Encore superbly intertwines themes of history, myth, psychology, romance and many more. Was this a conscious effort when you started writing or did this happen organically while writing?
Tantra: Thank you very much. I wrote the original idea as a Psychological Suspense novelette intentionally claustrophobic in scope. A hypnotist programs a standby to believe she is his wife, the star of a show, and abducts her before the curtain following the encore removes the post-hypnotic suggestion. He takes her, while she still believes she is his wife, to live in an “empty” alchemist’s castle.
I began with the alchemist’s castle that Miriam is taken to because I know a lovely man who sometimes lives in his family castle and sells homeopathic alchemical monoatomic elixirs using gems, flowers, and such. That’s the extent of my kind friend’s similarity to anything in the novel, but it sparked my imagination to bring the Gothic convention of immortality elixirs up to date in a believable way.
When I saw its potential as a novel in the series, I opened it up, as I do at the end of each Nevermind book, to a widening, spooky awareness of the relationship between these individuals and the community. That glimpse of how the protagonists are being used to influence others for nefarious purposes creates a shudder, a sensation I find pleasurable and strive for in my books. I love finding out the truth, no matter how grim (or fictional – especially if it reflects real life.)
A Thriller sensation slowly creeps up in each book with the big dramatic clash of the two factions at the end, the societally controlling and the heroic exposing of that mass mind control. When studying for my hypnosis certification long ago, I learned about negative hallucinations, when someone standing in front of us disappears if the hypnotist so commands. The Agents of the Nevermind are always up to something, always getting their noses into hypnosis. Subtle hypnotic techniques used by intelligence agents/news anchors sway a country into believing the deceitful narrative. Thus, proxy wars and coups garner popular support.
The more the public’s wits are softened, the more easily they can be fooled, and thus the Agents’ Occult Revival throws off people’s natural propensity toward logic. I explore ways that mind control has been used by the government throughout history, such as with the myths of Atlantis, Shambhala, and Camelot. The idea for legend-wars came late in the book’s creation, arising from studying of mystical imperialism in England. The historical use of those legends that I describe in the book is factual and it eventually structured the narrative conflict. Intelligence agents poached those cultural legends internationally, to persuade countries to align with them militarily.
I wanted to please readers with a fulfilling, moral romantic story. So, I eventually integrated Miriam’s friend Colin into the plot, who has no idea where she has vanished to, at the end of the last show of the theater season. The romance is Gothic in that Miriam is torn between the “light” and “dark” men and becomes isolated and gaslighted by the latter. Dune is dangerous, forbidden, rumored to be an Agent, the object of her sexual obsession, and in control of her subconscious. I deliberately pushed further into the “friends to lovers” to thrill the fans of that trope. Colin is the handsome, playful friend, a conscientious publisher who reliably does good things for her. But once he goes feral – watch out!
I enjoyed the Gothic underpinnings of this book. What were some Gothic sources of inspiration for you?
Tantra: I studied Gothic history in depth to understand the history underlying the conventions, including thorough material like Tyler Tichelaar’s The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and Gothic Imperialism, the Gothic Imagination Podcast, Gothic Studies Journal, “The Imperial Gothic” by Suzanne Daly, “The Truth About the Winchester House,” and Invisible History Blog’s Mystical Imperialism.
In terms of modern imaginative works, I didn’t draw from the directly, but I love the Spanish TV show, El Internado, Bates Motel, Crimson Peak, Ghost Flower by Michele Jaffe, My Sweet Audrina, Gothic Romantic Suspense by Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, Daphne du Maurier, and Awakening by S.J. Bolton.
Characters that seem as if they walked out of a novel inspired the book, like John Mulholland, who of the British Magical Society, an officer who wrote the spellbook for soldiers, and went to work for the CIA and wrote their manual on deception and misdirection. Gaslighting of individuals who are used to gaslight a large population is a major interest in the book and the series.
Encore ‘dramatizes mystical sensual energy manipulation techniques’. How did you come about this topic and why did you want to explore this in your book?
Tantra: I studied about energy from childhood, learning to detect it through formally studying remote viewing until I became extremely accurate at age 11. When I got older, I learned advanced Tantra Yoga and taught it. The aspects of Tantra that require belief don’t convince me, but the exercises are very effective. Tantric history includes dark elements such as sexual energy vampirism and the sacrificing of the dakinis, which need to be included in the public discourse, to balance out the pastel, diluted, sexualized version of the practice that so many people believe is Tantra. The actionable techniques are also worth teaching through the novel. I still do these myself. Blissful.
Gothic novels tend to include magick grimoires, exotic mysticism and forbidden, out-of-this world sexuality. And as this novel relates to the role of the occult myths in British imperialism, particularly in the East, I wanted to delve deeply into the Tibetan sensibility and its magickal adaptations. That gave me the chance to describe a kind of love that I enjoy: circulating awareness between myself and a partner. Then, each partner should bring awareness back inside when ready to move on with the day.
This is book 3 in the The Agents of the Nevermind series. Where will book 4 take readers next?
Tantra: It’s called Giant Jack, a prequel set against the background of rise of the Agency and President Planda, who has gigantism. Planda networks with the budding Agency to create the Occult Revival, which is how he wins the election. Gigantism is a factual hormonal imbalance that makes some people very tall, with big hands, foreheads and such. They don’t tend to live as long, unfortunately, as average. So, Planda had to figure out a way to make the condition look positive in the eyes of the public. He called on the Agents of the Nevermind to run news stories on the Theosophical ancient superior giants and co-opted entertainment, books, documentaries, and cults. They picked Giant Jack to be the cult giant celebrity. Jack achieved gigantism artificially by taking Human Growth Hormone throughout his adolescence. It became a trend, and that’s why there are giants in the series.
In this Seductive Psychological Suspense, a troupe in England braves threats by hecklers when performing the history of the rare gem, Moldavite. The meteoric stone, featured in legends of Shambhalla and Atlantis, is sought after for its supposed mystical properties. The charismatic hypnotist, Dune, made the troupe famous, especially his wife Susan, the star. Whenever actors become ill, Dune hypnotizes the standbys to believe they actually are the actors they replace on stage, to fool the discerning audience. When the curtain reaches the floor after the encore, the post-hypnotic suggestion always ends, and the standbys recall their identities.
Susan mysteriously disappears, so her standby, Miriam, takes her place. Miriam’s friend Colin clutches flowers in the audience, ready to congratulate her on the life-changing evening. He just that day kissed her for the first time. Will he become more than a friend that night?
He doesn’t get the chance. Before the curtain lands, with Miriam still believing she is his wife, Dune whisks her away to an alchemist’s castle: Dune has plans for an equinox ritual using the Moldavite elixir made there. Rumors say he is a secret agent, in a cult intertwined with the Nevermind and the Bennu troupe. In fact, Bennu is an ancient Egyptian flamingo deity, similar to the Phoenix, associated with initiation rituals that break down the identity and rebirth a person into a loyal member of a secret society.
This contemporary Gothic Romance dramatizes mystical sensual energy manipulation techniques that have been used for both good and bad. And it also explores the dangerous historical appropriation of cultural legends for the sake of forging military alliances.
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Encore is Book 3 in the Agents of the Nevermind series brought to you by author, Tantra Bensko. Tantra Bensko does a fantastic job writing a story line that intertwines themes of history, myths, politics, psychology magic, cultism, religion and romance. A clever author that sets out to achieve a contemporary love story with a touch of Gothicism. The author does a marvellous job at blending themes and motifs together in order to build up tension and create an epic dark read. This is a book that provides everything you would expect from a psychological suspense story – guaranteed to keep you firmly on the edge of your seat.
The narrative of Encore is imaginative and unique, which allows readers to really think about the importance of different aspects of their lives. The plot of this book mostly revolves around Colin, a Bennu performance troupe’s hypnotist who abducts Susan and takes her to a castle. This weird relationship sees Colin slightly fixated with Susan’s character, pretending to be her husband to solidify their romance. However, the story unfolds with lots of twists and mysteries that are questionable to the reader. The reader is constantly left wondering what is happening and why. This is a great feeling for a reader of the paranormal genre. What more could you possibly want?
The plot throughout this book is strong, creative and imaginative. Bensko structures her book clearly and it’s easy to follow. I think that paranormal activities are apparent throughout the book, which makes for a great read. Tantra Bensko does a fantastic job at trying to write something for her readers that takes them out of their comfort zone and into something quite edgy and Gothic. Her writing is exceptional throughout the book and allows readers to fully engage with the topics being explored.
Having read this book, I believe it clearly captures the paranormal and suspense genres to an exceptionally high standard. I was hooked right from the opening chapters and was left overwhelmed and intrigued when I put the book down.
Encore is a dark read with dark characters and an ever-evolving plot. I think the author has done a great job at creating all sorts of emotions from the ideas of love as well as complete fear. This is a unique contribution to the world of Gothic literature and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Overall, Encore is an exciting and intriguing read that has opened my eyes to the world of the paranormal genre. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the paranormal world. Even if you aren’t that interested, I think it’s worth a shot, as I think you too will be impressed with the story of Encore.
Pages: 376 | ASIN: B07HQYNL7K
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Remember To Recycle explores a twisted state of dystopian society run rampant with political tension and censorship as experienced through the eyes of a sordid slew of characters. How did you decide on the starting point for this novel and how did that help create the rest of the story?
Thank you for asking. I based the novel on current reality based on in-depth study of foreign policy and traditional patterns of involvement by intelligence agencies who use propaganda to skew public opinion toward a military agenda.
I began the book inspired by the guys who go through my recycling bins to take what they can sell; I made a recycler character who has a clever scheme to take what he learns about the people in the neighborhood that way. The idea made me chuckle, and I wanted to see what kind of goofy brilliance he might display. I also had often joked around with a housemate about the empty buildings across the street which are owned by the church. We’d see people go in and never come out. I was also inspired by our jokes about the counter-intuitive business choices of the local ice-cream truck driver. The truck indeed broadcasts the recording of a scolding woman’s voice, just like in the novel.
Though entertainment is the ultimate point of the book, my main serious goal with the book is to balance the propaganda about the White Helmets, though characters in the United States who had hear the stories about a group like them on the nightly news or watch the Hollywood movie about them.
This novel follows the introduction to Nancy and her relationship to the Agents of the Nevermind in book one, Glossolalia. Nancy has done sordid things in her past, but she was forced into it. In this book, she’s again given the chance to be a hero and make amends for her role in political intrigue, even if it means using the dirty skills she was raised with. Some methods are so dirty, she hardly even lets herself know just how sordid she can be. But like all the other POV characters, she has a good heart.
I chose the beginning scene because it was cinematic, with the dramatic contrast arising from Nancy relaxing at her unusual dwelling, chuckling at the anomalous sound of the ice-cream truck that never seem to make any sales. That prepares us for dark humor in the book. She’s being startled by the loud sound of a hard snowball smashing the glass of the window beside her head. She puts on her costume when she realizes someone outside might be looking at her, so we see how she’s been living “underground,” hoping no one recognizes her, in a somewhat primitive location, but someone mysteriously is communicating with her.
She finds a painted rock inside the snowball and the image reminds her of herself and her one friend, a lovely artist named Becky. Nancy has followed another such anonymous note to lead her to Becky in the past. So that beginning creates questions about the dynamics of some major characters, as it sets in motion Nancy’s sleuthing, and involves the reader in the mystery.
I remember the excitement of thinking of the snowball, with ice-cream and a rock inside, at the beginning. Most of the book was already written, but that image created a colorful motif that I went back and inserted through the novel. It was gratifying the way it drew a lot of elements together.
You’re able to weave together the intricate lives of a ragtag group of characters. What themes did you want to capture while creating your characters?
I focused on the theme of the heroism of examining and exposing social engineering, and the difficult choices, nobility and sacrifice that can entail.
I felt this story was very well written. What’s your experience as a writer?
I appreciate that. I’ve been writing all my life, as well as studying the form, not only for my benefit but for my students, as I teach fiction writing and edit manuscripts. I’ve explored a variety of genres; psychological suspense, which is the overarching category all the diverse books in the series fall into, fascinates me because of human psychology making propaganda and other forms of deception easy and bewildering, creating the need for answers. I love the feeling of figuring out the answers to such mysteries, such a rush, a shudder. It’s the perfect genre to dramatize the ability of intelligence agents working behind the scenes to gaslight the public. So, I read and watch movies and TV shows in that genre a lot, to understand what works best. I’m always studying more about fiction and screenwriting techniques. I learn as much from the screen as the page, and organize my books like movies.
This is book two in the Agents of Nevermind series. Where will book three take readers?
It continues the theme of the Agents who combine deception, mind control, blackmail, and occult practices. I’ve been including history about that intersection in the books, returning to certain historical figures such as John Dee and Edward Kelley, and their use of Enochian language as a spy code as well as an attempt at magick.
The novel is called Encore, and is Gothic. A highly-acclaimed performance troupe has a special requirement to make their shows work: the audience can’t be aware if any of the actors are replaced by a standby (similar to an understudy.) Their resident hypnotist, Dune, who is rumored to be an Agent of the Nevermind, accomplishes that by hypnotizing the standbys to believe they’re the actors they’re mimicking, and even coat their own auras with the residuals of their actors.
His wife is the star, but must leave the troupe due to cancer. Her standby and Dune have strong chemistry. He kidnaps her while she’s hypnotized to believe she’s his wife, and takes her to an alchemist’s castle. Underlying the story is the real history of a few powerful countries’ competing mythologies meant to gain supporters for them in wartime.
I hope this book will move readers to appreciate themselves for who they are.
What if the homeless men going through your recycling know more about your life than you do? Like who is going to die. One of the recyclers, Dave, wearing disguises he keeps under a bridge, memorizes the information in people’s bins. He, like many others, idolizes the Rescuers, a supposedly neutral, unarmed humanitarian aid group in a Balkanized country, as the possibility of WWIII looms. The Nevermind Agents lie on the evening news to garner support for proxy wars. They say the Rescuers are unarmed, neutral, and giving humanitarian aid to a Balkanized country. Their movie about them is a blockbuster. Rescuer costumes are the bit hit for Halloween. But it’s time to unmask them. And that requires a plan so ingenious, even the planner can’t know how it’s done. Living not far away from Dave’s bridge, Becky donates generously to the Rescuers, making her finances even more insecure. She doesn’t know what to think when she finds things in her apartment moved slightly. The toothbrush is wet. There’s a stain on the ironing board. The cat food is nearly gone. Is it her imagination? Is someone messing with her mind? Could it be Stan, breaking in because he loves her? He certainly loves putting her body into mysterious BDSM contortions for their videos. But what’s that muffled moan she hears in the background when she calls him on the phone? Becky hires her friend to spy on Stan. The woman has gone underground since escaping from the Nevermind; she wears a wig, and a mask meant for burn victims. She has traveled across the country to befriend Becky, taking a chance on an anonymous message recommending she do so, though she doesn’t yet know the reason.
A Thriller for Thinkers
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Remember To Recycle explores a twisted state of dystopian society run rampant with political tension and censorship, as experienced through the eyes of a sordid slew of characters, each crafted to be as unique as they are controversial. Author Tantra Bensko unapologetically invites readers into the thick and gritty atmosphere of this nefarious nation on the brink of war. As seedy government organizations work through mass media to manipulate the opinions of the general public, three oddball outcasts must struggle to uncover their own personal truths, regardless of how dark and uncomfortable that truth may be.
There is an oddity and nuance to the style in which Bensko develops the story, weaving the intricate and disharmonious lives of the ragtag crew together. The characters are so individually strange, perplexing me at times to debate whose personal version of the truth I should put my stock into. What they lack in relatability, they more than make up for in personality. For instance, there is little for me to relate to in a neurotic homeless man suffering from a multiple personality disorder, but nevertheless, I found myself rushing to reach his chapters, drinking in the off-the-cuff humor and casual profanity of his perspective. Each character in the disjointed trio is unique and realized to the point of feeling authentic, boasting a well-rounded checklist of endearing qualities as well as anxieties and vices – certainly enough to make you love or hate them, respectively.
Although the modern literature lover in me appreciates the quirky and informal tone of Bensko’s writing, I do have to admit that I struggled a bit with the sporadic pace. The narrative voices are wildly different between each character, and on occasion, the sudden shift felt so abrupt that it confused me for just a moment. Bensko lovingly lingers in the details of certain interactions for quite some time, while briskly splicing other important moments into the middle of a quick paragraph. The revolving narrative among the trio is certainly a testament to Bensko’s strength in voices, but it didn’t make for the quickest read. Still a charming one though!
I felt a bit sheepish upon realizing that Remember to Recycle is actually the second installment in the Agents of the Nevermind series. Whoops! I suppose that’s always one tell of a good book though – if it can stand alone within a larger collection. Without knowing any of the events from the previous title, readers are still able to quickly grasp the tone and plot of this work, even within the steep setting of an economic fallout. Benkso poured such a generous amount of attention into the thoughts and motives of the characters, which served well to support this work standing on its own.
Overall, this was an undeniably interesting read, although the density of the political theme felt a bit heavy to me at times. I’d recommend it to readers with interests in the dystopian and psychological horror tropes, that also have an appreciation for quirky writing styles.
Pages: 285 | ASIN: B06XY4CF1S
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Glossolalia is a thrilling ride through the mind of a woman who is seemingly normal but her life slowly unfolds to reveal something bizarre. What was the inspiration that made you want to write this book?
I have a keen interest in mind control of individuals, and the way controlling each individual can effectively affect a large number of people. All my life I’ve studied in depth the methods that agencies such as the CIA has historically used, and they often have manipulated people’s interest in the occult. And that seems like a topic rich with dramatic fictional possibilities, especially for Psychological Suspense, in which gaslighting is such a common element.
I know I love that electric shudder I get when realize something is not what I thought it was, when I’m just starting to put the pieces together and it’s first making sense, grim as the truth may be. I wanted to give readers that entertainment as well.
Nancy, is like many women at first, but she suffers from narcolepsy and has an addiction to pills that she is trying to kick. How her character unfolds and develops is fascinating. What was your plan as you wrote Nancy’s character?
The only way she can explain her fugues at first is to believe she has narcolepsy, but when she discovers what she does during her periods of amnesia, she realizes her problem is something entirely different from that illness. Similarly, she thinks she’s addicted to the pills to keep hallucinations and delusions at bay, but once she manages to stop taking them, she realizes her visions have been actual memories.
My plan with her was to create an anti-hero who finds a way to redeem herself while staying true to the dubious skills she’s been taught all her life. And she gives readers a way to inhabit the sympathetic victim as well as to perhaps develop compassion for people who are compelled to commit violent acts. In a way, she stands for all of us, because everyone has fallen prey to disinformation at some point, and thus has been an unwilling promulgator of it. And all of us have some chance at heroically redeeming ourselves for that, though of course, I don’t promote violence in any way.
There are a lot of fantastic twists in this novel along with a variety of surprises that kept me turning pages. Did you plan the novel before you wrote or did the story develop organically?
I planned it out to make sure all the plot points, pinch points, act breaks and all were in proper order. However, as I wrote it, I got new ideas for twists that were great fun to conceive of. For example, Brandon the YouTube conspiracy journalist with gigantism wasn’t in the completed first draft. Just as much as I enjoy the shudder of realization, I love the feeling of coming up with new plot twists. It feels delightful.
Glossolalia is book one in the Agents of the Nevermind series. Where does book two, Remember to Recycle, take readers?
People who like Glossolalia will probably like Remember to Recycle because it falls within the same genre categories including Conspiracy Thriller and Political Thriller, and while book one focuses on how coups are created, book two focuses on how proxy wars are created. In both cases, the emphasis is on how intelligence agents deceive the public into going along with the terrible treatment of other countries for profit motive, while pretending it’s for humanitarian aid.
Glossolalia referenced our society’s history, particularly related to intelligence agencies, as a foundation for the series, as well as a pattern of coups that’s been recurring for a very long time; Remember to Recycle specifically addresses what’s happening right now. It goes into all the types of trafficking that go along with war, which is the secondary meaning of the title.
However, the first meaning of the title is more obvious, because a major character is Dave, a homeless man who survives by going through people’s recycling bins and selling the stuff, like all the other guys on the street. But he comes up with a brilliant plan. As in Glossolalia, there’s a darkly humorous aspect to it, and he provides a lot of that. He was really fun for me to write, especially as it’s first person present tense, while he describes his life moment by moment to the “character” he affectionately calls Mr. Interrogator. He’s got a hell of a personality. He likes to wear a wide variety of costumes that he keeps under the bridge, and fancies himself an actor of sorts. He idolizes the Rescuers, who are based on the White Helmets.
No one but her uncle would hire Nancy, considering her habit of snapping out of amnesiac fugues, wondering where she got her bruises and the scent of men’s cologne. When she sees a crime of poison in progress at the company, she chases the truck carrying away the chemical legally deemed too toxic to use or to dump. Her pursuit leads to a convoluted world of political intrigue, esoteric rituals and an arcane Elizabethan spy code, and assassinations she never imagined – though her imagination is what holds that world together.
This conspiracy novel introduces a young woman with an ambiguous past involving herself in a killer organization with one layer after another of her psyche. DARK, even possibly DISTURBING ROMANCE, is key to finding elusive authenticity.
The old cartoonish formula of good CIA VS bad guys no longer is fresh and relevant. Though through a fictionalized agency, the books in this series, like Barry Eisler’s spy thrillers, explore the shady side of the CIA secret psy-ops, covert experiments, illusions, coups, media theater, psychological warfare, and illicit methods of funding. The Agents of the Nevermind series dares to explore the edgiest controversies and the convoluted lives intelligence agents must endure as they create bizarre delusions for the world in order to hide the truth about their nation’s financial foundation.
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Nancy is like any woman in the prime of her life; active, engaged with hobbies, and busy with a normal day job. But underneath the surface, she is anything but ordinary. Plagued with a strange form of narcolepsy, Nancy can’t help but feel the grip of forces other than her own. With her uncle’s seemingly gracious help coming into question, she is soon exposed to the world of government conspiracy, mind control and espionage. It’s up to her to find out who’s behind it all, but can she get a grip in time to save herself and others?
Tantra Bensko’s Glossolalia is a thrilling and bumpy ride through the mind of a woman who comes off initially as relatively boring and normal. She’s crushing on a co-worker and at the mercy of jokes from her cube mates. She has her hobbies, piano and karate, and a good friendship with a girl named Alyssa. After Nancy’s parents died mysteriously when she was younger, her uncle Geoff took her into his care and provided her with a stable job at his corporation. Plagued with fugue states and narcolepsy her whole life, her uncle has also been giving her a steady supply of pills that she can’t seem to break her addiction to. She starts to question her uncle’s intentions and in an effort to break free from him and the pills, she coincidentally starts to reveal Geoff’s much darker agenda for her.
Initially, I began to question Nancy’s motives and her own sanity. The writing was quite scattered and jumped around enough to make me wonder if Nancy was just in a constant state of a psychotic break. In one moment her mind was scrambling for answers and in the next it was calm and reasonable. It took quite some time to figure out the relationship between Emily, Angela and Nancy, but the slow reveal did add to the suspense. Nancy’s tenacity and constant questioning of her life kept the book moving along at a nice pace. And there is plenty of references to the Nevermind, the CIA, MKULTRA, and other government groups which helps to build the psychological suspense of the novel.
Pages: 250 | ASIN: B01I8SLVTY
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