Monday, October 01, 2012

Indie Author Interview: Laura Lee

Enjoy today's Interview with Laura Lee - Author of the Literary Fiction (and Love Story): Angel.

"Laura Lee's Angel is a fascinating story that weaves true and heartfelt faith, with the complexities and inconsistencies of structured religion. The story is never preachy, but it will cause you to think, and look within yourself to decide what you would do in a similar situation.[...]"

Metro Detroit native Laura Lee divides her time equally between writing and producing ballet educational tours with her partner, the artistic director of the Russian National Ballet Foundation.

She is the author of more than a dozen non-fiction books with such publishers as Harper Collins, Reader’s Digest, Running Press, Broadway Books, Lyons Press and Black Dog and Leventhal. Her Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation has sold more than 85,000 copies.

Interview with Author Laura Lee

Click to Read an Excerpt
Angel (Laura Lee)
Alan Kealey (Indie Author News): What is your (writing) background?
Laura Lee: I am the author of more than a dozen non-fiction books, one children's book and one collection of poetry. I grew up in a writing household, my father, Albert Lee wrote a number of books and was a speech and ghost writer. I published my first article at the age of 12. (It was called "My First Day at Junior High.") I have been looking for it around my house and I can't find it anywhere! I have a degree in theater, and the first writing I did for public presentation was in the form of theater scripts. I didn't think I wanted to be a professional writer, but whenever I would get upset about something I ended up writing a humorous play about it as a coping mechanism. Eventually, I just got on my inevitable path. The thing about being a professional writer, when you have that temperament, is that it is both the path of least resistance and a constantly challenging, difficult career. I imagine a lot of careers are actually like that.

Who are your favorite writers, your favorite book, and who or what are your writing influences?
With the novel Angel, I was influenced early on by a lot of the spiritual and mystical poetry I was reading ten years ago, people like the poet Rumi. I am influenced overall as a writer by British authors with dry humor. I loved Douglas Adams and poured through the Hitchhikers Guide series as a teenager. In college, I read Milan Kundera and Anais Nin.

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
I don't write anything from beginning to end. I write pieces, snippets, lines, scenes impressions. Eventually, I discover I have enough of these pieces that they form a whole image. It often helps me to have some kind of image that I can go back to. In Angel it is Mount Rainier. In fact, the working title was "The Minister and the Mountain." When I feel blocked I step away from whatever I'm trying to do and go back to that image. I write about something else, and by the end it tends to come back around to the problem at hand. I have pages and pages in my journal of essays that begin "Why did the minister go to the mountain?" Almost none of that ended up in the final book. I never try to force myself to work through a block. I assume that a block is my mind's way of telling me that there is something missing. So I go and take a shower or drive to the library and I think, "Ok, what is the missing piece." My shower is particularly magic. I turn on the water and the answer pops into my head.

"The hardest part of all is the marketing and not getting discouraged [...]"

What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
The easiest thing about writing, and the most overrated thing, is coming up with an idea. That is the problem that I have with a lot of the "creativity" books for budding writers. So many of them imply that being imaginative is the most important part of being a writer. Everyone is imaginative. A professional writer is someone who puts in the work to take those journal scrawlings and make them into a novel that someone might want to read. This is not to say that I think everyone who writes should aspire to being a professional writer. People can get a lot of benefit from participating in arts, not just buying them from other people. I do get tired, though, with the idea that artists just dream things up. An artist does the work. That is the "creation" part of "creativity." The hardest part of all is the marketing and not getting discouraged by the deafening silence that generally follows the release of something you put your heart and soul into.

Laura, please tell us a little about your Book: "Angel."
It is the story of a Christian minister from a mainstream denomination. He lost his beloved wife six years prior to the beginning of the story. Since then he has been uninspired in life and in the pulpit. One day, sitting by his wife's tombstone, he says that he wishes God would send an angel to wake him up from his malaise. With that idea fresh in his mind, he walks into the church lobby. As his eyes adjust to the change in the light, a figure appears in the doorway across from him. Initially, he mistakes the figure for the angel he prayed for. His mystical vision renders him completely fascinated and attracted to the person, even after he realizes that it is neither and angel nor a woman but a young man, and, it turns out, a troubled young man. How the minister copes with this attraction and how it impacts his self-image and role in his church is the theme of the rest of the book.

Angel (Laura Lee)
Click to Read an Excerpt

What inspired you to write the book?
I was invited to a conference out west and took a bus tour of Mount Rainier. The tour guide kept talking about burning out on his old job and toward the end of the tour someone asked what the job had been and he said he had been a minister. This intrigued me. It seemed there were connections between the natural beauty of the mountain and the attraction to religion. I wanted to explore that. It was a two-part question. What caused someone to "burn out" on the ministry ("burn out" were the real ex-minister's words) and what drew him to the mountain? I thought that the most interesting story would be some kind of situation, perhaps a crisis of faith, that put the minister out of step with his congregation's view point. One of the difficult things in life is that as you grow and change, there are a lot of people who are invested in you being the same person you have always been.

"Ten years of daydreaming and drafts [...]"

How long did it take you to write the book?
Ten years of daydreaming and drafts, one epiphany (that the thing that put him in conflict was falling in love with a man) and then one year of fast, intense writing and revising.

Please, tell us where you published the book.
It is put out be Itineris, which is an imprint of Dreamspinner, a small independent publisher.

How smooth went the self-publishing process? Any issues?
The most difficult thing with an independent novel, that is one that is self-published or put out by a very small publisher, is that it is hard to get any mainstream attention for it. There is such a glut of self-published titles today and while the ability to do print on demand and ebooks has grown exponentially there is still no real universal system to let readers know what is of real, professional quality and what is a slapped together vanity project. There are various web pages that review, but there is no real central "Publisher's Clearing House Seal" as it were. I am sure someone will come up with something that serves that need. At the moment it is still a little chaotic, which has up and down sides.

What are things to look for when self-publishing a book?
The main reason I didn't want to put it out entirely on my own is that I did not want anything to go out that was less than 100% professionally edited and laid out. I have done some basic layout and design work myself, but I would much rather have someone who is a professional do it. The expression "you can't judge a book by its cover" is untrue. I am sure everyone has had the experience of seeing a cover and saying, "Oh, that's a cheap self-published book." These details matter.

"No one cares as much about your title as you do. "

Can you give some tips for other Indie Authors regarding the writing and self-publishing process?
You will need to promote the book yourself. Even if you are handled by a big publisher (I've worked with Harper Collins and a number of midsize publishers) they do not do a Stephen King roll out on most books. No one cares as much about your title as you do. If you have a very small publisher, as I have, they do not have the resources to do what you might expect when working with the bigger guys. Self-published you're completely on your own. I would say that if you have an independent title you shouldn't think small in your promotion and assume that a few tweets will excite people.

Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
I just finished a non-fiction book with Reader's Digest called Don't Screw It Up! I am not sure when the release date will be on that. I have been working on a follow up to Angel just for my own interest. I wasn't quite done with the character of Ian, but now that that novel is basically done, I think that I might be ready to move on to other things. I actually have a novel I wrote before Angel that I think I will try to get into print while I let various other creative projects simmer and age.

Are you planning to move forward as an Indie Author or are you looking forward to have one of your next books to be traditionally published?
I think the only book that I might do as an independent author would be a collection of poetry and short stories that I am currently putting together. I've been considering putting that out as an eBook on my own and just letting it "be" out there in the world without a great deal of promotion or fanfare. Indie publishing is a good way to put out something that is really not commercial that you would like to make available instead of just sitting unread on your hard drive. Also, something like that would be reasonable to edit without tremendous expense. There is something to be said for being entrepreneurial, but I think that if I'm going to do something as involved as a novel again, I would like to do it with support.

Where do you see the book market in 5 or 10 years? Will there be only eBooks and will book stores disappear like record stores disappeared?
I wrote a book once called Bad Predictions which compiled prognosticators mistakes. They always look forward as though things will continue in a straight line. Someone may invent something that makes it possible to download a book directly into your brain. Who knows what will happen. I tend to think we will see paper books along side ebooks for a while. The thing that concerns me about digital books is the rights issue. If you are looking for a long out of print book today, chances are some library or collector somewhere has a copy, even if it is quite rare and expensive. But what happens when a book goes out of print and it only came out in a digital format and the rights are locked up so no one has the right to download or share a copy but it is not in anyone's financial interest to publish it? I worry about losing a lot of 21st century culture this way.

Do you write full-time or do you have another day job?
I have two self-employed careers. I am a writer and I also do ballet master class tours half the year with a Russian dancer. I'm on the road half the year and setting up the tours the other half between books.

How can readers connect with you?
[Via Laura Lee's Website and Twitter (See Links Below)]

Thank you very much for the Interview, Laura.

About the Book Angel

Angel (Laura Lee) - Click to Read an Excerpt
Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his religious duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind, breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so moved by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees and pray.

Even after he regains his focus and realizes he simply met a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction for the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through this vision, and Paul must determine what God is calling him to do.

Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul’s ministry but put him at odds with his church as he is forced to examine his deeply held beliefs and assumptions about himself, his community, and the nature of love.

- "[...] Angel is a book that needs to be read a few times. It should be essential reading for Gender Studies and Seminary in dealing with issues of Sexuality. It's deep, it's thoughtful, its beautiful and evocative. Angel challenges the reader to look at themselves, their lives and re-examine their preconceived notions.
Most of all though Angel is a love story. And you should read it." - Amazon Review Excerpt by Pavarti

Links to the Author and the Book

Link to Laura Lee's Blog

Connect with Laura Lee on Twitter: @LauraLeeAuthor

Link to Book Angel on Amazon with Excerpt


Anonymous said...

The book sounds FASCINATING - and I love Laura Lee's words on creativity and writing. Thank you.

Alison Naomi Holt said...

Laura makes some excellent points about self publishing. The one I particularly agree with is "The hardest part of all is the marketing and not getting discouraged [...]" Marketing takes up so much of my time I find it very difficult to find time to write. Here's wishing I had the $5,000 and up a writer would need to hire a marketing firm.
Thanks for an interesting interview.