Dennis Milam Bensie is One Gay American. Born in the 1960s and raised with traditional values in Robinson, Illinois, Bensie desperately wants romance, a beautiful wedding and a baby to carry on the family name. Although true love has not yet come his way, Bensie has learned to love himself. Bensie is the author of the much-lauded memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, which recounts his battle with paraphilia. His memoir, One Gay American tells the rest of his story and draws parallels to gay history, decade by decade, with newspaper headlines and quotations.
Bensie’s interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. His first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011.″ Bensie’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction and This Zine Will Change Your Life, and he has been a feature contributor for The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press, and it was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards.
One of the things that have influenced Dennis Milam Bensie was therapy. Shorn stated off exactly this way as his therapist had given him a writing exercise. “I built Shorn: Toys to Men off those three to four thousand words,” shared Bensie. Many of his writings start as exploration of his past — the good things, along with the bad. Bensie finds as he writes them down, “It is like cataloging them and it allows me to process and move forward.”
Journaling has been a part of Bensie as far back as he can remember. He wrote for his high school newspaper, News N’ Everything, a poem called “Eight Ball” for extra credit in his freshman year. “Only it wasn’t structured as a poem. It was a very personal essay about suicide,” said Bensie. “My English teacher showed the poem to the faculty advisor of the school paper, who rearranged it as a poem and asked for permission to publish it. I agreed on the condition that they not print my name with it.” Bensie later submitted the poem to a national high school poetry contest with his name, and it was republished in an anthology. The poem also appears in Shorn: Toys to Men.
Getting your fair share of rejection comes with the territory of an author, and Bensie is not an exception to this rule. However, his outlook on rejection is one to inspire the rest of us. “I put myself out there so frequently that I get used to the rejection. It is like a muscle: the more you exercise it the stronger it gets,” share Bensie. “I have a big chart of where each story goes and when it gets rejected. All my stories are on a big rotation so I constantly have a few out looking for publication. As I get a rejection letter/email, I just send it out again. I get rejected constantly and I don’t let it stop me. It was that way trying to get my first book noticed. I had been rejected by at least forty literary agents before I found a home at Coffeetown Press.”
Finding the right publishing house is just one-step to a successful book. The other is the relationship between the editor(s) and author at that publication. Dennis Milam Bensie was more than happy to share his relationship with his editor at Coffeetown Press. “My background is in theatre, which is very collaborative. Writing isn’t so collaborative, which is nice in a way. My editor gives me a lot of freedom and it took me a while to get used to that,” said Bensie. What surprised Bensie the most was when he submitted his first book, Shorn. “I expected she would have pages of changes and suggestions. She had no rewrites,” shared Bensie. Having that kink of trust with an editor is priceless and this writer is glad to hear Dennis Milam Bensie has it with his at Coffeetown Press.
Dennis Milam Bensie did share there are a few things he might have done differently when writing his first memoir. “It is very dark and gritty. I had no idea how dark it was until people started reading it,” said Bensie. “I look back on it and can see, like many have pointed out, that it is not polished. In a way, I think that unpolished style works for the book. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if I had more chops when I wrote the book…more polish. There are some things I wish I had done differently, but I am hugely proud of the book.” We feel the grittiness of the book is what got it published in the first place so no changes are needed, at least from this writer’s opinion.
Since becoming a published author of two very successful memoirs, Bensie has been floating around to book signings and conferences. He just recently did a reading of his second book, One Gay American at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans during Memorial Day Weekend. “Quite an honor, as I got to meet and mingle with many distinguished LGBT literary folks. I am thrilled and honored to have been included on that list,” shared Bensie. “I also did a reading and was on the panel of gay authors at the Montana Gay Pride Festival in past June.”
Folks from his hometown, Robinson, Illinois have asked him to do readings from One Gay American this coming October for the Crawford County Arts Council, which corresponds with the Fall the Festival and his 30-year high school reunion. “This is a big deal to me since my hometown is not very gay friendly and much of the book is about the homophobia I experienced while growing up there,” said Bensie. “I have never been back for any of my class reunions.”
You can also find out more about Dennis Milam Bensie, his memoirs and his World of Ink Author/Book Tour at http://tinyurl.com/lhtvxyt
It has been a pleasure not only reading about, but also getting to know this amazing man. Hopefully as Dennis Milam Bensie journeys down the road of publication, love will find him.