Laura grew up in New York, the fifth of six daughters. She earned a BA from the University of Toronto and went to work in Vigo, Spain. She lived in a small village and studied part-time at the University of Santiago. Returning to the US, she taught Spanish and History in Seattle Schools. After attending an Iowa Writers Workshop summer session, she began to submit short stories and write novels. China Rock, set in Washington State's San Juan Islands, was published in 2013. She now writes full-time, with The Laguna Shores Research Club published September 2022, and a sequel coming in 2023. She lives with her husband, Paul, dividing their time between Georgia and Washington State.
Q: How do you get your ideas for stories?
A: I often see a kernel of a story in print. The police blotter, obituaries, AP wire stories, or background tidbits in a history book can suggest a plot twist or a character type that grabs my attention. At the time I spot them, I may be working on something unrelated, so I keep a file of character and plot ideas. Other times, I think back on people I have known and do some “what if” wondering. “What if so-and-so had moved to L.A. instead of Peoria? What could have happened?” Rumination of that nature makes up a lot of my thinking time.
Q: Which authors have served as inspirations for you?
A: I don’t have much formal education in literature – a course taken here and there – so my reading is somewhat scattered. Also, since I spent a fair portion of my twenties and thirties learning Spanish, I have an outsized bond to the first writers I was able to read in Spanish like Sender and Cortázar. As for long-lived inspiration, in my twenties, Lawrence Durrell rocked my world with The Alexandria Quartet. He told a complicated story from multiple perspectives and I didn’t know you could do that. Later, Beloved by Toni Morrison showed how to be emotionally merciless with the reader, and Miguel Delibes’ Five Hours with Mario revealed how to use one character as a mirror for another. I know some readers disdain Updike and Philip Roth, but their ability to construct a scene and drill down into what is happening amazes me. Both Juno Diaz and Sam Lipsyte use humor in an intentional, serious way. Also, some day I would like to write a love story as potent as Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Q: Do you follow an outline when you write, or do you plot the story as you go?
A: I definitely outline where I am going with a story. In my mind, the story is like a museum I am constructing for a reader who wants to know what happened to whom and why. The rooms of the museum progress with some logic, and hopefully some charm. It helps me to write if I know more or less what is in the next room so that in the current room, I get done what must get done: the understanding, the emotions, and the hopes that need to be stoked.
Q: What books are on your TBR list and how do you choose them?
A: Again, I am aware that I have plenty of holes in my literary background, so I am always looking for guidance. If a writer I like mentions a beloved book, it goes on my list. If a friend recommends something, it goes on my list. Right now, I am trying to understand mysteries and Raymond Chandler is a focus. Sagas are also of interest, so I want to dig into Dickens. LibraryThing.com produces hundreds of recommendations by genre, theme or subject. Award nominations are another source and 2022 National Book Award winner, The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, is definitely a TBR. After I read a book, I look up the reviews because it is likely related books will come up for comment.
Q: What do you look for in a novel?
A: Craft is perhaps the best term for what interests me, but that aspect might not be as important as I think. Elements that I struggle with, for example, conveying a backstory without boring the reader, or showing the passage of time without confusing the reader, absorb my attention. A book’s core achievements, such as emotional impact or deep insights into human thought, may get short shrift in an analysis based on craft. Classic greats like Homer and Cervantes can bludgeon certain literary norms and still belong in every library.
Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?
A: Seat time is the only answer I have. Get up, take a break, call a friend, whatever, but go back to the seat and continue to write. If it’s terrible, I don’t worry because I will eventually edit it. Some little nugget of something will come out onto the page and move me forward, even if by one short inch.
Q: How did you become a writer?
A: I wrote for my college newspaper, a Monday through Friday daily. I learned to meet deadlines and to ask why something needed to be written. After graduating, living seemed more interesting than writing about life, and I thought there was precious little I knew to write about. Of course, life and time have a way of accelerating, and when I could finally catch my breath, I started with short plays, then short stories, and then novels. I believe there is enough time left to get out all the pieces my imagination can produce.
Q: What projects are you working on?
A: I’m working on a sequel to The Laguna Shores Research Club in which Laila will again have the leading role. I promise you that she gets a little bit smarter.
Q: How do you research an unfamiliar element for a story?
A: This question is sticky. Once, a writing teacher told our class to forget dirty floors or laundry strewn around the house. Write first, do chores later – or never. Easiest to follow advice I’d ever heard. But write first and do research later? Sorry, does not compute. Yet, in truth, writers need to be warned about not disappearing into their research. I once spent days in the magazine stacks at the University of Washington main library examining old Look magazines. I went in curious about women’s hats in the 50’s and came out with an advanced degree in Cold War politics. A writer should find enough information to be plausibly fluent and forge ahead. Adding or correcting details should be the work of the later drafts.
Q: What is the best thing about being a writer? What is the hardest?
A: For me, the answer to both questions is the same. Writing means discovering the interior life of another human and capturing it in words. It seems to work best when the writer can squelch their own inner narrative in order to hear another’s thoughts. Listening is hard work. The task is akin to sitting in a room in front of a huge floor fan and trying to hear the wind rustle the leaves outside. When it works (hint: unplug the fan), the reward is enormous, and the feeling is kind of transcendental.