Diane L. Benitez

Welcome to my interview series with women authors! Readers just love to get to know writers and while a memoir might reveal everything a reader wants to know, there is often more to tell.  After reading yours, Diane, I wanted to know more.

Q. In your book, you describe meeting Alberto Benitez, marrying him, and moving to his home town of Madrid. As a memoirist, how do you unpack, or even remember, your feelings of so long ago?
A. I wrote about experiences that took place in a foreign country, in a foreign language. I was so excited and interested by the newness and the differences that I think I focused on details that, in another place, would have passed unnoticed. I lived with heightened sensibilities, as it were. I have also returned to Spain more times than I can count. Always there is a friend, a niece or nephew to say, “Do you remember the day that…..?” My memories are constantly refreshed and validated. And then there are my daughters who look at old photos with me and ask questions or jog my recollections.


Q. What an intriguing title! How did you come up with it?
A. I originally had MADRID: A MEMOIR as the title but the publishers believed such specific geography was limiting. So, I made a list of tentative titles that I hoped reflected some of the story---when opportunity knocks, or when the need for change arrives, the protagonist acts WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT. The publisher liked that one. Unfortunately, LOST IN TRANSLATION, which I would have used enthusiastically, was already taken.


Q. I was really struck by the vividness of your imagery, about how you encapsulate a whole world in a few sentences. And not only a place but also a time. You speak about your parents, your friends, your in-laws, and your children with such warmth. Yet this is a story of a marriage —and of a relationship with a country. You handle these complexities and mixed feelings so deftly. One of the things I liked about your memoir is that it takes the reader out of the realm of the personal. We all live in a political environment. Your blurb mentions the shadows of Franco’s long regime in Spain. How did this affect you?
A. I lived during a time of change. (the 1960s and 70s) A middle class was growing but for a very long time (roughly 35 years) there had been basically the Franco regime, the Catholic church, the aristocracy, and, later, the engineers who were modernizing the country. My civil engineer husband enjoyed a prestige that other countries give to rocket scientists and brain surgeons. I'm exaggerating only slightly.

It wasn't until 1978 that the Spanish Constitution abolished Catholicism as the official state religion. The Franco regime placed great importance on women as the heart of the home. (Birth control wasn't legalized until 1978.) An annual prize was given to a woman with the largest familia numerosa. Imagine the newspaper photo of some poor village woman accepting a check for bearing twelve or thirteen children. Once television sets became available (we didn't have one until 1970 and it came with only two channels) the event was televised. None of my Spanish girlfriends had more than two children, an indication that birth control, though illegal at the time, was available if you knew how to go about it. (My doctor said the pill would cure the migraines.) Every Spanish woman I knew had a job except for the women of my mother-in-law's generation.

I had married into a broad-minded, accepting family who thought I was modern and capable. The Franco policies that would have concerned a more enlightened person didn't bother me. Birth control--I got around it. Travel restrictions--I had two passports. Husband's approval for seeking a job--my husband encouraged me when I said I wanted to work. Censored press--I didn't care that pornography was outlawed, and if we heard that a particular news story had been censored, we read the foreign press at the American embassy. Catholicism--I was already Catholic. Franco had suppressed the Catalan and Galician languages in the northern provinces. My husband reminded me that the United States was a great country because one language united it. Shouldn't Spain, only the size of Texas, do the same? Franco's image, his constant reminders that he had maintained the peace since 1936 and his vow to uphold family values and public morality were everywhere. So, I lived in Franco's paternalistic shadow, ignorant of the other one.

I didn't know that the Valley of the Fallen, presented to me as Franco's great monument to the Civil War dead on both sides, had been largely constructed by his political prisoners, many of whom died in the process. I didn't know about the wives of Franco's enemies who, when their husbands could not be found, were abused and imprisoned or taken to the edge of the village and shot. I didn't know about babies taken from their mothers and given in adoption to Franco's political allies. I still saw bullet holes in buildings from time to time but I didn't know the stories behind them except for my husband's saying, "Oh, yes, that was the site of a battle in 1937." Nobody spoke about this shadow. When I began the memoir I interviewed a woman I thought could tell me stories. She said the war hadn't been too bad for her. Her son interrupted and reminded her that her home had been taken over by soldiers and nearly destroyed and that she had had to go to another village and live with a relative. I said that I had read about decimated villages and mass executions and unmarked graves. She just looked at me and said, "Well, people exaggerate, you know." This is what I meant when I said "shadow."

Q. Tell us about your publishing journey.
A. Timing is everything, right? The publishing journey was remarkably and blessedly short. A friend who had a booth at a book fair invited me to join her. She knew the editor of a small press and offered to introduce me. The editor, when we told her about the Spanish memoir, said she hadn’t published a memoir in a while and would be happy to read it. Three weeks later, I had a contract. When the time came for edits she returned the manuscript with a handful of tweaks and that was it. Believe me, I know how unusual this is. I’m still awed by the whole experience. And grateful to Judith Starkston for the introduction and to Kristi Makanski of Walrus Publishing for taking me on. Now, if you are asking how long it took to develop a manuscript--that is a different question. If my dining table could talk it would tell you about four other writers who sat with me over the course of roughly ten years, each of us working on a different project and all the while learning from each other and attending periodic workshops together. We are still at it!

Q. Any more books waiting to be written by you, Diane?
A. I’m writing a novel about a woman, suddenly widowed, who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to Biarritz, France to live with her daughter and French son-in-law. She is a quirky, determined character looking for roots far from her native land.


Getting to Know Your Book

Author Name: Diane Lorz Benitez

Book Title:  WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT: A MEMOIR OF LIFE IN FRANCO’S MADRID 

Author Bio:

Diane Lorz Benitez grew up in the 1950s in Meadville, PA. Perhaps singing the Mass responses in Latin at Saint Bridgit's church or the sound of her grandfather's German accent awakened her interest in language--or the visit from an uncle who had lived in Paris and spoke French. Maybe following her Army captain father from post to post during WWII created an appetite for travel.

Although encouraged by her parents toward a teaching career, Lorz Benitez left college to work in a high-end retail store in Cleveland, Ohio. Her classroom was a salon of imported fashions and colleagues with accents. She wanted the story behind any voice that didn't sound like hers. But the accented voice that changed her life belonged to a Spaniard.

At the age of twenty-four, Lorz Benitez resigned from a hard-earned position, drained her bank account and sailed away with a civil engineer from Madrid ten years her senior. This is the inside story of a Spanish/American marriage during the final decade of the Franco dictatorship, and of an ongoing love for Spain.

After nearly twelve years in Madrid, Lorz Benitez returned to the United States and now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Book Blurb:

Benitez writes in a style that is in turns dryly humorous, breathtakingly heart-wrenching, and simply beautiful. This is a rare memoir that brilliantly takes you on two simultaneous, spell-binding journeys. Benitez will give you the full savor of Spain’s extraordinary culture, its regional foods, unsurpassed art and churches, even a forgotten one tucked against an isolated coastline. While she vividly draws you into life in Spain in the final years of Franco’s rule, she also tells the page-turning story of a young American woman who falls in love with this foreign world but discovers a soul-harrowing crisis hiding at the core of that beloved life. It is a crisis both personal and particular, while also reflecting the unresolved, silent shadow left by the Civil War. What a luxury to find in one book both an immersive travelogue and an utterly engrossing tale, told in such masterful prose.


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Follow Diane on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52569109-without-a-second-thought?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=pNY8l90W0A&rank=1

Website: http://www.dianelorzbenitez.com/

Publisher and ISBN: Amphorae Publishing Group, LLC 
ISBN: 1940442346
Publication date:  10/20/2020

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