Chloe Benjamin is the author of the New York Times-bestselling novel The Immortalists and The Anatomy of Dreams, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin and is twenty-nine years old.
TBF: Where did the idea for the novel originate? Was it a fascination with the occult, a philosophical question of fate over free will, or did it start with the family itself?
CHLOE BENJAMIN: I can’t remember exactly when (sometime in 2013) or why the idea hit me, but the nutshell was very clear: four siblings visit a fortune teller who tells them their dates of death, and then the book follows each of them over the course of their lives. I find ideas to be one of the most muse-y, mysterious parts of the writing process. I can’t force them—I’m just glad when they happen! But I know THE IMMORTALISTS came out of my lifelong fascination (and struggle!) with mortality, and with the unknown.
TBF: Has anything as strange—as meeting a gypsy who claims to know the day you’ll die—happened to you in real life?
CHLOE BENJAMIN: I wish! No, I’m probably a fiction writer because nothing exciting enough has happened to me to pull directly from my life. On the other hand, I think that strange, small, magical-seeming sparks and coincidences are taking place all the time, if we stop and pay attention. And once, when I was in the Tucson airport, a woman came up to me, told me she was a clairvoyant, and gave me a “download” about what would happen in the next thirty years of American politics. I almost fainted.
TBF: Have you ever wished you could be a character in a book or literary universe? If so, which one?
CHLOE BENJAMIN: Like most kids of my generation, I was heartbroken when my Hogwarts letter didn’t arrive. I was about the same age as Harry when the Harry Potter books came out, and I found them utterly transporting. My favorite reading experiences are still like that—totally encapsulating, as though you’re living in the world of the book.
TBF: What is the first thing you ever wrote and when did you discover your writing voice?
CHLOE BENJAMIN: I wrote constantly as a kid and teenager–mostly long, meandering stories on an ancient, hand-me-down laptop from my mom’s partner. In fourth grade, my teacher, Mr. Gutierrez, gave us creative writing assignment. My story was too thick to be stapled and had to be bound with string! But I think I discovered my voice in college. That’s when I began to explore writing in different perspectives from a close third POV, which is still my favorite vantage point: inflected with the hue of each character, but stylistically more flexible than first person.
TBF: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
CHLOE BENJAMIN: A therapist? A lawyer? Or maybe a yarn store owner.
Catch Chloe Benjamin on Sunday, October 28 at the State Capitol E2.016 from 11:00 – 11:45 at the 2018 Texas Book Festival!