Today I’m privileged to post an interview with Brenda Bensch, a writer and educator in Utah who is a mentor and friend to many aspiring young authors. Brenda recently was interviewed by one of her students, Amy Freeman, who graciously allowed us to use it for my blog. I’d like to introduce you to Brenda Bensch!
What is your professional background?
I have a B.A. in Speech & Theatre Arts with an English minor at the University of Utah and an M.A. in Dramatic Arts at Brigham Young University. I’m certified to teach Special Education (Learning Disabilities) at U of U; Level II Endorsement in math at U of U; and Endorsement in English as a Second Language (ESL) at Weber State College. I taught in Utah’s high schools and junior highs for over 30 years, and have taught at Stevens-Henager Business College, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Salt Lake Community College and Utah Valley University. I’m currently teaching writing through Canyons School District’s Community Education program. (There’s more info than you wanted to know!)
I also have been an actress, director, teacher, writer, free-lance editor, movie/TV extra, voice-over and recording actress, and an absolutely clueless waitress—I hope I’m much better at teaching.
What do you write and how long have you been writing?
I generally write fantasy, usually in the YA arena, though am now back to working on an adult historical. I have written one terrible screenplay and an epic poem on the subject of the historical; many poems, some published, a few short stories and several plays. The plays have won both writing and performance awards, and have been produced in Utah, Idaho and several other western states.
I began writing a book of poems and some small plays in fifth grade. We put the plays on in my class, and charged our parents and friends a nickle to come to productions done in my friend’s backyard where they had a swing during the summers. I suppose I thought I was Jeanette MacDonald. Where was my Nelson Eddy?
Your writing accomplishments span many areas and genres. Tell us about some of your past work.
The historical I’m working on now won First Place for a First Chapter Contest in Abilene, Texas, a while back, and again last year in Utah for the LDStorymakers’ First Chapter Contest. That may mean I ought to finish it! I participate in the National Novel Writing Month every November, write plays, poetry, non-fiction articles and essays. Published works have included an academic article, poems and a short fantasy. I also write, direct and act in programs which have been performed for the Babcock Performing Readers at the U of U, the Granite/Salt Lake Retired Educational Association (GSLREA), and various writing organizations like the National Poetry Society, Utah’s state League of Utah Writers and several of the League’s individual chapters, Utah’s Bicentennial Commission, Penwomen, Utah’s Poet Laureates, etc.
As a Creative Writing teacher, can you tell us some good ways to develop believable characters?
Anchor them in reality—yes, even if you’re writing fantasy. Give them recognizable quirks, faults, positive attributes, etc. No one is all bad or all good. I once played the lead in a main-stage production at BYU. I was a pretty foul character: selfish, self-centered, cruel, uncaring. My director said, “You must find admirable qualities” in the character. “She wouldn’t hate herself.” This made me really think about all sides of her: she was ambitious, determined, focused. She worked hard to get what she wanted or needed and didn’t let others stand in her way. No one can relate to a “hero” who is perfect. Nor can we relate to a thoroughly “bad” antagonist. We are all shades of gray.
What are some good ways to get published?
Keep writing. And then write some more. FINISH. Send it out. Forget about [that one] by writing the “next” thing.
Beginning a writing career can be intimidating. Creating a story that hooks a reader is often a frustrating climb. What are some elements of good writing?
Humor. Conflict and Action. Precise language. “Real” characters. A sense of Wonder. A story that makes me laugh AND cry. Catharsis wherever warranted.
What are some elements of bad writing?
Nothing happening in the story. Excessive or gratuitous anything: blood, gore, sex, bathroom “humor”—especially if it isn’t funny—intended to shock the reader rather than contribute to the story. Scenes or characters which leave the reader feeling uncomfortable. Long, boring passages, chapters, segments. Info dumps (a mere listing of what a character is wearing, the setting, backstory, etc.) which are “telling,” not “showing.” Dull language. Lack of dialogue. Poor, or lack of any editing (though I’ll even suffer this if the “story” is strong enough).
Tell us about your current writing projects.
I’m in the process of re-reading the books and voluminous notes I’ve used as research for my historical novel. My plan is to write to completion in February and March, edit in April, and send the mss. to the three publishers who have agreed to give it a look by May.
Will you pursue traditional or self-publishing?
For the present, I’ll try traditional publishing houses—locally, first.
Please list websites, blogs and any other contact information that will assist us in finding your work.
Thank you for asking. For writers out there, send your questions about writing to either of these addresses. I’d be glad to blog answers, where they’d be published on The ABC Writers Guild blog listed at WordPress above. You will also be sent answers privately, before publication, so that you can solve problems without waiting.
Thank you, Brenda, for gracing us with your immeasurable skill and knowledge! You are a treasured guest!