Monday, January 14, 2008


Laura Benedict is the author of Isabella Moon, her first novel which was published a few short months ago to wonderful reviews.

From Mount Olympus to Days of Our Lives: My Rules for Writing

When I first sat down to write a thriller, I gave myself two rules: 1) Something had to happen to move the story along in every chapter, and 2) The events could possibly happen on a scary, sexy version of my favorite television soap opera, “Days of Our Lives.” Does that sound funny to you? Whenever I give a reading or a talk and tell that story, it’s always followed by nervous giggles from most of the women and uncomfortable looks from attendant men. In academic crowds, people sometimes frown.

You see, soap operas aren’t considered acceptable role models for writers of literature. Soap operas are melodramatic---souped up on plot and emotion. They bring to mind housewives eating ice cream out of a box in front of the television, unattended children, piles of laundry. (Few people extend their disdain to men camped out in front of “Friday Night Lights,” or HBO’s “Rome.” But I digress.)

I have always loved plot: tattered copies of Bronte novels and Shakespeare’s plays have been among my most prized possessions. Years ago, someone gave my daughter a copy of D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths. Do you have any idea what Zeus’s sex life was like, what intrigues swirled around him, what agonies his family members put each other through? I adored the big family drama novels of the twentieth century. I swooned over The Thornbirds, Dr. Zhivago, and The Carpetbaggers. My more recent plot-driven favorites are by Elmore Leonard and Elizabeth George. Okay, so there might be a rather more direct connection between The Carpetbaggers and “Days of Our Lives” than Ancient Greece and modern-day Salem (the imaginary town where “Days” takes place), but my point is the same. It’s all about story and vibrant characters who tend to do the things we at home generally have the good sense not to—but really wish we could.

Before the writing of my novel, ISABELLA MOON, really got under way, I spent a considerable amount of time asking myself, “What’s the strangest/wildest/most unlikely thing that could happen right now? What would really be fun and astonishing?” How freeing it was to put the character-writing skills I’d developed over the years to use in a plot that pleased and entertained me.

One of the loveliest compliments a reviewer ever paid me was to say that the supernatural elements in ISABELLA MOON were as natural and realistic as the books’ characters. Little did she know how delighted I would be to read that, because I wanted my characters to be just as sensible as the inhabitants of Salem were when the beautiful and good Dr. Marlena Evans started inexplicably causing trouble. Was she depressed, mentally ill, or drunk? No. She was possessed by a demon, of course! So they got her an exorcist and she was soon right as rain. At least until a few years later when she was discovered to be a serial killer, but wasn’t really. It all had something to do with the victims’ bodies not really belonging to the victims, but to corpses surgically altered to look like the intended victims.

Pass the ice cream!


Kelli Stanley said...

How right you are, Laura! D'Aulaire's Greek Myths(my first foray into the ancient world at the tender age of seven)is full of plot lines that make Luke and Laura look like Ozzie and Harriet. ;)

ISABELLA MOON is brilliant, lyrical, thrilling, terrifying, and haunting ... now that the word's out about the Days inspiration, watch their ratings jump. :)

Kelli Stanley

CJ Lyons said...

Laura, I admit I never watched a soap-opera (although I am hooked by FNL!) but I love myths. Especially I love how those large than life archetypes feel so very true when you nail them in a story, as if there is an universal resonance.

I think that's why Isabella felt so very real in IM, she slipped right into our collective psyche and took up residence...

Laura Benedict said...

Hey, Kelli. I'm so glad you came by! The really funny part about reading D'Aulaire's was trying to explain that stuff to a 7 year-old!

Laura Benedict said...

I think that if you've watched FNL, CJ, you've watched a soap! (Shhhh. I won't tell!)

What is that line about there only being seven plots in literature? I think the early myths--Greek and otherwise covered them all. Even originated them. I wonder if we could all trace our plot lines back to them?!

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