Some Thoughts on Writing Hermit Crab Essays
Posted on May 9, 2022 Leave a Comment
By Laurie Easter During a recent AWP conference panel on the lyric essay, Angie Chuang, Heidi Czerwiec, Sayantani Dasgupta, and I read excerpts of …
A Review of Laurie Easter’s All the Leavings
Posted on November 15, 2021 Leave a Comment
By Sandra Eliason The things we leave behind, from the first home with a lover to the view of who we are, from our youthful sense of invulnerability …
The First Review of All the Leavings
Posted on October 2, 2021 Leave a Comment
The first review of ALL THE LEAVINGS published yesterday, October 1, in the Jacksonville Review, written by Eileen Bobek, owner of Rebel Heart Books in Jacksonville, Oregon.
“In the attempting, it’s possible for an essayist to experiment with form and language in ways that are both natural and rigorous and Easter does that with skill and grace throughout her collection”—Eileen Bobek, Jacksonville Review
A Busy Month of Publication News
Posted on September 25, 2021 Leave a Comment
There’s been a lot going on in the lead up to ALL THE LEAVINGS making its debut into the world–only three weeks away!–so I’ve been busy and am finally posting the latest news.
First up: ALL THE LEAVINGS was listed on “What To Read When You’ve Made It Halfway Through 2021” at The Rumpus. Technically, this was posted back in June (see that’s how behind I am!), but there are still three months left of 2021, and ALL THE LEAVINGS hasn’t even arrived, so this news is evergreen as far as I’m concerned. It’s a phenomenal list of books by a diverse group of writers (seriously, check out this list!), and I’m honored to be included.
Secondly: My essay “Searching for Gwen” was published in the “Voices on Addiction” column of The Rumpus as an exclusive excerpt from both ALL THE LEAVINGS and A HARP IN THE STARS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF LYRIC ESSAYS, which debuts October 1 from University of Nebraska Press.
A HARP IN THE STARS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF LYRIC ESSAYS is edited by the wonderful writer, editor, and teacher Randon Billings Noble, author of the essay collection BE WITH ME ALWAYS: ESSAYS (UNP 2019). The anthology includes selections from 50 contributors of lyric essays in the forms of flash, segmented, braided, hermit crab, and craft. It also includes a short meditation by each contributor on the lyric essay.
Finally: A week after the publication of “Searching for Gwen,” my essay, “Kindness and Sorrow” was published in Brevity! This is especially thrilling because Brevity has been a dream publication for many years, and I’m so pleased they accepted this particular essay, which is close to my heart. Check out the entire Issue 68, which is full of incredible essays by writers such as Suzanne Roberts, Sarah Cedeño, Katerina Ivanov Prado, Ryan Van Meter, Sven Birkerts, and Alysia Li Ying Sawchyn, among others.
What to Leave Out
Posted on September 6, 2021 Leave a Comment
I’m a bit behind, seeing as this posted a few weeks ago, but better late than never, right?
By Laurie Easter
I had the pleasure of being interviewed about my forthcoming essay collection, All the Leavings, by author Sonja Livingston (The Virgin of Prince Street: Expeditions into Devotion) for her YouTube interview series “The Memoir Café.” Being live interviewed was challenging because, like many people, I always think of a better answer after the fact.
The question Sonja asked that I later obsessed over was “How did you decide what to write about and what not to write about?” The first part of this question was fairly easy to answer, but the second part—how I decide what not to write about—was the part that bothered me for days. Perhaps this is because what we leave out of our writing is not something generally discussed.
Initially, I said that if something doesn’t serve the narrative, then it gets cut (or possibly it was never…
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Pre-orders for All the Leavings are open!
Posted on May 29, 2021 8 Comments
Pre-orders for All the Leavings are now open. Today is my birthday, and I’m hoping you’ll help me celebrate by pre-ordering a copy today. Publishing a book is a challenge, and once you have a contract, the work doesn’t end once the words are written; there is a lot required to get the word out to the public through publicity and marketing, especially for a debut author like me who has published with an independent university press.
There are several ways you can pre-order:
Order direct from the publisher, Oregon State University Press. Use promo code F21 for 20% off and free shipping. (expires 10/15/2021)
Order through Bookshop and support local independent bookstores.
Order through your favorite Indie bookseller. (If you need helping finding one close to you, IndieBound is a great place to search.) Or if you really want to be a cheerleader, ask the local bookstores in your area to stock it.
If finances are a challenge, request your local library pre-order the book.
And finally, there is always the empire called Amazon. I always encourage supporting independent and locally owned first and foremost, but for those of you with Amazon Prime, you will get free shipping.
Why pre-order you might ask?
Pre-orders are an important indicator as to how a book will succeed. They build excitement and buzz around a forthcoming book–especially for a debut author like me–and can influence the size of a print run the publisher places. Pre-orders also encourage booksellers to increase their initial order, which in turn helps promote a book’s success. Additionally, all pre-orders count towards a book’s first week of sales, which gives it a boost for that dream goal of landing on a best seller list.
Today, at 55 years old, I am a debut author. This has been a life-long dream and a hard-earned accomplishment. I have written what I believe is a heartfelt book, and I’m so excited to share it. If you haven’t already signed up for my email list to keep up to date on all my news, please do so by clicking on the “Contact” link of this website, where you will find the form to join. I appreciate all the encouragement and support. It’s time to celebrate! Let’s do this!
Cover Reveal: ALL THE LEAVINGS
Posted on April 26, 2021
I am thrilled to announce my book ALL THE LEAVINGS, forthcoming from Oregon State University Press in Fall 2021, has a cover, and it’s gorgeous! I absolutely love it. It is designed by Erin Kirk New, the designer of several books on my shelf, including my dear friend Jericho Parms’ LOST WAX: ESSAYS. The cover photograph is by my daughter Lily Easter-Thomas and was taken locally here in Southern Oregon, which makes this cover all the more special to me. If you’d like to stay updated on the progress of my book launch, including when pre-orders are available, and all future book-related news and events, please go to the Contact tab in the search menu above and sign up for my email list.
The Sunday Spotlight: Writer, Editor, & Publisher Janna Marlies Maron
Posted on October 2, 2016 7 Comments
My introduction to Janna Marlies Maron came when my essay “Something to Do with Baldness” was accepted for publication at Under the Gum Tree, a reader supported, full-size, quarterly literary arts magazine that specializes in creative nonfiction, with visual artwork and photo essays alongside feature essays and four regular department sections: Fork and Spoon, Soundtrack, 24 Frames a Second, and Stomping Ground. Janna is the editor and publisher of Under the Gum Tree, which she began five years ago with the publication of the first issue in August of 2011.
Under the Gum Tree was my first creative nonfiction print publication in the January 2014 issue, and I was ecstatic when I received my copy, which has gorgeous artwork by Jane Ryder. The magazine is printed on high quality paper with a thick card-stock cover and the pages have that slick coffee table-display feel. I couldn’t believe my essay was set in such a beautiful display. It was as if I had hit the jackpot. Later, I was honored to have my essay nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editors, and I got to know Janna more personally when she interviewed me for her podcast series More to the Story (more on More to the Story below).
One thing that impresses me about Janna is her incredible ability of creative manifestation. She has generosity of spirit and is community-minded, qualities that increase her capacity towards that creative manifestation. She is, in essence, committed to the act of creativity, especially personal storytelling. As Janna states on her website:
“If I had to sum up what I’m all about in two words they would be: authentic storytelling. That’s the core of why I write, why I publish stories and why I teach others to write their story. I tell stories that challenge and inspire people to pursue the potential of their creativity; I nurture creativity by making space for exploring and showcasing creativity.”
In addition to editing and publishing Under the Gum Tree, Janna runs TrueStory, a nonfiction reading series and open mic in Sacramento, California, a collaboration she founded with writer and professor Elaine Gale. And just this year, Janna unveiled her podcast More to the Story, an eight-episode series “all about creative nonfiction and telling true, personal stories.” In the introductory episode, Janna talks about “why sharing true, personal stories is important,” and she reads an excerpt from her own story “The Gum Tree,” published in the premier issue. The other episodes include discussions with previous UTGT contributors Penny Guisinger, Maddy Walsh, Timothy Kenny, Samuel Autman, Kate Washington, Katy Sargent.
Janna Marlies Maron holds an MA in creative writing. She teaches as an adjunct professor of English, facilitates writing workshops in Sacramento and online, and offers editorial support services. Janna writes on a variety of topics, including health and wellness, and is the author of three ebooks: How to Manage Depression without Drugs: 5 Game Plans That Helped Me Get My Life Back, Claim Your Throne: How to Manage Your Online Content & Rule Your Corner of the Internet, and Sip, Don’t Gulp. She lives in Sacramento, California with her husband.
A few questions for Janna:
When you began Under the Gum Tree, did you have any idea of what you were embarking upon? Were there particular journals or magazines that you drew from for ideas or inspiration? Will you share the story of how UTGT came into being?
There were a couple of factors that went into my starting UTGT. I found the genre creative nonfiction in grad school and when I graduated, I didn’t see a lot of opportunity for reading or publishing in that genre. That, combined with my professional background in magazine publishing, prompted me to explore the possibility of starting a magazine. When I looked at other literary magazines, one thing I felt was missing is the magazine-size, full-color, glossy experience of magazines—that’s the experience I had with my job history and the experience I loved about interacting with magazines. Color, design, layout, I wanted to bring those elements to the literary publishing world.
Did I have any idea of what I was embarking on? Not really. I mean, before entering the literary publishing space my experience was strictly with lifestyle consumer magazines, and there’s a big difference between that and what I do now. The material that I publish requires such care, and it has such staying power. Not only that, but I am building lasting relationships with the writers whose work I publish, and I often get to watch them grow in their careers. There are writers who were published for the first time in UTGT, and they have gone on to have the essay we published in an anthology, or they get a book deal, or their new work is being recognized as a notable essay in Best American Essays. It’s a pretty cool feeling to look at the list of notables and see so many names that have also been in UTGT, and that is not something I ever imagined would happen when I started the magazine. It’s an honor to feel like a small part in a writer’s publishing journey.
Can you talk about UTGT’s tagline “Tell Stories Without Shame”? For me, this tagline was a defining reason why I chose to submit to UTGT. In the pilot episode of your podcast More to the Story, you read the story you wrote titled “The Gum Tree,” which elucidates the meaning behind the title of the magazine. Will you talk about how these two, the magazine’s title and tagline, are intrinsically linked?
Writing creative nonfiction is the single most important work I have ever done in my life that moved me to a place of self-acceptance. I really hate talking about writing as therapy, because when you craft true stories, personal or otherwise, into art, it moves beyond therapy—it has to in order to be considered art, and it has to be art in order to speak to an audience. So I am not talking about therapy here. But I am talking about the experience of writing about my story—what has made me who I am as a person—in a way that helped me see how it shaped me and how there was nothing in it to be ashamed of. The act of writing allowed the story to take on its own life, apart from me and my interior world, and once I could look at it as something separate from me it wasn’t so painful or awkward or shameful.
People often ask me what it means to “tell stories without shame” because the assumption is that there is no shame in the story. And that’s not it at all—it means that we are not ashamed to tell our story. That is the experience that I’ve had with writing and telling and sharing my story, including “The Gum Tree,” and that is the experience that I want to give others, both readers and writers, with Under the Gum Tree.
This month, UTGT is celebrating its five-year anniversary. When we met for lunch this summer, you were planning an anniversary hoopla celebration. Please share with us what your upcoming event is and how readers can be involved.
Yes! I am super excited to be planning an event I’m calling a National Nonfiction Simulcast. It is in partnership with Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, and Hippocampus Magazine. Each publication will host a local event with readers, and the entire reading will be broadcast online via a live-streamed video. Anyone can attend at one of the four locations or remotely by watching online! It’s happening on October 29, 5 p.m. Pacific / 8 p.m. Eastern. All the details and info can be found at underthegumtree.com/live, and that’s where the video will be streaming on the day of the event.
You also were planning a redesign and contemplating a minor name change of the magazine. Can you talk about some of the changes you’ve made since UTGT’s inception?
I did briefly contemplate a name change from Under the Gum Tree to simply Gum Tree, and I had an informal poll of previous contributors and subscribers who overwhelmingly voted for the name to stay the same! So that’s not changing.
I did, however, make a big design change by taking the tree symbol off the cover. I did this for a few reasons. The main reason is that it was limiting what we could do with art on the cover. If you look at our previous covers, they are all very similar with virtually the same treatment of the art. Removing the tree gives us more freedom and space to use; it also lets the title come to the top edge of the cover, which is more traditional placement for magazine titles.
That’s the biggest change. Readers may not really notice the other changes because they are subtle and that is intentional. I wanted to retain much of our signature elements like a lot of white space, full-spread treatment for the opening of a piece. But the updates I think add really nice touches, like two column text instead of one, and icon images for each of our themed departments. These are the little details that I think keep our design fresh and updated.
One of the things I love about UTGT is the incredible visual art that counterbalances the writing. How do you find the artwork that goes into the magazine?
We do get some art by submission, but not a lot. I’m very fortunate to have an extremely talented art director and designer who collaborate on the art work. They will often solicit work from artists, collaborate on which issue it should be in, and the design placement of the work in the magazine. One other design change directly affects the art we publish, and that is that we will do full-bleed on the visual art as much as possible. Sometimes file size affects whether we can do that or not, because if files are too small then the quality won’t render in print, but when we can do it, we will because the full-bleed images are so arresting and compelling in print.
I so enjoyed interviewing with you for your podcast More to the Story. What was it like for you to work in the auditory realm, creating a podcast, as opposed to the visual realm of producing a magazine? Can we look forward to new episodes in a second season of More to the Story?
Oh, I love it! I started the podcast so that I could provide a way for people to hear the writers reading their own work, which I think creates a whole new experience with the story compared to strictly reading the text on a page. And then hearing the writer share about the story, how it came to be, what it was like to write about it, also adds a new dimension that I hope will ultimately entice people to check out the magazine. It’s also another way to support the writers that Under the Gum Tree publishes, which I really love doing, so, yes, I do hope to have a second season.
At the top of your “About” page on your website is a terrific picture of your legs in red cowboy boots. You tell a little story about you and these boots:
“I used to be afraid to wear the red boots. Actually, I used to be afraid to do a lot of things: walk the one mile to high school alone, try out for basketball, get my own apartment and live without roommates. I also used to say “no” to avoid feeling uncomfortable. If I didn’t know anyone at the party, I’d send my regrets. If I couldn’t find a friend to go with me to yoga, I simply didn’t go—even though learning yoga was a New Year’s resolution. And I certainly never wore the red boots.
Sound crazy or familiar? If it sounds familiar, then you’re in good company. All of the work that I do—writing, editing, publishing—is in pursuit of helping others to intentionally look for ways to be true to yourself, living the life you were meant to live instead of the one that someone else prescribes for you. Often those prescribed expectations—of parents, teachers, coaches, pastors—keep us from being our true self because we’re so afraid of what might happen otherwise.
I share my story because now I wear the red boots. And I want to help others do the same.”
I love this sentiment of overcoming fear and taking risks to fulfill your true self’s identity and of wanting to help others do the same. How did you come to the place of being able to wear those red boots? What changed for you? Was there a defining moment or experience, or was it a gradual coming to terms with who you were and where you wanted to be?
It was definitely gradual. I was raised in an evangelical Christian home and church, and a lot of my upbringing taught me to pay attention to whether or not I was following the rules, and I think I subconsciously learned that following the rules meant I was living up to everyone else’s expectation of who I should be.
Being a writer makes me naturally inclined toward self-reflection. So as I was coming into my own as an adult in my late twenties I realized that I still wasn’t comfortable with who I was, and I had sort of had this assumption that I’d just all of a sudden get comfortable when I became an adult and left the social construct of high school and college. Except, of course, it got worse. So I did things like forced myself to live alone for one year even though I didn’t want to. I did this when I was twenty-eight and, as the oldest of four kids, I had never lived by myself. I did things like resolve to “stop saying no for comfort’s sake”—that was actually a New Year’s resolution I had one year. The red boots were another self-challenge, because I bought them and couldn’t bring myself to wear them for something like a year or more. I had to remind myself of my own mantra to not say no for comfort’s sake.
On your website, you call yourself “a self-proclaimed ‘woman in progress’” but I like to think of you as a literary mover and shaker. I’m inspired by the many projects you have on your plate and your ability to manifest your creative ideas as well as your strong commitment to community, especially the creative nonfiction community. What motivates you? Where do you get your energy from? How do you balance the many demands of your varying roles as writer, editor, publisher, teacher, and podcast producer with your personal life?
You’re so sweet, thank you! I like the term “woman in progress,” because it helps me to remember that no matter what level of success I feel I have achieved, there is always room to learn, grow, change, and improve.
Energy is an interesting thing for me these days because I have to be very careful how I spend it. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2012 and even though I have been symptom free for three years, fatigue and depression still creep in from time to time. In spite of that, I have this inherent need to make things happen; it’s just part of how I’m wired. I can’t stand when people talk about the way things “should” be because unless there is some action I can take, the theoretical is very frustrating for me. I guess that makes me a pragmatist (probably also why I prefer nonfiction to fiction!). So, to answer your question, when there’s something I’d like to see exist in the world, my first impulse is to create it myself or to be a part of creating it. It’s probably not the best impulse to have all the time because that’s how I end up doing so many projects that it does get to be unmanageable at times.
In fact, at the beginning of 2015, my husband and I made the decision to close a business that we had had together for four years. That was not an easy decision for us to make, but it was the right decision, and it’s part of what allows me to keep doing other things like the magazine and podcast. When people ask me about how I manage it all, the best answer I can give is to say that I’m constantly evaluating what takes the most of my energy and what gives me the most energy in return. When an activity sucks more energy than it gives, then I know it’s time to let go. I’m always talking through those variables with my husband, who helps keep me in check, because he’s the one who has to deal with me when I’m stressed and take care of me when I’m spent.
What authors inspire you? Which books are some of your favorites?
Joan Didion is my favorite author. Her books The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights are stunning. I have not yet experienced the loss of someone close to me, and still I feel I experienced the heartbreak of loss through those two books. I also love Eula Biss and Michael Pollan for the way they weave reporting and research with their personal stories so masterfully.
What are your favorite things to do outside of the literary world?
As you know I take an annual trip to Ashland, Oregon with my sisters—that’s partly literary because we are there for the Shakespeare Festival plays, but we also shop and eat a lot. My husband works for a winery, and wine tasting is one of our favorite leisure activities. We love to host dinner parties and facilitate conversation among friends over good food and good wine. We travel as often as we can, and our favorite vacation spot is a remote beach where we can lounge and read all day long. We ride our bikes around town when the weather is nice. And I practice yoga regularly.
You’ve already manifested a lot. Where would you like to go from here?
That’s a good question—I’m not sure. My big dream is to see UTGT become self-sustaining and profitable as an independent magazine. Jeremy, my husband, thinks I should start another magazine. I guess we’ll just have to see!
Winner of This Week’s Book Giveaway They Could Live with Themselves
Posted on August 14, 2016 2 Comments
The winner of this week’s book giveaway of Jodi Paloni’s linked short story collection They Could Live with Themselves is Dale Kleinheksel! Congratulations, Dale. I hope you enjoy it!
The Sunday Spotlight: Writer Jodi Paloni (Including a Book Giveaway of Her Linked Story Collection: They Could Live with Themselves)
Posted on August 7, 2016 15 Comments
Today’s featured writer: Jodi Paloni
The featured writing: They Could Live with Themselves (including a free giveaway copy of her book!)
The Sunday Spotlight has been on a hiatus lately, with the busy summer months. When I began this series, I posted a new spotlight every week. It was great fun and super inspiring (check out the library of past spotlights, featuring many talented writers!), but it was also extremely time consuming, and I soon found that maintaining the weekly structure put a bit of a strain on my ability to carve out time for my own writing amidst the demands of daily life. I am happy to announce that with this installment, featuring fiction writer Jodi Paloni, The Sunday Spotlight is back in action(!), and I am moving to a monthly installment that will appear on the first Sunday of every month.
Jodi Paloni and I attended Vermont College of Fine Arts together. Jodi studied fiction, and I creative nonfiction, so we never had the pleasure of sharing a workshop, but I knew when she read at her graduation in 2011 an excerpt of “Molly Sings the Blues”—from her linked short story collection They Could Live with Themselves (published May 3, 2016 by Press 53)—that she would definitely have a book one day and that that book would be fabulous and a must read. So I was thrilled and not surprised when I learned that Jodi’s manuscript had been awarded runner-up in the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction and offered publication.
They Could Live with Themselves takes place in the fictional town of Stark Run, Vermont. As a linked-story collection, characters repeat, sometimes in minute detail and sometimes in more profound ways, acting as threads that weave the stories together into a cohesive, multi-layered cloth. In this weaving, the place of Stark Run takes on its own role of a character as the people, their relationships, and the happenings of their daily life revolve around and within the sleepy, rural town.
I can’t say enough about Jodi’s collection. Quite simply, I LOVE this book. I love everything about it: the characters, the setting, the dialogue, the details, the homespun feel the town of Stark Run depicts and how accurately it reflects life in a small-town community, like that of the town where I live in Southern Oregon, where people still hang their laundry on the line to dry and seem to know each other’s business. Jodi’s prose is deft and her narration compelling. These stories will both make you laugh and tug at your heart in deep and, at times, almost sorrowful ways. To get a taste of Jodi’s writing, check out “The Air of Joy” (published at Connotation Press) and “The Third Element” (published at Carve Magazine), both stories from They Could Live with Themselves.
Book Giveaway! Last April at the AWP conference, in addition to my own copy, Jodi gave me a copy of They Could Live with Themselves to offer up as a giveaway here on the blog. To enter to win, leave a comment below. You have one week to do so. I’ll pick randomly from the list and announce the winner next Sunday here on the blog.
Jodi Paloni is the debut author of the linked story collection, They Could Live With Themselves, and runner up in the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction. She won the 2013 Short Story America Prize, placed second in the 2012 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, and was recently a finalist in the Maine Literary Award Short Competition Award. Her stories appear in a number of print and on-line literary journals: Green Mountains Review, Carve Magazine, upstreet, Whitefish Review, Contrary Magazine, Literary Mama, and others. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. A full-time resident of Vermont for twenty-five years, she now shares her time between Maine and Vermont.
A few questions for Jodi:
Can you talk about the evolution of They Could Live with Themselves? Did you initially set out to write a linked story collection, or was it something that evolved as you were writing the stories? If the latter, when did you realize you were dealing with a linked collection as opposed to individual stand-alone stories, and how did that change your perception of the project?
These are good questions, Laurie. Linkage in short fiction is a topic I’ve thought a lot about over the course of writing this book. In the first semester of my MFA program at VCFA, I was advised to set a flailing novel attempt aside and work on short stories for the purposes of learning craft in more bite-sized pieces. Taking that advice worked well for me. I was then reading tons of short fiction, trying my best to make sense of the form. By the end of the first semester, I’d written a twenty-six-page story, “Blight,” about a group of townspeople in Stark Run, Vermont. There were a lot of characters in that story, which is unusual, but not unheard of. Anyway, the townspeople were gathering at the general store the day after a double crisis at the harvest fair. “Blight” is an aftermath story. While that initial story did not make it into this book, many of the characters did. As much as I tried to make “Blight” work as a stand-alone story (and still do try!), I feel the purpose of that first Stark Run story was to allow me to create a small world of people living the rural life, what is what I know best. Many of the characters were fleshed out later, some are still waiting, but the essence of each character, and the town feeling, was formed then and there.
Because I was previously such a fan of the novel form, one of my teachers mentioned that I might like to read Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, and a number of other books that are considered “linked” collections. The thought was that I could study the short form, but because of the linkages, get a “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” feel after reading the book start to finish. In writing about one place and one set of people, I could sustain interest in a broader context, while getting to try out a variety of voices and tenses and other aspects of fiction craft. Right up until the week before the manuscript went to print, I was tweaking the final story of the collection, “The Physics of Light,” a story I wrote after the book was signed with Press 53, a story that, although it may stand completely on its own two feet, pulls all of the stories into a multi-textured package that before the existence of that story had not completely occurred. It was amazing to watch that phenomenon unfold before my eyes, as if by some “otherworldly” force at play.
Here’s my perception: a linked story collection is a group of stand-alone stories and not opposed to the individual stand-alone form. Each of the stories in TCLWT may be read as a single story, and, hopefully, if I’ve done my job well, the reader may feel satisfied. When read as a group, the reader may experience something altogether different.
One of the things I find so compelling in this collection is the characters. They are fully formed and complex while being thoroughly accessible and realistic. Does this come naturally to you? Do you base characters on or borrow traits from actual people, or are they purely from your imagination?
Thanks, Laurie. That’s a huge compliment, as I like characters, their interior landscapes, to drive my plots. I have a rich interior life, which can be a burden, and perhaps why I like to spill it onto the page. To paint an exterior rendition of all those thoughts and feelings and imaginings, well, it somehow lifts the weight. It’s my view that imagination is a multi-dimensional version of everything I’ve ever learned through experience. Pure imagination? I’m not sure what that is, but I can tell you, I’m very interested in imagined ideas whether they be about what’s possible or what is. So I’d say my characters are a conglomerate of the “actual” and the imagined, and a third thing, too, the influence of other fictional characters I’ve read, someone else’s imagined characters which become as real as real is to me.
Is it Jung that said when you dream you represent everyone and everything in the dream? I think some part of me is in every one of the characters. That’s what I tell friends and family, people who say they are sure they are this character or that one. It saves me from the more awkward responses. Ha!
The book takes place in the fictional town of Stark Run, Vermont. Writer David Jauss says, “The town and its people come so utterly to life that no matter where you’re from you’ll feel like you’re home.” I find this so true, and as a VCFA grad who used to visit Vermont twice a year for residency, it was quite comforting immersing myself in the place of Stark Run and its community. You are a fairly recent transfer from being a long-time Vermont resident to one of Maine. How does place influence you, not only in your writing, but in your daily life experience? Has your writing about place changed since moving to Maine?
I am so honored to have learned from Dave Jauss and to have his endorsement on the book. He was influential in teaching me how to bring life to the language. Place is everything to me in reading and in writing. First I hear a character’s “voice” and am off and running. But place forms voice, and I always see the story, the setting for the opening scene, before I get too far down the first page. I find I like to be physically present in the places I write about. So now I write stories (and a novel) set in Maine.
Many readers have asked for a “sequel” to TCLWT. That may happen, as I have at least a dozen stories about that town in my draft stable. I think that because I lived in Vermont for 25 years, and go back once a month, I could conjure Stark Run from anywhere I dwell. I also find that when I’m visiting a place, Rome, let’s say, or the Delaware shore, I want to write a story set there, a travel story maybe. In “Molly Sings the Blues” there is a vacation scene on a Maine beach. That scene was written while I was vacationing in Maine, years ago, writing on the backs of checks in my checkbook since I had no other paper with me. I wonder where those are?
If you had to pick a favorite character (or characters) from your collection and a favorite story, which would they be? (I know this is a difficult question, but I just had to ask!)
Molly, definitely, no, wait, it’s Melissa Wiley, for sure, no, Wren, Addison, or, maybe, Sky. You’re right, that’s a difficult question. I think I have favorite moments more than favorite characters. I love the moment when Molly tells Crystal that she doesn’t know what she likes. And the tender ending in “Wonder Woman,” I want to replay that moment over and over and feel what Rory must have felt. And I laugh out loud when Molly calls Jack from her yoga cleanse retreat and he thinks they’re going to have phone sex, but she confesses that she’s fled the building and ordered a pizza and starts to cry and he gets that this isn’t going to be that call. Ha! I cry at the end of “Accommodations,” every single time. And in “Deep End,” Jillanna, when she goes back to the swimming pool, that one clutches at my heart, too.
Can you share with us what the publishing process was like as a debut author?
So far, it’s been nothing short of amazing. Kevin at Press 53 has been a wonderful editor. He’s laid back and on top of it, too. He such a fan of the work, or he wouldn’t have accepted it for publication. He champions his authors, short fiction writers and poets, mostly. I’d venture to say that he’s all about the art and the author and the rest of it, the business end of things, falls into place.
Personally, I’ve committed to paying close attention to all aspects of the publishing journey: the nuts and bolts of marketing and promotion, the emotional roller coaster ride, the high energy and the lulls in activity, how having a book and a growing readership should or shouldn’t impact the writing I’m doing now, how much I love reading to people, but how hard it is to walk into a bookstore or library and say, Here I am! Look at my book!! Let me read to you!!! There’s a lot of work involved post publication. I’m trying real hard to focus on the next book, get to the page every day, move forward while giving TCLWT the love back for all the love it’s given me. Imagine balancing career and mothering. The book is like the child, and the career is about being a writer while having the child, always there, to nurture and help shepherd into the world.
On a slightly different note, a more, OMG note, there’s a copy of the book that I wrote on our coffee table and in my daughter’s nightstand, and on my sister’s porch, and facing out at our local bookstore. It’s crazy!
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
Like for many author, stories became the worlds in which I preferred to dwell during the difficult times in my life, starting at a very young age and continuing still. I reached for books to relax, too, just for fun. I love everything about books: the physical aspects, the smell, the promise, the way they make me feel and understand the world.
Who are some of your favorite authors that were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
So many. O’Connor, Welty, Carver, and Munro all influence my short work, as well as, a number of more contemporary story writers, Alan Heathcock, Dylan Landis, Robin Black, far too many to list. I’ve mentioned Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which was, still is, extremely influential. I’ve read that book four times! I am moved by the prose of Kent Haruf, Alistair MacLeod, and Jeanette Winterson. Currently I’m enjoying Maine writers, Jim Nichols, Lily King, Debra Spark, and revisiting Richard Ford’s short stories.
All of these writers conjure a reader experience that sticks, whether it’s in building a sense of place, or leaving a mark by a kick-ass character, or merging grit and heart with compassion. For different reasons, they teach me something, and leave me gutted in some way.
Are there any particular books you’d like to recommend to readers?
Here’s a list of 8, a random pull from my “favorites” shelf. This could be a different list tomorrow.
The Maytrees, Annie Dillard; Persuasion, Jane Austen; Housekeeping, Marilyn Robinson; Plainsong, Kent Haruf; My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout; Glaciers, Alexis M. Smith; Lighthousekeeping, Jeanette Winterson; Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Are you willing to share what you are working on now?
I’m working on a collection of short stories involving the coming of age and aging of three female characters over the span of forty or more years, each character coming from a different class. None of that was planned out, but having done this once now, I am more cognizant of the structuring as I go approach and I have been more aware in my editorial choices. Also, I’m very excited about the novel I’m writing, my fourth attempt at it, set in Maine. I can work on stories when I have short bits of time to jump in and out. For the novel, I feel I need full immersion. Summer in Maine doesn’t allow for much immersion, but I am planning on going deep during the late summer and fall months ahead. Wish me luck, Laurie.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Walk the precarious balance of discipline and play, inspiration and the dark end of discouragement, which I feel can help the work. Carve out sacred time to commit to the page. And take your writing into the woods and to art museums, to concerts, to eat ice cream. Feed the part of you that works hard at words and, equally, the part that clears the head and woos the muse. Let the voice say what it wants, everything it wants, even if you have to lasso it later on. And when the going gets rough, go with that, too. It’s all writing.