part of resuscitating the work here at A Forest of Stories is bringing back the Warrior Women Interview series. today’s installment is Laura Benedict, a writer with a love of the dark side of fairy tales and a brilliance for telling modern-day ones. Enjoy!
Tell us about how you got started on this path.
I remember the night, but not the date, I realized I wanted to write fiction. I had a tiny studio apartment in University City (St. Louis). College was over, and I had a degree in business administration. I, am, of course, a very unlikely business person and had no business (pun intended) in a B.S. Business Administration program. Books of fiction had been my best friends since childhood, and I had thought I might become a librarian. But that’s a whole other story…I had been reading a lot of Tennessee Williams’s plays, and his characters really spoke to my heart. They were so troubled, but fascinating. I was at a very confusing place in my life, too, and more than a little emotionally unsettled. At 23, I’d already been divorced, my family lived far away, and I had few friends. Williams’s characters, with their complicated, often small-town lives, and deep talent for emotional drama/trauma fed something inside me. My own life seemed so stark and empty. Unable to express my longing to reach out to the world, I reached inside to create something new. To create my own characters who might speak for me. So I took out a piece of letter-writing stationery. My window was open to the busy street, and it was uncomfortably warm in the apartment. That little sheet of paper filled up with another sultry night, and the voice of an older woman whose younger lover had just left her. Very Williams-esque. I wrote furtively and quickly, as though I were engaged in something nefarious. But when I’d finished, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. It would be almost two years before I wrote anything else, but I brought that paper with me every time I moved, keeping it like a secret.
Who contributes to your work?
Writing can be very lonely at times, yet I’ve never completed a story without a great deal of help from others. First, there’s my family. We talk and share a great deal at our house, playing word games, making up rhymes and songs, telling one another the stories from our day. All of that goes into my work. I have a couple of close writer friends I can turn to, and who can turn to me when the words stop flowing or are flowing too fast to make sense. Plot points can be sticky. Sometimes a brief phone discussion can change one’s whole perspective on where a novel might be headed. Then there are the professionals, the lovely people who don’t mind answering my random questions and constantly help me stretch my stories in new directions or give them depth. People are so generous. No writer can do it alone. But the most important participant is the reader. The story is incomplete if there’s no reader to bring his or her own visions to it. Stories are two-dimensional until they’re read.
What is the most beneficial aspect of your work on this journey?
Can I pick two? First, it has to be the opportunity to create. I feel so privileged that I’m able to spend my days discovering new stories. I love the act of creation–whether it be making a meal, a silly gift for a friend, a flower bed, a prayer, or an entire novel. We were created to create. Second, I now have many more wonderful people in my life than ever before. Before I started writing and publishing seriously, my world was very small. If I hadn’t started writing, I never would’ve met my husband, Pinckney, who was teaching at a writing workshop I attended. I feel enriched by every new reader who contacts me, everyone I meet at a signing, every writer with whom I share a passion for writing. My journey is full of amazing blessings.
Describe your current big project or dream and how you are bringing it to the world.
I’m dreaming of a series of mystery novels right now. I’m a mystery fiend, despite the fact that much of my own work is on the macabre side. Wish I could say more, but the project is at that tender stage where I’m afraid to talk about it, lest it evaporate and never come to fruition.
What keeps you doing this work with joy and gratitude?
I feel like I can never be grateful enough. I confess I’m shamelessly addicted to the kind words of people who like my work. My work is not to everyone’s taste, I know, and sometimes that’s a hard realization for me. But if there are just a few readers out there who are eagerly waiting for the next thing I write, I do the very best I can for them.
What is one thing you suggest women can do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness?
Many women I know–myself included–are experts at self-sabotage. We give ourselves a thousand reasons to choose not to pursue our dearest dreams. Sometimes the negativity comes from outside of us, or from old, destructive sound bytes in our heads. We have to choose to let that stuff go. To push it away from us–forever. It’s only then that we have enough room to be our true selves. There are people who might choose not to love us anymore, or will actively try to stop us, and that’s a terrible shame. But making the choice to be our true selves is always the right one.
Please share some final words for our sisters in community.
This might sound silly, but remember to take good care of yourself. It’s like the airline attendants say: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting a child or another passenger.” Sleep, and sleep some more. Write down your dreams. Buy yourself little presents. Speak kindly to yourself, even (especially) if no one else does.
I love this mantra from Julia Cameron and her book, The Artist’s Way–