Jon Bennett talks with Book Glow about the writing of his debut novel Reading Blue Devils, in which the American education system is turned inside out when a frustrated teacher incites his students to stage an uprising. The book is available from Open Books Direct.
Describe Reading Blue Devils in one sentence.
Teacher, with guidance from the Devil, corrupts students with literature in order to overthrow the school and its mascot: potty-humor, choice language, and snack food abound through the story.
What led you to write it?
I had a short-story idea about the Devil appearing to a marketing executive as a Twinkie. That idea turned into a bigger story because I had begun my teaching career and thought there was a greater story I could tell from the Devil corrupting a human (in this case, an English teacher like myself).
How long did it take to write?
Eight years! Though college and bachelorhood broke up much of my focus.
Do you prefer writing in one genre over another?
When I write fiction, I tend to veer into humor with a healthy dose of satire. Maybe it’s from being a high school teacher, but I find it is hard to take stories too seriously when there’s such a great opportunity to highlight the absurdity of our everyday lives.
What book most influenced your life?
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was the first one. I went to an all-boy private school, and while my family wasn’t impoverished, I had a more solidly middle-class upbringing than my affluent peers. The novel resonated with the identity crisis I was going through, in addition to just being a solid story. The second book is The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Dubois. I grew up White and unaware that there are varying American experiences. This book shattered me in the best of ways.
Where do you write?
Two main places: Panera (or Starbucks if one is not nearby) and on my bed after my daughter goes to sleep.
Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
Besides humans not having a recording device inside our minds that can transcribe our thoughts onto paper? If that doesn’t count, I’d say editing my own jumbled writing, which tries to sound eloquent and poetic but ends up sounding like gibberish.
Any advice for novice writers?
Write everything down. I’ve lost great ideas from the shower or on the road by not recording them. Also, don’t be afraid to write every idea into the story’s first draft. You can prune (or straight up burn) the excess parts upon future edits.
I am about 60,000 words into my second novel, Jonah, which is a retelling of the Bible story with a modern twist and more choice language and humor. It is set in Chicago.