Ben grew up in Northern California and has spent most of his life there. He lives in the East Bay Area with his wife and two children. He can be reached via his website at www.benmonroe.com and on Twitter @_BenMonroe_.
His new novel In the Belly of the Beast is set in the post-Cthulhupocalypse. It tells the story of a small group of human survivors trying to find a safe haven amidst the ruins of civilization. While traveling through a treacherous mountain pass, they find themselves caught between rival cults and discover there are worse things in the cold places of the world than frostbite. Based on the best-selling strategy game Cthulhu Wars, this book contains glimpses into the apocalyptic madness and chaos of this blasted world. The time is the near now, and the world trembles before Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones.
You can pick up at copy of In the Belly of the Beast on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2MYbccQ. Ben says, “The ebook is actually live on Amazon right now, but is scheduled for a free day on September 27th. The print edition is almost done and should be up soon.”
Did something in the real world inspire In the Belly of the Beast?
Kind of! The book is set in the world of the Cthulhu Wars board game, a strategy game of warring cults and Lovecraftian monsters in an awful post-apocalypse. One of the things I needed to do was to choose a couple of cults to focus on in the story. Per the publisher, one of the cults had to be Cthulhu and his loathly followers. The other was up to me.
I’ve long been fascinated by Wendigo mythology since reading Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” as a child. The “Windwalker” faction of the game is all about wendigos and the awfulness they bring. It seemed like a theme that not many Lovecraft Mythos writers ever touch on, so I decided to go with that.
As luck had it, my son’s Boy Scout troop had a snow-camping trip planned as I was working out the details. I didn’t really want to go, as I hate the snow. Spending a weekend being cold and wet sounded awful, but they were short a driver. If I didn’t go with them, the whole trip they’d been planning for months would have been cancelled. So I spent a weekend camping in the California Sierras in the middle of February. I tried to make the best of it, but it was predictably awful.
In the end, that trip influenced a lot of the story. I set the lion’s share of the tale right up there near where we’d been camping. My experience being cold, wet, and miserable for two days influenced the latter parts of the book when the awful wendigo magic summons up snowstorms in the middle of the summer.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
There’s a scene where the “Rime if Ithaqua” is spreading around, chasing the protagonists of the book out of their safe space. This awful crystalline fungus sort of thing seeps and grows, forming fractal tendrils as it crawls around the walls of the building, searching out for human flesh to feed on.
It was actually inspired by a part of a film I saw a few years ago, The Day After Tomorrow. It was a pretty awful action movie about the end of the world and a flash freeze that destroys civilization. There was this one scene, where the heroes of the movie are in a library in New York City, and they’re being chased by fractals of ice rushing down the hallway. The ice is growing along the walls as they run away from it. I watched that thinking, “This is pretty much the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie.”
But it stuck with me. Over time, I found myself thinking, “What if the ice wasn’t just growing fast because it was cold? What if there was some malevolent intent behind the ice? What if the ice was actually seeking out human warmth and flesh?” I kept that in mind when I started writing those parts of the book and had a lot of fun with them.
What was your writing process like as you wrote In the Belly of the Beast?
I’m an unrepentant “pantser” when it comes to writing fiction. I like to start with an idea for a scene, or maybe a character or two, and just hit the ground running.
With this book, however, I had a tight turnaround time. The publisher needed me to hand in the final draft in about 4 months, so I knew I had to focus. To help with that, I built a quick “structure” diagram using Joseph Campbell’s various stages of his Hero’s Journey theory. I simply named each of my chapter folders in Scrivener after one of the stages of the Hero’s Journey and started writing.
I don’t know if I necessarily followed along his path (which can itself be constraining), but it really helped to keep me focused. Almost like taking a meandering road trip and seeing signs on the side of the road, giving you an idea of how far until the next turnoff.
In addition to that, the publisher had requested a few elements that I needed to include at the end of the book (essentially a big fight between two specific factions from the Lovecraft mythos). So I kept that in mind as an end point.
Aside from that, I was really able to write the story very loosely. I made a point to sit with the manuscript for at least an hour a day (I never managed more than three hours in any given day) during the period I was writing it. Usually I’d reread the previous day’s writing before jumping in to whatever I was doing that day. I also found that ending the day’s writing when I was getting really excited about it helped me a lot. I got so jazzed to come back to the page the next day, that I’d make sure to get my writing in as soon as I could.
As a freelance writer, and stay-home parent, I did have the luxury of fitting my writing in throughout the day in small chunks, if I needed to. And having Scrivener’s daily word count tracker helped me to keep an eye on the volume I was doing each day. My target word count was somewhat flexible, but it helped me a lot to just see how much progress I was making each day.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of In the Belly of the Beast?
That’s an interesting question. For the most part, my publisher has taken on all the duties associated with promoting the book. I’ve been talking it up on Twitter and Facebook and pretty much to anybody who’ll listen, but they’ve got a pretty huge customer base and have been talking it up to them a lot.
The best thing for me is just seeing how excited people are for the book. I’m really happy with the content and enjoyed writing it. I just hope the people looking forward to it enjoy it, too.
What do you have planned next?
I’m currently writing a graphic novel script for the same publisher. It’s based on their Planet Apocalypse board game and is a lot of fun. Never written a comic script before, so I’m learning a lot.
And I’m about 10k words into another novel now. It’s a ghost story with a decidedly cosmic horror angle to it. Hoping to be able to finish it this year and start shopping it around in early 2019.
You can follow Ben’s work at amazon.com/author/benmonroe.