Ben H. Winters is the author of more than 5 novels, including his newest book, The Last Policeman. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and I also have a copy of the book up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!
Please welcome Ben to the blog!
Ben, your mashup, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is wildly popular as is Android Karenina, and your YA novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, was nominated for an Edgar Award! And I certainly can’t forget the terrifying Bedbugs, and also a few Worst-Case Scenario books! What made you decide to dive into the apocalypse (or pre-apocalypse) with your newest novel, The Last Policeman?
Thank you so much! I loved writing those “mash-up” novels so much. Studying the original novels in order to parody them effectively was like going to graduate school. I can think of no better way to study novel writing than by outlining Anna Karenina chapter by chapter, and charting the arc of every character. And then I got to add all the death lizards from outer space.
The Last Policeman is definitely a more grounded affair. I love detective novels, especially detective novels that offer some level of comment or reflection beyond the simple whodunit. In the book, an asteroid is on the way that will soon destroy all life on Earth, and my hero is nevertheless staying at his work, trying to solve a murder, committed to justice even though the world will soon be consumed by fire. I guess this is my way of asking: why do people make the choices they make? In the book, time is short, but when you get right down to it, time is short for all of us, so why does anyone do the right thing? Why does anyone remain righteous and loyal —to their job, to their partner, to their country?
So, you know, there are some big ideas floating around, but it’s all wrapped up in a good-old-fashioned murder mystery. From a storytelling level, you want to present your protagonist with obstacles, and, as it turns out, the impending end of days presents a LOT of obstacles.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yup. When I was in fourth grade I wrote a series of very short stories featuring a hapless pig named Piggy Wiggy who always died at the end in some comical way.
Did you do some research into apocalypse scenarios in preparation for writing The Last Policeman?
I did a lot of research, yes, although most of it was about more mundane topics, like how cell phones work, and how the Federal Reserve regulates saving behavior in consumers. Because after I established my specific scenario about a dinosaur-killer-size asteroid, and made sure it was—although wildly unlikely—at least conceivably possible, my interest was much more in how our existing society would be upended by the approaching calamity.
I read a book recently that painted a rather gruesome picture of society in the event of a known coming apocalypse. Do you believe that we’d see man succumbing to baser instincts, or do you have a more optimistic view?
I think many people will succumb to their baser instincts, but of course many people already succumb to their baser instincts on a fairly regular basis. So yeah, there would be some murdering and wildness and all kinds of substance abuse, but I think we’d be surprised to see how deeply rooted our societal and civilizing imperatives are, how strong are the walls that mankind has built up to separate himself from the animals. In amongst the fear and anxiety and crime there would be massive amounts of cooperation, a lot of generosity and group planning, and of course a lot of religious sentiment and religiously motivated behavior.
If you could only take one book with you into the bomb shelter, which one would it be?
Wow. That’s the most terrifying thing of all, isn’t it, the idea of a new underground existence, without even a nice local library to keep one stimulated. The apocalypse is going to be so boring. I suppose realistically I ought to take some sort of survival guide, about how to make potable water and hunt and those sorts of things. But for pure pleasure I’ll go with one of those fat anthologies of Sherlock Holmes.
What are you reading now?
Walter Miller, “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. Patricia Highsmith “Ripley’s Game”. And Robert Caro’s series on LBJ. I’m on chapter 2 or so of the third book, “Master of the Senate.”
Favorite line from a book?
I’m going to go totally nerdy on this one, and quote “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”: I reverence truth as much as any body; and when it has slipped us, if a man will but take me by the hand, and go quietly and search for it, as for a thing we have both lost, and can neither of us do well without,–I’ll go to the world’s end with him. The beauty is that it’s a nice-sounding quote that in context is hilarious; the whole book is full of crazy made-up BS.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I like to spend time with my kids! Does that count as free time? Basically, as this point, when I’m not writing, or doing family things, I’m
I read somewhere that you were in a punk band in high school. Care to dish?
That is a true fact. The band was called Corm, and I was the bass player and the lyricist. We actually did very well for a bunch of kids; we released a couple of records and toured around a bit. John Davis, our guitar player and guiding light, has remained in music. These days he leads a terrific pop band in Washington D.C. called Title Tracks.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events?
I’m working on the sequel to The Last Policeman—if all goes as planned this is going to be a trilogy. Folks should check out TheLastPoliceman.com/wwyd . We’re publishing a whole series of essays by interesting people, about the end of the world—“What Would You Do?”
Keep up with Ben: Website | Goodreads | Twitter
Read my review of The Last Policeman
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