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Donna Fletcher Crow

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Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

Fay Sampson

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Fay Sampson (UK) is a writer of adult and children's fiction and non-fiction, including A MALIGNANT HOUSE, #2 in the Susie Fewings series, a British Crime Club Pick. http://www.faysampson.co.uk

Where Ben Ends and Life Begins

By Donna Fletcher Crow ~ November 19, 2010

Donna: My guest today is one of my favorite authors, Sally Wright, creator of the exquisitely written Ben Reese Mysteries.  Sally, tell us about Ben— the man in the books, the real-life man and the man who lives in your head. 

Sally: It's funny how writing a series of books about an ongoing character ends up making you feel as though you're talking about yourself.
I've been writing novels about Ben Reese, a university archivist in the early 1960s who'd been a behind-the-lines scout in WWII, for almost fifteen years, and he appears to have taken up permanent residence somewhere between my ears.
I can't say I'm anything like him. I was born after WWII. And I couldn't survive the physical and emotional strain a scout with Army Intelligence is called upon to ignore. I'm a princess-and-the-pea wimp whose only experience with life-and-death risk-taking comes from riding horses, which I find so irresistible they've made me overcome my fear of blood and broken bones.
Neither do I know how it feels to lose my husband the way Ben lost his wife (which is partly why I killed her off, so I could work through what that's like).
Of course, I am really interested in what Ben does - the painting, paper, and book restoration; the detective work in identifying and evaluating coins, rare books, and all the other arcane artifacts donors give his college. I always get very caught-up in the research-driven travel his job often requires.
And if I hadn't written the Ben Reese books my life would be poorer and shallower. I wouldn't have studied a lot of strange subjects that taught me things I'm glad I know - history, first of all (Scottish, English, early American, WWII, and naturalist-explorers), falconry and equine behavior, stone carving and bits of obscure science, the Soviet Venona Code's decrypted revelations.
But it's knowing the real man Ben Reese is based on that's deepened my understanding of what it means to be human. He's an ex-WWII Army Scout, a citizen-soldier on his way to ninety, who made his life as an archivist, while earning a lot of degrees. Initially, he sidestepped my questions about what he'd done in the war. Eventually, he opened his world and worked with me on the books. He now says it's given him closure - and that makes writing all six novels worth the time and effort.      
His bread-and-butter every-night gig in Europe in '44 and '5 was tracking German command posts, killing the occupants silently, photographing their documents, reporting back on the German lines to the Intel group of whatever Army had sent him out that night. For John Reed never had a "band of brothers" - he got shipped where they needed him most. Where he watched the ones attached to him die too fast to remember.
I couldn't have written the fight scenes without John demonstrating in his living room, where he helped me with the plots too, and the feelings a wounded soldier would have if he'd lived a life like Ben's.
Even so, only Watches Of The Night has flashback scenes to the war. The rest have safer, more scenic settings (populated with horses and dogs Ben can't keep from rescuing) - till a murderer makes the kind of hole left by a stolen life.
The way Ben reacts to murder, and sees his own choices, makes me consider the "permanent things" (as T.S. Eliot called them) in order to write the books: goodness and evil, justice and mercy, grief and loss and comfort; the importance of every decision we make, the meaning of life here and hereafter, the kind of Mind there might be behind both - which may be worth considering. 
All of that leads me, in the small hours of the night, to, "What would I have done without editors who liked Ben?" I can't imagine having been here without him, and his take on what's important. I'd be living life as a mental amputee. Which shows you how weird writers are. (And makes me wonder if I'm ready to do the new series I've started.)

 

 

 

Sally Wright, a 2001 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Alan Poe Award Finalist, has studied rare books, early explorers, painting restoration, WWII tech-teams, the Soviet Venona Code, and more, to write her university-archivist-ex-WWII-Scout books about Ben Reese, who's based on a real person. Watches Of The Night (set here, and in Britain and Italy), and Code Of Silence (a prequel that deals with a real-life Soviet code) came out in 2008.

Sally and her husband live in Ohio.

Donna Fletcher Crow (US) is the author of forty-some books, mostly novels dealing with the history of British Christianity. She is the author of The Monastery Murders series; The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime series; The Elizabeth & Richard literary mysteries, GLASTONBURY,A Novel of the Holy Grail and more. www.donnafletchercrow.com

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Reader Comments:

Welcome Sally, it's such fun to introduce you to my readers today. Thank you for the great article.
-Donna, November 19, 2010

Thank you, Donna, for introducing Ben Reese to your readers. If anyone has any questions I'll be happy to answer them.
-sally wright, December 1, 2010

It's a delight to have you, Sally. Best wishes to both you and Ben.
-Donna, December 1, 2010

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