Benjamin Cheah is a speculative fiction writer from Singapore. A freelancer by trade, he has served two years in the Singapore Armed Forces. He is also the cofounder of sociopolitical website The Online Citizen.
How would you describe your story in one sentence?
Keepers of the Flame is a clash of civilizations for the future of America: an austere, militaristic empire; a liberal democracy/national security state, riddled through with internal contradictions; or a technocracy that elevates technology over humanity.
What inspired you to write your story/characters/theme?
The original inspiration for the American Heirs series (of which Keepers of the Flame is the first entry) came from Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. I gravitated to their realistic portrayal of futuristic technologies, their exploration of what it means to be human, their general cynicism towards politics and terrorism, and the overall aesthetics of post-apocalyptic environs juxtaposed against shining cities. Couple that with overall angst over the direction America will take, the future of warfare and terrorism, and I had the seed for American Heirs.
Which authors have influenced you?
Off the top of my head: Barry Eisler, Tom Clancy, Andy McNab, Chris Ryan, Marcus Wynn, Brad Taylor, Peter Nealen, Jack Murphy, Jim Butcher, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, John C. Wright, Masamune Shirow, Hiromu Arakawa, and Nobuhiro Watsuki.
Which are your favorite literary genres?
I read all sorts. These days I drift towards thrillers, science fiction and fantasy.
What makes a book/story special for you?
A marriage of realistic characters, powerful ideas, tight plotting, and effective prose to tell a story.
Where do you live? Did your hometown/country/culture influenced your story?
Singapore. It influenced me to see the world from the perspective of East and West, to use technology and look to the future…and not to write boring non-stories.
How long you needed for writing this book/for your first draft/ for your revision/editing process?
Call it six months from the first word to final edits.
Did you hire a cover artist/editor/proofreader?
Cover artist, yes. Fiona Jayde from Fiona Jayde Media.
What have you learned while writing and publishing? Did unexpected things happened?
I learned about my writing preferences and the character archetypes I gravitated towards while writing. I learned how to create worlds, juggle and track multiple plot threads, and to never settle for anything but 110% of what I can do. As for publishing, I learned I had to budget twice as much time and money I thought I would need to account for emergencies.
A number of unexpected things occurred, primarily during the writing phase. I had to revise characters, cut scenes, rewrite chapters…the final product was markedly different than the original concept, but I think it’s also more focused.
What helped you to get inspired and overcome hurdles along the writing of your book?
The recognition that I had only myself to count on. Either I got it done or the story would never get done.
What would you do differently on a next project?
Take lots of notes, plan carefully, and anticipate problems before writing.
Best piece (s) of advice for first time writers?
Write. Writers write. If you do not write you are not a writer.
Where can readers contact you in the internet? Do you have a blog/website?
What are you planning to write/publish next?
I’m going to publish a few short stories in anthologies from a couple of small presses, and am working on final edits for a science fantasy thriller. My next novel proper will be a space opera/hard military science fiction epic that follows a love story set against the backdrop of an interstellar war spanning 23 light-years and four decades.