Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Interview with Dennis Milam Bensie
Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Lifeand he has also been a feature contributor for The Good Men Project. One Gay Americanis his second book with Coffeetown Press and it was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.
Tell us about your current book. Give a short summary.
ONE GAY AMERICAN is a coming of age story of my life as a gay man. I was born in 1965 and I have been lucky enough to see the rise of gay culture in American after the Stonewall riots. I grew up as America grew more aware of the LGBT community. Each chapter of the book begins with a few words about where America was with gay tolerance at the time of that chapter of my life.
Can you tell us about your publisher and how the process worked in being published?
This is an interesting story. I met my publisher through a friend at work.
I had written my first book, SHORN: TOYS TO MEN (which was called CAN I CUT YOUR HAIR? at the time) back in 2000. I tried for two years to get a literary agent and didn’t have any luck. I put the manuscript away until 2008.
I decided, since I work in professional theatre, that maybe that book should be a play. I made an attempt to adapt my book for the stage, but decided it would be better left for an experienced playwright. I placed an ad on Craigslist (which wasn’t a good idea) and got dozens and dozens of responses with lots of bad sample plays to shift through. I did find one guy who I thought had potential and gave him the book to adapt. I waited months and he disappeared.
I contacted my playwright friend, Craig Lucas for help (who I was too afraid to approach in the beginning) and sent him three chapters of CICYH? He liked them and gave me the name of three students he had in a playwriting workshop.
Student #1 was interested. I waited months and nothing happened.
Student #2 was interested. I waited months and nothing happened.
I was scared of Student #3 because I worked with him at Intiman Theatre. The book was very sexual and personal. I was still very nervous about the book. His name is Dustin Engstrom and I didn’t really know him.
Dustin saw lots of potential in a play version of CICYH? And within a year, he finished the adaptation and even got it a slot at a fringe theatre in Seattle called Open Circle Theater.
As Dustin was completing the play back in 2010, I decided to work on the book some more--update it and polish it. I changed the name to SHORN: TOYS TO MEN.
Now for the “getting published” part. I was telling my friend and co-worker, Marta Olson about the play of my book and she said, “Oh, my dad is dating the editor of a local publisher. I should hook you two up.”
The next day, I emailed three chapters of SHORN to Catherine at Coffeetown Press and a few hours later she emailed me back. She was very interested. A week later, I had a contract for the book.
We edited and put the book together in time for the run of adaptation of SHORN: TOYS TO MEN, which Dustin Engstrom titled THE CUT.
How did you get the idea for this book?
With the shift in LGBT civil rights, I wanted to make a contribution. I felt telling my story would help others. The timing was right for me to tell my story. ONE GAY AMERICAN came out right before the 2012 election.
What is a typical writing day like for you?
Every day is different depending on the time I have available.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I like it when I surprise myself. I like when something “clicks” in my head and I can get it on the page correctly.
What is the most difficult part of writing?
Finding the time is hard. It takes a lot of time to write.
How has publishing a book changed your life?
I gained a lot of pride in my work.
What are your plans now?
I have just been asked to be a staff writer for the ‘marriage’ section for an online men’s magazine called THE GOOD MEN PROJECT. I write short stories and I am working on a third book.
What is your best tip for aspiring authors?
Do it. Finish what you start. Even if it doesn’t seem to be working---finish it. You can always go back and rewrite and fix it later.
Do you have a website? If so, please give the URL. If not, where can readers go online to learn more about your book(s) and to order?
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