Guest Writers · On Writing · Publishing · Writing Life

Broadcast Wasteland Debuts! Interview with Ben Van Dongen

Local sci-fi writer Ben Van Dongen has published another book! The man is prolific, I tell you! He is one of the many writers who have books launching during this wild and strange time. Let’s continue to show our support for writers everywhere by doing what we can to buy their books, talk about their books, and talk to them! I sent Ben some questions via email to get us acquainted with his newest literary endeavour, Broadcast Wasteland.

Here’s the synopsis:

On a distant colony world taken over by a rogue corporation, a hacker risks everything to intercept and distribute the one remaining piece of freedom, the Broadcast. When an old friend’s betrayal leaves him with an ultimatum, his only hope is the latest message hidden in the signal. Now, he must escape the city, hoping past comrades will stand up to the tyrannical corporation. With soldiers and highly trained corporate Operatives hunting him down, he must find the source of the Broadcast before he’s sent to work in the mines, if they don’t kill him first.

VS: Congratulations on another completed book in your hands! How are you feeling about ‘Broadcast Wasteland’ being completed?

BVD: Honestly, I’m feeling a little conflicted with the new book. Ultimately, I’m happy with the end product, but it was a different experience from the last book, The Neon Heart. Neon Heart came much easier and I was more sure of the story when it was finished. That bogged me down when editing Broadcast Wasteland, but in the end, I think I wrote a better book.

VS: How did you come up the story for ‘Broadcast Wasteland’? Is it a continuation of a previous book? Give us a bit of info on the storyline…

BVD: If I remember correctly, I got the idea from one of the podcasts I listen to. Maybe, 99% Invisible. I had heard a story about how in communist occupied Europe there were copies of British microcomputers but no software to use on them. Some radio stations would broadcast programs over the air so that people could record them to tape and use them on their computers. The idea fascinated me and I knew I wanted to tell a story about that. While writing The Neon Heart, the plot for Broadcast Wasteland worked itself out in my head. The only thing I had to really figure out after that was how to connect it to the shared universe. I’ll leave that for the readers to discover.

VS: From start to finish – how long did it take you to complete this book? Was the writing process for this book different than for your other books?

BVD: I’ve been trying to shrink how long it takes me to do a first draft, so I really dug into writing Broadcast. I started in September and wrote every day until it was finished. I think it was about 49 days, some more productive than others. The speed was helpful in making a cohesive story. Editing took longer than it had with the other books in the series, though. Partially because of my uncertainty with the story being so different from Neon Heart, which received a lot of praise, and partially due to my beta readers either taking longer than usual, or not being available. I got it finished before my April deadline, though. Just before.

VS: You write sci-fi…do you ever get a tickle to write in a different genre? If so, what genre?

BVD: I write sci-fi mostly because those are the types of ideas that come to me. It’s a genre I love and where I feel most comfortable. I have ideas for other genres that I would love to get to some day. There isn’t one in particular that I am eager to try, but one fantasy story keeps coming back to me. Maybe when I’m more established.

VS: What other creative projects are you working on? (Including helping other writers/beta-reading/copy editing/etc..)

BVD: I recently finished writing a comic for Glen Hawkes, the artist who did the cover for Neon Heart. He has a long running series, The Misadventures of Bowling Ball and asked if I could try my hand at a script. It was a challenge as I had little experience with comics. He seemed to think it was good enough to draw, though. So, that is in the works. I recently did the layout for Brittni Brinn’s new book, which will be coming out under Adventure Worlds Press, I believe this summer. AWP is the publishing collective I help run. I have done beta reads and edits for others in the past, but no one has asked lately.

VS: Why is it important to attend writing retreats? Tell us about your experience with them…and what works/doesn’t work?

BVD: That’s a hard one to answer as I’m not sure my writing retreats are the same as others. I am a big proponent for writing groups and physically meeting with friends to get work done. It’s helped me keep productive countless times. With that in mind, I have gone away with some of those friends a few times to spend a weekend dedicated to writing. It’s a good way to get a push with writing or editing on a project that needs a lot of work. Some retreats are better than others and that mostly depends on the group attending and the project you’re working on. I’ve been lucky with the folks I’ve gone with, but I can see how one disruptive person could ruin the time for everyone else.

VS: If one of your books could be made into a film, who would direct? Give us a list of actors who’d play the roles.

BVD: I don’t think I can answer this one. I’ve played the game with other writers before and I always come up blank. I’m no longer versed enough with movies to confidently say.

VS: Any thoughts on isolation? Being home and not working the ‘day job’, and how it’s affecting your creativity?

BVD: It’s been nice to be able to write nearly every day. Again, I’m lucky enough to have writer friends who help hold each other accountable. We log on about the same time each day and work separately together. It’s not the same as being in the same space, but knowing they’re working too helps me focus. I find, even with the increase in productivity, I still feel guilty, as there is always more time to write. I try to reassure my self that there is always room to grow and sometimes even a little progress is good enough.

VS: How’s your gaming life these days? What games are you playing the most? Does gaming inspire any of your writing?

BVD: I play too many games, from a regular D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) session (which I am lucky enough to have a good group to play with) to video games. Not to be too contrarian or perhaps pretentious, but I think everything in our lives is a story idea waiting to happen. A good story or experience in any media can inspire. Currently, I’ve been playing a lot of Forza Horizon 4 (I am a fan of driving games) and I started No Man’s Sky. The latter is a big one that requires more time than I’m currently willing to give it. I plan on going back, but for now, I’m trying to get my daily routine in order and spending five, eight, or more hours in a day playing a game doesn’t fit. (Though, I’ve been known to reach those hours when I’m not careful).

VS: What book(s) are you reading right now or have perhaps finished since you’ve been off work?

BVD: I’m currently reading, Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Crowshaw and I’m listening to the Dark Tower series by Stephen King through the library. I have a bad habit of reading voraciously while the books are good and stopping dead when I hit one that doesn’t tickle my fancy. I started the quarantine poorly, but I’ve been picking up the pace in the last week or so. Hopefully the list will grow before I go back to the day job.

VS: Do you read/listen to the news? How does this affect your creativity?

BVD: I try to keep up to date with current events and prefer to get my news over the radio. The hourly updates on CBC are a good way to get a brief overview of stories and when something needs more attention, I look it up online. I try to not let things I can’t do anything about bog me down, but sometimes there are stories in there, and sometimes there are things we can do that may seem insignificant, but are worth the effort. Like stay home right now.

VS: What are your top three go-to procrastination actions? Do you think that on some level, procrastination is actually helpful?

BVD: I’m not sure if you mean ways that I procrastinate or things I do to get my self to stop. I’m bad for starting. Sometimes the hardest part is to just get going. Having a group that can encourage and sometimes scold is a big help to me. Those writing sessions with friends make a big difference for me. I’m as bad for getting ready to write as the next writer, but knowing people are waiting for you helps. I’m not sure if it’s the same thing as procrastination, but I believe that some days the writing isn’t happening and pushing through isn’t always the solution. I’ve had some good breakthroughs cutting a writing session short and spending the day cleaning or doing chores and the perfect solution works itself out in my head.

VS: You’re stuck in a space ship headed to a new inhabitable planet – what three people, three types of food, and three books will you bring?

BVD: I’m a fan of savoury food more than sweet (not saying I don’t get sugar cravings) and pickles are my favourite, so that has to be at the top of the list. I’d put pizza after that and then round it out with some sour candy like CHEWS or something. As for books, that’s a really tough question. It’s not a perfect book, but I’ve read Ready Player One a few times and I think I’m likely to read it again. I’d argue that the Hitchhiker’s Guide was one story and should be counted as one book, but I’d take Life The Universe and Everything if I was forces to choose one. The I’d take my favourite and the book that made me want to write books, The Philip K. Dick Reader. I wouldn’t subject people to being stuck with me in a space ship. It would be far too cruel. I would likely go crazy, but I’d go it alone.


If you are interested in buying Ben’s new book, Broadcast Wasteland, connect with him via his socials and he’ll do his best to get a copy to you. I got mine delivered to my doorstep, and I paid for it via e-transfer. Thanks Ben!

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