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A Center Stage Moment: Christina Benjamin

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Mason Cooley said, “Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”

A Center Stage Moment shines a spotlight on writers who give us great places to visit with characters we love and want to call friends.

Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you the wonderful Christina Benjamin!

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Young adult book author Christina Benjamin grew up in the small town of La Plume, PA, where at an early age her playful imagination lent itself to love the art of storytelling.  She began to write short stories in grade school and continued practicing her craft all the way through college where she attended the University of Central Florida to complete her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Technical Writing.

After spending some time writing for blogs and websites, she was inspired to get back to her true love of telling stories, and dove head first into The Geneva Project, her first novel.

Christina now lives in Florida with her husband, dog and cats and spends her free time writing The Geneva Project series.

Without further ado, here’s Christina’s interview…

I love reading the bios of authors. Many of them did not start out as writers. Sometimes people stumble upon the craft. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Yes, somewhere buried deep down I think I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I think I was born a writer and am just now figuring that out. Whenever I talk to other authors they totally get it when I say things like, “you know when the voices in your head…” or “so this idea came to me when I was narrating myself hanging up the laundry…” I still remember the look my husband gave me when I asked him if he narrated his life in his head while he’s living it. I was like, “no? okay, I don’t do that either. Total hypothetical question.” Ha-ha. (My voices talk in the shower.)

But seriously, I guess I’ve always loved the art of story telling, I pursued Art and English in college, but didn’t really have the confidence that I could make it as a published author right out of college. I have a degree in Criminal Justice and English and my plan had been to go to law school after I graduated. But, I ended up landing an amazing job that took me in a completely different direction as a buy/merchandiser and home stager for 12 years. So I kept feeding my love of literature as an avid reader until I finally decided to secretly start writing my own YA fantasy book, The Geneva Project – Truth.

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“Trapped on a flood-ravaged island full of orphans, natives and wealthy citizens of the prosperous city Lux, a young girl named Geneva finds herself enslaved at an orphanage with no future and a past she can’t remember. That all changes when she meets someone who promises her that there’s more in store for her than she ever could have imagined. Her once dull life rapidly spirals out of control as she starts to acquire new magical powers that may be the key to unlocking an ancient legend along with her true identity. But first she must master these powers, all while trying to keep them secret from her friends and the evil head mistress at the orphanage. Before she knows it, Geneva is in over her head and has inadvertently wrapped her friends into her web of magic and lies. Now all of their lives will be in jeopardy once the head mistress of the orphanage finds out Geneva’s plan to prove that the legend of Lux may not be a legend at all! Who will Geneva trust and how far will she go to save her friends and discover her true identity?”

Why did you choose to write Young Adult Fantasy? I read a bit of everything but my true love is YA fiction so I figured it would be really fun to write something that I’d love to read myself. And, I’m glad I did because I end up re-reading my own work a lot to keep the series fresh. Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight are three of the series that really pushed me to start my own book. When those series ended, I felt lost! I’d dedicated years to living in the worlds with the characters those authors created. I missed them. Then I found out I was pregnant and got this idea that I should write my own YA fiction series that I could share with my children.

My family and I all read Harry Potter together when I was growing up so I thought, “what great fun it would be to create a world I can share with my family.” I wrote my first book while pregnant with my son, Dalton. My husband helped me form an indie publishing label and we self-published The Geneva Project – Truth through Createspace and Smashwords shortly after Dalton was born. About 3 months after I published, my son was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He passed away 3 months later. Losing my son was a huge wake up call. It really made me reevaluate my life and what was important to me. It boiled down to spending more time at home with my husband and following my dream of being a writer. I quit my job and sold my house so that I could spend more time doing what I love.

I now write full time and am about to publish the third book in The Geneva Project series. I’ve been doing it for a little over a year now and it’s an amazing feeling. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to wake up and do what I love every day. It’s a lot of hard work disciplining myself as my own boss, but it’s completely worth it.

I spend time speaking at schools to promote the importance of literacy and language arts. I’ve started a ONE-for-ONE campaign where I match the sales of my paperbacks so that I can donate books to schools, libraries and literacy programs in need. I take time to enjoy life, family, friends and focus on spending time doing what I love—writing and sharing the love of reading.
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What is the strangest subject or topic you’ve ever written? Wow, I’m not even sure. Probably when I used to do technical writing. I had to write instructional manuals for how to change out different parts of cell phones. Super random! And no room to be creative! But it was a paying job!

What are you currently working on? A lot! I may have bit off more than I can chew, but I’m getting ready to publish the third book in The Geneva Project series. It’s called Lies and is due out September 1st. I’ve already started working on the fourth and final book in that series. I’ve started plans for a spin-off series as well. I’m working on a children’s book, an anthology and two non-fictions too. I’m finding I like having a lot of different things to work on at once because it’s nice to switch gears every once and a while. It keeps my mind fresh.

“What if you were part of a secret so powerful it could change everything? Would you pursue it? Could you survive it? Geneva finally knows the truth about her identity. The Book of Secrets gave her a name, a family and a destiny to fulfill, but it also revealed many more secrets she must uncover. Some are dark and mysterious and beyond her wildest dreams. Now she has to decide who she can trust with her secrets and which of them she must keep to herself. Can you keep a secret? What if you life depended on it?”

What motivated the plot for The Geneva Project? I wanted to write something that I would be able to share with children. I LOVE books like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, etc. so I knew I wanted to write something like that, with inspiring characters that young readers can relate to and look up to as role models. I wanted to have magic in the world I was creating because as a reader I like to have an amazing fantasy world to escape to. I feel like we deal with a lot of hard situations in every day life so it’s nice to have a world to visit where anything can happen. In the world of The Geneva Project, myths and legends are real, people have magical powers and fairies, monsters and mythical creatures exist. It allows me to be completely creative with no restriction and that helps keep me inspired.

What was the hardest story for you to write? Definitely the nonfiction piece I’m working on now. It’s called 52 Sunrises and it’s a year’s worth of journal entries that I wrote after my son passed away. It’s hard to look back at that painful place in my life, but it’s also inspiring to see how far I’ve come. Through my travels with The Geneva Project I’ve met so many incredible people. Authors, readers, bloggers and students and every one of them have an amazing story to share. I learn so much from their willingness to share with me and it’s helped heal me in a way I never expected. That’s what pushed me to share my story now. I hope that it can help others know that they’re not alone and that life is still worth living after dealing with loss. (Outstanding!)

What process do you use to plan your novels? So this writing career of mine has been quite the learning experience and along the way I’ve figured out a few surprising things about myself. One is that in my old life (pre-crazy writer) I was pretty much an OCD planner, organizer and list maker. As a writer of fiction, I’ve learned by trial and error that the only way I can write and feel free is to do it by the seat of my pants. So I’m a total pantster. (Yay! Me too!) I’ve tried outlines and plans but they make me feel restricted. For me, it’s hard for magic to exist within an outline. It needs room to breathe.

Who has been your favorite character and why? Geneva. Because she is stronger than she knows, loyal to her friends, courageous and she fights for what she believes in. She is a very real character. She’s not perfect, she makes mistakes, has a lot of self-doubt and has trouble believing in herself, but she’s not a wallflower. She knows she’s different, but doesn’t try to change who she is to fit it. She wants others to change and learn to accept her for who she really is. Throughout the series you get to watch her grow and mature and become someone you root for to beat the odds.

Do any of your character reflect facets of your personality? I’m sure they do. It’s hard to spend three years writing about your imaginary friends and not have your traits rub off on them. I think I take a bunch of traits from all the people that have influenced my life and add them to my characters. I almost feel like each character represents a different facet of my personality. Geneva is feisty. Remi is shy. Nova is fun. Journey is strong. Sparrow is kind. Jemma is selfish. Eja is smart. Those parts of myself definitely end up influencing those characters.

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it? Great question. Yes! Writer’s block comes with the territory. Sometimes it feels like a wall and somebody wrote every doubt you ever had on it, which makes me want to tear everything up and start over! The best way to battle that for me is to just write anyway. Even if it feels like it’s going nowhere or it’s not your best work, it always leads to somewhere and if it doesn’t, I save it. It may come in handy later or spark an idea. I feel like learning to be a great writer is like learning anything; the more you do it the better you get. Sometimes I’ll get in a rut and changing scenery helps. Sometimes I need to write at my desk in total silence, other times a comfy chair listening to music, or maybe a busy coffee house with lots of noise. I love working outdoors too. Nature and people watching always provide excellent ideas.

If you were to choose another genre to write in, what would it be and why? Probably mystery. I loved Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I’m a James Patterson fan too. I don’t know if I could ever write something so sinister, but I enjoy the rollercoaster of reading it.

Which authors inspire you? Man! Another tough one. JK Rowling. Because without the Harry Potter series, I never would have gotten into reading YA. Without JK’s incredible ability to make magic and wizards matter to millions of readers there might not even be this successful, large and evolving YA category in literature. Harry Potter also made me decide to write my own series. I chose to use a girl as my main character because I felt I would have loved Harry Potter even more if the main character were a female. I also chose to write about a world where magic exists because that’s what I loved about Harry Potter. It was an escape from the ordinary world, to somewhere better, somewhere where possibilities are endless and that’s what I feel about writing. It’s the only profession where you can literally invent anything you can dream of. I truly believe words are magic and I thank JK Rowling for reminding me of that.

What novel would you read multiple times? I don’t think there’s really been many. (Besides my own, but that’s only for editing and trying to keep my own crazy story straight when building the next book.) There was this book I read as a kid called Old Bones the Wonder Horse by Mildred Mastin Pace. It’s about a racehorse. I absolutely loved [it]! I read that thing probably 50 times. I rode horses growing up and was convinced I’d be a jockey when I grew up! So yeah, that book was my anthem!

If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or deceased, who would it be and why? Oh my God, this is so hard! Okay, there’s no way I can pick just one. I’m going to choose some of my musical idols. Chris Martin, Gary Lightbody and Dan Smith. They’re the lead singers of Coldplay, Snow Patrol and Bastille. They’re musical geniuses and poets. I feel like their lyrics speak the words of my soul. Music is such an important and influential part of my life, so I think I’d like to meet them and pick their brains. Ok and I’d also like to meet Hermione Granger so she can teach me magic and let me borrow her time turner to go back to relive some of my favorite moments in life. I think she and I would also take a trip to Idris to hang out with Jace Lightwood and the Shadowhunters.

What is your favorite quote? Oh wow. This is hard. There’s so many that I love for so many different reasons. I try to pick something different every time I’m asked this question so let’s see. How about “Truth.” It’s not really a quote but it’s an inscription on a ring that one of my best friends in the world gave me. She sent it for me when I wrote my first book as a gift and it has become my mantra. I wear it every day to remind myself to “Always seek the TRUTH.” It’s what I write on the inside cover of my books when I sign them for readers. To me it means, follow your heart. You never know where it will lead, but your heart always speaks the truth. For me, it told me to be brave, take chances, and follow my dreams of being a writer. (I like that.)

What is your favorite animal, real or imaginary? IMG_5739Real and imaginary is my dog Vince. We rescued him when he was only 1lb and he’s been an incredible source of love and support. We’ve had him since he was 6 weeks old and he’s been through 7 years of ups and downs. He is cemented in my heart for sticking by my side through it all. He is with me so much that I actually wrote him into my books. In the Geneva Project, he inspired the mythical creature, Niv, who is a marmouse that Geneva ends up befriending. Niv has become a favorite character of my readers and he has his own stuffed animal to go along with the series now. It’s really fun having readers get to meet the real life inspiration for Niv after they read the books.

What is your favorite color? Finally, an easy question! PINK

Look for Christina online at:

Website: http://www.thegenevaprojectbook.com/index.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheGenevaProjectBook

Twitter: @AuthorCBenjamin

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6588515.Christina_Benjamin

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Christina-Benjamin

Thank you so much for all these great questions. You are a great interviewer!

Thank you for being such a great writer and person. This was a blast.

Join me next week for another “Center Stage Moment” featuring Casey Anderson!

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