In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Laura Theobald Benda
Tell us about your CNF piece “The Coward” in Volume 22. How did it come to be?
This piece actually began 10 years ago, during the Hamline summer writing workshop. The visiting professor asked us to write about an article of clothing that was special to us, and the only thing I could think of was my hat simply because I love Scooby Doo. I had no idea what I was going to write about, and the piece turned out to be much more serious than I had intended, and I put it away. Last year my brother was in a really solid, healthy place, and I felt good about pulling the piece out again. I made a few minor edits and began submitting it.
What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
Since I’m a CNF writer, I love finding and capturing symbolism in everyday life. I love how writing helps me understand the world.
What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
I was always writing little stories as a kid. And I absolutely loved how pleased my grandmother’s voice sounded when she described me as a “future journalist,” even though I was too young to even know what a journalist was. I knew it had something to do with writing, though, so I was determined I would become one. (And I did, for awhile.)
What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
I’m always intimidated to answer this question because it gives away how uncool I am when it comes to art! I’ll say I’m incredibly inspired by the women in my writing group, both for their beautiful stories and their dedication to craft.
What craft element challenges you the most in your writing? How do you approach it? What is your quirk as a writer?
For some reason, as an MFA student, I could never understand what reflection meant in CNF. I’d write scene, and I’d write summary, and then my professors (every one, every term) would tell me to add reflection. I was in my capstone course when it finally hit me: all “reflection” means is stepping into the story with some variation of, “I didn’t know it then, but now I know …”
Even with that minor epiphany, it’s still a challenge. Reflection is where the writer becomes vulnerable.
What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing?
I’ve noticed the theme of independence recurs throughout most of my writing. Actually, I was halfway through writing a memoir that tries to explore the line between dependence and independence when someone pointed out how fitting that is, since I was born on Independence Day.
What does your creative process look like? How does the environment you are in shape your work or where do you like to write?
My creative process has been all over the map since having children. I wish I were one of those super-dedicated writing moms who wake up at 4 a.m. to write, but I haven’t had much luck with that. Mostly I try to squeeze in time to write whenever it’s available, which these days is usually over lunch at work.
What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on a second memoir and trying to wrestle with issues of autism, diet, parenting, and feminism—and where they all intersect.
Laura Theobald Benda has been a reporter, editor, and teacher, currently she is the associate director of stewardship and a campaign writer at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. She earned her MFA in creative nonfiction from Hamline University and has published work in rock, paper, scissors, and The Tishman Review. She lives and writes in Lakeville, MN with her husband, two children, and two dogs.