1:1 - Ben Cook

Posted on: August 21, 2014

interviewed by Mark Killian
Over the next few weeks, 1:1000 will take you behind the scenes with our core writing and editorial team. We'll show you more about what makes these writers tick (or maybe twitch).

This week we learn a little more about a relative newcomer with a newborn, Ben Cook. Ben is a veteran of the airline industry who was tired of keeping his writing aspirations grounded, so he joined our little site to let his prose take flight. Thank goodness he did! Otherwise, we’d never have wonderful stories like “Tending to What Matters,” “Arbor Day,” “Some Dreams,” and his latest, “Like There’s No Tomorrow.

Mark Killian sat down with Ben at their individual computing machines, thousands of miles apart from each other, to interview him via G-chat. Although Mark's never met this man in person, they soon found a kinship through notes on their writing styles and movie preferences.

1:1000: Benjamin. How art thou?

BEN COOK: Tired. Very tired. Our newborn, Bryson, didn't feel much like sleeping last night, which means no one felt much like sleeping.

1:1000: Oye. I have heard of this unfavorable aspect of parenting. On a good night, how much sleep do you get with a newborn? Same question for a bad night.

BC: On a good night he will sleep for about six hours in between feedings (which I am not biologically capable of, but you end up waking up anyway). On a bad night he is up every two or so, crying. I probably average about five hours a night, my amazing wife gets by on even less.

1:1000: That's reassuring. That's about what I currently get due to my own psychosis/insomnia.

BC: Ha! The good thing about children is in a way they cure insomnia, you become so exhausted that you go directly to sleep when you do get a chance to lie down.

1:1000: That's also what I've heard. I have seen many a picture on The Facebook of a passed-out parent with a child sleeping on top of them.

BC: Yep, those are the best naps!

1:1000: And photo opps. How many kids do you have again?

BC: Two. Liam will be five in two months, and Bryson is one month.

1:1000: Does the thought that they may find your writings one day ever cross your mind? And if so, does it affect the things you say?

BC: Yes it does. I think that's one reason that I can be somewhat reserved in my writing.

1:1000: Speaking of writing, what say we launch into this interview? (Although, there is a chance those previous questions/answers will weasel their way into the final draft.)

BC: Fire away.

1:1000: Let's start things off the standard way and see if we can't make it a little weird down the road. First, when did you know you wanted to become a writer?

BC: Strangely enough, it was a movie that first inspired me to write. I was always a voracious reader growing up (thanks Mom and Pop for making us read everyday), but I never gave writing much of a thought until my senior year of high school when I saw Clerks. The fact that a dude could write and direct his own movie was incredible to me. Around the same time I got my first job in a bookstore and read Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. Between those two, writing became something that seemed accessible to me for the first time. I started writing but never really showed anyone.

1:1000: That is AWESOME! I too consider myself a movie-inspired writer, and High Fidelity is such a great book/movie! Probably one of the only times I feel the movie is better than the book. Any who, what was the first thing you wrote after watching Clerks. Was it a story or a movie? Also, why did you decide not to show it to anyone?

BC: I tried my hand at screenplays, but gave up fairly quickly. I didn't know any of the mechanics of it, and back in those days ('95 or so) we didn't have nearly the resources there are now. After that I switched to short stories. I guess I never showed anybody, because I didn't have much confidence in myself or my writing, which is sometimes still a problem for me.

1:1000: Ugh! Confidence. It is our greatest strength and/or weakness. So how did you work up the courage to put your work in front of 1:1000's ZILLION (joking, of course) readers?

BC: One night I was reading bedtime stories to my four year old and he asked if he could be an astronaut when he grew up. I told him that he could be anything he wanted to be. Later that night when I went to bed I felt like a hypocrite. Here I was telling my son he can be whatever he wants to be, when I'm not doing what I want to do with my life. I started writing again a couple of days after that.

1:1000: That is freaking BEAUTIFUL! I imagine the "Top 5 Jobs" list from High Fidelity really resonates with you. I love that scene when he realizes owning a record store is actually above architect and he IS doing one of his dream jobs.

BC: Ha! Owning a record store would actually be in my top five too.

1:1000: Then does music have an impact on your writing?

BC: Music has a huge impact on my writing. Definitely more than movies nowadays. Being a parent of little kids, you don't have much time for anything other than family fare, and there is only so much inspiration you can draw from Thomas the Tank Engine. I still try to read, but again I don't have much time to myself. But I have music on all of the time, when I driving, when I am writing, and even most of the time at home our TV is off and there is either music or NPR playing. When I am writing, I will generally stick to a certain genre for each piece that I write.

1:1000: Who are some of your go-to artists when seeking inspiration and how do they affect your writing?

BC: I have found that in life, and writing, you can never go wrong with Pink Floyd or Willie Nelson. Aside from them, I guess I tend to use the setting of the story to guide what music I listen to as I write. For example, when I was writing "Arbor Day" I played a lot of Bow Thayer, who is a Vermont musician, and Janis Joplin, because growing up whenever we drove across Nebraska my mom always played Janis. And sometimes the music inspires a change of direction. For "Like There's no Tomorrow" I was listening to an Icelandic band called Solstafir. Their music literally transformed what started as a tale about unrequited love into an apocalyptic love story.

1:1000: How important is setting to your writing, both in the story and where you physically are when composing the story?

BC: I do most of my writing at work, on my downtime, honestly, so for composition it doesn’t matter much, but setting is very important in my writing. I try to make the environment almost its own character, or at least have it drive the story in some way. I think it comes from moving around a lot, and from travelling. I love going to different places and seeing how they can transform my state of being.

1:1000: Is the airline industry the reason why you've traveled a bunch, or have you always hopped around the world?

BC: I wasn't much of a traveler before I started working for an airline, but once you have access to free flights, you tend to take advantage of that. It was especially true when I was younger. If I had nothing better to do, I would just hop on plane and go check out someplace I had never been. But having that freedom, combined with the fact that I was living in Las Vegas and in my early twenties, pretty much doomed my college career.

1:1000: Ha! I can imagine. What were you studying in college?

BC: I was a History major up until I dropped out of UNLV. I went back in 2005 and took a couple of creative writing classes. In 2006 I moved back to Colorado, where I am from originally, and I planned on transferring to a small liberal arts that has a great English program, but I couldn't afford it. That was last time I did much writing.

1:1000: Which had a greater impact on your writing, the classes you took or Clerks, books, and other real-world writing samples?

BC: Honestly I would have to say, even though I don’t watch them much anymore, movies taught me a lot. Kevin Smith, Richard Linklater, and Quentin Tarantino taught me dialogue. The Coen Brother’s movies taught me how much the setting can propel a story. I still take a lot of inspiration from books when I can, too. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird at least once a year, because to me, it’s perfect. I keep hoping that some of Harper Lee’s genius will rub off on me. Writing classes were great for peer-to-peer feedback, but I think I learned more from reading Stephen King's On Writing than I did from any professor.

1:1000: That's what I was hoping to hear. I have never taken a formal writing class myself, and have always felt it limited my ability to become a real writer. I'm starting to think that's a farce.

BC: I think it probably depends on where you go. The UNLV English department wasn't great. If I would have gone to Naropa (the little school in Colorado), who knows, I could have had a teacher that changed my world.

1:1000: Do you plan on sticking with short stories or will you attempt to tackle a novel at some point? Or, will you try a screenplay again?

BC: Now that I am getting back into the swing of things, I would love to try and write a novel, or at least something longer than a thousand words. A screenplay would be fun, but since I don't have a whole lot of time for writing, I am going to stick to what is working for now.

1:1000: Well, we fully support and anxiously await whatever it is you do next, as long as it doesn’t result in you leaving 1:1000.

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