The importance of making human connections at the heart of Drive-by Saviours

Drive-by Saviours is the story of the relationship between two men from different backgrounds who meet by chance.

“One, who is originally from Indonesia, comes to Canada illegally after getting into some trouble at home during the Suharto era,” says author Chris Benjamin. “The other one is a social worker living in Toronto, originally from Nova Scotia, who has a bit on ennui with his life and job. When (Mark) meets (Bumi), things finally get interesting for him.”

Benjamin, a freelance writer, was living in Toronto when he first began writing this story.

“I wasn’t a social worker, but I had kind of a social work-y job where I was working with new Canadians with backgrounds in environmental work, trying to help them connect to employment in that field,” he says.

“Some of them opened up to me and shared some really amazing stories about their lives. I was really inspired and found their lives so interesting.”

These people had picked up their entire lives and gone to a whole new world, either by choice or because a situation forced them to do so.

“They gave up everything and tried to start something new,” he says. “I just found it took an enormous amount of strength and creative intelligence to do that and to get by and to make their way in this big Canadian city.”

This is Benjamin’s first fiction novel. He views writing non-fiction as more craft, he says, whereas a novel is more art.

The key to non-fiction, he says, is finding the people to make the stories and issues interesting.

“With the novel, you’re creating an entire new world and you have to make it believable. … My job is to do meticulous research to make that world believable and make it vivid,” he says.

“That’s more of a creative process, though there is a lot of research behind it.”

Though Benjamin lived in Toronto for several years, three years ago he returned to his Nova Scotia roots and now calls Halifax home.

When it came time to launch this novel, however, he decided to do so in both cities.

“Toronto is even a character in the novel, in a sense. It’s about the multiculturalism in that city because of immigration, so I thought it important to have a launch there as well as here,” he says.

Benjamin is looking forward to getting out on the road, doing readings and meeting people as he promotes this novel. It’s quite an exhaustive schedule, he notes, as he’s making at least 13 stops over a three-week period.

One of those stops will be at Westminster Books in Fredericton on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 3:30 p.m. for a reading and signing.

“I’ve selected four scenes for readings and, time permitting, I’ll do all of them. They’re very dramatic scenes, somewhat educational if people aren’t familiar with Indonesia,” he says.

“(Bumi) is a compelling character. I wrote the kind of character I find really interesting in books. Just from the reading, I hope it’s enough to get people somewhat attached to Bumi and want to read the whole book.”

Benjamin loves chatting with people, especially if they’ve started reading the book or are interested in doing so.

“I slaved by myself with this thing for years and got it out. Now to hear how people respond to it and how they interpret it and how they understand it, it’s wonderful to take it out of my head to other people.”

He hopes that, first and foremost, people enjoy the book.

“In the story, there is a lot of desire to help people, and I think we all have that. We all know the world is kind of messed up, we all want to make it better, but most of us aren’t sure how,” he says.

“The book won’t tell you how, the characters don’t know how and I don’t know how. If there is a message in there, it’s the best help is just making human connections, and building those communities in your own backyard.”

You can’t help people you don’t understand, points out Benjamin.

“Hence the title. The drive-by saviours are the ones not getting to know the people they are trying to help.”

To learn more about Benjamin, his novel and other upcoming projects, visit www.chrisbenjaminwriting.com.

– Lori Gallagher, The Daily Gleaner, Sept. 4, 2010

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