Benjamin Allocco of SUNY Oswego's English and creative writing faculty has earned bestseller status in a very modern format -- the Amazon Kindle charts -- with his futuristic novel, "Deathform."

The adjunct professor's sci-fi thriller, featuring a crew of interplanetary smugglers trying to survive an alien monster loose on their spacecraft, already had captured an audience, but when Amazon made it a 99-cent Kindle download as a promotion, the book rocketed to the top of horror, science fiction and other genre charts.

"It's been out since October of 2016, so to see it jump to the number one slot for Kindle sales was a very welcome surprise," Allocco said. "It's great to see that people are finding it. More than anything, I hope they enjoy it. If I've done my job, they will."

The monster thriller part of his debut novel is just a surface tale for a deeper topic, Allocco said.

"At its core, it's about characters dealing with the emotional scars of war and coming to terms with what it means to be a survivor of that kind of trauma," he explained. "Those two things might sound strange together, but that's part of what made it fun to write, and what I hope helps it stand out in its genre."

As a writer and teacher, Allocco recognizes inspiration when it comes and how it can lead to compelling work.

"For me, it's the character that you can’t stop thinking about, or the scene that you know you have to write, even if you don't know its context right away," Allocco said. "It's kind of like deciding if you want to get a tattoo. I have several. You hold the idea in your head for a while, and if it stays with you, it's probably worth pursuing. If it doesn't, time to move on!"

'Something primal'

The seeds of the novel started in a short story, a "dry-humor-in-space" scenario, as Allocco describes it, but "'Deathform' really came together for me when I started researching experiences of POWs," he said.

"The main character of 'Deathform,' Jack Kind, is a POW of a cosmic war, and I wanted to base his experiences in reality," Allocco explained. "'Prisoners of the Japanese,' an incredible nonfiction book by Gavan Daws, was probably the single biggest influence on the novel aside from my general love of space monsters, and I'd encourage everyone with a strong stomach to read it. It's harrowing, heartbreaking stuff."

Allocco is currently working on a thriller novel and in the early stages of a collaborative fiction work -- a new experience for him -- that also involves monsters.

"I think people are drawn to monsters for different reasons, and there are so many different kinds -- spiritual and supernatural, monsters from nature, cosmic monsters, monsters that result from human meddling, to name a few," Allocco said of the genre, which also points back to a certain sense of frailty and lack of control. "There's often something primal and visceral at the core of these stories. They're tales about survival, but because we're dealing with an inhuman threat, they say something about the author's view of the universe."

In his own life, Allocco teaches two classes at Oswego while co-managing a used-furniture store, plus still tries to write five times a week. He is an executive board member in Oswego's United University Professions chapter and active in adjunct issues because, he noted, he would like to see part-time teachers have the financial stability to become the best that they can be for themselves and their students.

Allocco shares thoughts as well as frustrations in his blog on "Writing Tip Wednesday" installments, covering everything from attitude to self-care, the importance of reading to the stages of writing.

"I don't like to think of writing as a precious thing for sensitive artists," he said. "We might be empathetic and a little sensitive, maybe even a little weird, but you've got to be tough as nails if you’re going to make it. And, by the way, it's up to each individual to decide what it means for someone to 'make it' as a writer. More than anything, you have to love the writing, and you have to keep moving forward no matter what."