Jacquelyn Benson writes smart historical thrillers where strong women confront the stranger things that occupy the borders of our world.
She once lived in a museum, wrote a master’s thesis on the cultural anthropology of paranormal investigation, and received a gold medal for being clever. She owes a great deal to her elementary school librarian for sagely choosing to acquire the entire Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown series.
Her debut novel, The Smoke Hunter, was nominated for Best Historical Fiction by RT Times. When not writing, she enjoys the company of a tall, dark, and handsome English teacher and practices unintentional magic.
What’s your favourite part of the lifestyle of an Author?
I love the challenge of crafting a great story. This is a mountain you can’t reach the top of, so I never have to worry about getting bored or complacent. I love how writing historical fiction gives me an excuse to indulge my lust for research. I have an excuse to spend hours reading about the history of blood transfusion, or scouring Booth’s poverty map of Victorian London.
Working from a home office with cats and tea also doesn’t hurt.
What made you start writing?
Stories kept inspiring my dreams of what I wanted my life to be. At eleven, nuts about Indiana Jones, I was sure I’d be an archaeologist. At fourteen, diving into the X-Files, it was criminology. Writing gave me an opportunity to be anything and everything, and to do it in a way that is always endlessly exciting.
Is there an Author that you consider your inspiration?
There are so many of them… I love how Neil Gaiman weaves mythology and folk horrors and contemporary urban life into such perfect narratives. I love Marion Zimmer Bradley’s sweeping magical-historical epic scale. I can list a half-dozen romance authors who knock my socks off with their skill for building tension between characters, using the evolution of love as a powerful impetus for personal growth and change. I believe all authors are ultimately magpies, stealing whatever shiny things we like from every book we get our hands on.
What’s your number one tip for an aspiring Author?
Be fearless with asking hard questions of your story. Would your character really take that action, even if it’s convenient to the plot? Is there a more devious and satisfying way you can spin out a mystery, or is there a portion of your book where tension seems to lag? Don’t shy away from those instincts. Confront them and make hard decisions about what needs to change to make your book better.
What type of book do you like to read and does this differ from the genre that you prefer to write?
I read broadly. It’s part of why my own work has trouble sitting in one comfortable category. I will jump from history tomes to swashbuckling adventure novels, devour some science or psychology and pick up an old spy thriller. I’m not sure I’ve met a genre I was unwilling to try, so long as the author knows how to weave a great story.
Which one of your characters would you most like to spend time with?
Robert Ash from The Fire in the Glass. Everybody needs a mentor who knows just where and how to push you to your next level, and to make you feel sure you’ll be loved and respected for the effort even if you fail.
Which book do you consider a must-read?
I’m laughing at this question, because I keep lending people copies of A Fish Dinner in Memison by E.R. Eddison, which I absolutely love. And none of them ever finish it. One woman’s must-read is another’s DNF. (I still recommend it to anyone who can track down a copy.)
What’s been the hardest edit that you’ve had to make? Why did you want to keep the material in?
I had to drop a character from The Fire in the Glass that I absolutely loved. He was a wicked, complicated, and wildly clever illusionist… and he did not fit into this story. It took things in the wrong direction, muddying important themes and flows. I have put him in my ever-expanding mental file cabinet, and am sure I will find an opportunity to use him in some future story. Having faith in that takes some of the sting out of the cuts today.
If you could live in a book, which one would it be?
How about a nice historical romance novel where my dashing husband gets to wear breeches instead of cargo shorts? I’ll save him from a burning flour mill and use my ju jitsu skills to defeat an attempt at forced marriage to the local mad duke.
If you could pick an Author to write your biography, who would it be?
John Le Carre. It’ll be darkly witty and complex, and at the end you’ll realize someone else really did all of it.
Is there any conflict between what you want to write and what you think your readers will like?
No. But is there a conflict between what I want to write and what I think the traditional publishing industry wants to sell? Sure.
I believe there are readers out there for every genre, subgenre, cross-genre and wading pool of story. Not all of those fields are very well defined, which can make reaching that audience a challenge… but the readers are there.
What effect can a review have on you, if you read them at all? Both the good and the bad.
I do read them. The good ones make me happy, because I know I’ve successfully made that connection with the readers I was trying to reach. The truly lousy ones don’t bother me, because I figure it means the wrong person stumbled across the book. If I see a lot of those, I’ll know I need to tweak my cover, blurb or categories to better show readers what’s under the hood. The most important reviews are the ones that include lines like, “I loved this so much, except…” or “I wish this one thing had been a little different.” Those are the reviews you learn from. They’re a gift, however much they might give you palpitations over your total star rating.
Can you sum up your life story in ten words or less?
Darling, my books are 150K. Maybe next week a haiku.
What’s exciting you about your next project?
I’m very happy to be working on a sequel to The Fire in the Glass. Because I’ve already introduced these characters, I now get to dive more deeply into their worlds. We’ll be able to spend a bit more time with some of the secondary folks from the first book, who are all wonderfully interesting people. It means wrangling with the challenge of doing that while keeping the story accessible to people who dive into the books out of order. As I said before, I like a good challenge.
And finally, you have one quote to be remembered by, what is it?
“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” – Jane Austen
Pete: Thanks to Jacquelyn for answering our questions. Some really interesting insights there!
You can find out more about Jacquelyn and her books on the links below: