Benjamin Kane Ethridge talks ‘Dungeon Brain’

As an author, Benjamin Kane Ethridge came out of the gate strong, winning a Bram Stoker Award for his first novel, the Halloween tale Black & Orange. He quickly followed that up with another critically acclaimed book, Bottled Abyss, along with a steady stream of short stories and essays.

He is currently on an extensive blog tour to promote his latest novel, Dungeon Brain, and I’m pleased to welcome him today to October Country.

OC: Multiple personalities are an integral part of your new novel, Dungeon Brain. What kind of research did you do on multiple personality disorder? Were you looking for a realistic take on it, or creating something more fanciful?

BKE: Hi there and thanks for having me in this interview. I approached the material in a fanciful manner. I love what-if questions while tuning up my concepts for stories. For this novel I had a what-if moment regarding multiple personalities, in that they could be more than just figments of a mentally sick imagination. What if the “others” were actual people who had been consumed and trapped in this person’s mind, by some kind of extrasensory power?

How did you approach making the personalities distinct, yet still a part of one character? Or was that a consideration?

For much of the book, my main character is struggling with chemically induced amnesia. She doesn’t have a point of reference to these people in her head. In a sense, she’s blindly groping around the halls of morality, trying to figure out if these people are just or unjust. Most of the residents of her head came from a prison colony — so they are criminals, but as we all know, crimes don’t always define a person’s nature, good or bad. So the main character, June, is addressing these personalities like a blank slate; she has nothing to judge them by, and in a sense, is forging a new personality since her previous one is clouded from the amnesia. This makes the other personalities quite distinct since she has nothing but objectivity to go on.

One of the things that frightens me the most about the idea of multiple personalities is the loss of control. That’s a real-life concern that has often been used in fiction. What are the “real” things (outside of genre tropes like monsters and ghosts) that scare you the most?

This is an extension of fear of losing control, but I’m afraid of the randomness of life. I begin each new day and hope it’s similar in structure to the others before it. Mother Nature. Human Nature. Social Nature. It can all introduce frightening scenarios that nobody can anticipate and I fret over unexpected outcomes.

You once described Dungeon Brain as “dark sci-fi” – is it difficult to straddle the horror and sci-fi genres, to bring in enough of both to stay balanced and to satisfy fans who maybe lean more toward one genre than the other?

I’m not really in a place to say either way yet. This is my first novel venturing (modestly) into science fiction, and I haven’t had a boatload of feedback yet. On the writing level, I just wanted to make an entertaining and, at best, enlightening story and science fiction showed up, unannounced. I hope people who have enjoyed my dark fantasies will also enjoy the dark sci-fi as well.

What’s something we should know about the new novel that maybe we haven’t learned from the publicity, excerpts, etc. available up to this point?

I’ve always been a fan of labeling a book in exactly the specific genre and subgenre it falls into, but publishers normally like cut and dry Science Fiction or Fantasy or Horror. This novel, Dungeon Brain, would technically be Dark Military Science Fantasy. That’s a mouthful and I don’t think bookstores will ever have a section for it, but despite never seeing it termed that way, to me, it’s a great label.

You won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel for Black & Orange – in terms of the pressure that was on you to follow that up with Bottled Abyss and now Dungeon Brain, was that win a blessing or a curse?

To be truthful, I feel the need to say it is both a blessing and a curse, but then I also suspect that’s a cop out and I have to take a bold stance. I’m going to go with “blessing.” The award has made me work harder to put out better work at a faster rate. It’s more difficult than when I was an unpublished novelist, constantly questioning whether I was wasting my time or not. In those days I could write at my leisure, whenever the muse cracked its whip. Now the whip has been turned around and the muse has to fall in line. It’s more of a job now in this fashion but if it wasn’t challenging than it wouldn’t be worthwhile.

You’re doing a lot of interview as part of your blog tour to support the new book – what’s a question that you wish you would get asked, but never do?

Good question! I never get asked what I’m never asked. Now I’m lost in a logic loop and have no way to answer this.