Laura Benedict hides her geek pretty well, until you get to know her. You’d never know that in fourth grade she often wore her glasses in the swimming pool.
At first glance, she looks like a soccer mom, not the well-respected writer of mystery, supernatural thriller novels, and short stories that she really is. Of course, she does also answer to “Mom,” so the fact that the Edgar-nominated writer can aptly disguise herself is perhaps not unexpected.
The Edgar nomination is the most recent accolade Benedict has added to her writing bio, but it’s certainly not the first. She’s published six novels, five of them with big name publishers and the sixth with the Gallowstree Press, an imprint she and her husband, author Pinckney Benedict created. She teaches creative writing workshops, especially genre-specific fiction writing. And, through it all, she is most assuredly a geek.
In fact, just this week her blog bemoaned the need to consider deep cleaning and purging some of the four boxes of Legos in her dining room. Benedict has played “Dungeons & Dragons” with her children and like any good geek has her own take on what being a geek means to her. Asked about her geeky hobbies, Benedict said, “Buying journals and notebooks – I should be good until 2050 or so. Needlepoint. Jigsaw puzzles. Sudoku on my iPad. Counting my neuroses.”
Clearly, Benedict is also funny, something that shows through in her work, when it’s appropriate. From her nearly ever-present smile and kind disposition, an unwarned reader might not expect the type of writing she has published to date. Though hard to shoehorn into a specific genre, her works are generally thrillers, touching lightly, or sometimes not so lightly, on horror. Each novel has also included a supernatural element.
Years ago, when we first met, Benedict described her first published book as more of “howdunit” than a “whodunit.”
That book, Isabella Moon, was Benedict’s first book in a two book contract with Ballatine. She also published Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts with Ballatine before deciding to publish Devil’s Oven on her own. Her next three books, a trilogy about a creepy, stately house in Virginia, are unique in that they have no specific order in which they should be read. Chronologically, the setting of the first book is most recent in the Bliss House history, but the expertly woven tales can be read in any order. Likewise, the related short story Cold Alone can be read at any point in the series.
Benedict’s newest work is a step away from the supernatural and has just entered the early editing phase. She has expressed some trepidation because this is not her usual style, but fans of Benedict’s writing will tell you she has nothing to worry about. The proof is in her short story “A Paler Shade of Death,” which won her an Edgar nomination.
“A Paler Shade of Death” is in the anthology St. Louis Noir from Akashic Books. The story finds a recent divorcee moving into a new home and recounts the circumstances of her divorce while she gets acquainted with her new neighborhood. Whether it has supernatural elements is up to the reader to decide.
The story has some big name competition for the short story prize. Other authors nominated this year include Megan Abbott, who also writes for Akashic, Lawrence Block, who like Benedict is published by Pegasus, and a couple household names in literature, Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates.
The Edgars, named for Edgar Allen Poe, are the annual awards from the Mystery Writers of America. The nominees are named each January, shortly after Poe’s birthday and the awards given at the annual symposium. This year the symposium and awards banquet will be April 27. In addition to finding out if she won, Benedict will be part of a panel discussion on liars and other untrustworthy sorts who are also a main character.
As with all the stories in St. Louis Noir, “A Paler Shade of Death” is set in a specific St. Louis neighborhood. Benedict, who makes her home in southern Illinois, visits the city often and has her own less-than-perfect past in the city.
“I went to college in St. Louis and worked for that Ginormous Beer Company there before I left in the late 1980s. The circumstances of my life there in the year before I left were very stressful, and I was happy to leave. But I promise nobody died – at least to my knowledge. I do love going back there now, though,” Benedict said.
In fact, St. Louis is now one of the places that she occasionally escapes to in an effort to leave her real life behind and get some writing done.
“Getting out of the house and leaving the responsibilities of family and furbabies (we have four) behind helps me focus. I have raging ADHD and my days sometimes get away from me. I went on one four day writing weekend in January 2016, and another this January. But I also went on retreat with five other women writers over Labor Day, and that was very productive.”
One of those responsibilities that Benedict has is home schooling her teenage son. In a recent blog she had talked about using her novel Devil’s Oven in conjunction with Frankenstein to discuss literature with her son. That led to a question about the lessons her Edgar-nominated story might be used to illustrate.
“’A Paler Shade of Death’?” It would be great for a parenting/lifeskills class, the lessons being: Use your words, not your hands; Don’t leave children unattended in the bathtub; Don’t drink to excess; Don’t have sex with strangers; Pack a set of clean sheets if you’re going to be leaving home for an indefinite period of time. Oh, and bloodstained clothes need to be soaked in cold water, not just rinsed in the sink.”
Benedict declined to name one of her stories as her favorite, saying instead, “Nope. Sorry. That would be like choosing a favorite child. All my books are my babies.”
For a free taste of Benedict’s writing, you can find her short story “When I Make Love to the Bug Man” here. St. Louis Noir and her novels are available on Amazon and most other book stores.
Laura Benedict is the Edgar-nominated author of six novels of dark suspense, including the Bliss House gothic trilogy: The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her work has also appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, PANK, on NPR, and in anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, and St. Louis Noir. She lives with her family in Southern Illinois. Learn more about her work, and check out her daily blog at www.laurabenedict.com.