in the near future?
BAP: I’m working on my next book now. It’s called A Day in the Life of Derwent Osgood. It’s about a seven-year-old boy who gets lost in the city and spends the day trying to find his mother. It runs along a similar theme to The Magic Pumpkin but will explore a different kind of magic – the magic that exists in our everyday world when seen through the eyes of a child.
I can’t wait for it! Is there any advice you would give to aspiring writers out there?
BAP: Write! When I’m working on something I write every day, even if only for an hour. Some days are better than others, but we can always go back and make it better. I went over every page The Magic Pumpkin at least a dozen times, fixing a phrase here, picking up the pace there, adding details, making the dialogue more natural, etc. I think it also helps to find even just one or two people you can trust with whom to share the work in progress. Honest feedback can be invaluable.
How can our readers purchase your book?
BAP: The Magic Pumpkin is available in paperback, hardcover and E-book, but for now, it can only be purchased online. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Tower Books – any online book store, really. When I have fits of egotism I like to Google myself to see how many dealers come up. I’ve found it for sale from sites in Australia, India, France, England…the magic of the internet!
Thank you so very much, Benji for doing this interview!
To connect with Benji, see his facebook pages: