Ben Burgess Jr is the author of the award winning novels "Monster", "Wounded", the poetry book "Times Have Changed and Life is Strange" and the new novel "Love and Happiness" He is an active performer of spoken word poetry. Ben Burgess Jr uses his love of writing to inspire and influence youths to strive for what they believe in, and to never give up on their dreams. His poetry book "Times Have Changed and Life is Strange" and his novel "Monster" are currently used in schools on the lower east side of Manhattan. Ben Burgess has a BA degree in Business Management, and a MA degree in Educational Leadership. He is the proud father of his daughter Jaelynn and is active in trying to improve urban neighborhoods and communities.

Imani: Pink Noire is please to have talented writer, Ben Burgess, Jr, this week to The Lounge – welcome. So, Ben, when did you discover writing was your talent?

Burgess: When I was in 8th grade, I read Richard Wright’s “Native Son” When I read that book, I felt that it was life changing for me. I knew that I wanted to one day write something that could have the same effect on people. While in 8th grade, my English teacher Mrs. Marcus gave the class a poetry assignment. My poem was on basketball. I don't remember what I wrote, but I remember my teacher was blown away by it. She encouraged me to keep writing. She was one of my most influential teachers, and I promised her if I ever wrote a book, I would write a poem about the Holocaust for her. (She was Jewish, and had family that were survivors.) My dream was to publish a book. I continued to write throughout high school and college. My college professors told me I had talent as a poet and writer, so I decided to go to lounges that had open mics to perform my poetry. Hearing people cheer for me and appreciate my words, inspired me to keep writing. My first published book was a poetry book titled “Times Have changed and Life is Strange.” I wrote a poem for Mrs. Marcus titled “Holocaust”, keeping my promise. The poem “Ugly” from “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange”, is the poem that inspired me to write my first novel “Monster.” I reflected on my life, and felt it would be a good story that would teach and possible change people’s lives the way Richard Wright’s “Native Son” had done for me.

Do you have a particular writing process? I know some authors rely on outlining, while others – like me – go with the flow. So do you have a preference?

I write whenever I have time or as soon as I have an idea. I have a Samsung Note 4 so if an idea comes to mind, I literally write it down or use the voice memos to record my thoughts and write them out when I get time. I try to write something every day, even if it’s only paragraph. I’m a huge perfectionist so I’m constantly editing and re-editing while I’m writing. Once my project is completed, I edit again to try to make my work the best it can be. When I’m writing, I can have music or a movie playing in the background, but I totally zone out and focus on writing. I turn the internet off when I’m working on my laptop because honestly, I usually end up looking at Facebook or checking out stuff on ESPN. To include my daughter in my writing process, she puts her desk next to mine while I’m writing and practices writing her letters and/or doing her homework.

Now, your award-winning novel, Monster, is well-loved by the literary community. Tell us the premise of this story and its main character, Ken Ferguson.

My story begins with my main character Ken Ferguson, a guy in his twenties that is put through the wringer growing up in a dysfunctional family. As an adult his heart and ego are ripped to pieces when his girlfriend, the one he thought was "the one", emasculates him and dumps him for a bad boy. Ken begins his transformation. Fueled by anger, and tired of being the “nice guy”, Ken drowns himself in one-night stands, threesomes, affairs with married women, and sleeping with one conquest after another. He adopts the philosophy of having no commitment and no attachments, but meets his match with Ashley, a girl that makes him want to stop his promiscuous ways. Ashley turns out to do even more damage to his ego and his heart, wounding him deeply. With his philosophy reinforced, Ken spirals out of control and becomes a MONSTER. Sleeping with and mistreating random women he meets at bars and clubs, Ken uses sex to forget about his insecurities, his anger, and his sadness. He becomes a predator that uses and abuses women to no consolable end.

Kenny from “Monster” is me. Ninety percent of “Monster” is real. Of course some situations and characters had to be changed, but for the most part, getting to know Kenny is like getting to know me. My “Ken” character is based off my past. After enduring some pretty interesting experiences, I believed that "Monster" is a story that can benefit everyone and a story that needed to be told. I was inspired to write it to teach people and I hope others will learn from my mistakes.  The poem “Ugly” from my first published work “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange”, is the poem that inspired me to write “Monster” I reflected on my life, and felt this would be a good story that would teach and possible change people’s lives.  I wanted people to learn that:

  • Every action has a consequence- It can be good or bad, but there is a result for everything we do.
  • We need to take time to truly heal emotionally and mentally after a break-up. If we don't we are bound to bring that pain into future relationships.
  • We need to be conscience of our actions. We never know the effects they can have on other people.
  • In order to move forward in life, we have to learn to let go of negativity, and to forgive ourselves.

What inspired you to write this book?

At first, I was working on another novel which has now turned into my next novel “Love and Happiness” when my co-workers asked me to write a book with a Lesbian protagonist. At first I thought it wouldn’t be possible since I wasn’t a woman, I knew nothing about being Gay or the LGBT community. My co-workers decided to take me to a Lesbian bar. (They took me to the Cubbyhole, which is the first bar I mentioned in Wounded.) After going there with them and talking to the women, I decided to work on the book. To make the book feel as authentic as possible, I did a lot of research. I interviewed fifteen women and five couples, to hear their thoughts, feelings, and philosophies about being a Lesbian, and life. I also used one of my family members as a basis for my character development, so I felt personally invested into creating “Samantha”

Usually, I don’t ask this of my guests, but your book cover for Monster is pure genius. Who came up the concept – your graphic designer or you?

I came up with the concept of the cover. I wanted the cover to let readers know what they were getting themselves into which is why I have the words “Sex, Love Deceit, Betrayal, and Pain” displayed on the cover. I wanted the cover to be “Dark” yet appealing. Sexy, yet not too over the top. I felt having the guy on the cover, hinted that the protagonist was African American, and the shadow was a metaphor that his actions were devilish.

Another wounded character is Samantha Miller from you other book aptly named, Wounded. How did you develop this character? Is it based from a real person, or just real life?

Samantha is my favorite character from Wounded because I wanted a tough, outspoken protagonist that had a lot of depth. I wanted her to be “layered” meaning that there are a lot of elements to her character. Samantha has a tough demeanor, but she is also suffering from PTSD due to child molestation, she’s a stripper, a lesbian, and she has so many stresses and struggles in her life. I wanted her to also be able to show that she could be naïve, loveable, and humble. I feel that all of these things makes her a survivor and makes her feel more human to the readers. I based Samantha off of some of my friends and one of my family members. I wanted a name that was feminine but could also be turned masculine (Samantha= Sam)

Ken Ferguson, Samantha Miller, and Karen from your upcoming novel, Love and   Happiness, all have some sort of embattled spirit. What makes these characters important and why should readers care?

When I write, I never write characters that are completely “The Good Guy”. Why? Because in life whether we want to believe/accept it, we are not always “The Good Guy” I make my characters flawed because I feel readers connect better and see themselves in the characters or are realistic and believable.

Now let’s switch gears: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received since becoming an author?

There will be lots of times when you want to give up. There will be times when people will talk bad about your book or sales might be low. Never give up. Believe in yourself and believe in your work. Listen to critiques and push your pride to the side. It doesn’t matter how great of a writer you believe you are, you can always improve. There will be those who will not be fans of your writing, but you should never give up. Keep improving and learning your craft. Edit and re-edit. (*always have your books professionally edited. You want people to take your book seriously and not feel that it is amateurish.) Learn from your mistakes, take classes and read other authors. Research the industry. Two of the most important things to do are: 1. Find a credible editor and 2. Promote, promote, promote. You have to put your heart and soul into your work. While it will be hard and you will go through trials and tribulations, in the end it’s worth it when your book is entertaining people and it’s successful.

We all have that special person(s) that helped shape our craft. If they were here now, what would you say to them?

That person for me would be author Eric Jerome Dickey. To him, I would say “Thank you for influencing me to become a writer.” In the bonus section on my new book “Love and Happiness”, I actually made a poem in honor of him.

What’s your next project(s)?

My next project is called "Love and Happiness" It is a sort of spin off from "Monster" based off a character named Karen that was one of Ken's clients in that book. A sample for "Love and Happiness" can be found in the back of "Wounded" *All of my books are connected in some way. For example in "Wounded" Ron is friends with Dr. Andrews. They were in the same Fraternity and roommates. Also the characters Will and Lou make a cameo in "Wounded" they are in the next book "Love and Happiness" I like all of my books to share the same universe.

And finally, Pink Noire will begin a series call, Def:Hope (Definition Hope) to share stories of inspiration based on these simple four letters. So briefly, tell us your hope. How has these four letters helped you?

The word “Hope” is very big for me. I hope my books will be successful enough to be adapted to film. I hope I inspire other minorities to become authors. Having hope helps you to dream and aspire. Without those two things goals can’t be accomplished.

Thank you, Ben, for this interview. I had a blast. If readers would like to know more about your work, where should they go online?
Email address for fans to reach me:

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