A Hobo Camp Review Interview with Ben Sobieck

I first crossed paths with Ben Sobieck while working for Writer’s Digest. We exchanged emails and then calls about his then upcoming book The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, an in-depth handbook for authors about how to realistically utilize and describe weapons in fiction, so as to avoid coming across like a total knob. While it was a fun experience, it quickly became clear to me that Ben had a lot more in the tank than just a writing advice book. He was already writing a lot of fiction, but things have expanded way beyond that since we first met, and he’s even started his own business, one designed to help cold writers, which we’ll get to below. But first, let’s get to know Ben a bit, shall we?

Hobo Camp Review: Tell us a little bit about your writing wheelhouse. What do you love to write about the most? And what initially inspired you to become a writer? 

Ben Sobieck: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. What a privilege it is to even know that. There are people who wander their entire lives, unsure of how to fill their short time on Earth, and despite whatever pithy meme you saw on social media, they are indeed lost. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy.

Whatever it was that I was doing up to writing this sentence, it was built around that one deeper understanding of who I am—that I am a writer. It didn’t matter if I sucked for years at my craft. So long as I was moving forward, it was the right direction.

My fiction writing used to focus on crime, but it’s since moved on to horror. The more I read and write, the more I find in horror what originally attracted me to crime. I love the mixture of action with higher concepts. You get to play around with heady ideas about existence, meaning, relationships, etc., but without disappearing up your own ass, because you can always bring in the goons, guns and/or ghosts. Whatever genre that happens to fall into, that’s where I am.

HCR: We’ve just passed the 2017/2018 rubicon, but it’s not too late to talk about last year’s favorites. So what are some of your favorite reads of the year? Looking forward to anything in 2018?

BS: My favorites of 2017 are two oldies. The first is “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo,” by John Henry Patterson, about lions picking off workers at a railroad project in Kenya. It inspired the movie, “The Ghost and the Darkness.”

The second is “The Story of Joan of Arc,” by Andrew Lang, an apologetic piece that faithfully describes the Joan story as certain religious institutions would prefer.

These two captured my imagination for the same reason. They play on archetypes present in stories going back (and forward) many, many years. There’s something enduring about a killer animal story that speaks to a primal part of humanity. And the unlikely hero archetype is portrayed so perfectly in Joan of Arc. That must be why she’s still lodged in the zeitgeist.

This begs the question of where archetypes come from, and that’s what keeps me up at night. They speak to parts of us that are innately human. Why? If you can figure out where the archetypes came from, you might discover the moment our species arrived.

In 2018, I plan to once again neglect my reading list with the care and diligence of a woodpecker on cough medicine. I’ve got a backlog so deep it’s stupid. Turtles all the way down. I’d like to read more political memoirs, and I’m not sure why. I don’t particularly have an interest in political memoirs. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, I don’t know.

HCR: You’ve really mastered a writing tool called Wattpad, which I keep hearing about more and more. Can you give us a quick nutshell description of how it helped you and what kind of writing opportunities it opened up for you?

BS: Wattpad is a like a cross between Facebook and Kindle. You could file it under “social reading.” Writers post work for free, and readers can read for free. We’re talking full novels, short stories, you name it.

If you’re suspicious of something like that, you’re in good company. I was too when I joined back in late 2015. Since then, though, I’ve worked with movie studios, brand partners, publishers, agents, conferences, the whole works. It all happened only because of Wattpad. I’m now a member of the Wattpad Stars program and a Watty Award winner, which basically means I work on special projects through the site.

What Wattpad does is make it easy to build a platform of readers. This is the one thing everyone says you need, but no one seems to know how to give you. With 60 million active users on Wattpad each month, 90% of whom are readers who dive in for 30 minutes at a time, you’ve got a great chance at building a corps of people ready to follow you and your writing anywhere. What can you do with a platform of 1,000 readers? Or 100,000? Or 1 million? You could do anything you wanted.

As writers, we have to get past this idea of a transactional experience with readers. “Give me a dollar and I’ll tell you a story” isn’t the only path to monetizing those eyeballs. Twitter and YouTube are free, too, and there are people with big audiences who pick up sponsorships without ever charging their followers. Wattpad is like the same thing, but with writing.

There’s a lot more to say about Wattpad, and I’ve got a book coming next summer from Writer’s Digest all about it. This one is titled, “The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad,” and I’m serving as editor. If you can’t read that book and see how different the writing game is becoming from where we sit right now, I don’t know what to tell you.

HCR: Beyond just writing, you’ve also started your own company selling The Writer’s Glove. Give us your pitch! How can these help our humble readers here at HCR

BS: Permission to be shameless!

The Writer’s Glove, available at www.thewritersglove.com, is a thin, warm glove that covers the entire hand. It’s designed to be used while typing at a keyboard. If cold fingers are slowing you down at the keyboard, The Writer’s Glove is just the trick. The deluxe version comes with touchscreen-compatible index fingertips and a light grip in the palms for holding important items (like coffee).

This little creation was the offspring of necessity. I needed to keep my fingers warm while I typed in an under-heated office, and I didn’t like how fingerless gloves kept my skin exposed. It’s cold in Minnesota. I came up with a few prototypes literally in my garage, then got small batches going to test the market. I couldn’t keep them in stock. In early 2017, I formed an LLC, registered a trademark, sourced a manufacturer, built a nice website and started fulfilling orders from my basement. In the first couple weeks of going live with the manufactured versions, Glamour magazine featured the gloves. It’s been non-stop ever since. I’ve sent gloves to customers in 33 countries.

I strongly encourage writers to tap into their entrepreneurial sides in a similar way. There is little difference between what I just described and bringing a book to market. Developing a source of income on the side can free up time and opportunities for writing that you would otherwise spend at an unrelated job.

Artistry and entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive. You hear that? NOT mutually exclusive. IT IS OK TO WANT TO MAKE A LITTLE MONEY FOR YOURSELF, M’KAY? Stop it with this suffering artist bullshit. You get no award for being a martyr. You don’t even get to show up for the ceremony when they name you one. You’re dead. Or you’re a transient hermit.

But not a hobo.

HCR: Okay, now at Writer’s Digest, we were all about sharing author tips, so would you mind giving us a little bit of advice you picked up over the last year or so that helped you become a better, smarter writer?

BS: Taking chances on new approaches is the only reason I got as far as I did. Wattpad was one such chance, and the gloves were another. These were completely off-kilter ideas, but they worked out far better than I could’ve imagined.

HCR: Finally, imagine this: you’re on the road traveling hobo-style with three writers or artists of any generation, alive or dead. Who are they and why would you want to hit the road with these fine folks?

BS: Hunter S. Thompson would be the first, because he’d keep it interesting. I’m too boring for road trips. I need that counterweight. However, I grew out of HST after it became clear he was playing a part. Do people know that? That it was an act? One side of him, yeah, it was crazy. But he could turn it on and off. The other part, the writer part, that was the meat of the guy. Much more interesting. The crazy character HST seems to be, to me, is straight up marketing.

The second would be Mary Shelley. Put the pop culture versions of Frankenstein’s monster aside and consider her work in the context of the time. “Frankenstein” came out in 1818. She originally used her husband’s name as a pseudonym (or her husband’s pseudonym, I forget), but word eventually got out about her. The story carried on regardless. How radical was that? For the time, that was way, way out there.

“Frankenstein” also goes back to that archetype thing. There’s a thread between the Lazarus story in the Bible, “Frankenstein,” Titanic and “Jurassic Park.” I think she’d be interesting to talk to.

The third would be reserved for Plato. I’d like his thoughts on the Reuben sandwich. He could also speak to the whole archetypes thing, too.

However, unfortunately, only one writer would be allowed to survive. On the last night of the trip, I’d look around the campfire and say, “You know what you need to do.” I’d lay a knife on the ground and walk away. In the morning, the survivor would get their choice of breakfast at Arby’s. However, Arby’s doesn’t serve breakfast. This conundrum would cause a rip in space-time, sending the writer back to his or her origin in history.

Damn you, Arby’s.

Benjamin Sobieck is the Watty Award-winning writer of the “Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective” series on Wattpad, as well as the editor of “The Writer’s Guide to Wattpad” (Writer’s Digest Books) and the author of “The Writer’s Guide to Weapons” (Writer’s Digest Books). Four of his titles have appeared on Wattpad Hot Lists, all at the same time, including, “When the Black-Eyed Children Knock.” He works professionally in the publishing industry. He’s also the creator of The Writer’s Glove, used in 33 countries, and enjoys Reuben sandwiches. Follow him on Twitter at @benjaminsobieck, on Wattpad @bensobieck and on his website, crimefictionbook.com

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The views and opinions expressed throughout belong to the individual artists and may or may not coincide with those of the other artists (or editors) represented within the magazine. Hobo Camp Review supports a free-for-all atmosphere of artistic expression, so enjoy the poetry, fiction, opinions, and artwork within, read with an open mind, and comment wisely. Thanks for stopping by the Camp!