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Benita Kane Jaro Interview, Part One

Here's an interview with Benita Kane Jaro, whose most recent novel, BETRAY THE NIGHT, deals with one of history's (and literature's) enduring mysteries: why, in 8 A.D., the emperor Augustus exiled the poet Ovid. Ovid knew the reason, but would never reveal it. In Jaro's novel, Ovid's wife Pinaria becomes of necessity the detective. BETRAY THE NIGHT was published in 2009 by Bolchazy-Carducci.

Susan Kelly: Did you always want to write?

Benita Kane Jaro: I don't know. I may have. I knew I was an artist of some kind, but I don't think I knew what kind, exactly. I think I assumed I was a painter for most of my childhood and very early teens. Or an actor. For a while that was an ambition of mine. But around that time--say around the age of fourteen--I read a sentence of Orwell's; something about the fact that in not writing he knew he was "outraging his true nature." It made me squirm for years, so I knew I wanted to write.

SK: How did you get started writing?

BKJ: I always wrote. Didn't you? Mostly poems when I was a child, though around the sixth grade I started writing short stories and plays. We were big on staging plays in my neighborhood, and I was always the one to write them. Everyone seems to have forgiven me. By now.

SK: What were your earliest literary influences? I ask because I think those are the ones that really embed themselves and stay with us.

BKJ: I'm sure they must be. But I can't put my finger on any very literary ones, maybe because I didn't think of myself as necessarily a writer. Around the age of ten or so I started reading the Romantic poets, principally Shelley; I knew that I had the Romantic temperament, emotional and inclined to extremes. They were therefore an influence on my life, though they must also have influenced the poetry I wrote. But then so did Alfred Noyes---remember "The Highwayman"? Dah-da, dah-da, dah-da, dah-da. And so on. I must have written a ream of that sort of thing. My father thought it was good. I loved Jules Verne: it was full of big words I didn't understand. I still remember the air of mystery that gave the books, and I still look for it in artistic works. I loved Enid Blyton, the English children's author, and her mysteries for children. They gave me a lifelong love of detective stories and adventure stories, especially and to this day British ones.

Around the age of fifteen I read a book called "The Outsider" by Colin Wilson, so I began to read philosophy, which remained a great love and influence on me for years. I took my undergraduate degree in that field, and expected to go on to get a Ph.D. and so on. I never did, but that's another story. The Romantic temperament again, I suppose.

There are two more influences early enough to speak of here. One is George Orwell, my first literary hero, as he must be for many writers. His candor, his intelligence, his originality, his courage--I think I admired most the calm surface and logical structure of his work, which is at bottom fully as Romantic as Shelley. And the last, one of the most important influences on my life if not my work (of course my work; it's just that it's so pervasive it's hard for me to see) was Tolkien. When I was thirteen or fourteen a friend lent me his copies of "The Lord of the Rings," which were not yet published in this country. I loved them instantly, and when I had my first job about five years later they were the first things I bought.

To be continued.
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