MA: My guest today is likely familiar with the term, “Zoomie,” but I won’t use it. I promise to be nice. Ben Malisow was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the Air Force Academy, where he took a Bachelor of Science degree in History. After that, he served four years as an Operations Management officer, stationed in Korea, South America, and Las Vegas. After leaving the military, he worked as an actor, then as a journalist. A few years later, he went to work as a security consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. His clients have included the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and the FBI. He completed an MBA at that time. He also used to teach English at the College of Southern Nevada, and computer classes at a reform school in the Clark County School District. Ben is now employed as program manager for an environmental engineering firm, does some freelance writing and consulting, and keeps dabbling in acting when he’s allowed. He says he has an “extremely tolerant girlfriend,” and a “confused dog.”
Ben, welcome. It seems like you’ve done a little bit of just about everything. Describe the highs and lows.
BM: I had a misspent youth, where I went to the Air Force Academy and took a history degree. Then I served for four years, in Korea, Las Vegas, and South America. Then I hit the gutter: I worked as an actor and a journalist, took an MBA, and finally reached rock bottom with a stint in the Beltway as a federal security contractor, providing services to a variety of alphabet-soup-named clients. I later took the most harrowing gig of my life when I became a teacher for 6-12-graders in a reform school, and an English professor at a community college. I’m now in the environmental remediation field, doing program management tasks, and going to school again.
MA: Thanks for your service, by the way. I live across the highway from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO…a truly beautiful campus. I’ve also served in Korea (twice, must have gotten someone angry with me)! What brought you to write books?
BM: It kind of chose me. I’ve yet to sell any fiction, and publishers approach me about doing nonfiction gigs. My first publisher was one of my former editors from when I was in newspapers, and it just kind of went from there.
MA: Tell us about what you’ve written.
BM: I’m what’s called a “hack” by writers, and a “whore” by normal people. I’ll write anything for money. My first book is 1,001 Things To Do If You Dare, and it’s a simple amusement, the kind of thing you can pick up anywhere, flip open, and (hopefully) be entertained. My second, Criminal Investigations: Terrorism, was a brief, cursory overview of terrorism, for a high school audience. I’ve contributed to a number of other works, including everything from a book about weddings to one about a female politician from Alaska.
MA: I wonder who that Alaskan politician could be…? Anyway, so has your real life influenced your writing, especially given the diversity of jobs you’ve had?
BM: Sure. Most of the things in the first book were activities I was familiar with from personal experience…about two-thirds of them, in fact. Mostly, this was because of my varied professions– I’d done most of those things for work, at one time or another. Looking back, many of them were painfully stupid endeavors only a young man would engage in (or an older man desperately trying to be young). The conceit of objectivity is one I find ridiculous: the writer also brings a personal vision to the party, and that enters the work, whether you want to pretend it does or not. If done well, it adds to the story; poorly, it can ruin it. But to claim that you can write without having insight or opinion is ludicrous and nonsensical.
MA: I’d have to agree with that! So what’s next?
BM: Well, I’ve still got a novel and a few dozen stories in the can, and several I haven’t finished yet. I’ve pitched a few book ideas at several publishers, both fiction and nonfiction. Basically, I’ll keep doing as I’ve always done: throwing stuff out there, seeing if anyone will buy it, and taking whatever opportunities come along, as long as they don’t personally offend me.
Iam not averse to writing more on any topic I’ve already written about, in either books or articles or essays or columns. If someone wants me to do it, I’ll write about it, mostly. There have only been a couple things I’ve turned down, on principle or cowardice.
MA: You’re a very non-traditional type of writer; there’s no doubt. I’m curious about your vision for the future of the writing industry?
BM: Professional writing, as it is now, will go away soon, and writers are not yet coming to terms with that. The concept of a “writer,” which has existed for only a couple hundred years, is going to evaporate as technology overtakes the written word, and everyone becomes a “recorder” or viewer– none of us professional, all of us capable. When a kid with a cell phone can break an important story by posting a video for worldwide consumption, the notion of some adult specifically paid to go and look at stuff, and write about it, is absolutely inane.
In the meantime, those of us who like to read and write, and can scrape together a few coins for doing either, should enjoy it as best we can.
MA: Thanks very much for coming to my blog today! Visit Ben Malisow at his website for more information about him and his books: http://www.benmalisow.com/