I used to be a book snob. I had a very short list of authors that I read religiously and new authors only broke into my reading list via the New York Times Book Review which I started reading with my Dad when I was about fourteen. I know, I know . . . I was missing out, big-time. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to read, and to come to know some great indie authors whose talent continues to astound me. One of these is Christopher Bynum, who also writes under the moniker ‘The Black‘.
I love his work, and have never been disappointed with anything of his I’ve read, even though his work can vary quite a bit as he writes across multiple genres. I turn to one of his books when I need a boost to get me back into the writing frame of mind, just as I turn to him as a compatriot, partner and mentor in this writing life of ours. So I am so pleased to host him today, to talk about his latest work, “With Benefits“.
Welcome Chris! Let’s dive right in with the questions . . .
What made you want to write ‘With Benefits’? What did you want to say that you didn’t think had been said in similar ‘friends with benefits’-themed books?
“With Benefits” was inspired by real life events, and it’s actually a second version of the story. The first version—which I did publish somewhere online once—was a literal recounting of the real event. As I recall, some online readers were depressed by the ending. But hey, real life can be depressing sometimes. More recently I decided to write a “what if version” of that short story with a more upbeat ending. That story became the novel “With Benefits.”
In ‘With Benefits’ Kyle and Britt become close friends very quickly though they’re attracted to each other. From a man’s perspective, why does a man sometimes NOT make a move even when he’s attracted to a woman?
There are no absolutes and this may read as insane, but sometimes a man won’t make a move because he actually likes and respects a woman. He thinks there might be more good things about her than just her body, and wants to know what that is. He still wants her physically if that’s the way he’s attracted to her, but I think that sometimes we hope that she be won’t be that easy. Again, there are no absolutes. It might also be that he’s painfully shy. Or that he might be physically attracted to her but not like her otherwise, enough to turn him off to wanting her. I’ve known a couple of women in my life that I felt were hot physically, but if I didn’t have to work with them I wouldn’t want them anywhere near me because I didn’t like them as people. None of this has to do with Kyle’s situation, however. He and Britt simply had poor communication and invalid assumptions based on what they did say to each other.
We see Kyle in ‘With Benefits’ struggle with some unresolved issues about women and their sometimes dishonest motives in relationships. This is a recurring theme in your work. Tell us why.
I didn’t set out to make it a theme, so I guess it’s my subconscious acting on experiences and observations. And, I’m all about character in whatever I write, and women tend to be more complex and more confusing when they do their dirt as compared to men. For example, men may lie to excuse the wrong they do, but they know they’re lying, and you know it, too. Women are much better at rationalizing and giving themselves excuses for why they do wrong, and they usually have half the human population backing them up as a support system. Men don’t back each other up like that, because we know a lie when we see one (“Damn, bro, she busted you.”). Sometimes women are so good at rationalization that the damaged man is left thinking it’s his fault. Again, there are no absolutes and I’m not being negative, but that stuff makes for a more interesting write, and hopefully a more interesting read.
Your books, including ‘With Benefits’ feature women who are also very realistically crafted. Not many male authors do this well. What’s your secret to writing women so well?
I’ve always liked women, so I pay attention to them. I was never one of those boys who thought girls had cooties or whatever and didn’t want them hanging around. From Pre-K—from the moment I recognized that girls were different than boys—I was fascinated, and I wanted one. So I pay attention.
Britt is a so-called “good woman” who struggles to find a good man. What do you think about the old refrain from some women that “all the good men are taken”? Do you think that’s true?
It’s not true. Due to the impact of society and the times we live in the pickings might be slimmer, but good men are out there. I would suggest to frustrated women that if you keep digging in the same hole, you’re going to find the same dirt. You can add all your special water to it and make your temporary mud pie, but when the water dries you’ll have the same dirt you started with. I feel for women because I see how the game has changed. You’re not the prize anymore; men are, and that goes against nature. Even in generations past when women were second class citizens, they still had their feminine power, and men respected it.
Women might not have been able to vote and were paid pennies on the dollar as compared to men, but a man would pull out a chair for a lady and open a door for her and give a certain respect. If in those times one man had called a woman a bitch or a ho on the street, another man would’ve punched him in his face. Women always had that power: the power of respect for their femininity. But today too many women have given up their power. A man will only do what a woman allows him to do. So if women want things to change and want more good men, they have to take back their power. Command respect; not by mouth, but by action. Trust me, when you do, men will fall in line because you have what we desire. Yes, it’ll be hard to do because for every woman who won’t make it easy for a man there are five who will, but that’s the world we live in now. But if you do—and you stick to your guns—you’ll create more good men, if not for yourselves, then for your daughters.
Kyle and Britt’s parents feature prominently in their emotional lives and help the reader understand them better. Do you think our parents are a big influence on our ‘relationship style’? And if so, how so?
I think parents can be and should be, and hopefully the influence is a positive one. I think that what we observe in our parent’s relationship influences us as much as what they tell us about how to manage our own. In Kyle’s case, for most of his life his parent’s influence was a positive one, and when things changed it threw him for a loop. But when writing his character I felt that the recent change in his attitude would be a temporary one because by the time the change happened he already was who he was going to be. He just needed the right influence to get him back on track. I think that Britt was more solid in who she was by the time she met Kyle. Her mother raised her to be a whole person, to not have to rely on anyone else to take care of her. Britt’s first example of that necessity came from her parent’s relationship. So she made her own money and had a better living than most. The only reason she needed a man was to fill that space in her heart when she was ready for it to be filled, because she had everything else covered. Yes, she had some missteps along the way, but don’t we all?
You’ve said often that you don’t write romance novels, but some of your books are the most ‘romantic’ I’ve read. What distinguishes your work from the ‘romance’ genre?
I don’t go into any story involving a relationship with the intent that the characters are going to get together in the end and have that romance novel “happily ever after.” I write life as I see life, which means that sometimes characters end up together, and sometimes they don’t. And if they don’t, it won’t necessarily mean that their relationship ended badly. Sometimes when my characters ride off into the sunset one travels northwest and the other goes southwest, and they’re okay with that. That’s life.
Of all your work, which stories/books did you feel compelled to write?
To one degree or another I felt compelled to write all of them. I definitely have more affection for some, either because they’re based on something experienced or observed or because I liked the base idea. But so far everything I’ve written was something I wanted to write, or I should say, needed to get out of my head. That being said, I definitely have favorite stories. One is the upcoming novel series “Nightwalkers,” and also “The Hitman Chronicles.” My current release “With Benefits” was one that I had to get out of my system in its original version. The published book version is the answer to the writer’s “what if?”
Of all your work which was the hardest to write?
Technically, I’d say a short story (so far) Western tale titled, “The Black Gun.” For years I’ve had it in mind that one day I wanted to write an Old West novel. My father was a big fan of Westerns, so I inherited that from him. With all the cowboy movies and television shows I’d watched and Western novels I’d read as a kid, I thought it would be an easy and fun write. But when I started on “The Black Gun,” I realized that what seemed like a fun and easy write in imagination would be a chore if I wanted to do it right. I wanted to write something historically accurate—from the clothes and weaponry of the time and towns that existed back then, and I discovered that I had to do a ton of research. I probably researched more to complete two short stories for that one than I have for any full-length novel, even though I didn’t use much of the information I researched.
Emotionally, the hardest to write was the first (and still unpublished) “Insatiable” novel. That’s Simon Bishop’s story. I was going to title it “Memoirs of an Insatiable man.” The idea for the story came first, but as I began writing, real life began to mimic the fiction, so I had to put it aside because it became too tough to write. I might’ve canned the story completely, but a few months later I had the inspiration for a story about a woman who was hard on her exterior, but really yearned to be submissive. I needed a male protagonist for her story—“Elle”—and so I dusted off the Simon Bishop character and made him her guy. That got the “Insatiable” series started.
Now that you have a significant body of work under your belt, what’s your writing ambition? What do you want to do writing-wise that you have not yet done?
In the coming years I’m going to publish a lot more fiction under my real name rather than The Black, novels in every genre. My ambition is to be known not for a specific genre, but for writing things that will always be entertaining, and that will take readers away from their day-to-day for a few hours. “With Benefits” was the first of those. Next by Christopher Bynum will come “Nightwalkers,” and then “The Hitman Chronicles.” That being said, The Black has a hard drive full of first drafts yet to be published, so he’s not going away anytime soon. Stay tuned, because fun stuff is coming from both.
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