Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest today, Dr. Michael Ian Benjamin author of Oranit Crossed Lines. Dr. Benjamin was born in Leeds, UK and has been living in Israel since 1969.
He served as a psychiatrist in the Israeli army and has worked as the Director of Psychiatric Community Center, and was a consultant to the Rehabilitation Unit of The Ministry of Defense, the Israeli Defense Industry. He presently serves on Danger Assessment for the involuntarily hospitalized, and works with sex offenders and severely disturbed behavioral problems. He was the chair of the local football team and has promoted tolerance especially with his Arab neighbors with whom he still has excellent relations. This was a direct consequence of his undying love and unswerving support of Leeds United soccer team.
Michael is a founder member of Oranit and was Chair of the Oranit Local Committee. He was instrumental in setting up the municipality and he was a member of the Samaria Area Council and is a very active member of national political parties.
Norm: Good day Michael and thanks for participating in our interview.
Michael: Good day to you Norman too. Thank you for inviting me here.
Norm: How did you get started in writing?
Michael: I began writing almost by mistake. When I was, a kid being dyslexic was really a handicap. In those days if you could not spell, it did not matter what you wrote or how you wrote it. As I am also quite deaf for some strange reason, pronunciation was not very good, so I hated that reading aloud in class. So how did I get started?
It was by mistake really. I will explain that: in the Yom Kippur war, I was treating many shell-shocked soldiers. I was quite attached to a few of them and one in particular. He had a very dramatic story and instead of writing it up as a case history, I wrote it up as a story in English. I showed it to the editor of the psychiatric journal in Israel and had some reason, which only he knows it was published.
People started coming up to me and asking why I don’t write more. Even so, I didn’t take much notice. I do write almost every day to newspapers, mainly in the UK answering or commenting on articles, which are generally, in my opinion, slanted or superficial. I noticed then that I was getting positive replies. My brother always supported me and encouraged me to write.
Then there was an election in Oranit which is a place where I have been very very active politically since its founding. While testing the waters to see if my candidature was viable I realized that it wasn’t. However, one of the people who I sounded out told me that he thought I could write a story about Oranit in capturing most of its history; warts and all. So I did just that.
What keeps me going?
Stubbornness. When I wrote my first version, the woman who edited the book was hyper- critical. I was insulted at her very harsh remarks. Then I realized that a real friend is one who tells you the truth. So I read her comments, took them on board and started all over again. I found that I was taking material from many places. It came from Oranit, from my wartime experiences, from my particular political experiences, and from individual family issues, including how our parents had managed to leave us a substantial amount of money. The thoughts percolated through my head, and slowly the plot was born. That’s only part of the answer, the other part was my determination to leave something behind about Oranit. Oranit for me is more than obsession; I really believe that being a founder of Oranit and seeing so much happened here has been a central part of my life
Norm: What helps you focus when you write and do you find it easy reading back your own work?
Michael: Norm, one day I was sat in a meeting with a superb friend who is an expert in attention disorder. I turned her and whimsically stated I thought that maybe I had an attention disorder. She replied that I should have no doubt. In her opinion, I definitely have an attention disorder. She wondered why I had even wondered about something so obvious. The bottom line is I don’t focus.
I don’t do focus. Like all attention deficit people, I’m either switching from one subject to the other or deeply engrossed in one thing at the expense of everything else. I like having it, but I can understand why it gets on everybody else’s nerves when I start disturbing them or think is a good time to tell jokes which my mind has jumped to and remembered. I think that attention disorder is a blessing and thank God, nobody poisoned me with Ritalin.
As you may have noticed, the answer I gave you was coming in at the tangent, so I’ll try to answer you. I find that most of my work comes to me in the morning. Especially when I got my morning walks around Oranit. You see throughout the book that the heroine Jeannie also goes into walking in the morning. I noticed I was losing a lot of material bits by bit by not writing it down immediately.
Now I have myself a recorder and with the aid of a program, my thoughts are transcribed, and I put it up on Scrivener. I thoroughly recommend Scrivener to anybody who has an attention disorder. The act of writing it and correcting it later allows me to keep most of the material fresh in my head anyway. On weekends, I take the raw material and organize it, dictate anew, and then I use three programs to edit. The programs are Grammarly, WhiteSmoke, and the spell checker in Word. Scrivener also has a correction also has a correction application. I find that the combination of all three is superb. Then I send the work off to my editor and finally to a proof-reader.
This is a long way around to tell you that I do enjoy reading my books. In fact, I really do enjoy reading them and do so quite often. Nevertheless, that does not cause a needed change to be corrected; if you make a mistake, you will repeat the mistake, or you simply will not see it. Therefore, as much as I like reading my material it in no way is a substitute for very hard work.
Michael: I would say entirely. I am writing about things that are in some way substantiated in fact. I will not write about things or events that are impossible or implausible. The characters have to be alive, warts and all. The characters’ actions or the environment and dynamics they undergo must be grounded, in a reality, as I know it. Sure, it is fiction but it must ring true. Oranit is not a history book it is about events that didn’t happen, but they could have. Good fiction has to be credible; the characters, their reactions, and the plot have to be imaginable.
Norm: Are you a plot or character writer?
Michael: That is a very difficult question. I would like to say both, but the truth is that the characters and their interactions are much easier for me than the plot. I am very much an amateur, yet ardent, conspiracy theorist. I find it easy to make anything look suspicious so that part of the plotting is relatively easy. However, the situation cannot be removed from reality or reality in potential. So I spend a lot of time talking to friends and acquaintances about how things really are, and how they can go really wrong. In that way, I build the plot. In my first book, I think that the plotting was a little bit too spontaneous and in reality, the characters were leading the plot. I understand when we were preparing the interview that will go more deeply into this aspect later on.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write Oranit Crossed Lines and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Michael: Norm, again that’s very hard to answer. You have to take into account that I wrote Crossed Lines twice. Alternatively, should I say that I scrapped the first version entirely came up with the extra version and from there I did the revising and editing. The supplemental version has taken over six months; add another three months by editing.
Publishing was not easy for me, and that must have been another two to three months. The serious events along the way were the abject rejection of the original version. The second outstanding event was publishing the book. The final significant event was the reviews.
To this point, I regarded writing is a nice hobby, but I had to continue in my work and try to fit a hobby in as best as I could. So I would say that the major event in writing this book was a decision to continue writing and to try to make this my primary activity.
I currently find that I have rearranged my schedule and my priorities. I am surprised that I’m saying this and admitting it openly to myself for the first time, but I want to write. Now that is one hell of a decision to make when you are two months shy of being 71.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the book and what purpose do you believe your story serves? What matters to you about the story?
Michael: My sincere love of Oranit, my overwhelming desire somehow to put Oranit on the map that the readers know that there is a beautiful place called Oranit. Of course, Oranit is a novel, but it fulfills a great needing me to tell everybody what an excellent place Oranit is, and what a magnificent thing we did when we founded it.
Norm: Did you work from an outline when writing your book and did you know the end of your book at the beginning?
Michael: That question makes me laugh. A few reviews mention the surprise ending; one of them says that the ending comes as a complete surprise. I thought to myself ‘me too, my friend.’ I had no idea until about two weeks before I finalized the book how it was going to end. The final disclosure, on the last page, I did know for some time. However, about the who did what; that was a surprise. I didn’t know. It was meant to be somebody else, on one of my walks, I had a ‘what if’ experience, and that experience changed the ending.
Norm: How did you go about creating Jeannie in your book? Was she based on someone you know?
Norm, as all three know, I can divulge the source. I adore, Jeannie,
Jeannie is very much a combination of my two wonderful daughters and the manageress of a hostel I work in. A part of Jeannie is drawn from the young woman who interviewed me all day when I was undergoing a security check.
Norm: How much of Oranit Crossed Lines is realistic?
Michael: There was a collaborator, there were problems about the land, the collaborator was murdered. My family members did exist. I was in Lebanon. We did smuggle out a few radios here and there. We did set up the local council and there were problems along the way. However, that’s as far as it goes, Norm. None of the events happened in the way they are described. If this was an accurate history of Oranit, there would be many more villains and a lot more heroes. The events that happened in Oranit and Lebanon were a source of inspiration to describe the events. The events that are wholly imaginary.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Michael: That nothing is impossible. If a dyslexic 70-year-old person can write a book that gets not bad reviews at all, then anything is possible. If you can decide that on your 71st birthday you going to try to change professions than anything is doable. I’ve got a lot more to say, and a lot of things that I want to put down on paper before I pop my clogs.
My next book is already in the oven. Jack and Jeannie are weaving their spells in my mind, and some of it is on paper. This time I am going to write an awful lot about what is wrong in psychiatry. Mainly I will be talking about some very weird practices within the profession and management of psychiatry, as I see it in Israel. I know that what I will be writing is not just about Israel.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Oranit Crossed Lines?
Michael: You can learn about Oranit on Facebook. I also appear on Facebook. I hope to have a blog and website called http://www.MichaelBenjaminMD.com You can also look at http://www.myray.com and http://www.myray.org
Norm: What is next for Dr. Michael Ian Benjamin?
Michael: I shall be writing two further books about Oranit. They’re called Oranit: Bloodlines and Oranit: Parallel Lines. After that or to get with that I’m not entirely sure. I want to write non-fiction books dealing with the cognitive aspects of dieting. Next will be a book about Stress management using the websites that I mentioned. This will be followed by my ideas about attention disorders and how to be a parent to a child who has the present and not curse of that diagnosis.
As you may guess, I firmly oppose the use of Ritalin as it is abused today. I would like to have a try to write a non-fiction book about psychiatric management, in particular, how to set up a psychiatric service. This would include a recognition of the pluses and minuses of welfare based medical services. Maybe I’ll get around to write another book about how I see the way state, and localized services should be integrated, and how this should affect the regional and national elected bodies. I feel it could get this right in Israel it would help us come much closer to a possible peaceful solution with our neighbours.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Yes, Norm there definitely is one. How did you manage to ask so many
personal questions and yet miss one crucial aspect of everything?
You wonder what it is. And so you should.
it’s quite simple really. Why do you continue supporting Leeds
United? How after 67 years of devoted and utter dedication to Leeds
United, who do nothing to get anywhere near to fulfill their
beguiling promise and potential, you remain an unrepentant
The answer is:‘How dare you ask that question? Shame on you.’
You are asking about the lifelong addiction,or is it a lifelong obsession, or is it a permanent delusion that one day all Leeds United supporters will be actually MOT-Marching On Together.WACCOE. Now that you're going to have to Google for yourselves.
Michael: Thank you, Norm keep well and keep active.