Laura Benedict is the author of seven novels of suspense and her short stories have been nominated for both Edgar and International Thriller Writers awards. Her latest book, The Stranger Inside, has been hailed as “downright chilling,” an “elegant scary mystery” and “compelling.” Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Thrillers: 100 Must-ReadsThe Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers and St. Louis Noir and she is often confronted with comments like, “You don’t look like a person who writes scary stories.” Benedict grew up in Cincinnati and now lives in Southern Illinois with her family.

Stay Thirsty Magazine invited Laura Benedict to participate in our One Hundred Words project with concepts drawn from her new novel.

STAY THIRSTY: Distant past.

LAURA BENEDICT: When I was three years old, my parents and I moved onto the Marine base at Quantico. I’d only taken baths up to that point in my life, but the house only had a shower. I remember standing outside of it, staring into its moist black-and-green interior, and being terrified. My parents told me I was too big to bathe in the sink and had no choice but to use it. The memory ends there. But the first dream I remember is of being afraid to go into a bright pink bathroom, and discovering a gorilla hiding behind the door.

Laura Benedict

STAY THIRSTY: Dark secrets.

LAURA BENEDICT: One of my favorite fictional characters, Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache, believes that all murders have their roots in the past. The murders in my stories have their roots in the distant past, and that’s certainly true for the murders in The Stranger Inside. My protagonist, Kimber, has a painful secret that has had a devastating effect on her entire adult life. As the cost of keeping that secret rises, the threat to her life escalates until she’s forced into taking actions she’ll regret. There’s no shortage of secrets in the life of the man who’s taken over her house, either.


LAURA BENEDICT: Here’s how to create suspense in a novel: Pose a question at the beginning, and answer it by the end of the story. Leave the reader wanting more at the end of every chapter. Leave the reader wanting more at the end of every page. Leave the reader wanting more at the end of every paragraph. Be sure to answer the original question. If you try to appear clever by not answering the question, or make the answer equivocal, you’ll have wasted the reader’s time, and they have the right to be pissed off. That’s all you need to know.

STAY THIRSTY: Complicated web.

LAURA BENEDICT: There’s an old slogan for paper towels that I like: “Life’s messy. Clean it up.” Real life is deliciously messy. So messy, in fact, that it’s tough to replicate in fiction because so much of it sounds unbelievable. I love creating complicated plots that demand to be unraveled. It’s a huge challenge. There’s nothing like taking an hour or two to just daydream about off-the-wall possibilities. Some work out, some get thrown out, some I save for subsequent stories. I once heard that it’s cheating for a writer to go back and plant new clues/hints after a story’s drafted. Rubbish.

STAY THIRSTY: Character study.

LAURA BENEDICT: Secondary characters are interesting to me, whether I’m reading their stories or writing them. It’s the reason the character counts in my novels are always relatively high. (I reign myself in for short stories.) Among my favorites in The Stranger Inside are Hadley, the six-year-old daughter of Kimber’s former lover, Claudia, Kimber’s mother, Neely Curtis, who works the desk at the locksmith office, Jenny, Kimber’s elderly next door neighbor, and Mr. Tuttle, Jenny’s tiny dog. (Fret not. Mr. Tuttle doesn’t die in the novel. A dog died in a flashback in my first novel, and I still hear about it.)

STAY THIRSTY: Compelling characters.

LAURA BENEDICT: Is there anything more tedious than a fictional character (or person) who appears so good that they’re incorruptible, or so bad that they have zero redeeming qualities? In The Stranger Inside I tried to pay very close attention to the moral and emotional complexities of all of the characters. Kimber, the protagonist, was fascinating to write because she wasn’t much concerned about whether the people around her liked her—unless she already cared for them and felt she might have something to lose if she alienated them too badly. Some might call her calculating. I call her complex, and redeemable.

STAY THIRSTY: Twists and turns.

LAURA BENEDICT: I can’t bear a dull story. Can’t bear to read them, and I live in fear of writing them. I once made the mistake of taking a graduate level writing workshop, and every story I submitted was mocked for having “too much plot.” Perhaps the stories were just bad, but it was that disdain for plot that I recall. When I pick up a piece of fiction, I’m fine if the story pisses me off or strains my credulity. I appreciate beautiful language and interesting structure, but if a story bores me or takes itself too seriously, I stop reading.


LAURA BENEDICT: Until I was in my early twenties, I was perfectly awful to my younger sisters. The first came along when I was three-and-a-half. While I don’t recall being immediately resentful of her, neither do I have many fond, big-sister memories. By the time the second turned five, I was occasionally required to babysit both of them. Too immature for the responsibility, I terrified them because I was terrified. I screamed. I bossed. Our childhood relationships formed in unhappy ways. Thankfully, they forgave me. But it’s no surprise to me that the sibling relationships in my work are fraught and destructive.

(Laura Benedict photo credit: Julia Noack)


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.