About C. Michael Bennis
Former toy and advertising executive C. MICHAEL BENNIS again turns his attention to writing with the coming-of-age adventure Ralph’s Place II, his fifth book. Bennis, an author and speaker, lives in Arizona.
I write fast, but I have no compass. Every story begins with an idea and I always think I know where it will take me. I begin writing very early in the morning and I drink lots of strong coffee. In the beginning, I have an excellent idea of what the characters will do. However, as the story develops, I begin to loose control and the personalities I have created take over. It’s disconcerting.
In the love story, The Signs of Destiny, I was miserable when Alison jumped into bed with another man and purposely jilted Rafael, the main character. I became furious and my wife would tell you I was impossible to live with for ten days. Strangely, by loosing control, I had a better story, and I emerged with greater love for Alison.
I find story ideas from real life experiences, and the setting for the plot always occurs in my favorite places (London, Paris, Praia da Luz, Pamplona, Madrid, Barcelona, Santa Fe and all of Mexico). Not surprisingly, these are places with powerful early morning sunlight and thunderous storms. I always return to what I know—perhaps it’s nostalgia.
For example, Rules of Engagement is pure imagination based the unforgettable memory of a special young woman whom I met when I was in London to pick up my car. Although the relationship never progressed beyond London, I began to wonder about young love lost for so many years and then found again. That’s how the story came together and became placed in a background I knew and loved.
Similar to Alec Santana, I played football for the University of Colorado, and later sold advertising space for important financial publications to New York City Ad agencies and clients. Also, I once rented the villa in Praia da Luz for the purposes of writing a novel, and I will forever share Alec’s love for the Algarve.
My background includes a legacy for contact sports from my father, Chuck Bennis, who distinguished himself in football at the University of Illinois under coach Robert Zuppke. Dad was co-captain and All American, and years later he was named the I-Man of the Year and elected to the University of Illinois 25-man All-Century Football Team.
Some of you may recall a 1951 film staring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, called That’s My Boy. It’s a comedy about a father trying to turn a hopeless son into a football great. I know the story because that’s how I was raised. Dad was unerring in his dedication to turn a skinny, self-conscious son into a football player. There were pushups in the morning, quick starts in the afternoon, pull-ups before dinner and repetitive training with every imaginable exercise, yes boxing too. I was so ready for the beginning of football my senior year in high school that I had to wait an entire week to join the team due to a serious pre-season concussion, where I lost all memory of that summer.
Who I am and the way I think have much to do with Lincoln, Illinois where I grew up. The town is flat. The surrounding land is flat with rich soil that’s perfect for raising corn and soybeans. In summer, the cornfields block your vision and in winter you can see forever, but there is nothing to see. About the winters, don’t ask! You’d love it if you have the blood of a penguin.
When I was a boy, Lincoln had a 4,000 resident mental institution and that facility contributed to the town’s population. Do the math: you will see that one in three Lincoln residents had a few whims the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln never anticipated.
I attended Lincoln’s grade school and high school and played three sports. The place was a paradise with pretty girls, Rec. Center dances, country fairs and a town where everyone knew one another. There was a splendid hotel, an opera house and outside the town were streams where I could camp out all night with my dog and catch fish.
Growing up in Lincoln, I almost daily passed a local Odd Fellows Orphanage, and I played basketball in their gym. In the novel, The Iberian Jaguar, the orphanage becomes a place where young boys take on nicknames from the cat family and form forever friendships. For the story, I have selected a successful businessman from the orphanage to be mistakenly kidnapped by a Basque terrorist in Spain.
In The Signs of Destiny, I have adapted a fascinating real life tragedy that was told to me by a lovely Liverpool ‘scouser’ I met on the beach in Las Palmas, Grand Canary. It’s the story of a young woman who visits a spiritualist and panics when she refuses to ‘read’ the lines of her hand. Later, the woman learns of the horrible death she will experience in her 24th year. Sadly, I lost contact with the scouser and I never learned what happened.
The fourth book, Dangerous and Desirable, takes place in New York City and Culiacán. Mexico has always been a destination, and once I attended Mexico City College when it was on the highway to Toluca. This is a love story about two individuals who willingly go into harms way amidst narcotraficantes and drug lord violence to save a teenage girl.
It’s strange how I get where I’m going without a compass, and stranger yet how the characters I create have the audacity to infuriate me when they operate on their own.