I am so excited to welcome Laura on the blog today! Laura shares with us about her writing experience, her writing tips, and an excerpt from a novel she is currently working on!
Tell me a little more about yourself:
I am a life-long Chicagoan who moved a year ago to the Roosevelt National Forest, just west of Boulder, Colorado and am now living at 8200 ft, fulfilling a long time dream of living in nature and the mountains. I am a reading specialist and have recently worked as an environmental educator. My love for country music, dancing, and travel also factor into who I am and what I do other than writing. I have raised three children who are all independent and live in three different cities. I’m extroverted which is not typical for a writer. It’s an interesting obstacle.
When you write, do you listen to music or do you prefer silence?
I usually play music before I write for inspiration and then slower music while I write. My WIP is set in 1986 so I sometimes put Madonna on or even AC/DC to get into the character’s head but my personal music preference is country. I have several different mixes that include Lady Antebellum, Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, and Dierks Bentley for while I’m writing.
If you could live in any literary world, what would it be and why?
I have always been drawn to Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age 1920’s from The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, and some of his short stories. I love the exterior glamour of the worlds he created layered over the underbelly of alcoholism, heart break and the struggle of new and old money or no money at all. Also, my grandmother was a flapper and I think I would have been too, had I been born in that era. I even named the high school in my novel Fitzgerald High and set it in Minnesota where he was born.
What five things do you do to prepare yourself to start writing?
- If there is research related to the day’s writing, I do that first. For my picture books, which are STEM based, I usually research a topic and write pages of notes to immerse myself in the subject before I begin.
- I always make sure I have something to drink nearby (coffee or water depending upon the time of day) so that I don’t have to get up for that reason.
- I usually read back over some or all of the previous day’s writing to make sure I pick up where I left off.
- I listen to music if it’s relevant to the scene ahead. Imagine a research-based dance party.
- I make sure the sound on my laptop is off so I am not distracted by emails or texts.
What brought you to the world of writing?
I have always wanted to be a writer. I was a journalist in high school and college. I should have pursued that dream after college but instead got married and became a banker and a mother. When my children were in school, I went back to earn a masters in teaching with a specialty in reading so I was able to read and write with my students in Chicago. A year ago, I moved to Colorado to focus on my writing, more-or-less full time.
What book has most influenced your writing?
It’s hard to choose one author, let alone one book. I have always been a fan of Elizabeth Berg. Her style of storytelling is approachable, full of realistic dialogue, and people I would like to know. I think the first book of hers that I read was What We Keep. It’s a story about two sisters, which is something I know a lot about, and an absent mother which is something I knew nothing about. My mother was my favorite person in the world and we were very close until her death in 2000. The pain of not having a mother, as seen through the eyes of a young girl in that book had a great impact on me.
Are you a morning writer, afternoon writer, or an evening writer? Does the time of day you write impact your writing?
I write anytime of day, but usually in the morning. Sometimes, when I am on a roll I can go all day and even delay dinner because I’m not at a stopping point. In spite of advice to the contrary, I don’t write every day.
What is your writing process?
I write picture books and YA/Women’s fiction so my process is different for each. My picture book process involves writing in my mind for days or weeks before I actually begin typing. Each book has a different science lesson so I also do considerable research ahead of writing even if I don’t include it in the book. I spent days reading about forest fires, animal behavior during and after a forest fire, and news articles about specific fires before I started writing my most recent book. For a novel, I try to think about the characters, what they would do and say as the scenes unfold, and then try to let them take the scene where they want it to go. I also plan scenes and write poetry while I’m walking or hiking. Then, I stop and type it as a text message to myself and add it into my WIP later.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
I am in the process of a lot of revision these days and that is definitely the hardest part. I don’t have trouble getting things written, but making it better based on feedback and my own response to what I write is challenging. I am also struggling to sort out feedback from a variety of sources because it’s often conflicting opinions from different sources. I want to be true to my own message as a writer so I usually take time to think about all of the feedback and try to take what is useful and discard the rest. Right now, I am working to make sure my story arc is realistic and moving for the reader.
What do you love most about writing?
The feeling that I have a story to tell and, after multiple revisions, I have gotten my ideas out. I have chosen to make my picture books reflect my students from Chicago and look forward to the day when they can see themselves in my characters. Also, as I was writing my first novel, I had a group of readers who were giving me feedback and I loved when they begged me to write faster. That was excellent motivation that the story I was telling was meaningful and interesting.
Do you have any tips for other aspiring authors?
Don’t let anything get in the way of your dream and believe in your own process.
What are you currently working on now?
I’m revising my first novel which started as Women’s fiction, was labeled YA, but is now back to Women’s fiction. It is a story set in 1986 about a high school girl with big dreams and her mother who also had big dreams but didn’t pursue them. The struggle between them, the secrets and promises, and ultimately how the daughter finds her way to independence.
I’m also in the brainstorming stage for a picture book I’m very excited about. The main character is a smart Spanish-speaking girl who wants to succeed in school and how it feels to be in an environment where everyone speaks English. It is based on students I taught in Chicago.
Can you share an excerpt with us?
From my novel: Hanna and her best friend Angela discussing summer jobs.
“Where do you want to work?” Angela asked.
“I have some applications filled out at stores in the mall. I’m hoping for Lacey’s.” Hanna shifted in her seat, smoothing her short skirt from Lacey’s over her, thighs. “I love their clothes and they want me to come in on Saturday for an interview.”
“I think Patty and Constance are babysitting for families that live on Riverside Drive and another family up there is looking for someone. What about that?” Angela said.
Hanna recognized that helpful, mother hen tone and struck back.
“The only thing worse than sweating my ass off in a kitchen and reeking of cooking oil, would be babysitting. Besides, I think they already talked Erica into being the third member of their babysitting club,” Hanna answered.
“Well, at Spud Hut we don’t fry potatoes, we bake them to perfection and then create your order with twenty-seven delicious toppings.” Angela repeated the company motto. She’d been working there since Christmas break and apparently wasn’t letting the second slam at her job go unaccounted.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“Look, I like working there, even if you don’t think it’s a good job. Could you at least stop with the nasty comments?” Angela’s hands clenched the steering wheel.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t aimed at you,” Hanna said putting her hand on Angela’s arm in an attempt to release the tension. “
What do you have against babysitting?” Angela asked slowing the car, turning left onto Hanna’s street. The twelve houses on Arborvitae Circle all looked similar, but some yards were decorated with elaborate gardens while others were decorated with bikes, scooters and strollers. Most of the houses had children and the little ones ran freely from yard to yard on the quiet street. Angela pulled into Hanna’s driveway lined with planters full of purple and yellow pansies.
“I don’t know, maybe for starters, the fact that little kids have no control over bodily fluids. I mean, Patty told me she’s been sneezed on, bled on, peed on, and worse.” Hanna said unbuckling her seat belt.
“Worse?” Angela giggled turning the key. She reached in her purse and pulled out a pack of spearmint gum. Both girls took a stick.
“Seriously, didn’t you hear Constance talking about the night when her mom had to bring her an entire change of clothes because that two-year-old threw up red Gatorade all over her?”
Angela pretended to gag, almost choking on the gum.
“I guess I missed that story. That sounds pretty awful.”
“Well, if Lacey’s works out, I’ll have a new wardrobe for senior year. I think we get a discount. Am I allowed to ask about that at the interview?”
“You’ll end up spending all of your paychecks right there. They’d be stupid not to hire you,” Angela replied.
“Right? I can’t wait until Saturday. I’m pretty sure I’ll get the job. Maybe they’ll even have me start on Saturday. It’s going to be awesome.” Hanna said flashing a smile, relieved that Angela wasn’t mad.
“See you tomorrow, Han.”
“Ya, I’ll probably call you later if I can’t figure out the Algebra.”
“Okay, then I guess I’ll talk to you tonight,” Angela called back as Hanna slammed the passenger door.
Before you go, is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I also love photography and hope one day to write a picture book that is illustrated with my own photographs.