Benjamin Thomas writes from New England where he unequally balances time between traveling, hiking, and quoting seemingly random movies.
He earned an MFA in creative writing from Albertus Magnus College while working as an emergency room technician. His short stories have appeared in publications such as Flash Fiction Online, Winter Tales: A Fox Spirit Anthology, and others. Ben can also be found reviewing books for Shoreline of Infinity, the Hugo-nominated speculative fiction e-zine.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a Friday interview, but we’re thrilled today to talk to Benjamin Thomas, author of Jack Be Quick, which releases next Tuesday. He has some cool book giveaways for those who preorder his book before then, so don’t forget to go check it out.
Now, down to business!
What was your inspiration for writing JACK BE QUICK?
There was a blend of things happening all at once that eventually led to the book. I had a single scene in my head, a response with this injured medic addicted to painkillers and the body of a woman who had been killed like Polly Nichols, the first of the generally accepted canonical five Ripper murders. But it never went anywhere past that scene. I tried it probably six or seven times, scrapping the whole thing then re-writing it—tried it once as a script and quickly learned that I was rubbish at that.
After that, I decided to shelve the idea for a while and worked on a few short stories, only one or two of whichever saw the light of day. Then, after bugging me for a year or two, my girlfriend Eryka finally convinced me to watch the show The Following with Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy. Purefoy plays this enigmatic cult leader obsessed with gothic lit and Poe. It was fantastic. I had also started watching The Killing which, let me tell you, is one of the darkest shows I have ever seen, and it was absolutely amazing. Everything was so real and visceral, and I think the two of them combined kind of put me back into the mood to do something really dark, and I knew I wanted to do something with Jack the Ripper, so I went back at it and here we are.
There is also a slew of songs I would have on repeat when I wrote the book, either to get into a darker mindset or just because I felt like they fit and were influencing me in some way. I put them on my website for anyone who’s interested in the “soundtrack.”
You were in the medical field, too, which is interesting, because your main character is an EMT. How did your experience as an EMT influence the story?
It definitely cut down on research time, that’s for sure. But even then, because I haven’t been on an ambulance for a few years, I was constantly texting a career firefighter / EMT friend to make sure I was remembering everything correctly. But no, I enjoyed being an EMT. It’s a completely different experience than being pre-hospital. A lot fewer people to help when something goes wrong, but because of this, it builds a deep camaraderie with people you worked with.
Why did you choose to incorporate Jack the Ripper as an inspiration for your fictional villain?
Because he’s an enigma. A legend that 99% of people know about. I mean, and I could be wrong but I don’t think I am, if you asked someone to name one person from the Manhattan Project, something so pivotal it ended a world war, or five current world leaders, most people wouldn’t be able to.
But, if you went up to someone and asked, “Have you ever heard of Jack the Ripper?” I bet you they’d say yes. And why is that? I mean, realistically Jack killed five women. There have been a lot worse people since 1888, yet there is a yearly convention about Jack, you can take Ripper tours in London, and to this day, you can drink at Ten Bells, a pub in London where two of the Ripper victims hung around.
It’s the intrigue. It’s because we don’t know who he was, and at this point, we never will. There are sound theories sure, but there will never be any definitive proof of who Jack the Ripper was and the fact that he—or she—was never caught is why people know about him. It’s our fascination with the unknown.
Has Jack the Ripper always been a topic you were interested in?
I’m no Ripperologist, as the group likes to be called, though I do want to go to the next convention, which I think is next year in Maryland. But I can’t remember a time when I first heard about Jack the Ripper and thought oh my God this is insane or anything. I think I’ve always liked the gothic side of things—Poe, steampunk—and Jack the Ripper sort of fell into that.
I knew, before writing the book, of the canonical five, that the murders happened in Whitechapel in 1888, but I had never seen the movie From Hell or anything like that. Side note—I finally watched it a few months ago. Eh. Jack is definitely an interesting subject, but like I said before, it’s because of the mystery around him. If we knew who he was, I don’t think anyone, myself included, would care as much.
What do you hope your readers get from your stories?
Honestly? Entertainment. I know there’s this whole idea regarding writers and works of social commentary, which actually can stretch to any creative medium. If you look at 2015-2016 in Hollywood, there was an influx of movies regarding break-in crimes: Hush and Don’t Breathe, to name a few. And such a sharp uptick in a subject usually means it’s what America was focused on in the few years leading up to it. And, while I’d love to sit here and say that I’m trying to rip apart some metaphysical understanding about addiction or Jack the Ripper, I’m not.
My goal, or what I want most out of this, is someone who has had a bad week or a rough day at work to pick up a book or a collection of stories and be able to just let go. Whether that’s for an hour or for an entire weekend, doesn’t matter.
Now for the shotgun round: I shoot off questions, and you shoot off answers!
Favorite book: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (actually the whole series but if I had to name one book it’s a close tie between this and The Subtle Knife)
Favorite author: Gillian Flynn
Book/s you’re currently reading: “Off Beat: Nine Spins on Songs” from Wicked Ink Books; “Salvage” by Stephen Maher; “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski
Top three favorite movies: Fight Club, Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Jedi
All-time favorite TV shows: The Killing; Broadchurch; The Following; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Fleabag; Orphan Black
Things you do for creative inspiration: hike, travel, listen to music
Plotter or Pantser? No outlines!
The hardest thing about writing? Getting the first draft done
Easiest thing about writing? Coming up with half-baked ideas that won’t develop into anything
What can fans look forward to seeing from you next?
Good question. I’m working through a second book, this one more in the horror vein—lies, hiking, abandoned ghost towns, and stray dogs. So hopefully that will see the paper at some point. Other than that, I’m attempting a novella in the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction, but I don’t have a lot of luck with shorter work, so I don’t know how far that one’s going to go.
Thanks for your time, Benjamin. It was fun to have you, and we look forward to watching as your author journey progresses!