Ben Winters on Why He Writes About Loss
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Ben Winters about his novels The Quiet Boy, Golden State; the New York Times bestselling Underground Airlines, and many more.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: Why do you think loss is important in fiction and for characters?
Ben Winters: I think it makes a character—I hate the word relatable—but I think it makes a character call out to us because most of us have experienced some loss and it’s something we can understand and it’s a way for us to feel love for a character, or empathy for a character when even some of the decisions they make or the way that they hold themselves might not be ideal.
We also understand intuitively when a character has been hurt or is grieving that they have somewhere to go, that they need something and that the story—which is what all good stories do—is to provide a journey toward a satisfaction of that need in some way, usually in a surprising way. They might think they need one thing, but they really need something else and we’re going to take them there. So, I think, in one way or another at the beginning of a journey, a protagonist is generally not whole in some way. It’s not that they have to experience loss of a sibling or a spouse, but they are just missing something, something isn’t there and we’re going to find a way in the storytelling to either take them to that thing or take them to a place where they understand that’s not what they need, they need something else.
Ben H. Winters is the author of the novels The Quiet Boy, Golden State; the New York Times bestselling Underground Airlines; The Last Policeman and its two sequels; the horror novel Bedbugs; and several works for young readers. His first novel, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, was also a Times bestseller. Ben has won the Edgar Award for mystery writing, the Philip K. Dick award in science fiction, the Sidewise Award for alternate history, and France’s Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire. He also writes for film and television, and was a producer on the FX show Legion. He lives in LA with his family.