This month CTM read and reviewed the brilliant novel Black and White by Ben Burgess. Our five-star review can be read here. We were curious to get to know the man behind the words, so we interviewed him.
CTM: Hello nice to meet you! Tell us a bit about you. Where are you from and other than writing what else do you enjoy?
I grew up in Queensbridge which is located close to Astoria in Queens. I moved to Freeport, Long Island at the end of 7th grade. I have a Bachelors Degree in Business Management, and a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership. I currently work in Law Enforcement as an NYPD Detective. Being in that profession allows me to meet people every day, and it puts me in a lot of situations that are interesting and I can learn from them.
CTM: NYPD… Impressive!
CTM: How did you start writing? What was your inspiration to create?
It started with a teacher named Mrs. Marcus who motivated me. When I was in her 8th-grade class, I read Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” That book was life changing for me and I knew I wanted to one-day write something that could have the same effect on people. While in 8th grade, my English teacher Mrs. Marcus gave the class a poetry assignment. My poem was on basketball. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I remember she was blown away by it. She encouraged me to keep writing. She was one of my most influential teachers, and I promised her if I ever wrote a book, I would write a poem about the Holocaust for her. (She was Jewish and had family that were survivors). My dream was to publish a poetry book. I continued to write throughout high school and college.
My college professors told me I had talent as a poet and writer, so I decided to go to lounges that had open mics to perform my poetry. Hearing people cheer for me and appreciate my words, inspired me to keep writing. My first published book was a poetry book titled “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange.” I wrote a poem for Mrs. Marcus titled “Holocaust”, keeping my promise. The poem “Ugly” from “Times Have Changed and Life is Strange”, is the poem that inspired me to write my first novel “Monster.” I reflected on my life and felt it would be a good story that would teach and possibly change people’s lives the way Richard Wright’s “Native Son” had done for me.
CTM: Who is your favorite author, is there anyone out there that inspires you?
My favorite author is Eric Jerome Dickey. I will admit that the base of my writing style was inspired by him. He has encouraged me and even supported my first novel and that’s important and special to me. My biggest inspirations/motivations are my daughters. As a parent, I want nothing but the best for my children. I look at them as an extension of myself. I didn’t have a great childhood. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, I was insecure about myself, I lived in poverty, and I missed out on opportunities due to a lack of funds. While my childhood wasn’t the best, I had a great role model, my Mother. I watched my Mom struggle to pay bills, work two jobs, put herself through school all the way up to her doctorate, and moved us out of the bad neighborhood we lived in into a house in the suburbs. She did all of these tasks on her own. My Mother did the best she could to push for me to have better opportunities than she did. She pushed me to want more out of myself and to become the best person I could be. That is exactly what I want to do for my children. I want to instill in them a strong work ethic and will. I want my kids to realize that with hard work and dedication, they can do anything they put their minds to. I want them to see how I juggle being an NYPD detective, personal trainer, Father, and author. I love them and I want to be that positive role model they look up to like my Mother was for me. Every achievement, every award, every acknowledgment I receive, I want them to understand that I put 100% into everything I do. I pray that it pushes them to be great people.
CTM: Oh wow Ben, she is one of a kind. A strong woman in every sense.
CTM: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
My first novel was received well because many critics said it was different from anything they’ve read and was highly relatable. I wanted to continue to write books like that and bring respect and honor to the genre of African American/Urban Fiction. Many reviewers at first glance wouldn’t give my book a chance because they felt they wouldn’t be able to connect with the characters. After giving my book a chance, reviewers, critics, and readers began to realize that my books weren’t just for Black people, they related to everyone. In my own way, I feel my writing style helps to unite people. As far as writing the books goes, with “Monster,” that book was based on my personal life so it was somewhat easier to write. With my current books the process is different because I delve into some topics that I have no experience or knowledge about so I have to do a lot of interviews and research. “Monster” took me almost three years to write. I usually write one book a year now. I try to write something even if it’s just a sentence every day. I make a lot of voice memos with my cell phone so I can remember ideas and dialogues for characters.
CTM: Black and White is a pretty deep book, we loved it at CTM, please tell us where did the inspiration come from?
I felt this book was severely needed. Life in general inspired this book. I saw what was going on in society and in my personal life and I wanted to write something that could help improve the world. I put some personal life experiences in all of my books. “Ben”, “Ebony”, and even “Bill” and “Becky” are all parts of me. At times I felt like Ben where I felt my own race believed I wasn’t “black” enough and I was too “black” for some white people. I know the struggle of dealing with the public at protests like Ebony. I’m an NYPD Detective. Like Ebony, before I became a Cop, I hated cops and I became one to make a difference in the world. I’m heavily involved in urban communities and I’m in an interracial relationship. I’m similar to Becky because I wrote this book to change the world. I wouldn’t want to alter it or tone it down. I love this story the way it is and my writing is important to me. I’m similar to Bill because I grew up in Queens Bridge. Despite growing up in a low-income family, I didn’t let my environment hold me back. I’m also a huge basketball fan and play regularly. Some of the situations and even dialogues in the book I have actually had or have been involved with. I like to put some of my real experiences in my stories because I believe it helps them feel more authentic.
CTM: What was the hardest scene to write?
All of the racially charged scenes were hard to write. I didn’t want this book to be pretty and nice. I wanted it to show the ugliness of the world without being too morbid and depressing. While I show the ugliness, I wanted people to see that love makes it beautiful and we have to work and fight to make the world better. Writing the scenes about Ben’s past, writing any scene with Mr. Preston, writing scenes for Ebony and even Bill were hard because I wanted them to feel authentic. The book in general was hard to write.
CTM: As a reader, it all felt very well done and genuine, great job.
CTM: Did you edit anything out that you thought would be too controversial?
The best part about being an Indie author with my own publishing company (Legacy Books LLC) is that I can write my stories the way I want them. I don’t censor myself or cut anything out of my books.
CTM: Amen to that! It’s great unfiltered.
CTM: Do you think that Reggie or “Co-Kayne” the character is a typical case in the USA e.g. public enemy number #1, always guilty of something and misunderstood by the system ?
While I won’t make excuses, Reggie was a product of his environment. Some people don’t want to acknowledge that, but it does occur. I think given the situation he was in, his history and the fact that he had the blood of the victims on his clothes and was holding the gun, made it hard for anyone to have faith in his story. I don’t think it’s a typical case in the USA but I feel this helps to show that changes need to be made with Law enforcement and minority communities. Reggie’s attitude needed adjusting and so did Ben’s. Things have to be balanced and I think the tension between Reggie and Ben help to show readers that lesson. I feel there is mistrust on both sides when it comes to the Black Communities and the Police. I feel that both sides need to work on change and the only way that can happen is with dialogue. I want this book to help. I’m an NYPD Detective and I feel that it’s important that Cops acknowledge that there are some cops who are prejudice and pray on minorities but at the same time it’s important that minority communities don’t assume that every cop is corrupt and prejudice. I feel society forgets that cops are people too. I feel that sometimes some cops become so calloused from the job that they began to see minorities as bad. Balance is the key to everything. Understanding each other helps also. I talk to communities often and sometimes after I explain certain situations to the crowd, they understand things better and have less animosity. Sometimes the community members help me see things differently than I do through the lenses of being a cop. In order for the world to get better, we all have to change.
CTM: Ben the well-educated black male came across as very unsure of himself at times, not black enough for the black community, but acceptable by the white community as he was not stereotypical. He faced a lot of criticism from both sides, what advice would you give to black males who do well, try to achieve but are shunned by their own community as “not black enough” for them?
I face these problems every day and the advice I give to anyone facing these challenges would be: continue to be who you are and know who you are.
CTM: Becky Ben’s white girlfriend, at times came across as very needy as a woman, was this purposeful or were you trying to show a woman deeply in love?
I don’t think she came across as needy, but I felt she was a woman looking for acceptance. She didn’t feel accepted by her family. She didn’t have many friends, so she didn’t really feel accepted by her peers. Ben’s family and best friend didn’t care for her so she didn’t feel accepted by them. Becky struggled to get her book published so I feel she didn’t feel accepted or good enough with her skill as a writer. I think she evolves as the story goes. She fought against all of these things to show her love and devotion for Ben and sacrificed a lot at the end.
CTM: The love between Ben and Becky comes across as so heartfelt, was this easy to put across in writing for you as a male writer and not a typical “romance” writer?
I’m in an interracial relationship. For me, I thought about my experiences and emotions in my own relationship and that made it easier for me to write the emotional parts of the story.
CTM: Gabby Ben’s ex-love interest hung around for many years, hoping he and Becky would split. She made Becky’s life hell. She came across as a typical “bitter black woman” over their relationship. Ben told her it was down to her attitude why she is single. Why did Ben make that comment? Would you say this is a problem a lot of black women face, their attitude is too strong for a lot of black men?
I don’t think that all Black women’s attitudes are too strong for Black men. I also don’t feel that Ben was attributing her attitude to her race. Speaking personally as a man, it doesn’t matter what race a woman is, it is important for women not to emasculate a man they’re dating. A point can be made without being rude and blunt. You can still have tact and get your point across. Gabby wasn’t meant to come across as the “bitter black woman,” but she was created to show the frustrations that some women feel. She was frustrated with the way the world viewed Black women in the work force. She was frustrated with how she felt Black people were treated in the world in general, but she was never meant to come across as a bitter Black woman. I wrote her as a successful strong Black woman, but interviews like this are important because they help authors to clarify misinterpretations.
CTM: Thanks for the clarification, readers will always interpret things in their own way. It’s great to hear this from “the horse’s mouth” as they say, you the author.
CTM: Was it hard at all to write Gabby’s POV, as a black man stepping into the shoes of a black woman?
For my fans who are Black women, I wanted to write believable characters that echoed some of their thoughts and feelings. I felt Gabby was an important character that expressed some of the pain that Black women feel in relationships, in the business world, and in society. She doesn’t represent all Black women, which is why I show different types of people in my story but I wanted to pay respect to those women who think and feel like Gabby does.
CTM: Becky’s dad was a racist in every way, and unashamed of it. How was it writing from his POV?
It was difficult to write but a lot of the things Mr. Preston said in the book were things said to me and were based on my personal experience. In reality, I’d rather people be open and honest about not liking me than to smile in my face and pretended that they do. Mr. Preston was bad, but at least Ben knew where he stood with him.
CTM: Shocking, that’s really unpleasant to experience that and hear that was not all fiction.
CTM: Billy had his morals tested in every way as a white man defending another white man, who he knew was guilty of raping a black woman, even though Billy himself was in a relationship with a black woman himself– Ebony. Do you think many lawyers would still defend a guilty client, in Billy’s shoes?
Absolutely. As a lawyer, it’s part of their job. It isn’t pretty. I’m sure many don’t like to defend guilty clients, but under the law everyone is entitled to a fair trial. I think I showed the struggles Bill had with doing so, but I know for a fact this happens every day.
CTM: What was your message with Simone? Why did you write her POV and experiences as you did?
I wanted readers to understand that there isn’t a cookie cutter type of Black people. We’re all different and have different things we struggle with. Simone had a lot of self-hate and she handled the world differently from Gabby, Ebony, or Ben. I tried to do the same thing with Bill, Mr. Preston and Becky.
CTM: What are you writing now? And when will it be released?
I’m working on a book based on Mothers called “Mothers” and I hope to release it by Mother’s Day.
CTM: Thank you for joining us Ben, it’s been great to have you! Where can readers connect with you on Social Media?
Readers can contact me at Authorbenburgessjr@gmail.com
And that’s a wrap! Ben’s novel Black and White is out now, with thirty five star reviews on Amazon.com, at the time of publishing this interview. CTM’s review will make thirty one, will your review be next? Grab a copy from Amazon, it’s a must read.
About the Book
Title: Black and White
Author: Ben Burgess Jr
When the prestigious law firm of Wayne, Rothstein, and Lincoln catches two major cases—a rape case where a White NBA star allegedly raped a Black stripper, and a murder case where a Black rapper allegedly killed a gay couple and two policemen—Bill O’Neil and Ben Turner are tasked to handle these racially charged litigations. The cases hit emotional chords with the two lawyers and force them to reckon with their interracial relationships and families. Will the racial tension of their cases destroy them or make them stronger?
Ben Burgess Jr is the author of the award-winning novels “Monster,” “Wounded,” “Love and Happiness,” ” Daddy’s Girl,” and the new novel “Black and White.” He is an active performer of spoken word poetry. Ben Burgess Jr uses his love of writing to inspire and influence youths to strive for what they believe in and to never give up on their dreams. His novels “Monster” and “Wounded” are currently used in schools on the lower east side of Manhattan. Ben Burgess has a BA degree in Business Management and an MA degree in Educational Leadership. He is the proud father of his daughters Jaelynn and Jaclyn and he is active in trying to improve urban neighborhoods and communities.