Who writes books, pens poetry, plays six different instruments, built her own harp and grandfather clocks, constructs miniature rooms, composes music, paints, designs jewelry, and has a knack for telling engaging stories? That would be Marcia Allen Bennett.
Marica Allen Bennett is an award winning novelist who has published five children’s books and one adult comedy-mystery (think P.G. Wodehouse). She also just happens to live right here in the Northwest Houston area, and we are very proud to have the opportunity to interview this local creative force.
When did you first start writing?
My first writing efforts developed in the weekly letters I wrote to my mother describing my children’s escapades, mischief, and the funny things that can only come out of a child’s mouth. Here’s an example: After church one Sunday our pre-school son asked me who Father Bible was. Baffled, I asked him to tell me where he heard of Father Bible. His answer, “You know – we sing it every Sunday. Jesus loves me this I know, Father Bible tells me so.” I enjoyed sharing these tidbits and soon found out that my mother was sharing them with the local newspaper which was publishing them as they appeared. Now THAT can be intimidating . . . but I was suddenly a published author!
How do you come up with the vivid characters in your books?
Thank you for saying I have “vivid” characters. I don’t really know where they come from except that while I am writing, I feel that I am actually in the scene, in that person’s body and thinking as they would. I have always been a daydreamer. It isn’t always safe or good to be in another world when you are really standing in the middle of the kitchen with a hot pot in your hand, but that’s pretty much how I have been all my life.
You write both children’s and adult literature. What’s your favorite thing about writing kid’s books?
Writing for kids, at least for me, is being a kid again. One critic of my first book said one of the characters talked like an adult. At first my feelings were hurt, but then I realized that of course he did because that fit him exactly. He was one of those nerdy kids who soaked up history and science and whatever, and spouted it out at any opportunity. We had one of those kids in my family (not my child), so this character was patterned after him. At the time I wrote it, I had recently retired from teaching so I had a fair idea of how kids talked at that time. You can probably guess from this that I love writing dialog.
And what do you most enjoy about writing for adults?
Having written only one adult short novel, I guess the best part was using real-life situations. The crazy stuff in Ladies of the Bomb Squad was almost all based on true experiences; mine, my family’s, or my friends. I was living in a retirement home and trust me, hilarious things happen. We mishear what people say, our forgetfulness makes us do goofy things, and just about everybody has funny stories about what goes on around them. All I did as that book grew was listen and laugh and take notes!
Ladies Of The Bomb Squad includes some really quirky and vibrant characters. Are any based on you?
My friends tried to guess which character I was and really there were bits and pieces of me in all of them. But Sally was the one I really identified with. The passage in her journal about her son’s death was taken directly from my journal entries after my son’s death. I think she is more like me than the other characters.
You have other artistic mediums as well. Tell us about your harp and how you built it.
I do love my beautiful harp! After my son John died I needed an absorbing project, something challenging. I had a childhood friend who played a harp and I thought it so beautiful that I had always wanted one. Online I found a reasonably priced kit to build so I ordered it. What a discouraging pile of boards. The edges were squared off, nothing seemed to fit right, but I conquered the thing and ended up with a lovely instrument. Again, online, I found a how-to-play-the-harp book with a CD so I could hear how each song should sound. It was a struggle, but I finally learned a few songs well enough to play at church a few times, and at parties and festivals. I am terrible at it now, but I try to play some every day.
What other instruments do you play?
I don’t play any instrument well at all, but I can struggle along with the bowed psaltery, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, ukulele, accordion, and keyboard. I have my eye on a newly invented instrument, a four-chord zither, which is easy to play. The company hasn’t priced it yet, so it may be out of my reach.
What inspired you to create your miniature sets?
Way back in the 70’s I passed a small shop in a strip center and was utterly charmed by a dollhouse in the window. When I was a child, like so many little girls, I made shoebox houses with furniture and rugs and curtains. So I went into the shop and bought a kit to make a chest-on-chest. That did it! I was hooked, so I started creating my own little worlds, refining my work until I could send some samples to the International Guild of Miniature Artisans. I knew I could get an honest critique from them. I was shocked when I opened the letter from them and found that they liked my work enough to invite me to join the Guild. When I moved here from a larger home I had no room for a band saw, drills, and all the equipment, so now I am making jewelry from silver, dichroic glass, and other intriguing materials. My “studio” now consists of one small work table.
Editor’s Note: If you enjoyed reading this interview, you will fall in love with Marcia Bennett’s books, which include, Mystery at Jacob’s Well, Mystery at Saddlecreek, The Backpack Cat (all perfect for ages 8 to 12), Somebody Left the Door Open (whimsical poems for children of all ages), and of course Ladies of the Bomb Squad, for adults. Learn more at www.MarciaBennett.com.