Wednesday, January 14, 2009
JUNGLE RED: Today JRW is thrilled to feature one of our regular contributors, Laura Benedict, who is just launching her new book CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS (Ballantine.) We're talking SO new, none of us has had the chance to read it yet. But Publisher's Weekly called it a "spellbinding" second novel (after Isabella Moon) and said this "sad, erotically charged update of a classic horror theme offers a cautionary moral: pacts with the devil seldom result in happiness."
We welcome Laura here to talk about the inspiration for her new book!
LAURA: When I was a preteen, we lived in a rather anonymous sort of townhouse complex surrounded by middle-class homes. At the time I didn’t understand that living in the townhouses meant we were a social rung down from the people in the houses, but even the 1974 suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky had their class rules. Then there was the other apartment complex across the street….My parents thought that the apartment complex was, well, risky.
The apartments were filled with unmarried people. My friends from “over there” lived with their single parents. The swimming pool lifeguards blared the Top 40 radio station over the sound system, and there were wine-sodden parties in the clubhouse every weekend. The guy who dressed up as our local Ronald McDonald lived there. It was a fabulous place and you know I spent as much time as I could there—especially with my friend, Roxanne.
Roxanne fancied herself a witch. Actually, she said it was her sister who was really the witch—she was just in training. Roxanne was the first person I did the Ouija board with, and, underneath her bed, she kept a headstone that she said her sister had stolen from a graveyard. It was old and you couldn’t read what it said anymore, just the word “died” in lowercase letters. She had books on Satan worship and bags full of roots and things. Roxanne was Goth before Goth was Goth. Roxanne was cool. But she cried a lot. And her sister never came to visit her. And in the year that I knew her, I never met her mother, who lived in the same apartment.
My own mother would’ve had a heart attack if she knew I was practicing spells to—well, who knows what we were trying to do. Get boyfriends? Better grades? Mostly we giggled a lot and tried to levitate one another at sleepovers. There was a darkness behind it all, though. A terrifying darkness that at once attracted and repelled me.
The Roxanne in my novel CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS has much in common with my childhood friend: they both tried to use a kind of witchcraft to get attention and transform their lives, they both had great hair, they both lived with a single parent, they were both artists. I tried, but no other name worked for the character in the novel.
Both Roxannes are very different from me: I visit the dark places in myself, in my imagination, in the news, and in films and literature. But I don’t hang around there long. I’ve always been kind of a chicken when it comes to that stuff. I think that even way back then, I knew it was just an experiment and that I could go back to my cozy townhouse with my June Cleaver mother, annoying younger sisters, hardworking dad. I could go to sleep at night knowing I would wake up and nothing would have changed. I could eat my hot breakfast and go to school and come home and do it all again.
I’m like that now. I live a very quiet, middle-class life. If I ever catch one of my kids using a Ouija board, I’ll turn him or her over my knee and give them a good spanking because some things shouldn’t be messed with. (Note: It would be the second or third spanking they ever got. I’m more a yeller than a spanker. But I’m that serious about it.) I spend my days exploring the darkness in the pages of my manuscripts, and surface in time to make tuna noodle and hug my kids when they get home from school. I cry mostly when I’m hormonal or I get a really bad review. I feel very blessed in that things have worked out this way.
I wonder if you’ve had a Roxanne in your life? Or were you perhaps someone else's Roxanne?
Jungle Red: Let's hear from the gang!