This week I would like to welcome Laura Benedict as my guest. Laura is a versatile, award winning writer whose work crosses into several genres.
Thank you for joining us, Laura!
I have yet to have the nerve to read many of your writings, Laura, although I do like a good horror story. I imagine you are asked about your inspiration for your work, but I have to ask: how in the world did you get the terrifying ideas which make up your novel, “Calling Mister Lonely Hearts”? The synopsis alone is frightening!
Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts is the story of three Catholic schoolgirls who believe they’re summoning a handsome boyfriend for themselves through witchcraft. When an attractive young priest shows up at their school, they ruin his life. Later, when they’re grown, the revenge comes in unexpected, deadly ways. Sometimes a story starts with an image, or a news story, a character, or a title. One of the big influences on Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts was The Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s one of my favorite novels, and I was fascinated by the physical manifestation of moral corruption. Also, Margaret Atwood’s novel, Cat’s Eye. I constructed the title from a scene in Hitchcock’s film, Rear Window.
You are a Cincinnati native who lives in Southern Illinois, yet you place your stories in other areas. Your Surreal South Series and Isabella Moon takes place in Kentucky, one in a small town south of Louisville, which I think it would not be far from where I have been for the past twenty-four years. The Bliss House stories are located in Virginia, a bit south of where I grew up. Why did you pick these areas?
The majority of my stories are set in or very near places I’ve lived or visited. While I was born in Ohio, I spent most of my school years in Louisville, Kentucky. My grandfather’s people were from Eastern Kentucky. I also spent many years in St. Louis, then lived for more than a decade in both Virginias. While I’ve now lived in Southern Illinois for almost a dozen years, I’ve never set any stories here. That could change any day. The stories choose their own locations.
How much research do you do on the places where you set your stories? How much local color or actual surroundings do you add to your works?
The amount of research depends on what the story requires of me. I rarely have to do much research for my short stories, but novels are a different matter. I do a lot of reading. For the Bliss House books I went back to Virginia and explored areas I was unfamiliar with in the central part of the state. I also spent endless hours researching 19th century building techniques and read quite a bit about 19th century Japan and emigration from there. Similarly, I spent hours driving around particular St. Louis neighborhoods for my 2019 book, The Stranger Inside. People who are very familiar with St. Louis have particular views about particular areas. (When someone there asks you where you went to school, they mean high school.) So landmarks will be familiar, but the characters are more important than their surroundings. It’s hard to believe that when I started writing almost thirty years ago, there was no Internet. Don’t know what I’d do without it.
You do quite a bit of traveling for promotion, don’t you? How far do you go and what types of activities do you employ?
The farthest I’ve ever traveled was to Alaska, to Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention. I usually only travel when I have a new book out. Either I go to conventions like Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, and Left Coast crime, or appear at festivals, bookstores or libraries. They’re all great places to connect with fans and other writers.
After your mostly crime and supernatural stories, you have written a cozy mystery. I’d love for you to tell us about the new book with Trouble-the-cat. Please explain to our readers about The Familiar Legacy, its writers and how you became involved.
My friend, Carolyn Haines, created Trouble, the black cat detective. She writes so many books herself, that she wanted to get some other writers involved. I agreed because I’m a big fan of traditional mysteries (though I confess I’d never read an animal detective story). Each book in the series is a stand-alone mystery written by one of the writers on the team, which is a lot of fun. Small Town Trouble, my book is set in Kentucky. College student Erin Walsh is home for the summer, and her stepmother, Shelby Rae, is kidnapped. Trouble is visiting Erin while his human is in Italy investigating a rare book. He helps Erin discover the mystery behind Shelby Rae’s disappearance, and investigates the murder of one of Erin’s good friends. There’s a hint of romance in the air, too. Just FYI—Trouble is not a talking cat. His thoughts are told only to the reader. Small Town Trouble will be available in ebook format for just .99 May 4th to 10th.
You have been published in short story, (including within Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine), novellas and anthologies. Among the anthologies there have been several “Haunted Holidays”, featuring a holiday each. What fun! Were these your ideas? I greatly enjoy short stories and anthologies. Many writers find them find them harder to write than novels. Do you think so?
I started out writing short stories, as many students do. They’re fun to write because they can have the intensity of a novel, but come at the reader like a shot for one big effect. I turned to novels because my short stories got longer and longer and longer. Now I write a couple a year as a kind of palate cleanser between novels. They’re so rewarding to write because the satisfaction payoff of having finished something is almost immediate.
While I’ve never collected my stories, I have written for many anthologies. The latest was writer/editor J.T. Ellison’s gothic collection, Dead Ends. My husband, Pinckney Benedict, and I started the Surreal South: An Anthology of Short Fiction series. We did the first three volumes and a terrific writer/editor, Josh Woods, did the fourth. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with other writers, and we encouraged even some very literary writers to explore their surreal sides. Later, we created Gallowstree Press. I published Feeding Kate, which benefited a friend who has Lupus. She’s a huge fan of crime fiction, so many of her writer friends contributed. I put together Haunted Holidays, a Christmas collection, featuring Carolyn Haines and horror writer Lisa Morton.
My favorite short story outlet is Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Do you have stories in any other genres that are playing in your mind, waiting for you to write them?
Yes. I love writing essays, and will never stop writing suspense novels. Someday I’d like to do a traditional mystery series.
The one thing we have in common is that, unlike many writers, you readily admit that housework gets in the way of writing and vice versa. Do you think you will ever say, “OK, I will write during these particular hours, get the house clean during this time” and have it be consistent, day-by-day?
Ha! I often use housework to procrastinate, so if the writing is going well, the family suffers a bit. But everyone pitches in. I now work a few hours every morning leaving the rest of the day open for exercise and home work.
What other talents do you possess or hobbies which you enjoy?
I play piano, do embroidery, putter in my garden, play the occasional game of golf, and I read a lot.
Please tell our readers how they can learn more about you and your works, Laura.
Thank you for being my guest, Laura Benedict!
You can check out all my books, and read excerpts on my website, www.laurabenedict.com. Drop by and be sure to join my email list and get a free Bliss House short story, Cold Alone.
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The Kill Zone Blog Contributor