Monday, September 29, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Benjamin DeHaven, Author

Benjamin DeHaven, Author
Benjamin W. DeHaven’s CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HELP WRITER (THE JOURNAL OF MICHAEL ENZO)-fiction based on fact-has been described by reviewers as "Peculiar but worth reading" and “Quirky, eccentric, and insightful” and “funny.” DeHaven says he wrote it originally as “an act of revenge and an act of forgiveness.” He intended for people to laugh, but he may have ended up showing people the dark side of self-help books.

Currently residing in Las Vegas, DeHaven divides his love of cities between Chicago and New Orleans. He has written self-help books and screenplays, although writing screenplays is not his favorite. When not writing, he spends time doing volunteer work, mostly to help children.

Don't miss the giveaway opportunity following the interview.

Q: What drove you to write CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HELP WRITER?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HELP WRITER (THE JOUNAL OF MICHAEL ENZO) is a work of fiction based on factual events. Originally, I wrote this work as an act of revenge and an act of forgiveness. As one reviewer put it, “The reader of “Confessions” is forced to question DeHaven’s motivation... Does he truly want to ruin Enzo’s legacy or is this an act of love? Reaching out to someone who is still lost.”

So in a way, yes, I was trying to flush him out. But that was personal and never meant to be publicized. I hoped people would get a great laugh out of the fiction character who was a con man, and who almost destroyed me. But now if someone found the truth, maybe this would be the last self-help book they would ever read-because it’s the mind of a mad man who was writing those books. CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HELP WRITER was the #1 Most Wished For Book of the Year on Indie Bound for over 14 weeks and was getting amazing reviews as a book of  “fiction.” I was thrilled-but prior to that some of my original intentions came out and that’s what led to the PR below:

One reviewer said, “I think this is a multi-platform fail.” --I hope so, and wish the actual backstory would have never come out. I had no trouble letting this ride as a book of fiction and hope readers will enjoy it for that reason. If you want to believe that inside is the voice of a real person whom might have influenced you in some significant way, it’s an interesting way to read a book. There is a reason I don’t ask friends if they have seen any good movies lately—I want to go in with a fresh slate.

A Huffington Article in the next few weeks will also explain that the book is based on factual events and Radar is desperately trying to find out who Enzo really is. 

Q: How did you become interested in self-help books?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: Greed. Seriously though I have read a ton of self-help books and helped to write a bunch. My ultimate goal is to help people and my grandfather told me the greatest gift you could give another person was to empower them to be the best version of themselves. As I got older though-I realized self-help was more toxic than the diet industry. People will buy a hundred books on how to lose weight before they will consider changing their diets. This sickened me, and while Confessions is a fun book, it’s also a bit of an expose, because you will see the mind of someone who might be supplying your advice and guidance. Think about it this way-people don’t want to learn anything new-they want to reaffirm what they already believe.

Q: CONFESSION OF A SELF-HELP WRITER has been described as “peculiar” and “quirky, eccentric, and insightful.” Did you intend for its “quirkiness” to help tell the story? Does its “peculiarity” contribute to its “insightfulness?”

Benjamin W. DeHaven: I hope so. It’s written as a journal that was never meant to be read, so it’s brutally honest in its presentation and is a “thought in progress.” There are a ton of stylistic choices I made in order to secretly pay homage to other writers who had meant so much to me. My first editor Mimi Fast who is brilliant and brutally honest, and the best kind of friend you could ask for, often said, “I know what you are trying to do here-you’re failing.” Haha, it was great to have her because clearly I am not an American master, but I used what I thought I could mimic, stole the rest, and had been reading a ton of Ginsberg. So I hope that the reader is engaged, because everything is intentional, and there are many points where a strong reader might get distracted by a poor verb tense, or a misused word. This is not a mistake and there are passages where you might be reading a Haiku, and not even know it unless you are looking for it. I think that is what leads to the “quirkiness” of it. You might not even put it into words, but it can make you a little uncomfortable. And I think we all get a little uncomfortable before coming to a realization.

Q: How do you enable readers to engage with your main characters, who reviewers say, are not all that likeable? How helpful is the concept of “heroes vs villains” to tell your story?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: I came to the understanding a long time ago that we are all connected, and while we should treasure our uniqueness, we should also explore our commonalities. “Hero of a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell should be on every storytellers reading list because it teaches us the line between heroes and villains is not always clear. Many reviewers hate the characters, one of which is myself, but some reviewers envy the life style of Michael Enzo and relate to him. I would say whether we like it or not the characters represent a part of us all-although in this case-most of us might have a dark thought-but never fall victim to making it a reality-(Or the courage-depending on your perspective.)

Q: Although fiction, CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HELP WRITER is considered to be based on true life and “reads like a thriller but is true life at its best.” How do you turn it into a “thriller?” What makes us want to continue to turn the page?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: I spoke with a wonderful librarian from NY at BEA this year, who loved the book but couldn’t understand why the first two chapters were so choppy. I remember we were signing books and we stopped the line and I asked if anyone knew. A very young girl answered, “The intro chapters read like a twitter feed.” While that was almost correct, there is almost a complete thought or story in each sentence. The book reads really fast, and I wanted each line to exist on its own. A good friend called in anger and said, “I’m so mad at you-I’ve read this book a dozen times. And I keep trying to reflect on the ideas and build an opinion-but because it’s so short, I just keep reading it again.” I hope the chapters read as a complete story, or a short story if you will. Even though they are building to a central theme, they can each be taken separately and almost all of them end with a hanging question. It’s up to the reader to decide if they want to pull back the curtain. I was honored by this review, because I had not thought about it as a thriller-but I guess the tempo is similar. All I can say is what makes the movie Jaws so great-is you don’t actually see the shark till you’re an hour into the film.

Q: Did you write CONFESSIONS OF A SELF-HELP WRITER just to entertain readers; or were you intending to deliver a message about life?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: I was hoping to deliver a message, but a silent one. In fact I was a bit hesitant about how the book was marketed, because I wanted people to pick it up as something interesting. I actually thought the target market would be non-readers and my intent was to “sneak up on them” with a message. But so many people have had such strong reactions, that I might have failed in the overall intention. I had a one star review on amazon and I so badly wanted to comment to the reviewer, who ended her review with, “maybe that’s what I learned about self-help-it’s garbage.” Yes. You did understand-and if you picked up this book only because you are hoping to learn some insider secret about celebrities, and were angry it wasn’t the content you were looking for—then hopefully you’ll take the next step to understanding—Maybe you should beware of where you look for information—and what exactly are you looking for.

Q: You have written screenplays and journalistic writings, and now a novel. What’s your favorite format? Why?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: I actually hate writing screenplays. But they pay fast and are steady. It’s funny because if this book ever gets turned into a movie, I would hire someone else to convert it to a screenplay. I love to write constantly and free write characters and short stories, so I think all of that for me eventually converts to a novel.

Q: How helpful is humor to telling your story? The art and/or science of humor is difficult. How do you create it in your story?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: Humor is a must. I think you have to write for yourself, because you would be surprised how similar to the rest of the world you are and how they wish they had the strength to tell a story. You should be interacting and toying with the reader on occasion. If you are in fact brilliant, then you will need to tone it down- That has never been a problem for me. –You must be as true as possible to the characters in the story, or the narrator’s voice. No matter how shocking, or rude, or offensive-you have to free flow write exactly what’s on the tip of your tongue without a filter-because even the tough stuff- is funny to someone. I would also say lust, marketability, and a clear view at a huge cross section of America must always remain in plain site. You must offend at least one group of people at one point or another to be successful.

Q: What’s next?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: I’m lazy, followed by bouts of insane commitment. I am the type of writer that wants to help people, but never have Matt Dillon play me in a movie –(although he did personally request a copy of Confessions-Jesus save me) So next I am going to take a few months and reflect on this painful process of selling a book. LOL. But I just got the wind knocked out of me by an amazing woman, and I am going to give her my all. I am still amazed God had an Angel left for me and even if she’s not mine - a week before I met her, I was content with the fact I wasn’t worth loving- and she set me free from this prison.  I had started a novel but had a tough time writing about love and this person has made me unstoppable. I can’t wait to continue the story.

Q: Tell us about Benjamin DeHaven. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Benjamin W. DeHaven: You would be surprised if you had read confessions, but I actually do a lot of volunteer work, mostly with children. I wrote this short piece for my blog (which has 9 followers! Woo) and I think it’s more fun to describe what a day for me is like:

Not as exciting as my social media profile would have you believe. A saying as a child that always prompted a giggle. - “Call me anything, but don’t call me late for dinner. The morning started in a familiar fashion--struggling through the CPAP machine wrapped tightly around my neck from rolling in circles all night as the Sodium Oxibate chased Morpheus through the back alleys of my dreams. Carradine would be proud. (Insert a Tag-IDK?)#Carradine  Awakened abruptly by the handful pills dispensing magic in my soul as I somehow had managed to swallow all nine off my bedside table without removing my mask. A glorious Halloween bag of success filled colors and shapes prescribed to cure my hypertension, high blood pressure, hypopituitarism, and narcolepsy. I always accomplished this snake oil task between the first alarm, which I snoozed through, and the faint smell of cigarette smoke and puppy dander that now filled my mask from the upstairs level of my aging parents Town Home, where I often found myself in the winter. I pushed my fears aside, cracked another Adderall in half and began about the morning ritual of testosterone injections, vitamins, compulsive cleaning and a sick stomach. Ahh-yes-pills need food. No… I, thank you—my precious body for keeping me healthy. Don’t let them call me late for dinner. Don’t haunt me throughout the day. I’m sorry America! I was the first Outsourcing conglomerate. My body is too expensive, lazy, worn out, or maybe too efficient in its quest for gross margin to produce anything of value in itself. And for over 20 years I have outsourced almost all its essential functions in a mixed argument of “they’re taking our jobs-and no I will not pick up that elephant shit for any amount of money!” The situps, the situps, I have to do the sit ups. But why? I am constantly concerned I might be in a situation where a beautiful Italian traffic cop asks me to remove my shirt and retrieve a child’s toy from the Trevi fountain, and being a brand whore I refuse to go in with my “PINK” dress shirt. But alas-its too late for the exercise. The speed is kicking in. I use my pork filled Kielbasa sausage fingers to shove my hairy old man belly past the European sized Label jeans. The computer is running too slow and my mind is racing.

So-pretty typical, usually followed by some self-loathing and a nap.

About Benjamin W. DeHaven

A Graduate of Columbia College in Chicago, Benjamin DeHaven keeps his heart in Chicago and his soul in New Orleans. He holds a MBA from Tulane and a film degree from Columbia. Once ejected from a community college for arguing Frost cried out for acceptance in Birches, he has since written screenplays, traded futures in Madrid, and was Editor in Chief of the Nola Shopper Newspaper, a free art newspaper and the 2nd largest monthly paper in the New Orleans, MSA. He also has a "shout out" in a Jay "Z" Song. 

DeHaven, who currently resides in Las Vegas began his writing career with Stone United, a Chicago based Film Company, which works primarily in independent film. As an unknown fiction writer, he feels the best description of himself, is a sarcastic one and is as follows:

Benjamin W. DeHaven was born on a pool table after a Waylon Jennings' concert in 1977. His personal success is outweighed only by his stunning good looks and adherence to unwritten moral guidelines. He has been described as a thinking man's Tucker Max as well as an idiot's Hunter S. Thompson. His goal is to die from an unwavering commitment to be more like Hemingway.

He and Michael Enzo were friends.

#1 Most-Wished-for-Book of 2014 on Indie
Bound for over 10 weeks!

Lunge into a funny, audacious, and devastating work of fiction based on factual events. As much a comedy as a tragedy, "Confessions is a unique piece of literature to be remembered for its originality as much as for its significance as a statement about living life in today's harsh reality." Explore the psyche of one of the world's most profound advisors: a Quixotic adventurer who admits freely to lurid depravity, substance abuse, and emotional complexity. Despite personal demons, he's fooled adherents into a unique reverence and might be responsible for saving more
souls than Mother Teresa and Gandhi combined. 

Hypocrite isn't a strong enough word for someone who writes self-help books purely for profit. Two of the world's ten wealthiest used Enzo as a ghostwriter and while they attribute their status in life to Enzo's words, not a single one willingly admits to knowing him. DeHaven, a patsy in Enzo's schemes and a recurring voice, shares his own perspective and often times paints himself in a very negative light, which adds a layer of credibility to such a fantastical story. Brief moments of compassion and insight are even more powerful and poignant from this perspective.

The most disheartening admission presented is that Enzo would only fall back on his tremendous gift, of writing self-help, as a last act to pay debtors and sustain a ridiculous lifestyle. The reader of "Confessions" is forced to question DeHaven's motivation in publishing this journal. Does he truly want to ruin Enzo's legacy or is this an act of love? Reaching out to someone who is still lost. Enzo, wherever you are, pick up a self-help book and give it a read.  Who knows, you may have
written it. 


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