Tantra Bensko has a lot of irons in the writing fire, and she also writes in one of my all-time favorite genres. Psychological suspense is one of the trickier genres to fully classify, though I gave it a shot back in the day when I was still toying with writing a novel of my own. In any case, capturing the mind at work on the page is a beautiful thing.
Official Bio: Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing online with UCLA Extension Writing Program, Writers.com, and Tantra Bensko’s Online Writing Academy, and loves rewarding students for prioritizing their passions and talents. She also edits manuscripts, whether prose, poetry, or non-fiction. She has an MA from FSU and an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and has taught writing in-person with a variety of universities. She particularly likes learning and teaching fiction using movies as models. She has a couple hundred short stories in magazines and anthologies and has published the work of many authors as well as created a massive resource site for people interested in innovative fiction. She likes to dance, big time. In fact, she dances the plots, characters, themes, scenes, and emotions, as an integral part of her writing process. She lives in Berkeley, California.
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your book.
Glossolalia, a work of psychological suspense, asks the question what if your subconscious determined the fate of nations? Since she has a habit of going into amnesiac fugues, the only job Nancy can keep is working for her uncle Geoff at his pesticide company. She sees a waste truck outside, carrying away the pesticide chemical that has been legally deemed too toxic to use or to dump, so she chases it to catch the crime in progress. Her dogged pursuit leads her down the rabbit hole of espionage, disinformation, occult practices, mind control, and murder. Can she piece together who she really is in time to stop international intrigue from becoming even more deadly?
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
I like to entertain, create empathy, make people’s hearts beat fast with being alive!
I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, wanting to be like William Faulkner, pushing into new ways of telling a story, like he did, and I continued studying the avant-garde movements and methods, ways of shaking up our ideas of what a story is, what a person is, and how the default concepts have led to health and social issues. I wrote fiction that deconstructed expectations and provided alternatives to the norm. I published other people’s work in magazines and chapbooks, and made a massive resource site for experimental writing.
I wanted to write directly about what’s going on behind the scenes in our society, manipulating our society with propaganda to justify coups, and that requires genre fiction rather than literary. The audience for this kind of story is different from the literary one. I wrote primarily genre short stories for years, of all the major types as well as interstitial ones. I teach all the types, and wanted to prove mastery enough to have ease of publication in them all. I particularly like to get people thinking about the history of disinformation and manipulation of public perception, thus reconsidering what they think they know and growing warier of what the newscasters tell them.
Political thriller authors have a lot of power, if they gain traction – and that’s harder if they aren’t supported by mass propagandized beliefs. But if the books are based on something factual, such as how coups are created, even if the story is fictional, readers can imagine the world working that way. Readers can more easily see beyond the media theater, and gain clarity. For all this to happen, obviously the books have to be fun and enthralling, and people have to care about the characters. No one looking for a good time wants to be preached to.
3. Writing aside, what passions drive your life?
I was somewhat feral for a long time. I like living outside of the system that I critique, instead of being dependent on it. I like fresh air, not being boxed up, but instead being able to be part of the interactivity of a pristine wilderness setting. I lived in red canyons, rainforests, mountains, just me alone, with a blanket. It was great.
I still feel the natural harmony of the earth is the pattern behind my existence, and I do my best to make choices that are healthy for me and the planet, play, never take life for granted for a moment, but stay grateful.
4. It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite novel and why?
I used to look for the literary qualities of pushing the boundaries of what fiction is, brilliant concepts, the moment by moment excitement of reading the well-chosen words on the page. My favorite novel was Sunshine in the Valley, by Kyle Muntz, which is conceptually complex and ambiguous, a fascinating mind-world to inhabit that’s unlike any other. Now, I really just focus on continually learning the craft from whatever mystery, suspense, or thriller novel I’m reading.
5. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
I have a blog that isn’t particularly fiction-oriented, which promotes the theme of the fiction – the heroism of recognizing, resisting, and exposing social engineering: The Engineering of Society. I’m particularly fascinated by how disinformation agents in intelligence positions throughout history have shaped mass beliefs – an example being the famous Richart Doty – Paul Bennewitz affair when Doty fed Bennewitz the whole UFO story to cover up advanced aircraft. The blog goes into many common beliefs and their origins. The book has a website as well.
6. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I write according to the organization of plots that has been shown to have the most emotional effect, and then I go through professional editors and many proofreaders.
7. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
I’ve been traditionally published for decades, with poems, essays, stories, and novelettes in magazines and anthologies, as well as a collection, chapbooks, and a novella. At this point, I have no plans to do that again. Indie makes more money and allows control over timing and everything else. I consider it the best way to go for genre fiction. Besides the editors and proofreaders, I hire formatters, people to make trailers, and I buy cover and illustrative art.
8. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
Word Slinger Publicity found some good opportunities for me. I’ve also been happy with pro editorial reviews, such as from US Review of Books and Publishers Daily Reviews. Don’t rely on the free or paid sites which are supposed to automatically to submit your ebook on their KDP free days en masse to the listings. The ebooks don’t go through to the listings.
9. What future projects can we look forward to?
The rest of the Agents of the Nevermind series continues to explore one facet after another of manipulating public perceptions for political agenda. Remember to Recycle is the second novel, and it riffs off the way the White Helmets are being portrayed in the media as providing humanitarian aid in Syria but are in fact brutal invaders. Ultimately, the antagonist is not as much the Agents that create the media theater but human gullibility. Each novel ends on a high note and I hope inspires people toward some degree of activism.
I also plan to put out a book I wrote called How to Get Hundreds of Stories Published in Magazines and Anthologies.
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?
In the 1980’s, in the Agents of the Nevermind series, our world took a bit of a turn. In reality, Human Growth Hormone, from cadavers, was being used back then for dwarfism, given out for free by doctors. In the book, select teens start using it who don’t need it, to create gigantism. Even the president of the US was a giant, and this is done to fit in with the prevailing concept of mysterious giants in the earth in the past being spiritual and important. US and British intelligence agencies came together to form a branch specifically for disinformation, using media theater, mind control, and whatnot. It’s tied in with the occultism of the hoards of people who believe Britain descended from giants in Atlantis, and thus has an excuse for imperialism. Other than that twist, it’s basically our world, and everything mentioned as being historical really happened – including the CIA’s nefarious MKULTRA program, such as you see referenced often these days in movies and TV show, like Stranger Things.
Thank you very much, Jeri!
You can connect with Tantra Benkso and her social media sites via her author website Insubordinate Books.
Is there anything else you would like to know about Tantra Bensko?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.
Very interesting interview and I was particularly caught by the author´s views on our “bright future” (I am making reference to the last question in particular).—
By the way: Have you watched the series “Black Mirror” on Netflix, Jeri. It is excellent. I am sure you´ll love it. It is aligned with many of the points highlighted on this post
Best of luck to Tantra with her writing and her book, which sounds like a great reading!. Aquilleana 😉
What an interesting name. It sounds as if you wave back and forth under the deep blue waters. Thank you for your wishes!
Our bright future, yes, I feel like this series is relevant to our future, in that Glossolalia is about a coup, such as what happened in Libya when Gaddaffi was trying to go off the US dollar. We see a presidential candidate who was directly responsible for that event now likely to be elected, and I’m sure to continue with more similar coups. It’s just the way our society is run and the CIA has always been at the core of that. In my book, I wanted to make it timeless, not about one location, but to fit with whatever coup was happening at the time readers picked up the book.
Psychology is an interesting subject and has always fascinated me as it offers many avenues to delve deeper into human emotions and thoughts. This is the first psychological suspense that I have come across and would like to explore it…must be a combination of fantasy and psychology. Hmm…interesting!
Thank you Jeri for introducing me to another awesome author. I wish Tantra (what an interesting name!) all the best for her book.
Human psychology is amazing, isn’t it, so many layers, some things predictable, others surprising, and all of it a unique narrative that can make its way into fiction. Psychological suspense can seem like fantasy, as it can involve the inner stories people tell themselves, which can be so delusional as to be fantastical. Normally, however, there is a reasonable explanation for what occurs, so it’s a form of realism. Sometimes, the author leaves it ambiguous, so we don’t know for sure which it is, and other times by the very end, we see what makes it all make sense. The TV series Wilfred and Mr. Robot could both be popular examples that make the audience wonder what’s real and what’s not as they watch.
Thank you very much!
Great interview, Jeri. Very interesting world view, Tantra. I would like to read more about this “The Engineering Of Society”. I believe we are ‘fed’ information to a point and it is up to us to decipher fact from fiction. Your book looks fantastic, too!
Thank you very much, and I totally agree that we have to figure out what’s true about what we’re being told, such as on the mainstream news, which tends to rely on disinformation to achieve the goals of the organizations that fund it. So people don’t trust it and look elsewhere. However, much of alternative internet news is also untrue, and people often get caught in those layers, many of which are also funded by the same organizations as controlled opposition. Only when people can look at who is promoting each piece of information, how it serves them, that person’s associations, and so forth, can we begin to seek all the details needed to decide whether to believe it. I find those layers fascinating, and the way that disinformation agents have worked, throughout history.
The news is there to create perception management, and the CIA has heavily controlled it. I like to imagine the lives of the agents who do so, what it’s like to have a job in which you push people into believing things you know to be false. One of my favorite stories is when Paul Bennewitz was living near a military base and saw strange aircraft that he thought were UFOs. Agent Richard Doty was instructed to tell him it was aliens, and feed him lots of stories that Paul then sent to UFO groups. That’s how a lot of beliefs in specific types of aliens interacting with our government came about — in order to hide advanced technology from people in this and other countries for military purposes.
I write about such things in my site, The Engineering of Society as I like to prod people to look into the origins of things they take for granted.
Indeed, very interesting. There’s lots to consider on this subject, Tantra. Thanks for sharing!
Intriguing title to your book. Reminds me of “speaking in tongues.” Somehow, I have a feeling your book is not about that! Your video has a compelling quality. Thanks for your interview and all the best with your book.
Thank you, Ramona,
Yes, you’re absolutely correct. The glossolalia does refer to speaking in tongues. That’s definitely not the main focus of the book but it does include that. I’ve never spoken in tongues, myself, but I spent a lot of time on the family homestead in Alabama where there were churches that practiced it, as well as snake handling. I was really touched by the people’s sincerity and devotion, as well as the ecstatic state they went into that was, paradoxically, life affirming, though life endangering at the same time, when the poisonous snakes were involved.
Thanks for introducing us to Tantra, Jeri. I always enjoy your author profiles.
Hello, Doreen, good to meet you!
This is quite interesting Tantra and Jeri. Thanks for sharing the interview. I totally agree with your statement, “… if the books are based on something factual, such as how coups are created, even if the story is fictional, readers can imagine the world working that way.” It helps bring the book to life in my opinion.
I’m glad you think so, Sabrina. I’m compelled to write about the issues I see around me, and have studied for decades, which I don’t think are portrayed as much as I’d like to see. In the past, authors had to avoid such controversial topics as casting light on the CIA’s role in coups, unless they said it was a rogue group, in order to be published by the Big Five. Now, the topic can still cause some static, but I feel its time has come.
That is an interesting concept to use human growth hormone to initiate gigantism. We are living in a world where we are more an more able to create what we want as opposed to being dependent on mother nature. This can be a good thing, or a very bad thing. And it is always interesting to imagine where we might take the world of manipulation in the future.
I love the cover of the book. That is definitely an eye catcher.
That’s sure true, Erica. I feel a sort of guilty pleasure in being able to enjoy things that are unnatural, like watching movies on my laptop, for example, which requires all sorts of manipulations of the natural resources. People have been set free with creativity by such deviations from living in complete harmony with nature, and I feel fortunate to live in this time, yet I know also that it means destruction of wilderness and health of many species including our own.
The Human Growth Hormone element in the novel is riffing of history of the 80s in which it was taken from pituitaries of cadavers, given to doctors to give to patients, and it worked well, but caused the human form of Mad Cow Disease, so was discontinued. Instead, genetic modification ensued to create a more expensive drug that few could afford, so lots of black market production happened. It can cause gigantism if given to an adolescent with normal metabolism. I don’t know if anyone actually tried that, but in the last book in my series, that’s what happens in one rural family. I can hardly wait to get to release that book, but it will be years, darn it.
Really great interview. Some great tips on self-publishing. I love your book cover, it begins to tell your story.
Thank you. I love the cover too, just a wonderful artist. I bought some of her other art pieces for covers too. I doubt I’ll put those books out soon, if I ever do, as they’re a different style than this one, more interstitial fiction, and now I’m sticking to realism. After I bought the art, I actually changed the story to it it, and so one of the characters, who is associated with the flamingo, didn’t have that relationship before. It made it more dreamlike and strange, though it’s realism. Life itself is pretty surreal.
What an interesting premise for a book. I would definitely pick this one up off the shelf to see what happens!
Thank you, Meredith, that’s really good to hear.
Interesting interview Jeri. You somehow manage to draw out key points to share with your readers. I feel like I already know the author when in fact I have only been given a short snipet of her writing career.
My short book is ready for proofreading and publishing. I really do need to get the ball rolling and choose a publisher.
Jeri is great that way, isn’t she? Glad to meet you, and best wishes on your book.
((((make people’s hearts beat fast with being alive!)))
Great interview, Jeri & Tantra.
I enjoyed and savored every word. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Miss Chick! I love being alive. I never take it for granted. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to pet trees, breathe in dirt and flowers and hear bird songs and dance to live music played by talented musicians, come up with stories, teach fiction writing classes, so many things. It’s really hard sometimes, too, of course, for everyone, and we can feel like the characters in books are struggling like us, and sometimes at least, succeeding at their goals, once they realize what they really are.
Psychological suspense! Wow! what an interesting subject! Only a few people can do justice to this domain!
I enjoyed reading Tantra’s interview!
Best of luck!
It’s a tough one, alright, and I did my best to make it work as other genres as well. It’s also a Thriller. I like the combination of genres, with the intense action of a Thriller, related to making a difference to the world, with the intersection of how our minds make of it what it is, with the Suspense elements.
Wonderful interview, Tantra and Jeri. I’ve put this on my TBR list. Since my first book is a psychological suspense thriller, I’m always on the look out for new books in this genre.
Tantra, you live an exciting life. Sounds like you live free and without apology. Best of luck to you with all your writings.
I’m so glad to hear you might read Glossolalia, Denise. Now, THAT’S what makes my most life exciting, these days.
I appreciate that, free, without apology. I’ve had a wide variety of memorable experiences that I’m grateful for.
I like that you combined the suspense with thriller too, which isn’t very common. Sometimes I think Suspense can be a bit victim oriented, and very personal, and that’s definitely fascinating, but I’m drawn to the larger picture, and the larger picture, as well that comes with the Thriller.
Sounds like a fascinating story, can’t even begin to imagine how to write in that genre but I certainly enjoy reading it. I really like the cover and the book trailer is well done.
Thank you, Marquita,
The visual experience of it is a fun part of it for me. I put images of the characters on the website, as well. I now wish other authors did that, so I can remember who the names belong to more easily, and have a more vivid picture of how they look.
Writing in Psychological is really tricky, because there is usually a major twist at some point, in which it’s revealed things are not as they seemed. So, you have to make sense all along in multiple potentialities. Coming up with those twists gives me a shudder of fun.
Tantra, you sound like you are full of joy with life! Such a great attitude to have when writing such serious books. Like to hear about your publishing routes and what works best for you–that’s always intriguing to me. Best of luck with the new book!
My birth name is Rosemary, by the way.
You’re insightful — I am a joyful person, very glad to be alive, and I was concerned that maybe didn’t come through in the interview, so thank you extra.
very interesting interview! I’ve not heard of this particular writer before, but her book and the genre of psychological suspense itself sure sounds like it’d be a fun read. Thanks for sharing!
Than you very much.
Psychological Suspense is fun partly because of that rush of realization of something big, how something wasn’t anything like you thought it was before. A truly great psychological suspense can have this happen multiple times. One movie example of that is Stonehearst Asylum.
I am very impressed, writing suspense is like walking on a razor’s edge. You can either have too little suspense, or ruin the plot by imputing too much.
I am looking forward to reading her books.
Hello, William, that’s sure a true statement.
I like studying the technique with movies and TV as well, and am still learning every day. Suspense is harder to create in fiction, partly since movies can cut back and forth more quickly with snippets. They even have atmospheric music. In fiction, the subtle sounds of the sentences can create a similar effect.
With Literary Fiction, the sounds of the sentences can create a moment-to-moment excitement of being immersed in that author’s world, which is not so much about suspense about the future, as enjoyment of the moment.
Writing Suspense/Thriller certainly is very different, with the readers propelled forward by the need to know the how to piece things together that seem a little off, and to want someone to safe, even though she probably won’t be. The language suggested for writing is what someone at a 10th grade education could read.
Very interesting interview.
I did not know the author before, will definitely check her books
Thank you, Kristina, and thank you very much for taking a book-look!
Thank you, Jeri, for introducing us to Tantra! As always a great interview. Looking ahead to read books from the Genera Psychological Suspense.
HI Jeri, awesome author interview as always. Nice to get to know more about Tantra. I hadn’t heard of this author before. Helpful tips on self publishing too.