By L.S. Johnson (https://traversingz.com/)
Ben Monroe grew up in Northern California and has spent most of his life there. He lives in the East Bay area with his wife and two children. His most recent published works are In the Belly of the Beast and Other Tales of Cthulhu Wars and the graphic novel Planet Apocalypse.
Tell us a little about your story, “The Quarry.”
Sure! “The Quarry” is a short story about a bunch of kids out messing around in the height of summer—and then things go south for them. It was inspired by memories of goofing around with my best friends when we were kids, swimming in Lake Anza in the Berkeley hills, as well as a camping trip I took with my family a few years ago on the Eel River.
Strangely enough (and of course it’s part of the fun of writing) I didn’t really consciously go into those memories when I began writing it. I had an image in my head of the titular quarry, and of something that might be lurking in the depths of it. And as I started writing, it all came together.
Reading “The Quarry,” I was reminded of many classic kids/teen movies from the ‘80s—The Goonies and The Lost Boys, for instance, as well as the recent Stranger Things. Was that a conscious association on your part when writing the story?
Not at first. When I started, it was just a story about kids going out on an adventure. And then the more I worked on it, the more I realized it would be fun to set it in the ‘80s. I guess primarily because back in the ‘80s I was the age these kids are in the story. After making that decision, I went back and reinforced the time a little with a few pop culture references.
But at the same time, ‘80s horror is my jam. I grew up in Berkeley in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and was a horror, sci-fi, and fantasy nut. The Lost Boys is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I’ve watched The Goonies countless times as an adult and a teen (it’s one of my kids’ favorite movies, too!). I don’t think writing it like those types of stories was really a conscious effort on my part, but there’s no way I can say they weren’t influential.
Another ‘80s story I had to keep in mind when I wrote “The Quarry” was Stephen King’s “The Raft,” which I first experienced as part of the film Creepshow 2. When I was writing my story, I was constantly thinking about King’s piece, making sure I wasn’t treading the same waters.
What is your relationship to California, and does California influence your work?
I’ve lived in California almost my entire life. Shortly after I was born my family moved to San Diego, where we lived for a while before we moved to the UK for another year or so. When I was three, we moved back to Berkeley, and I’ve been living in the East Bay Area ever since.
Northern California has been my stomping grounds for nearly fifty years and has both consciously and probably unconsciously influenced my stories. My novel In the Belly of the Beast takes place in the Sierras, with flashback moments to events taking place in San Francisco, Oakland, and Folsom. My forthcoming story “A Hell of a View” starts off in Oakland, and strolls down the coast to Santa Cruz.
“The Quarry” is set in Alcosta, a fictitious city I’ve been fiddling with for a while now. Call it the “Arkham” or “Castle Rock” of Northern California, if you will. It’s inspired by many of my favorite places in NorCal, including some Berkeley weirdness, the urban, industrial areas of Oakland, and a smattering of Central Coast wilderness.
As writers, we constantly use our imaginations, sometimes in terrifying ways. But can you imagine a hopeful future for California? What might that future look like?
Absolutely. California is a land of dreamers, and innovators. We had the Gold Rush of the 1800s, created the Hollywood entertainment industry in the early 1900s, and at the end of the century we started the tech boom. We’re the people that keep changing the world, and everyone’s waiting to see what we do next.
I find it interesting that when Spanish settlers first came to the Ohlone territories back in the 1600s they found it so amazingly beautiful, they named it after a fairy tale land from a fantasy/romance novel of the time (Amadis De Gaul – https://www.californiafrontier.net/name-california/). Are we the only place in the world named for a work of literature? Beats me. But I think it’s astoundingly fitting.
Where can readers find more of your work?
My website www.benmonroe.com has links to my Amazon author page, as well as my blog which I update semi-occasionally. I’m also pretty active on Twitter @_BenMonroe_.