When I read the Bliss House books, where should I start? Should I read Bliss House first?

Absolutely not! It was always my plan for the novels to move backwards in time, revealing a little more about the house with each book. The novels all have members of the Bliss family involved in their stories, but they stand alone and can be read in any order. Bliss House takes place sometime after 2013, and the second book, Charlotte’s Story, happens in 1957. In my first Bliss House short story, Cold Alone: A Bliss House Story, the house itself is the continuing character, rather than a family member; it takes place on a snowy February night in 2008, when Bliss House was run as an inn by Peter and Mim Brodsky.

What is your writing day like?

I write a bit in the morning, work out. After lunch I do email, and some social media. Then I work until it’s time to make dinner. Evenings are family time.

What was your journey to publication?

I was always a big reader, but wasn’t moved to write fiction until I found myself writing brochure copy for a sales promotion company. It was a scary step, but I enrolled in a couple of entry-level college writing classes. Later I talked my way into a graduate writing workshop where the professor told me my work was too plot-oriented and old-fashioned and that I would never publish. That hurt. A lot. But I kept writing. I entered competitions. I met some truly generous writers who looked at my work and gave me advice. Then I got into writing book reviews for a couple of newspapers, and read and reviewed dozens of books a year. Simultaneously I worked on a novel. Then another. The first two took me 14 years altogether, and they weren’t great—I consider them my practice novels. Along the way I sold a few short stories, raised a couple of kids. When my youngest was five years old, I gave myself a year to write a third novel. It took me 11 months, then another couple to revise it. My agent (who was very patient with me for many years) submitted it to publishers on a Thursday afternoon. On the following Monday morning we had a two-book deal for a substantial amount of money. I was an overnight success after 19 years!

How long does it take you to write a novel?

Because I tend to edit as I write, it takes me a long time to write a novel. It means that my first drafts are usually in good shape, but it also means I end up with only one book (maybe one and a half) books a year. I also like to write a story or two at the same time.

Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?

I am quite possibly one of the most paranoid people you’ll ever know—not in a tinfoil hat sense, but I’m definitely paranoid when it comes to imagining crimes that might happen. Every dry cleaning bag becomes a means of suffocation, every country road is a place to dump a body. Some of my stories begin in my dreams, some in news stories. I never know where a story might come from, so I’m always on the lookout.

Who are your favorite writers?

Cormac McCarthy, Louise Penny, J.T. Ellison, Elizabeth George, Kate Atkinson, the Brontës, Pinckney Benedict, Patricia Highsmith, Shirley Jackson, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Daniel Woodrell, Luanne Rice, Joyce Carol Oates…those are just a few.

Where can I get a signed book?

Left Bank Books in St. Louis has signed copies of my most recent books. Plus, they ship anywhere in the country for .99!

Do you give talks, do library, book club or bookshop events? What about workshops?

I do them all! In addition to appearances, I teach workshops for writers of all levels and ages—even kids (G and PG rated, of course). I love to travel, but am also happy to meet with folks via telephone, Skype or Facetime. Drop me a note here or at laura@laurabenedict.com, and I’ll get right back to you.

Do you have a newsletter?

I love to keep in touch, though I never like to be a pest. Submit your name and email address below, and I’ll put you on my list for occasional news about releases and events. I like to do a giveaway or contest with each newsletter as well. And your privacy is important! I’ll never share your personal information. Promise. AND if you sign up, you get to download a free ebook!

How can I become published, too?

The good news is that it’s not difficult to get published. There are many, many quite inexpensive ways to get your writing out in front of people. It’s quite a rush to have someone you haven’t met before tell you that they’ve read what you’ve written and (it is to be hoped!) liked it. The bigger, more difficult question is:

How can I get someone to pay me for writing what I love, and then get them to spend money so that other people will read it?

Step 1) Read. A lot. Think about what you’ve read—how it’s constructed, what appeals to you about it, what doesn’t work. Then read some more. There’s an axiom that says a writer should read at least 3 times as many words as she writes.

Step 2) Write. A lot. Then write some more. Write all you want, then edit it. Several times.

Step 3) Get professional help. There are many introductory writing classes out there—community-based workshops, college classes, library workshops. Even if you’ve been writing on and off for several years, you need other, qualified eyes to help you learn what works and what doesn’t. Read books about writing and creativity: Stephen King, Chuck Wendig (he also has a terrific website with lots of info), Dani Shapiro, Julia Cameron. One of my personal favorites is Patricia Highsmith’s Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, which is not so much a how-to as it is a primer on how she approached her work.

Step 4) Polish it up. And I mean really, really polish it. Hire a professional editor and copyeditor if you can before you start looking for an agent. Agents want work they can sell right away. They can’t do anything with an unfinished or poorly constructed manuscript.

Step 5) Query lots of agents. It’s worth your time to research agents online or at the library before wasting your energy querying the wrong ones. And no legitimate agent will charge you money to sell your work—not copying fees, postage, nothing! They get their 15% when they sell your work. Stay away from any agent who charges fees. I mean it. They will break your heart and steal your money. And don’t worry about submitting to more than one agent at once. Life’s too short to sit around waiting months to hear back from very busy people.

Step 5A) Enter competitions. It’s easy. It’s cheap. (Entry fees are common even with legitimate competitions. But any more than $10-$15 for a short story is too much, in my opinion.) Sometimes there is both money and feedback to be had. Prizes will get the attention of other people who might pay you money later. It’s a great experience in both anticipation and rejection.

Step 6) As soon as you send one project out the door, start the next one!

What about self-publishing? Should I do that instead?

A few people are extremely successful at self-publishing. The best, most successful ones have either published with commercial publishers before, or have nailed at least Steps 1 thru 4, above. Think about your goals: Do you just want to be published once? (Because I warn you, it’s like that potato chip commercial. You will not want to stop!) Or are you looking for a career?

Wait. Aren’t some of your books self-published?

My novel DEVIL’S OVEN, my backlist titles ISABELLA MOON and CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, plus several short stories are available online, under my Gallowstree Press imprint. I have a terrific agent who made it very easy to get my rights back from Ballantine Books, which published ISABELLA MOON and CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS. But it was no small job getting the manuscripts cleaned up and formatted, new covers made, and putting them up online. For DEVIL’S OVEN, I hired professional editors as well. If you’re inclined to self-publish, remember to put the best work out there you can. It shouldn’t be anything less than you’d want a professional publisher to see.

Will you read my unpublished manuscript?

I’m sorry, but I cannot due to potential legal complications. I do critique manuscripts when I’m teaching in writing workshops. Please check my upcoming events. There might be one in your area. Or we can set one up!

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