The L Mag Questionnaire for Writer Types: Helen Benedict

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09/14/2011 11:25 AM |


Tomorrow night, the Center for Fiction hosts the book party for Sand Queen, the sixth novel by Helen Benedict; the novel is based on interviews she conducted while researching her previous (nonfiction) book, The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
A friend once told me all my books, whether about soldiers, immigrants, Greeks or witchdoctors, are at root about people searching for family. I never even realized that until she said it, but it’s probably true.

What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Every person is different, so no one thing can change everyone. Jane might be changed by listening to a recent wonderful story I heard on NPR about the teenaged daughter of a firefighter wounded in the World Trade Center attacks. Joe might be changed by picking up Jane Eyre for the first time in his life and realizing it’s not chick lit but a brilliant novel, way ahead of its time. Re-reading great books, like Middlemarch or War and Peace, is one of the ways to see how much you’ve changed and matured since you last read it.

Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I’m not familiar enough with celebrity tell-alls to comment, but I do love novels that artfully play on real historical people and periods. I just read Andrea Barrett’s The Voyage of the Narwhal, a wonderful adventure story set in 1800s at a time when westerners were exploring the Arctic for the first time and trying to figure out evolution.

My favorite tell-all is a roman a clef by Flaubert’s long time lover, Louise Colet. Talk about scandalous!

Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Starving would be an exaggeration, but feeling poor, left out and pessimistic, oh yes. Was it inspiring? No. Too much to worry about, like where’s the next pay check coming from and can I stay in my apartment?

What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
When a reader really gets what you wrote, and asks great, heartfelt questions about it. The questions don’t have to be brilliant or intellectual, just sincere. If any of my books really touch people, I am so happy.

Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Only emails!