If anyone would know Ben Gamble ’19 was writing a book, you’d think it would be the person teaching his creative writing class. But Assistant Professor of English Laura Morris was as surprised as anyone to find out earlier in the spring that not only had Gamble written his first novel, it was published and available for sale.
“He looked so nervous. Then he showed me the Amazon.com entry for his book,” she said. “It shocked me. I had no clue. Usually if (a student is) working on a book, they’ll say something to me.”
Turned out, Gamble had been pecking away at “Dragons Suck” since his senior year in high school and using what he learned over four years at Furman to refine and edit his text. But Gamble wasn’t ready to share the news of his project until he was absolutely sure it would come to fruition.
“I kept it under wraps just because it’s something I have worked for for a very long time, and I was hesitant (to talk about it) just in case something fell through,” Gamble said. “It wasn’t until I had the contract in my hand that I was like, ‘Hey, this is really going to happen.’”
“Dragons Suck,” published by Permuted Press, is a tongue-in-cheek story that imagines what would happen if a modern teenager were thrust into the hero role of a fantasy adventure. Harkness, the protagonist, is “a medieval peasant with a millennial’s mindset” whose “calculated laziness is interrupted when the gods send an ancient and terrible scourge-by-dragonfire upon his village.”
Harkness is cynical, sarcastic and not at all interested in saving the day, which to Gamble is a much more realistic depiction of himself and his friends at that age.
“I wanted to poke a little fun at the traditional young adult,” Gamble said. “I love Harry Potter and all those kinds of stories … but I remember in high school thinking, ‘Man, none of my friends would do that. I wouldn’t do that.’ I thought, ‘What would it look like if you took a self-entitled, lazy, cowardly millennial and just dropped him in the middle of a very by-the-books fantasy story?’”
Gamble says he’s always wanted to be a writer, but he double-majored in history and Spanish at Furman — history because the courses “resonated” the most with him, and Spanish because a quest to hold his nose and become more proficient in the language resulted in at some point realizing, “Dang it, I’m actually enjoying this.”
“The writer part of me was thinking one thing I struggle with is world-building and fleshing out this detailed fictional world,” he said. “I think history helped me with that because we were studying cultures and how our own history works, which I think makes you better at establishing a fictional one.”
Gamble did take two classes taught by Morris, however, and ran Paladin Ink, Furman’s creative writing club. He was also on the editorial board of “The Echo.”
“Furman equipped me well to be able to write it and to be able to add a lot more of my experiences and thoughts to it,” he said. “Dr. Morris is a great teacher. She’s no-nonsense. If something is bad, she’ll just straight-up tell you.”
Morris published her first book, “Jaws of Life: Stories,” in 2018. She marvels at Gamble’s dedication.
“Most of us are doing this on our own time, and it takes years,” she said. “He knows what he’s doing craft-wise, but it’s a whole different thing to go from that to writing a book … I’m still in awe of his ability to do this.”
Gamble, a native of Summerville, South Carolina, was also heavily involved in Improvable Cause, the student improv group he calls “a highlight” of his four years at Furman, and traveled with Morris to Cuba for a MayX course. All of those experience helped with the book.
“This is hard to put into words, but just the opportunities Furman gave me broadened my worldview and helped me better understand how different people would think so I’d be able to write those characters,” he said. “I enjoyed all those opportunities that I got to just swing for the fences. The improv, Echo, Paladin Ink — You get to let out your creative side.”