Laura was also kind enough to answer some interview questions:
According to your website bio, your first career was as a civil rights lawyer. In what ways, if any, does this background inform your writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?
The same instinct toward social justice that motivated me to become a civil rights lawyer animates my writing. For example, I wanted to write about a young homeless mother and the series of circumstances that had led to her being homeless, because I had met young women in this situation and had been so moved by their strength and resilience, and by how different they were from the stereotype of homelessness. By writing about one young woman, I hoped to humanize all people in that situation, to build compassion and understanding, and to show that anyone could become homeless.
My journey to publication required patience and persistence. As a first time novelist, I asked people I knew in the book publishing world what they recommended. While they said, “there is no one path to publication,” the consensus seemed to be that an author should submit to agents, in the hopes that one will take you on as a client and find a publisher. I pursued that path for about two years on and off, submitting to agents, revising my manuscript, submitting again. At the same time, I began to see the growth of small independent publishers that accepted direct manuscript submissions, without an agent. So I followed that path as well, submitting to She Writes Press while continuing my agent search process. When She Writes Press accepted my manuscript and connected me with an editor, I decided to jump at that opportunity.
Sounds like a good assessment of the varying paths we can take. And I love the premise of SHELTER US. How did the idea develop as you wrote it, and what do you want readers to take away from the story?
Thank you. I started with a character, and no plot. The character of Sarah, mother of two boys, was lost in an emotional funk. As I wrote the first draft, the fact that she had suffered the death of an infant emerged, which became an important part of her character. That developed in part because as a mother myself, I learned that the fear that the worst could happen to your child is always beneath the surface. I have “visited” that emotional terrain often – it happens every time you warn them to look both ways before they cross the street, because you are always imagining what could happen if they don’t. I knew that I wanted to write about a homeless mother as well, so I decided that the two women would meet, and that their friendship over time would be the catalyst that helps each other return to a life they long for.
I think, as with any art, the audience will take away whatever they most need. For me, I hope readers will take away that reaching out to help another person can help heal our own wounds. Some readers have responded to different messages that were not as central to my mind, but are absolutely central to the story, like the importance of communication and that leaving things unsaid can be destructive to relationships. Others have said that they view homeless people differently now, which thrilled me.
Wonderful! You did a radio spot for Expressing Motherhood. What was that like, and what would you recommend to authors interested in doing radio spots?
Well, aside from the fact that it was uncomfortable because I was sitting on a pile of shoes in my closet to avoid the sound of tree trimmers in the neighbor’s yard, it was great fun. Lindsay Kavet, the Director of the play Expressing Motherhood and host of the radio show, is an inspiration and dedicated to supporting creativity in mothers. It was great to talk about how motherhood for me was a creative muse, as opposed to a hindrance to creativity. I do recommend radio spots to authors. It can be wild to hear an interviewer’s take on your work. My advice is to be ready for anything, and be yourself.
Sounds like a great idea (minus the tree trimmers of course!). What are some of your current projects?
I am working on a second novel, I am excited to say, which is set in a few different cities in the East Coast, and in two different centuries. (I wanted to stretch, after writing Shelter Us, which is set in the present in my hometown.) I am also playing with different storytelling formats of Shelter Us, such as film or a television series unfolding Sarah and Josie’s story. I have a written a draft of a travel memoir, also, but that has taken a back seat to fiction for now.
A travel memoir sounds fun! Thanks, Laura, for a great interview.
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