An Interview With Janet Benton, Author of “Lilli de Jong” and Lindas Book Obsession

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Linda’s Book Obsession Interviews JANET BENTON


Interview Questions


  1. What inspires or motivates you to write your novels? When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?


Being alive inspires me all the time. I realized I needed to be a writer when I was an adolescent, or maybe earlier. I started keeping a diary when I was 9 or 10, and I needed my diary not only for keeping a record of my life, but also for finding comfort and companionship. I think that’s when I started needing to write. Poems began coming to me when I was 14.


  1. How do you get your ideas for your characters, and are they based on any people you know?


I don’t really know where my characters come from. If you want to tell a story, you need characters, so the idea of what characters I need for a situation I’m picturing comes right away. The cast of characters grows as the story grows. Sometimes there’s a glimmer of someone I know in a character. In terms of the characters in Lili de Jong, Lilli’s name and a little of her moral courage come from a friend from childhood I admire. An aspect or two of how Lilli feels about Johan came from an old boyfriend. Clementina has one thing in common with someone I used to know—her fear of being close to her infant. Patience looks, in my mind, a little like a dear college friend of mine. These characters grew into ones completely unlike those little seeds they started with. And some characters came from people I’ve never met or from entirely invented people. Initially, I thought of Albert Burnham as being a bit like John Malkovich in a particular movie (I can’t recall the title), but quickly he grew into his own person. Miss Baker, Margaret, Frau Varschen, Nancy, Anne Pierce, Delphinia, Lilli’s parents and brother, and probably all the other characters in the novel don’t bring to mind anyone I’ve known.


  1. What are your goals for your readers to take away after reading your novel?


I hope people will do a lot more appreciating of the intensely meaningful, difficult work that mothers do and that they’ll make it less difficult in every way they can.


  1. How do you keep a balance in your life, being an author, family member, etc.?


I don’t find it possible to live a balanced life, though I suppose I succeed more than some do. I spend a lot of time with my family, I work very hard to earn a living through my business, The Word Studio, through which I help others with their writing. I do a great deal of work connected with my novel and essays and interviews and events—and I’m trying to write my next novel in the spaces in between. I’d say the areas that have suffered most in recent years are all the other ones—exercising, relaxing, taking good care of our home and yard, cooking very healthful meals . . . though again, I’m not doing so terribly badly.


  1. When you have downtime, what are your hobbies?


Sometimes I take a bath or a nap or a walk. But unfortunately I rarely have downtime. I enjoy having dinner with a group of friends or relaxing by a lake—those are among my favorite things to do.


  1. Do you have any writing projects on your agenda, and can you share something with us?


I’m working on my next novel, which is contemporary rather than historical. I’m going away to work on it for two weeks this summer, and I’m very excited. It won’t be finished for several years unless a year’s income falls from the sky (which would make me very happy).


  1. What is a typical day for you while you are writing?


I pray I will have the chance to write full time—I’ve wanted this since I was a teenager. Then I will have so many writing days in a row that I’ll have a typical one. As it is, my writing days are very intense days of nonstop work that are bad for my body, because there are too few of them.


  1. If you were not an author, what career path would you take?


There’s nothing I’d rather be. But I did devote a lot of time to singing—practicing, studying, singing with bands, writing songs, performing. If I didn’t need to write and read even more than I love to sing and hear music, I probably would have tried to be a singer and a singing teacher. I’m pretty passionate about helping people find their voices and their stories on the page, and I love to teach people how to work with their singing voices, too.


  1. How would you like the readers to connect with you?


Anyone who’d like to be in touch is welcome to write me through the contact tab on my website, I’m pleased to meet anyone who loves Lilli’s story.



Linda’s Book Obsession. ABOUT  JANET BENTON










Janet Benton began writing early and has worked hard to give books a central place in her life. She grew up in a small town in Connecticut and skipped eighth grade to travel the world with her working-artist mother. She holds an M.F.A. in English/fiction writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a B. A. in religious studies from Oberlin College. After working at magazines, newspapers, and publishers, running an editorial business, and teaching writing at four universities and privately, she began The Word Studio ( to focus on writing, editing, and working with writers. Click here to read an interview with her in Publisher’s Weekly, March 2017, called “Mothers from the Past: PW Talks with Janet Benton.” Feel free to get in touch via the Contact tab on this site. She’ll be pleased to answer just about any question; for a short list that might get your thinking started, see below.










Lilli de Jong

Philadelphia, 1883. Twenty-three-year-old Lilli de Jong is pregnant and alone—abandoned by her lover and banished from her Quaker home. She gives birth at a charity for wronged women, planning to give up the baby. But the power of their bond sets her on a completely unexpected path. Unwed mothers in 1883 face staggering prejudice, yet Lilli refuses  to give up her baby girl. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep the two of them alive.

Lilli confides this story to her diary as it unfolds, taking readers from a charity for unwed mothers to a wealthy family’s home and onto the streets of a burgeoning American city. Her story offers a rare and harrowing view into a time when a mother’s milk is crucial for infant survival. Written with startling intimacy and compassion, this accomplished novel is both a rich historical depiction and a testament to the saving force of a woman’s love.

“So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”


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