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Conclusion of Interview with Laura Benedict
When did you realize that you were meant to write?
I only started writing stories when I was in my mid twenties. I was doing some corporate copywriting and realized I had the bug. I took a couple of writing classes--even a graduate workshop. I wrote a lot of short stories, but it wasnít until I started writing a novel that I knew I had found my form. That book, by the way, took me eight years. Itís tucked away. I think Iíve lost it, accidentally on purpose. Everyone needs a practice book or two.
Do you plan out the entire book before you begin writing? Or do you just sit down and write?
I usually have an idea of what the shape of the book will be. Then I plot two or three chapters at a time. If I go too far ahead, I get bored with knowing what will happen. That said, Iíve always wanted to try outlining a book.
Do you have a set time that you write each day? Or do you wait to be inspired?
Writers who wait for inspiration can plan on producing very few books. Writing is a job. Promoting is a job. I do my best to treat it that way. When Iím going full steam on a book, I keep a tight schedule.
How long did it take you to complete this book?
I wrote Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts in less than a year. It was under contract, so I was under a tight deadline.
How much research, if any, did you have to do for this book?
One of the central characters, Thad, is a dentist. I bugged my dentist and his staff for months. They were wonderful about answering questions. I also had to do a lot of driving around Cincinnati, which is my hometown. I wanted the novel to have a real sense of place.
I learned a lot about Santeria by reading books and watching videos. I wish I had been confident enough to seek out live Santeria rituals, but I worried that it would appear exploitative.
What new doors has your writing opened up for you? Were there any opportunities that you had never considered before?
Early on, I got into writing book reviews for a newspaper because I was reading and studying other writers so much. I now teach writing workshops for children and adults. I had never imagined before that I could teach. In the past five years, Iíve gotten into editing. My husband, Pinckney Benedict, and I have done three volumes of a short story anthology, Surreal South (Press 53). Itís given me the opportunity to discover and work with many emerging writers, as well as the chance to work with some real pros.
My latest adventure is in publishing. Pinckney and I are starting a small press called Gallowstree Press. For the first couple of years weíll be publishing our own backlists and maybe an anthology or two. Our first project is Devilís Oven.
Do you ever become bored with what you are writing? If you do, how do you get past that point?
If Iím ever bored with what I see on the page, I know itís no good. If Iím bored, I guarantee the reader will be twice as bored. At that point I move on to a scene with more energy to keep myself moving. Of course I canít do that without a serious, preparatory infusion of dark chocolate.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
Biographies; crime, mystery, and suspense fiction; science fiction; history; horror. Iím particularly fond of audio books in the car. I love being read to.
If you could spend one hour with just one person, whom would you choose?
Dead: Jesus, Living: the Queen of England, because the idea of royalty is so bizarre to me.
Do you have any advice for writers who are striving to be published?
Absolutely. Read three times as much as you write (quoting someone-I canít remember who); donít work in complete isolation--join a group or take some classes to stay motivated; donít whine about how you donít have time to write; take criticism; put your first novel away in a drawer (Somerset Maugham said that); keep your backside in the chair until youíre finished. Oh, and donít be a jerk to other writers. Be as generous as you can. No one does anything in this business without lots of help.
Thank you, Laura, for such an amazing interview.
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