Back in 2014, I started doing a series of author interviews called #WriterWednesday, in which I brought new and innovative authors onto my website in an attempt to connect my readership with the wealth of diverse indie authors out there in the world. Although the interview series fell off, I am pleased to revive it now, beginning with an inaugural interview with Tarah Benner, author of the Fringe series and the Defectors series. Tarah’s obsession with dystopian literature began at the age of thirteen when she first read “Fahrenheit 451,” and she claims she’s been preparing for the apocalypse ever since. Tarah graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Journalism and lives in Columbia, Missouri. Her books consistently sell well on Amazon and she writes prolifically. She enjoys reading, running, Krav Maga, kickboxing, and binge-watching on Netflix. You can connect with her on Twitter @TarahBenner.
Welcome, Tarah! You have written and self-published two book series, The Defectors and The Fringe, both of which are dystopian, post-apocalyptic novels. Why does the dystopian genre fascinate you?
I first started The Defectors because I loved reading dystopian books and wanted to try writing my own. Now that I’ve written several dystopian books, I realize that I love the genre because it allows me to express my fear and outrage at things that are going on in the real world.
On the surface, my books have all the trappings of a dystopian page-turner — a kick-ass heroine, a steamy romance, an evil government, lots of action, etc. — but I’ve worked hard to build the conflicts within the story around looming catastrophes from the real world.
One of the major conflicts in The Defectors is a corporate machine run amok and the domino effect of fuel shortages that would lead to food scarcity. The Fringe takes place after widespread nuclear devastation, but that’s just the beginning. In this new society, corruption, eugenics, and espionage create a host of new problems.
Your publishing journey has so far been brief but prolific: you put your first book (Book 1 of the Defectors series) out into the world just two and a half years ago, in September of 2013. Can you share with us how you’ve managed to put out eight books – soon to be nine – in such a brief time span?
In a word: focus. I do write pretty fast, but that’s only a tiny part of it. The truth of the matter is that if you want to make a full-time living as an author these days and you don’t have a runaway bestseller, you need to be prolific. I knew that I wanted fiction to be my career, so I used to wake up hours before I had to be at my day job and write like a fiend on the weekends.
To get books out consistently, I also have to take off my sensitive artist hat and put on my business hat. I decided from day one that I wanted to follow startup principles by producing a minimum viable product — i.e., a manuscript that wasn’t ready for prime time yet — and get feedback very early on in the process. Then I would revise ruthlessly to get the book where it needed to be, send it to my editor, and publish. I’m constantly tweaking my process to be better and more efficient, and every book gets easier.
You chose to write The Fringe series from the perspective of a female and a male lead – Eli and Harper – which is the same thing we did for our Seeds series. What led to that decision? What made you feel that both Eli and Harper needed to tell their own stories?
Eli and Harper are very different people and represented two polarities in society. In book one, Harper is gunning for an elite job as a computer programmer. She’s smart, but she’s also a little bit entitled. Eli has a very dangerous, low-level job going out into the radiation-soaked desert — sort of like the canary in the coal mine. He’s tough and cynical because he’s experienced so much death and loss. Harper and Eli have had very different life experiences, and part of the fun of book one is seeing the clash of their personalities and worldviews.
Can you tell us about the themes of environmental devastation in your Fringe series, and what kind of research went into building these themes?
Nuclear annihilation is one of my biggest fears, so it’s something that’s always been on my radar. I researched extensively to understand what the fallout would be and then imagined what the world would look like years after the bombs dropped.
The real fun was imagining how humans could survive. I first got the idea for the compounds after reading about Biosphere 2— the self-sustaining ecosystem in Arizona. The real-world experiment was a disaster, and it got me thinking about what would be necessary to build something like that on a larger scale. I considered everything from the minimum viable population for the ecosystem to the sort of food they would have to grow.
The final book in the Fringe series, Annihilation, is due out June 20. How does it feel to have wrapped up a five-book series?
It’s extremely satisfying, but it’s also sad. I’ve lived with these characters for several years now, and they’ve grown so much that they almost feel like real people to me. I’ve had fun wrapping up the book and deciding their fates, but it will be tough to say goodbye.
You’re a successful self-published author who has built a small but legion following in just two and a half years. What wisdom would you offer to an author who is just beginning their journey to publication?
My small tribe of devoted readers means everything to me. They’re how I survive. Breaking out in publishing is harder than it’s ever been, and getting the whole world to care about your book in our era of entertainment overload is an exercise in futility. But you don’t need the whole world to care about you. If you can find that core group of people who truly love your work, you can make it as an author.
Tarah, thank you so much for doing this. It’s always heartening to hear about other indie authors who are really making a living in this industry. For those of you who would like to learn more about Tarah’s work, check out her website or the Amazon page for Recon, the first book in the Fringe series.