Sandra Benitez Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Sandra Benitez

Sandra Benitez

An interview with Sandra Benitez

Sandra Benitez talks about how, after taking a writing class at age 39, she quit her job to pursue her writing dreams, her favorite authors and procrastination techniques.

You were 52 when your first novel, A Place Where the Sea Remembers, was published. Have you been writing all your life, or did you come to it later?

I came to writing late. When I was 39, almost as a lark, I took a class in writing and all the stories that had impressed my heart began to bubble up. I was hooked and began to think of being a writer. I quit my job and began writing full time. It was an especially big risk because I was writing stories about "the other America," Latino stories that had not yet found a place in mainstream American literature. It took me 13 years to get my first book published.

You grew up between two cultures—Latin American and North American. How do you think this affects your writing?

I'm the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a father from rural Missouri. I spent my first 15 years living outside the U.S.; then five more years moving back and forth between them; then finally moved to Missouri and Minnesota where I live now. As a result, I feel comfortable writing about either culture, and I think I benefit from understanding how the people in each culture think about the other.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Among those who have influenced my writing are Louise Erdrich and Isabel Allende for the richness of their storytelling skills. I like Ernest Hemingway for the deceptive simplicity of his language and Tim O'Brien for teaching me to go beyond what seems to have happened and explore what might have really happened.

What do you read for fun and relaxation?

Murder mysteries are a favorite. In particular, I love the Ed McBain 47th precinct novels. I also like the work of Anita Shreve and Elizabeth Berg and Carol Shields. But by the way, all reading is enjoyable as far as I'm concerned.

How often do you write?

Five days a week, five hours a day or five pages a day, whichever comes first. When I'm heavy into a novel, I'll write every day and until I reach exhaustion, which usually happens after about 10 hours.

What are your favorite forms of procrastination?

The usual, except maybe for doing crossword puzzles. I'm a crossword nut. Other than that, I can get into room-straightening whether it needs it or not. Or I'll do a load of laundry or iron some clothes. Sometimes I convince myself that watching Oprah will make it easier for me to relax and then write.

Where do you write?

We live in a two-bedroom plus den condominium and for a long time my writing space was simply a small chunk of the den. But about three years ago a small one-bedroom unit right next door to ours became available. I had just gotten some advance money and I figured the universe was speaking me on how to spend it. We snatched the place up, knocked out space for a doorway to link the two places and voila! I had a studio. So now, I get out of bed at the old place and pad over to the new place. I call my studio "mi cueva," my cave. It contains everything I love, lots of books, paintings, photographs, art objects I've collected over the years, a big desk and an old hutch I've converted into a personal altar. It's covered with candles and religious artifacts of all kinds and photos of those I love, living and dead. I've crowned the hutch with tiny Christmas lights and the whole thing glows all day long. I find it comforting and encouraging and inspiring.

How do you feel about reviews of your books?

I read reviews with trepidation. Of course, I want the reviewer to have liked the book or, better yet, loved it. But once a book is out of my heart and onto the page, I have no control over what someone thinks of it. I've done my best, and the book is on its own. If I get a bad review (and fortunately this has been rare), I allow myself one day of misery, only one day.

What other titles were you considering for The Weight of All Things?

Because of one of the real events in the book, the massacre at the Sumpul River in El Salvador, I used "Sumpul" as a working title for a long time. Then it became "A River to Cross." Then "The Roar of the Lamb." Which make sense once you've read the book. But none of these were totally satisfying. Then I came across the quotation from a poem by Rilke, "Life is heavier than the weight of all things." That, in my mind, captured the essence of the novel and I knew in my gut that I had my title.

What has been your biggest surprise of being a published author?

That my readers sometime find significant meanings in my stories that I never, until they told me about them, realized were there.

Copyright © 2001 by Sandra Benítez. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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