Q & A: Author Laura Benedict

Author Laura Benedict.

Author Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the author of the newly released novel Bliss House. She has written three other novels and numerous short stories; she was also the editor of a publication called Surreal South, an Anthology of Short Fiction. According to the author, she was an average student and a big reader when she was growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. She was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and claims both as home towns. She did not start writing seriously until she was in her mid-twenties, while working for a beer company in St. Louis. She is devoted to her two kids as well as her dogs and cat. She loves to garden and bake and does old-fashioned needlepoint. Her idea of a fun date with her husband is dinner, a movie, and a quick spin through the grocery store on their way home. She golfs and plays the piano—both enthusiastically, but rather badly—and has a raging case of ADHD, which means she is never, ever bored.


Q: Over the past few years, you’ve written several literary works. Do you have a favorite in that list?

A: While I’ve published quite a few short stories, novels are my first love, and I’ve written four. All would be considered dark, or supernatural suspense. (Not because that’s what I planned to write, but because it just comes out that way.) Isabella Moon is my first—a mystery/ghost story about a woman haunted by a missing girl. Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts is my second. In it three girls attempt to conjure up a lover through magic, and end up ruining the life of a young priest. Their actions cost them dearly as adults. Devil’s Oven is an Appalachian Frankenstein tale set on a mysterious mountain. My latest, Bliss House, is the story of a mother and daughter attempting to heal their relationship after a tragic accident—but they are living in a dangerous house that has other plans for them. I don’t know that I can pick a favorite because it would be like picking a favorite child! Bliss House is the one I’m most excited about right now because the house contains so many stories that I can’t wait to tell. But among my early books, Devil’s Oven has my heart.


Q: You have a publication called Surreal South. How often is it published? What are some of its inclusions that you like best?

A: Back in 2006, Press 53 came to my husband, Pinckney Benedict, and me and said they wanted to do an anthology of whatever sort we might like. We both agreed that there was an underserved literary niche out there for stories with high literary value that also explored the world of the strange, grotesque, and bizarre. The American South has a long tradition of accommodating writers whose work has a dreamlike/nightmarish quality and so we concentrated our search there.

One of the thrills of publishing Surreal South was working with writers who were in different stages of their careers. William Gay’s classic story, The Paperhanger, was one of my very favorites. Gay, Robert Olen Butler, and Joyce Carol Oates were just a few of the well-established writers who let us use their work. But we also published early stories from emerging writers like Kyle Minor, Heather Fowler, Sophie Littlefield, J.T. Ellison, and Jedidiah Ayres, among so many others.

Surreal South is still published every odd-numbered year by Press 53. Pinckney and I bowed out after 2011 after three volumes; the most recent volume was edited by Josh Woods, who worked closely with us in 2011. Pinckney and I couldn’t be prouder of what we established.


Q: What has the publishing process been like for you?

A: My first publications were short stories in anthologies and magazines like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I also wrote book reviews for a newspaper for a decade, something that also helped my writing by exposing me to all different kinds of prose. I received a ton of rejections from magazines and literary journals, but I refused to give up. Finally, I decided to try my hand at a novel. So I spent ten years writing two novels that ended up being my practice novels. Then I gave myself a year to write a thriller, finished it, and my agent sent Isabella Moon out on a Thursday in 2006, and we had a two-book deal with Ballantine the following Monday. I was an overnight sensation after 20 years of writing.

For my third novel, I decided to try my luck in the brave new world of small press publishing, and my husband and I started Gallowstree Press to publish it as well as my backlist. Devil’s Oven was the result. I hired a terrific editor, Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, and the writer/designer/Renaissance wonder, John Hornor Jacobs, designed the book and cover. It was a great experience, and Devil’s Oven got excellent support from other writers and many, many readers.

I’m delighted to be back with a traditional publisher, Pegasus Crime, for the publication of Bliss House. Publishing is a fun business, but my favorite part of it is the writing. I love that I was able to concentrate on that with Bliss House. In the future, I think you’ll see most successful writers combining traditional and non-traditional publishing methods.



Q: Your new novel is titled Bliss House. Tell us a little bit about it.

A: Bliss House is the story of Rainey Bliss Adams and her teenage daughter, Ariel, who have fled St. Louis for rural Virginia and the house that was in Rainey’s family for generations. Rainey’s husband, Will, was killed in the same accident that badly scarred Ariel, and she is desperate to help Ariel heal both physically and emotionally. But Bliss House is trouble—a house of contradictions. Ariel believes it is healing her, but when she witnesses a violent death that may have been a murder, her life is once again turned upside down. Along with Rainey and Ariel’s story, there’s a mystery about a young woman who was kidnapped and held captive a generation earlier. It’s the ghosts of Bliss House that bind their stories together.

Be warned. Bliss House is not for young teenagers or the faint of heart. While it’s a story of relationships, it’s also a story of great evil, and the action can be intense and occasionally graphic.


Q: Bliss House ends with a few possibilities for the future. Will it be part of a series or a standalone book?

A: Bliss House is, indeed, full of possibilities. It’s a house with a very long, troubling history and is stuffed full of stories. One of the questions I get a lot concerns the lack of a firm explanation for the occurrences in the house. There’s a reason for that…I plan Bliss House to be featured in at least three more novels set in the past. The one I’m working on now begins in the 1950s.


Q: Do you have any plans for upcoming conferences or signings?

A: I love to get together with readers and do as many events as I can. There’s a full schedule on my website. But next up is a signing at The Book House, a St. Louis independent bookstore, on August 9th. And I’ll be at the Southern Festival of Books in October 2014.


Q: Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

A: Books: The Picture of Dorian Grey, Jane Eyre, The Robber Bride, The Artist’s Way, Blood Meridian, The Shining, The Haunting of Hill House

Authors: Cormac McCarthy, Louise Penny, Kate Atkinson, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Atwood, Robert Massie, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson


Q: Good writers have to be good readers, so what are you reading these days?

A: I always have a shamefully long to-be-read list. I recently finished my first reading of All Quiet on the Western Front, and I’m in the middle of Ian Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible.


Q: What advice would you give to individuals interested in breaking into the writing world?

A: My most basic advice is to read, read, read, and write, write, write. It really is all about showing up at that blank sheet of paper (or screen) and filling it in with the best string of words you can assemble. Don’t assume that your work is ready to go out in the world just because you’ve written The End. Get professional opinions, and be willing to edit to make it better. And never, ever pay an agent to look at or to sell your work. Agents get their money after they sell it.



Bliss House: A Novel (Hardcover)

By (author): Laura Benedict

Death never did come quietly for Bliss House . . . and now a mother and daughter have become entwined in the secrets hidden within its walls.

Amidst the lush farmland and orchards in Old Gate, Virginia, stands the magnificent Bliss House. Built in 1878 as a country retreat, Bliss House is impressive, historic, and inexplicably mysterious. Decades of strange occurrences, disappearances and deaths have plagued the house, yet it remains vibrant. And very much alive.

Rainey Bliss Adams desperately needed a new start when she and her daughter Ariel relocated from St. Louis to Old Gate and settled into the house where the Bliss family had lived for over a century. Rainey’s husband had been killed in a freak explosion that left her 14 year-old daughter Ariel scarred and disfigured.

At the grand housewarming party, Bliss House begins to reveal itself again. Ariel sees haunting visions: the ghost of her father, and the ghost of a woman being pushed to her death off of an upper floor balcony, beneath an exquisite dome of painted stars. And then there is a death the night of the party. Who is the murderer in the midst of this small town? And who killed the woman in Ariel’s visions? But Bliss House is loath to reveal its secrets, as are the good folks of Old Gate.

List Price: $25.95 USD
New From: $11.40 USD In Stock
Used from: $9.56 USD In Stock

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.