Friday, April 9, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Laurel

Welcome everyone, to another Friday Feature. Today I am very excited to pull Laurel into the fray. Laurel's blog was one of the first blogs that I started reading, back when I felt like a stalker as I read the thoughts of strangers on their blogs.  Even with my own uncomfortable stalkerly feelings (which I have clearly gotten over!), I was compelled to follow Laurel, because of her amazing combination of humor and truth.  And, her blog has substance--she only posts when she has something to say.  So refreshing! So, on the way out, please check out her blog, after you leave her a question here, in the comments, of course!

Welcome, Laurel!  Please tell us a little about yourself.

I'm quite the Southern Belle, born and bred, but I have lived as far north as Louisville, Kentucky and as far south as Mendoza, Argentina. I currently reside in Georgia. For some reason my travels tend to be longitudonal in nature; I've always been in the same two time zones no matter where I hang my hat. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology and English (yes, both- I'm slightly schizophrenic) and most of my "grown up" jobs have been some sort of sales, where I honed my skills at cultivating an alternative reality in order to please a potential consumer, much like a succesful writer of fiction.

What are you currently working on?

Like everybody and their pet monkey, my current WiP is YA Urban Fantasy. This has always been my preferred reading genre (Charles DeLint...holla!) and I am finally old enough for people to think it's possible that I am buying a book for offspring rather than my own edification. My penchant for YA and Middle Grade has been awkward from time to time. I'm pretty sure, for example, that I was the only one at the midnight release of "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows" who was bumped to the front of the line because they were lactating. My baby girl was 10 days old at the time.

I too, have waited in that line, you know, for the experience.  Tell us, what made you start to write seriously? 

I always dabbled and never had an idea that I thought was fresh or good enough to flesh out into a whole story. In outside sales, though, you spend a LOT of time in your car. A whole story, start to finish, jumped into my head from one scene I had worked out a few months earlier. I started composing in my fevered brain, began writing that night, and completed my first (very badly written) novel in six weeks. I fell in love. All of a sudden, I discovered a socially acceptable avenue for my tendency toward multiple personalities. Just make them characters!

What stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication? And--how is that going for you? Has anything surprised you about this stage? 

Revising. Revising. Revising. The most surprising thing about revisions is realizing how crappy what I've already written is. Whole paragraphs of passive voice, characters that ruminate for a page or better. Telling not showing. Right now, my WiP is splintered into multiple files on my computer that need to be reassembled into a cohesive work. All I can say is, thank goodness for the internet. And thank goodness that I decided to pay attention to all those blogging authors and agents who said, "Whatever you do, DO NOT query your first draft of your first novel. It's not as good as you think it is. I promise." Turned out they were right.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be? 

I'm very partial to The Rejectionist. I also love The Intern. And Kristin Nelson's PubRants is extremely informative as well as a great place to troll for a good read. She reps a lot of authors I enjoy and discovered on her blog.

Laurel--I agree--you have to be quite crazy to not love the rejectionist.  Now, back to you--what is a favorite blog post that you have written? 

Probably my anniversary entryThere is one called A Day Off that I like, as well, and another called Midlife Crisis that I wrote after my best friend from high school informed me that her perfidious sack of crap husband had shoved off for greener pastures.

What online resource have you found most helpful? 

There are soooo many good ones. Right now I'm working on craft more than anything so resources focused on writing are the most useful at this stage. The Clarity of Night is a great blog with an emphasis on flash fiction. Since I started following and participating in the semi-annual contest over there I find that my prose has tightened up. Flash fiction does not leave any room for superfluous words, not even unnecessary dialogue tags. It forces you to find the best subject and verb instead of falling back on modifiers. 

The Query Shark also does a great job breaking down words and demonstrating the difference between what the writer wants to communicate and what the reader takes away. Although it is about queries, the critique often applies to larger work. Too much backstory, boring passive voice, telling not showing, all of these will kill a manuscript as well as a query and you don't always know that you're committing these sins while you write.

What has been your biggest trial in writing? 

Overwriting. Finding my beloved little darlings that slow the story without adding anything important and killing those suckers dead. Good pacing defines successful commercial work and I am NOT the master of my domain in this arena.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing? 

Reading. If I am stuck, I find that my brain just will not work out the problem at hand while I confront it head on. If I'm spinning my wheels I step away for a while, get lost in someone else's world, and within a few days I'll wake up at 2 am with a moment of clarity that seems so obvious I can't believe I overlooked it. Overcoming the notion that words I've already written are historical fact and not subject to change trips me up constantly so stepping away from the story gives me the distance I need to get a grip and realize that these are not real events. I can change the order of them. I can eliminate them. I can make them better.

Laurel, please tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life. 

Please do not throw tomatoes at me, but Twilight. Hear me out before you judge. First, I don't write about vampires or werewolves since I am nowhere near creative enough to add a single new thing to the cannon. Second, I do read lit fic as well as my beloved middle grade and YA. I have really high personal standards. The biggest reason I did not write seriously sooner is that I know how good I'm not. I'm not Newberry/Pulitzer material. And guess what? That is just fine. Most of my favorite books aren't big ole prize winners anyway. My favorite books are good stories. Even with flawed writing. Great story + great writing sends me into my own little world where everything goes away but me and my newfound treasure.

So back to Twilight. Since I don't live in a cave, I'd been aware of the Twilight juggernaut for a while. I could not bring myself to read it. I picked it up at the bookstore, perused the back blurb, snickered, and put it back. When I finally took the plunge and decided to give it a chance, I liked it. Like milk duds and popcorn all mixed together. You know it's wrong, you know it probably isn't very good for you, and holy cloying corn syrup. Seriously? She faints. She's "irrevocably in love." He's permanently altered just by knowing her.

But much like the milk duds and popcorn kernels, it stuck in my teeth in that vaguely annoying way that doesn't keep you from going back for more. And I realized something. Hyperbole is successful. One of the reasons that book has done so well is that the author didn't know any better. She wasn't scared of a (any!) cliche. She wrote BIG. And the unwashed masses ate it up. I finished that book and thought, Hell. If she can get away with that crap, so can I. Except I can't bring myself to write a girl who faints at the sight of blood and trips through life until she falls into the arms of a vampire. But you get the idea.

I'm not clever enough to make the mundane interesting but I had all these ideas bouncing in my head that I had discounted as being over-the-top. Once I had the confidence to try it, I found that over-the-top works for me. As a reader and a writer. I have to bring my own sensiblities to it and apply some restraint because I just feel silly writing melodrama but people coping with exceptional circumstances can be drawn with a delicate hand and not as a caricature.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share? 

Practical goal: get published. Reach-for-the-stars goal: Be hated like Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer. I'll wallpaper the study with reviews trashing my work so I can stay grounded while I gaze out the window enjoying the view of the island. That I own.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience? 

The incredible indulgence of escaping to my very own world.

If you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like? 

A cross between a wine cellar and a library. Cave-like but warmer, with tons of books, no desk, an amazingly comfy sofa, a mini fridge stocked with coca-cola and bottled water, laptop, printer, scanner. Preferably all blue tooth equipped so I don't break my neck on a cord.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be? 

Shout out to all the David Eddings fans out there: Ce'Nedra from The Belgariad. (Okay, that's five books, but in the spirit of the question.) I'm ridiculously tall. It might be fun to try being short. She's a redhead, very ballsy, thinks she's the queen of everything and kind of is, marries a hottie with god-like power who is all about her, and unlike many of my favorite characters she is not orphaned, pillaged, raped, or otherwise angsty. Angst is fun to read but sucks to live.

What other distractions are in your life? 

The usual things: dear hubby, two kids, two dogs, one cat, messy house.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea? 

Coffee. Absolutely coffee. Caffeine is my drug of choice and I mainline it.

Laurel thanks for being here, and thanks for the fantastic interview!  

Everyone, Laurel is going to check back today, and answer all of your thoughtful and interesting questions, so make her feel welcome, by posting a question or comment in the comment section.  And don't forget to check out her blog.  You won't be disappointed!


  1. Laurel--Thanks so much for stopping by! I'm heading over to your cozy cafe-like office now to sit and chat and have a coke. Do you read books on writing craft--which ones would you recommend, if you do? And, what would you name your island?

  2. Laurel! It is so refreshing to read about your writing. I feel like I could have written it myself. I am still revising my first book and I have found all those same writing disasters things to be true of it. It is your tone that is so reassuring though. So matter of fact! It is absolutely going to be okay. The book is going to work. Thanks for that and your words on Twilight! I totally agree. You make me want to emulate you and Stephenie Meyer!

    So when do you get to write? How often and how long? Do you rely on a schedule? And what has been your experience of blogging?

  3. Great questions, and entertaining / insightful answers. A pleasure to read, thanks to you both!

  4. Heather, Thanks for having me! I feel like a rock star.

    Tina Laurel Lee: It does get overwhelming, doesn't it? You think you're done, you did it, you wrote a book, get out the ticker tape and then you realize that, um, you are probably 25% there. Rick Daley said something very pithy to me a while back: Real writers rewrite.

    I write in the wee hours of the morning most of the time. Prime time for me is from 10 pm to 3 am. It's the only time the house is quiet and I'm not wiping crayon off a wall or peanut butter off the ceiling fan.

    Tkx, Rick! Rick was my first blogstalk. If you're not already over there, check him out. I swear you'll lauch out loud.

  5. This was a really fun read! Great voice!! Thanks Laurel and Heather.

  6. Oops! Tina Laurel, I neglected your question about blogging. I am not really very faithful. I may try, as a project, posting five times a week for a month just as an experiment in discipline. For right now, though, my blog is not about exposure but more like a glorified diary leaning towards thoughts on writing. In all honesty, I was a bit shocked when people started following it. It was a sharp reminder that you have to watch your mouth on the almighty internet because even if you think you are an anonymous peon you never have any idea who might stop by.

  7. Hi Laurel,

    So good to see you here and learn even more about you. I'd love to spend a few days sipping sweet tea and getting to know you better. Maybe we can have a blog writers retreat on your island.

    Thanks for the great interview. I enjoyed every word. And related to a lot of it. Your blog is one of my must-reads. You're such a blast! (Argentina, huh? Sounds awesome.)

    Have you got an agent or editor in mind yet or are you still busy wading through the rewrites?


  8. okay, I'll admit too. I love Twilight - as in the first book. I liked it so much, I read it twice in a row within one week. That was before I learned how much writers bash it.

  9. Okay--my first comment is needlessly bothering me, since I meant to say that I was stopping by Laurel's cave (not cafe)-like office--which sounds awesomely cozy to me.

    Laura--so sad when we suppress what we enjoy because of the writing zeitgeist. I haven't read Twilight yet, but I'm hoping that I enjoy it! Chocolate isn't all that good for me, and yet, I love it!! Just like this new dip I discovered--creamy southwestern ranch--so yummy on tortilla chips. Mmmm. Must be almost lunchtime here...

  10. Laurel - You had me at "David Eddings." Your dream office description is the icing on the cake. You and I would be great friends. :)

  11. Sarah, me too! If I get west coastal anytime I am looking you up.

    And ladies, I liked Twilight, too. I liked Pretty Woman, as well, but I don't plan to turn to hooking as a way to reel in my uber rich tycoon happily ever after, either. The biggest thing about the Meyer/Dan Brown phenomenon, I think, is how well it demonstrates the chasm between what entertains people who just want to escape for a bit vs. (ahem, clears throat in important way) very serious writers.

    I also think it's easy to snicker at a "bad" book but surprisingly difficult to write one.

  12. Tkx, Larissa! I still love David Eddings. I remember when I started Pawn of Prophecy for the first time. I was at summer camp and it was my "free time" book. I had to do the surreptitious flashlight under the covers thing and about a page in I got that butterflies in the stomach/clammy palms excited feeling of starting on something AWESOME.

    It's the neatest feeling when you know you are falling in love with something new. No matter how many other people have read it, it feels somehow secret and very personal. In a non-dirty way, of course.

  13. Heather: Back to the island name...I'm thinking "La Isla de la Perra." It sounds better than the English version, "The Bitch's Island."

    On reading, I use the Manual of Style to double check things and cruise the net for an awful lot. I troll bookstores and browse the books there, but with so many online resources now I dislike plunking down cash for books on writing.

    Writing is kind of like running, I think. The best way to get better at it is to do it. You can supplement with weight training and stretching and improve your form by comparing it to better runners, but ultimately nothing beats putting in the miles.

  14. Heather: These interviews are so much fun to read. Thanks!
    Laurel: I love your thoughts on Twilight. Off to check out your blog and then write because hey, your thoughts on writing inspired me.

  15. Great interview. I too spend most of my time revising.

  16. Great interview! I loved the bit about reading to get yourself unstuck. "I find that my brain just will not work out the problem at hand while I confront it head on." It's so true! It's almost like you have to distract your brain and trick it into solving the problem. :-)

  17. Tkx, Lori, Natalie, and Anna! Anna, that is a great way to put it..."distract your brain." It's very frustrating for me to leave a problem unsolved but in creative endeavors I guess it's unreasonable to take a strictly linear approach.

  18. WOW - you not only feel like a ROCK STAR you LOOK like one, too!

    I was really impressed with this interview - EXCELLENT WORK LADIES!

    If you ever manage to get to Greece, let me know so that I can take you clubbing - there's NOTHING like Greek entertainment!

    HI HEATHER! This Lady is what I call a Personality Owner! THANKS

  19. Ann Marie: I have wanted to go to Greece since I was nine years old in my greek mythology phase. If I get the chance, I will absolutely look you up. If we hit the clubs I'll stick to Hillas, if you don't mind. Not sure I can handle ouzo!

    And as far as looking like a rock star, right now that is very true. I look like a strung out rock star checking into rehab. Sloppy PJs, wrinkled tee shirt, messy tangle of hair. Yep...time to write! Dear hubby took the kids for a few hours ;)

  20. "I am finally old enough for people to think it's possible that I am buying a book for offspring rather than my own edification" I totally feel like a pedophile after hour three in the YA and MG section at Barnes and Noble, but maybe if I dress more intellectually, the clerks will understand that a future bestseller is sitting on the floor hiding behind a wall of books that are soon to become his inspiration and motivation to become said bestseller. Or, Plan B, dress older and buy ("bribe") niece ("daughter") a cappuccino and have profound discussions about the books that she ("me") is buying for her ("my") edification.

    Wow, I am not sure if I have ever made less sense. Sorry I am late for the party, as us. lately, but I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, Laurel and H. I kind of hope we can continue the convo through the week. ?

  21. Loved the lactating comment...hilarious! I breast fed for like seven years (four kids...not one seven-year-old).

  22. @Jonathon: The pedophile comment is totally snorthworthy!

    @Anita: They do not even manufacture sufficient quantities of Prozac for me to have four kids, much less put in that kind of time breastfeeding. You have my utmost respect.


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