I caught up with Laura recently and begged her to come back to the Writing Wyoming blog (see her previous post here) and share some more about her novels and her writing life. I must have twisted her arm enough because she graciously complied.
I also learned Laura has a Wyoming connection, one I didn't know about before: she was an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming for two years.
"The English classes I took there took me away from law and biology and into the world of literature," Laura said. She also worked in the photography shop at UW and set a lot of her early stories there.
Luck for us that she was derailed from those other pursuits!
Oh, and congratulations are in order. Laura's novel, Stars Go Blue, has been named a finalist in both the Colorado Book Award and the Mountain and Plains Book Award. Yowsa!
Don't forget that Laura will be at the Wyoming Writers, Inc. conference this coming June. She will present three workshops:
A Novel Clinic: Lightning Bug Sentences;
Book Length Works;
Out of the Sheets and onto the Page.
Get more information and register for the conference at the WW, Inc website.
Your last novel, Stars Go Blue (a novel about a Colorado rancher with Alzheimer’s), reintroduces some characters we first met in Hell’s Bottom – and your new novel, Red Lightning (about a woman running immigrants and a Colorado wildfire) brings back characters from your first novel, Sky Bridge. What brings you back to writing the same characters?
All I can say is the same thing many other authors will tell you: certain characters become more-or-less real to you and you wonder what happened to them. Ben and Renny – I actually love them. I wanted to know what had become of them. So when I conceived the idea to write about a person with Alzheimer’s, I knew it would be Ben. I knew the whole family (imaginary though it may be) so well that I could leap right into the family dynamic and personalities.
My next novel takes up the characters in Sky Bridge. So, yes, I’m drawn to expanding little universes that I wrote into being.
A few years ago, I started hearing the voice of a character named Tess in my mind, and she was basically saying, “Hey, I want my story told too!” She’d been a minor character in my first novel, Sky Bridge, and now, it seemed, she had something to say.
At first, I didn’t want to write her story: she’s really a tough character with some deep recesses and difficult flaws (although she’s beautiful for those same reasons). Anyway, I eventually heeded her request and sat down to write.
What resulted is Red Lightning. I’m glad I “listened” to her, because, in the end, she had a really interesting story to tell. She had been a coyote, transporting immigrants across the West, living what she thought was a free-and-easy life.
But then she saw something that made her Get Real and see humanity, and herself, in a new light. The novel is about her journey into a truer, better self.
I also notice that I circle around the same core themes – the tie to place, social justice issues, environmental issues, the bonds of family, the Western landscape, and our individual struggle for redemption and a life-well-lived.
What risks should (or do) writers take?
Well, sitting down to write at all is a risk. Writing a long work is a big risk, because you invest years! But as with everything in life, without the risk, there is no reward. But to be more specific, I hope to take one big risk in each novel. The big one for Stars Go Blue was that I was telling it from the point-of-view of someone with Alzheimer’s, which is not an easy thing to do. The biggest risk I took in writing Red Lighting was a choice in the narrative device. Basically, some of the text is set to the side whenever Tess disassociates from herself. I wanted to show on the page what was happening to her mind/body. I also meld words together, such as “dearheart” or “boneknowledge” or “heartfade” because the blended word works better than standard English. I am not sure how readers will respond to this. I’m excited to find out, to be honest.
What are your thoughts on literature of the West?
Well, that’s a big topic, but briefly, I’d like to believe that I’m part of the cadre of writers who are re-invigorating literature set in this region. I’m very interested in writing the contemporary American West as it really is – no mythos, no John Wayne, no sentimental stuff. There are still wide landscapes, horses, mountains, big sky—but there is also meth, immigration issues, teenage pregnancy, political extremes, water issues. By re-seeing a place with renewed clarity, we can love it more fully. As in, by seeing the West as it really is, we can better inhabit it. That’s one reason I’m so excited to be teaching alongside Aaron Abeyta and Kent Nelson, [at the WW, Inc conference] who both push boundaries, help us see the West anew (and they’re just top-notch writers and human beings).
How important is place to a story and why?
Place is enormously important in all my writing, both fiction and nonfiction. I’m sure that’s because place is important to me as a human being. I find my solace, my center, and my ideas while outside, engaging in the natural world. I hike or walk every day. Since my center is so tied up to place, it’s difficult (or probably impossible) for me to write about characters who are oblivious to place. As a writer, I think I’ve found ways in which place can contribute to plot and characterization – which is essential. You can’t just go on and on about place. Readers want to hear a story, and they want to see people moving through that story. But place can help you do that – and that’s one thing I’ll be teaching/discussing at this conference.
Name three things that have been the keys to your success?
1. I didn’t have a TV for 12 years and don’t yet know how to turn on the one I do now have;
2. I put my head down and work like a mule. I may not be brilliant, but I do have tenacity going for me;
3. But contrary to #2, I also believe in daydreaming and cloudgazing—they feed my imagination.