Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Roxanne

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!


  1. Hi dear Laura! So great to see you here!

    Can't wait to read the book..and chat more about ouija boards and etc..
    I used to really be spooked by them.

    Headed out to a story now and back soon but wanted to say hi.

  2. welcome Laura!
    I'm a Celt and therefore really scared of all things woo-woo. I remember doing a Ouija board once with a friend who was definitely fee. By mutual agreement the rest of us removed our fingers from the wine glass, leaving Ruth alone touching it and it absolutely flew around from letter to letter.
    So never again!
    But that sort of dabbling in darkness makes great reading. I can handle it when it's safely in a book. Good luck with the new book, Laura.

  3. May I squeal!? I'm so thrilled to be here!

    Rhys, I do feel like I can keep a grip on that stuff when it's in a book. Perhaps that's why I like to work with that material....But one of the reasons I'm so in love with the Her Royal Spyness books is that they have no darkness whatsoever. It's a delightful relief to be in such a lovely, fun environment for a few hours.

    I have to hop in the car and drive all day from St. Louis to Cincinnati for my next event, but I'll check back in just as soon as I arrive.

    Happy Birthday, Roberta! Hope you're doing something fun!

  4. Thanks Laura, and hope your tour is going well! Junior high school was such a difficult time when I was there--it has to be the most awkward time of life! Who's in, who's out and for what stupid reasons...and no one has developed much common's a miracle any of us live through it.

    Can't wait to read your book as I loved the first one!

  5. Hi Laura...

    Looking forward to your latest...and to seeing you at Love is Murder. I know you'll be there. Not because the Ouija board told me, but because I saw you on the list of registered attendees.

  6. Hi Laura,
    Congrats on the new book. I love woo-woo. Ouji boards don't scare me (mostly becuase I don't believe anything that looks like a commercially-made game board can actually connect to the other world) and I always enjoy a good pact with the devil!

  7. Just into Cincinnati. The roads in Indiana were slick...I'm very excited about Love Is Murder, and praying for good weather so everyone can get there safely.

    Do you all like to listen to books in the car? Because I'm alone, I was able to listen to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical thinking. Amazing and sad.

    Sometimes I think we're all still in high school, somehow.

  8. Hi Laura,
    I just got back from a brief vacation...weighing in late...
    Forget Ouija boards, is anything scarier than thinking that you're still in high school? Yikes!

    Can't wait to meet you in the flesh at Love is Murder...wish some of the JRs were going, too. You and I will just have to be best buds a the show...and I can get a signed copy of your new book there.

  9. Jan, I confess that I giggled the first time I heard the term "woo-woo" just a year or two ago. I had no idea it had such a sketchy rep in the mystery community. I expect I'll just have to let my woo-woo flag fly!

    Rosemary, we'll have a great time. I, too, wish all the JRs could be there!

  10. Laura, The Year of Magical Thinking was a beautiful, tragic book. And then we had the supreme pleasure of watching Vanessa Redgrave in the play. an artistic peak moment...

  11. Welcome, Laura. I just read a few pages of your book at Barnes and Noble - where it was prominently displayed. Wow. Scary good, and well...just plain scary...

    Bloody good writing too. :-D

  12. Rhys:
    I've been known to run from Ouija Boards - so called games. When faced with one, they just make my blood run cold. Don't know if it's an innate fear/knowledge of the bloody things or something buried in a 'past life'.

    PS: It's snowing. Sigh.

  13. Hi, Laura --

    I wonder what happened to the real "Roxanne" - she's such an intriguing character. And you're so right, she'd be your mother's (and mine's) worst nightmare.

    Congratulations on the book, and welcome to Jungle Red!

  14. Thanks for the nice words, Marianne. It's been fun to see CMLH out there in the stores.

    Hi, Hallie. I wonder, too. I keep a very close watch on my kids' friends--The Roxannes tend to get a little intimidated, and I don't mind a bit!