Another episode of An Interview With this month and with none other than Tantra Bensko.
Hi Tantra, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Sure, and thank you very much for doing it, Rhianne. Like your readers, I find novels entertaining and exciting. I love playful prose and dreamy atmosphere, characters I can get to know deeply, and plots that surprise me with their ingenuity.
I write “thrills for thinkers.” Reading spy novels and even much suspense in which someone is solving or preventing a crime, I’m frustrated that there’s always this simplistic default white hat role played out by the US secret agents (and sometimes also the police, detectives, judges, and the military, though there’s more leeway with them, as corruption within the ranks leads to great fictional intrigue.)
Unless they’ve gone rogue, they’re always portrayed as the good guys. But that requires denial of reality in our world the includes Iran-Contra, covert experiments, torture, coups, murder, cover-ups, psychological warfare, drug and gun running. I prefer not to have to conjure up that denial just to have a fun read. The presidential election tells me I’m not the only person tired of pretending to trust the people in positions of power to keep us safe or to treat the rest of the planet fairly.
If a book is unrelated to topics like intelligence agencies, cool! But if it is, I want it to reflect reality instead of being obvious propaganda. I love reading books that acknowledge the actual nature of our society. I find it a relief, never a downer. I want to shout to the author how grateful I am. The books don’t need to be grim, or anything. And it’s not like I’m trying to undermine the country or start a revolution or anything, just read thrillers that ring true. I want to root for a hero who comes up with some way of finding integrity in the midst of challenging policies. I also like learning about our history and current events through reading. So in my books I provide a bit of education, for example, about the history of the CIA.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Since I was very young, my goal was to contribute something beautiful and lasting in the form of novels on the cutting edge. I focused primarily on the cutting edge part in the past and these days I’m focused on making a bigger impact to society through writing traditional plots that allow me to bring attention to social engineering. I’d like to put out all seven books I wrote in The Agents of the Nevermind over the next years.
So, what have you written?
I’ve written other things that were unrelated, but I’ll narrow the answer to literature. I’ve written more than I’ve had published, which is a prerequisite. I’ve had published a couple hundred short stories and novelettes, a novella, a cell phone novel, short story collections, several chapbooks, nearing a hundred poems, and who knows how many articles about literary theory and whatnot.
But all that is behind me now as my focus is on The Agents of the Nevermind series, the first novel of which was published July 10th, called Glossolalia: Psychological Suspense. I wrote the series but have some revision to do. Each book stands alone and addresses a different aspect of social engineering through lovable, eccentric characters having intense adventures in which the inspired ordinary people go up against the powers that be.
Where can we buy or see them?
You can buy them through Amazon, in paperback and e-book. And please don’t buy them used, as those possibly are proofs with errors.
What are you working on at the minute?
I’m working on promotional materials such as guest blog posts and updating my website with new reviews, but that’s as close as it comes to writing any fiction currently. When I can think about something other than Glossolalia, I’ll switch to the final polish on the second book. One of the characters from Glossolalia plays a role in that novel, which is called Remember to Recycle. In that one, a man who survives by going through people’s recycling, and selling what he can, realizes how much he’s learned about the neighbours by reading what they throw out. He wears a costume and sets himself up to become a neighbourhood psychic.
What genre are your books?
This series is suspense, and all the books could be considered in some way to be psychological suspense. Then there are the subgenres and alternate categories, which are different from book to book, and that’s where you find – spy thriller, gothic novel, alternate history, political suspense, conspiracy fiction.
What draws you to this genre?
I find psychological suspense to be intelligent and conceptually stimulating, as the books and movies explore identity, artistic archetypes and symbols in the subconscious, dreams, visions, delusions, brainwashing, magick, trance, layers of illusions, mazes, gaslighting. Psychological suspense books and movies are often meta. I love it when I can’t tell what’s going on exactly for a long time and I get surprised.
Figuring it out is literally a rush and I like to create that for readers. They are at the same time putting together the pieces of how social engineering works in our society, and thus in their lives. What beliefs might they have had that were purposefully influenced?
The fictional exploration of the psyche can lead in fascinating directions. This series is about overcoming the effects of propaganda and theater and psychological operations and other methods of manipulation of behaviour. I’ve studied how beliefs have been shaped and I’m aware of my own and other people’s illusions falling away sometimes. I find that moment liberating and I like to celebrate it. Reading psychological suspense simulates that experience.
Would you mind sharing an excerpt with us, or a favourite quote?
Angela Ageless ran through the darkness, the mists washing her face clean, her sheer black dress drenched in sweat, the lights around her jumping in her vision to the bounce of her high-arched footsteps, their golden glow unable to warm up the silvery fog of Angela’s fears. She had to protect Emily. She would find her, had to help her grow up, had to help her escape, to twist and turn and plunge to hide below the surface or climb a tree or throw her whole self into something different that could not be named. Emily must not die. She. Must. Not. Die.
She turned left, ran until the left turn seemed like right, turned into forward going backward in a maze of oceanic chemicals wearing off, into the invisible walls that kept her secret, kept her from fading into someone else. Where was Emily, how could she reach her, how could she keep her from dying before it was too late?
Angela wanted to kick her. Wanted to show her what life was really like for people like herself who didn’t have the luxury of being protected, didn’t have someone taking care of her and letting her play in a room full of illusions hanging from the ceiling, like a baby’s mobile.
She cut herself instead, with the sharp edge of her ring. She bled. She licked the blood and smeared it on her face in lines across her cheekbones. She walked, rangy, her shoulders high, her stride long through the drizzle, turning to rain, to a downpour that purified her face of dirt and blood, her dress of semen and cement, her mind of everything but the need for sleep, dreaming of Nancy, and the answer to how they could reach her.
Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. Oh, how Angela loved her. Precious one. How she wished she could be her. Julio would hold her if she survived, if she stayed out of prison, if she could stand who she was — Angela, awful Angela, her head held high in the rain, car lights making the lines of water into silver daggers of desire.
Where do your ideas come from?
I got some of the ideas for the series from DARPA’s current and proposed advanced technology, the history of the CIA and world-wide espionage and its relation to mysticism and Theosophy, autobiographies of mind control victims, debunking videos, military documentaries, independent analysis of current events that undermines media lies, and radio interviews with non-fiction authors on topics such as esoteric symbolism, cults, secret societies and manufactured consent.
Other ideas can come from completely fictionalizing mini life-events or people, hearing about something fascinating and letting my imagination go wild.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I do a combination, with a clear plan for the structure of the book. I’m into studying the exact elements of complex plot structure create the most powerful responses. And I teach it.
Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?
I edit and put aside many times, yes. I might even change the genre or add in more POVs after I think it’s done the first time. Or realize the novella should be a novel. Unfortunately, I came to a couple of those revelations only after the trailer was made.
How much research do you do?
I’ve done a huge amount of research that led to understanding the history of mind control, for example, which informs the books in this series, and some of my stories as well. I also research each book however much I need to be able to, ideally, portray it truthfully and have answers on hand for whatever questions on related real-world topics might come up in radio interviews.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Nancy could be that special part within ourselves that takes heroic measures to make a difference to the world when confronted with the opportunity, in spite of obstacles. She doesn’t know where much of her time has gone or what she does when she goes blank, but she still manages to hold a job together. Then, she’s faced with throwing everything away for the sake of honesty in the company. Even her life.
She’s a good egg, that one. When the egg cracks, something else entirely comes out.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
I wonder if the beautiful model who posed for the photo I bought to represent Nancy does any acting. If so, perhaps she’d be available.
Advice to aspiring writers?
Don’t assume one proofreader has found all the mistakes. In fact, don’t assume five proofreaders have found all the errors.
Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing with UCLA Extension Writing Program, Writers.com, Writers College, and her Online Writing Academy. She lives in Berkeley.