posted on June 15, 2015 by Laura Benedict

The Care and Feeding of a (Fictional) Daughter

Bliss HouseI have the best daughter. When she was a toddler, she was adorably curious and nearly always cheery. If she awoke in her little bed before we came to get her, she would call out, “Can I get out of bed now?” Her school grades have always been excellent, and she never got a speeding ticket, came home drunk, or was more than a few minutes late for curfew. (In other words, she was very unlike the teenage me. Ahem.) In the last few years, she earned both college and grad school scholarships. Plus, she sings like an angel, and is only a little bit of an opera diva (her nickname is Opera Poodle). She had her moments like every kid, of course. But, really, we got off easy.

The loveliest thing about my daughter is that she honors me by choosing to be one of my very best friends.

I confess that I had it pretty easy with her when she was growing up. Now that she’s twenty-three, she’s a full-fledged adult, and I don’t worry nearly as much about her as I did. Okay. That’s not exactly true. I just worry about different things. Instead of worrying that she and her friends will be kidnapped from the mall, I worry that someone will break into her off-campus apartment. I don’t think about her grades at all, but I do worry that she won’t find a job after she graduates. Or that her health insurance premiums will be too expensive and she won’t be able to afford to buy a house of her own. Big stuff. But it’s also stuff that I can’t control at all, so I shouldn’t really be worrying.

Raising fictional daughters is way tougher.

My latest fictional mom, Rainey Bliss Adams, has a fourteen year-old daughter named Ariel. Ariel has had it rough. Before the novel, BLISS HOUSE, opens, her life was great: she was the only child of two adoring parents, had lots of friends in St. Louis, and a talent for ballet. She was funny and smart and pretty and had an amazing relationship with her dad. Then a seemingly innocent choice that Rainey made resulted in an accident that killed Rainey’s husband and permanently scarred Ariel.

How does one move forward after such a tragedy?

I made sure Rainey had already done all the necessary things in the year before we meet them: Ariel had terrific medical care, and all the surgery and rehab that was possible. She got counseling. Rainey devoted all her time, love, and energy to Ariel’s recovery. But Ariel can’t forgive.

I confess that I would make very different parenting choices from Rainey from that point on.

What does Rainey do? She makes a desperate choice and buys a house halfway across the country, in Virginia. I confess that it’s the kind of Hail Mary pass that I might consider if I had lost my husband and my home—but I don’t think I could ever actually do it. I’m not brave enough. But Rainey sees how Ariel is suffering without her father, and can’t handle the guilt. She knows that being fourteen is hard enough: raging hormones, insecurity and uncertainty, and the frustration of no longer being a child, yet also not being an adult. She wonders how much of Ariel’s unkindness to her is related to Will’s death, and how much is just teenage callousness? Parenting even under the best conditions often feels like a risky proposition, but the move to Virginia looks like an opportunity to wipe the slate clean.

Is it a good choice for Ariel? She remains sullen, but then she slowly begins to change and Rainey starts to think she might have done a good thing by bringing her to Bliss House. But Rainey doesn’t have all the information she needs: Soon after they arrive, Ariel starts to experience supernatural events and is even physically harmed. Her father’s ghost appears to her, bringing her a disturbing, confusing kind of comfort. And yet despite all the frightening things that are happening, she also discovers that her scars have begun to mysteriously heal. But she doesn’t trust Rainey enough to tell her what’s happening.

Rainey is preoccupied. Her own grief nearly overwhelms her. And when there is a horrifying death, right there in Bliss House, she is even more distracted. Bliss House is not the safe haven that she had imagined, and now she’s not only worried about Ariel, but is afraid for her life.

Strange, dark things are happening in Bliss House. I can’t imagine raising a child in such a place—mostly because I wouldn’t stay more than five minutes in a house that was genuinely haunted. That just seems to make good parenting sense. I would’ve plowed through in St. Louis, doing my best to restore some normalcy to Ariel’s life—surrounding her with friends and all things familiar. But then my life isn’t nearly so eventful, or complicated. (Thank goodness!)

Charlotte's StoryRainey does the best that she knows how. Isn’t that the only thing that any parent can do?

BLISS HOUSE, the first novel in the Bliss House trilogy, is Laura Benedict’s latest novel of dark suspense, and is now available in paperback, audio, and as an ebook. CHARLOTTE’S STORY, the second Bliss House novel (set in 1957), will be published in October. Check out Laura’s other books and enter her monthly contest at

BLISS HOUSE can be purchased for/from:

Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the author of six novels of dark suspense, including the Bliss House gothic trilogy: The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte's Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her work has also appeared inEllery Queen's Mystery Magazine, PANK, on NPR, and in anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads and St. Louis Noir. She lives with her family in Southern Illinois. Visit her at

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