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Alumnus Inspired by Pandemic to Help Others Through Books

Early on in the pandemic, Ben Bradley found a way to escape by recreating his boyhood fantasy of a daring life of risk and chance — he wrote his first novel.

In the young-adult book “The Stash,” published in February, Bradley indulged his former daredevil desires through the protagonist Cooper and friends, who pursue a hidden bag of money in a forest. 

“It’s about the adventures I dreamed of having as a kid,” when riding bikes with buddies and exploring the New Jersey woods, says Bradley, who earned a Jenkins MBA degree in 2017.  

He used the covid-19 disruption last year to write “The Stash” and “Welcome to the Punkhorns,” a mystery published in March about three people who disappear from a forest on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. 

Bradley, 32, of Durham, penned the books while he waited to start his new job, a delay resulting from the pandemic.

I figured I’d hunker down and do something I’d thought about doing for a while,” he says. “I was glad to have the time to do it.

Some characters are based on him and his childhood friends. “Punkhorns” was inspired by the Punkhorn Parklands Conservation Area, near where his parents live. “It’s a weird stretch of forest that’s pretty dense, empty and mysterious,” Bradley says. He invented a history of the woods while he jogged there.

He’s working on a sequel to “Punkhorns” that will place some characters in Umstead State Park in Raleigh, where he once lived and worked seasonally.

Writing a book can be daunting even for seasoned authors. Bradley relied on editing and marketing help from his publisher, Indies United Publishing House, a small, independent company. “They were a huge mentoring presence,” he says. “It helped to have them as a sounding board.”

His biggest challenge with the books was “learning what I don’t know,” Bradley says. “You think you have a good story and start to piece it together, but it’s learning how to develop a character people will root for and develop a plot with twists and turns.”

He was assisted with plot development, grammar and proofreading from other Indies United authors, Bradley says. “It was a cool team effort in that way.” 

The team included former MBA program classmates, who have a Facebook group and have promoted his books through social media.  

Bradley’s experience in the MBA program helped with his writing projects. 

“The biggest thing I gained as an MBA student is that I learned how I learn. It has been valuable in everything I’ve done,” he says. “I learned how to take something that’s a big problem and break it down…With the novels, I see a lot of ties back to that.” The skills he developed in analyzing a challenge, apportioning his time and project management were useful in writing the books.

Skills Bradley built as an MBA student and in Poole College’s data analytics graduate certificate program also are important in his position as a monitoring and evaluation specialist with Upstream USA, a nonprofit that aims to improve contraceptive access and reduce unplanned pregnancies.

I treasure my affiliation with NC State, Poole College and the MBA program. I met some incredible people there. It transformed the opportunities in front of me.

The MBA program gave Bradley avenues to explore his ongoing passion for community service, through the MBA Service Corps and other programs.

“I built confidence by having so many leadership experiences. That has carried through my entire career. Now, I feel empowered to do things with a small group of MBA alumni behind me,” Bradley says. 

He and his MBA classmates keep in touch through Zoom calls. “That ongoing communication speaks volumes about the bonds we formed,” he notes.

Bradley’s giving-back philosophy has benefited Poole College, too. He has coached student teams involved with Poole’s B Corp Clinic, which helps businesses pursue B Corp Certification by focusing on their environmental and social impacts.   

All proceeds he receives from his books will benefit Feeding America, a hunger-relief nonprofit. “That’s where the money should be now,” he says. “A ton of people are food-insecure in the pandemic.”

The response to Bradley’s novels has been very positive, and many people have asked if he’ll write more. 

Still, “I suffer from a real case of imposter syndrome. It feels odd to insist that these stories belong out in the world. I feel humble by the feedback I get,” he says.

I read a book and go back and look at my own and think, wow, I have so far to go…But this is something I can continue to work at, learn more about and get better at.

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