I get a lot of questions about why a perfectly normal-looking woman like me writes dark, gothic stories in which very bad things happen. Sure, I look like someone’s idea of a soccer mom, and I am an unapologetic Christian, but I don’t see much of a contradiction. My work is my work, and have I mentioned that I write fiction?
Like every writer, I first had to give myself permission to write the stories that presented themselves to me. For that’s how it works: A story shows up in the form of an image, or a single idea, and I uncover the rest. Some writers who start very young aren’t conscious of giving themselves permission. They simply write without question. I only began writing in my mid-twenties, and I was a timid writer at first, alarmed by the rather grim direction in which my writing thoughts wandered. My stories were usually about teenagers doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing, often at the behest of someone older, and much more devious. I mined my own life indirectly, and felt a distressing sense of shame. I’ve always imagined that sense of shame was a leftover from my Roman Catholic girlhood, but I think it came from a number of places.
I wrestled with this shame. I worried about what my parents would think, what my in-laws would think. What the people at church would think. I assumed that they would think I was a bad person because of the disturbing subject matter of my stories. And there were, indeed, people who told me they thought my work was harmful. It made writing difficult, to say the least. I had a vision of what my work might be, but I was afraid of it.
Each time I prayed for help with my work, I was terrified that the response would be, “I’ll help you, but you need to be writing things that are uplifting. Take a look at the shelves at the Perfect Christian Book Store, and write something that might work there. There’s enough creepy stuff in the world, and we don’t want to contribute to that vibe. Be a good person.” I was asking for help, but didn’t want to get in a wrangle about what I should be writing. If you have any sort of formal relationship with God yourself, you probably know that this sort of bargaining isn’t the way things work. I’ve heard people say that God isn’t like a gumball machine—You don’t put your quarter/prayer in, and get an immediate gumball/result. But I think that prayer is exactly like a gumball machine. You put your quarter in, hoping, hoping, praying for a blue gumball, but you’re just as likely to get pink, white, or green one. And the green one tastes weird, but you’re stuck with it.
If my petitions and expectations sound incredibly immature and juvenile, it’s probably because they were. I didn’t understand that I don’t have much choice in what I’m given to write. We don’t get to choose the gifts we are given, and God doesn’t always give us clear directions. (See free will.). I was trying to bargain, but God wasn’t playing. He’d known what I needed long before I asked.
I write stories of escape. Escape into fictional worlds. Safe excursions into scary places that are easy to leave behind once the sun comes up, or the tv comes on, or the toddler mashes a handful of peas in her hair. It’s all make-believe. Sure, there are some plausible parts, and some disturbing parts—but that’s what makes them stories, yes?
Mine is an unusual gift, and not one appreciated by everyone. Do I believe in evil? You bet. You won’t find me getting near a Ouija board. Again. Do I think my stories–which are for adults, by the way–could tempt someone away from their faith? No way. (See free will and faith.)
Laura Benedict is the author of several novels of dark suspense, including Charlotte’s Story: A Bliss House Novel and Bliss House. Visit her at laurabenedict.com
The fall of 1957 in southern Virginia was a seemingly idyllic, even prosperous time. A young housewife, Charlotte Bliss, lives with her husband, Hasbrouck Preston “Press” Bliss, and their two young children, Eva Grace and Michael, in the gorgeous Bliss family home. On the surface, theirs seems a calm, picturesque life, but soon tragedy befalls them: four tragic deaths, with apparently simple explanations.
But nothing is simple if Bliss House is involved. How far will Charlotte go to discover the truth? And how far will she get without knowing who her real enemy is? Though Bliss House may promise to give its inhabitants what they want, it never gives them exactly what they expect.