SIX MINUTES WITH MICHAEL BENJAMIN:
Dr. Michael Benjamin joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Dr. Benjamin is the author of the recently released book, Oranit: Crossed Lines (Volume 1).
How did you get started writing?
Probably for all the wrong reasons-I’m going to explain why:
About 30 years ago I became one of the founding members of a village called Oranit. When things weren’t going so well I volunteered to be the chairman of the management committee. I suppose this gave me a lot of political ambitions. Years later, I decided that I would run for Lord Mayor. I decided to do two things at once-
Firstly, I went to check if I had any ammunition that I could use against the incumbent. I found none. I suppose I’m not a good politician. I wasn’t prepared to make up make believe failures and crucify him with lies. Although I didn’t particularly like the style of the incumbent, I could see that it would be quite difficult, if not impossible, to displace him. As part of this process, I was looking for supporters among influential people living within the village. As I sat with one of them is, in some way we started talking over the past in Oranit, in particular, about the part I had played in it. He listened to me attentively and said, “You have so much to say, why don’t you write a book-a history of Oranit?”
This somehow matched with something else that happened with to me a long time previously. As a shrink, I had a very difficult war-the Yom Kippur war. As a kind of catharsis, I wrote a novel-like description of one of the patients I had treated. Inadvertently this was published in the local psychiatric journal; to my absolute amazement, friends came up to me and said the how much they enjoyed the way it was written.
I sat with myself and thought; so many things that happened to me in Oranit, in the many wars had fought in the Israeli army and to me personally in my own family. A plot evolved slowly. It was based on all of these things, but in reality, having very little to do with all these things. More importantly I thoroughly enjoyed myself whilst writing the plot and developing the characters. Together they and I built a pretend world, this time a legitimate one.
Who influenced you?
That is a hard question to answer. I think you have to go way back and say my father because he always thought I was terrible at English and would constantly stricture me how to write how to make things interesting-and to me, they were very boring. It came as a complete surprise to me that I could write at all. I’ve unfailingly been a reader. Books have constantly influenced almost everything I’ve done-especially coming to Israel. I’m not talking about literature but pulp fiction. I saw the Holocaust and my eventual immigration to Israel as a continuation of novels I’d read.
The authors that I enjoy reading are - Scott Turow, John le Carré, and John Grisham. The latter knows how to write a story. The former both know how to describe the character and the interactions.
I suppose that I've influenced myself in many respects. This is not as boastful as it might sound, although at first sight, it is pretty arrogant isn't it? The simple fact is I’m quite deaf-this means I am more observant and sentient of body language-things that other people don’t seem to pick up so much. I’m very aware of people’s moods. I make my living by sitting in committees. The work of the committee involves both to examine and to write down findings. I find when I’m sitting in the committees that I prefer for somebody else to examine the patient and to compensate him and prove my worth-I write up or dictate the examination results. I found over time that I was getting somewhat accomplished at writing down the non-verbal description of the patient. I have to admit that during examinations, I quite like to draw the patient-some would call that doodling. I started imagining that maybe I could draw a word portrait of the patient, and I started practicing doing that.
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
My favorite book is, without any doubt, is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve read this book at least five times. Every time I discover something new. The book is a Bible to me.
I admire the way Kurt Vonnegut writes his books and his almost lunatic approach to life is something that I find I’ve imitated or tried to copy in my work.
In a related vein, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has made a similar impression on me. I love Marvin the paranoid robot.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
My advice to anybody about everything is very simple - never give advice. People you would like to influence - hopefully - will not listen. Movers are arrogant and they never listen. If you want to do something different, then be arrogant. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing or the way you are doing it, then don’t do it.
Once you have decided, then be arrogant as you can-I read somewhere that there are two forms of arrogance: the
arrogance when you are convinced that you are correct and everyone knows you are mistaken, and the other form of arrogance is when you are in the right, and everybody thinks you are mistaken. Make sure that you are not in the first category and when you’re in the second stick to your guns. And don’t listen to anybody.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I have three favorite places; sitting in my room, with its view overlooking the trees of Oranit; downstairs in the living room whennobody is there, and outside if the sun is not too bright and there is no one there to bother me. Of late I found that, on using a dictating machine, I can get quite a lot done on my way to and from work.
What else would you like to tell us?
Ah, that’s a very leading question isn’t it? I would love to tell you that I am the next Booker prizewinner, incredibly intelligent and handsome. Unfortunately, I am not.
I figured I could tell you two things. It was much better to regret doing something than regret not doing it. However, the most important thing is in whatever you do, do it for the sake of the results to be obtained and not the vanity to be gained by basking in the results. Be unpretentious - usually you will have good reasons to be modest; just look for them.
Dr. Benjamin, thank you for joining LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author!