It was a dark and stormy night …
No, scratch that.
It was a gray and drizzly day when thriller author Laura Benedict emerged from the foggy Southern Illinois landscape to enter Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Carbondale.
Benedict, a rising star in the Ballantine Books' galaxy of authors, was at the bookstore to sign copies of her new book, "Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts," as well as her previous novel, "Isabella Moon," which after a hardcover release in 2007 was recently published in trade paperback.
"I think today is a really good day to be in a bookstore, but a better day to be at home reading a good book," she said with a laugh.
And that was apparently the intent of those who showed up at the bookstore last weekend, bearing copies of the books or purchasing them off the shelves. A quick stop to meet the author and get their books signed and then they were off, many no doubt anxious to take advantage of the spooky weather by reading one of Benedict's perfectly spooky books.
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Her debut, "Isabella Moon," is an atmospheric thriller set in a small Kentucky town haunted by the disappearance of the title character - a young girl whose ghost appears to new resident Kate Russell, who came to town harboring her own mysteries.
The book was called "unforgettable" in a Chicago Tribune review while her latest was cited as "spellbinding" in a Publishers Weekly review.
"Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts" continues in the suspense vein by telling the tale of three women whose not-so-innocent deed as girls comes back to haunt them.
Readers might find themselves haunted as well after reading Benedict's well-written, can't-put-down thrillers.
Both novels can be described as suspenseful. "Isabella Moon" has elements of mystery while "Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts" is more classic horror, a genre she said she has long followed but never imagined she would write.
"I loved books and always knew I wanted to do something with books, but I thought I'd be a librarian," she said. "Later, because I am married to a literary writer, I imagined there was some sort of nebulous thing called literary fiction. But writing that kind of fiction you have to be trained, often in an MFA program. I was not trained. I come at writing from a craft standpoint. I don't have the programmatic training to write that particular type of fiction. I tried to write it for a long time but because I wasn't trained, I did a terrible job at it. I decided to have fun. I gave myself a year to write 'Isabella Moon' and a ghost just showed up in it. I didn't know it was going to be a ghost story. It just turned out that way."
She is already working on novel No. 3.
"I find myself gravitating more and more toward the horror genre. Maybe not so defined as horror but more surreal horror fiction, where you really have to have a complete suspension of disbelief," she said.
"I think my books work that way. All the weird stuff is very internal with them. It's not like people are surprised when the devil shows up."
Benedict loves to read, but is choosy about her reading material these days.
"My time for reading is much more limited than it used to be before I was writing professionally, so I am extremely selective about what I read. When I started reviewing books, I learned that I am not going to like every book and that I don't have to finish a book if I don't like it. I give everyone permission if they start a book and don't like it, stop reading it immediately," she laughed. "Life is too short to read bad writing. Then again, writing is so subjective. There are many, many books out there that sell many, many copies that I would not consider technically good writing but have a really compelling story. It's a very subjective thing. I don't really read for subject matter. If a story is in context and it's well written, then it's always relevant.
It may be out of fashion for many people. Our attitudes and ideas may change, but that doesn't change the quality of the writing. I go back and reread things. 'Jane Eyre' I've probably read 15 times."
Benedict said she loves to be scared and hopes her fans want to feel similarly.
"I don't want them to be petrified about the space around them. I want them to feel tension, I want them to experience emotion and intensity, but I don't want to scare them to death," she said, laughing.