Today I’m conducting a session with…Laurel Peterson!
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Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Laurel: Getting a teaching job. It was a pretty tumultuous time: I was getting divorced, with a year of alimony as a cushion. I was adjuncting at three different places to try to bring in as much money as I could, while sending out applications for every academic job I could find—which meant Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, nothing near my friends and family. In addition, if I couldn’t find a teaching job by the time the alimony ran out, I would have had to find some kind of corporate writing job, and the idea of going back into that atmosphere felt soul-killing. I didn’t like the petty competition, the focus on money, the lack of thoughtful, intellectual discussions. (Well, then there’s academia! LOL.) I had interviewed the year prior for a position at the college where I was finally hired, but hadn’t gotten the job. I changed my interview strategy substantially, with the help of one of my grad school professors. When I got the job offer, I cried. I almost couldn’t tell the dean (on the other end of the phone) I was accepting the job because I was so relieved and happy. That position has allowed me time to write, to take on my town’s poet laureateship, to edit a collection of essays on women’s justice, to write three poetry books and a mystery novel, and to meet so many interesting students who have enriched my life with their ideas and words. I am deeply grateful.
Me: What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Laurel: I’m dogged and obsessed. I work really hard, almost all the time. It’s exhausting.
Me: What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Laurel: I’m dogged and obsessed. I work really hard, almost all the time. It’s exhausting.
Me: What was your high point as a writer?
Laurel: I was happiest when I got my mystery novel accepted by Barking Rain Press. I had for some time been trying to get agents to take it, but although they said good things, “the market” was never “right” or it just didn’t make them “fall in love.” Revising in response to that is… impossible. I finally tried an independent press, and got lucky! I love working with them. My publisher and editor are both wonderful.
Me: What was your low point as a writer—a time when you questioned your path?
Laurel: Just one?? Ha.
Prior to the acceptance of the mystery novel, I was getting lots of rejections of both poems and mystery. I even wondered if I could stop writing, or if I could embrace a unpublished life. After that acceptance in short succession, I was chosen as my town’s poet laureate, and had a full-length poetry collection accepted by Futurecycle Press. I try to remember that the literary life goes in cycles. It takes hard work, fallow times when nothing seems to be happening, times of great productivity when everything comes together, and then fallow times again. I know the fallow times will come again, but I’m really grateful for all these opportunities in the meantime.
Me: If you had to pick a mental disorder to have for only one day (purely for writer research purposes), which one would you choose? Why?
Laurel: I would choose psychopathy. Then, maybe I would better understand the guy with the orange hair, and how to stop him from permanently damaging my beautiful and beloved country. And in case you are interested, there is a fascinating book out there called The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson, a journalist, with the psychopath checklist in it. If you would like to know what the checklist includes, check it out here: http://www.minddisorders.com/Flu-Inv/Hare-Psychopathy-Checklist.html.
In addition to more fully understanding corporate greed, power-hungry political barons, the occasional academic dean, and the woman who leaned over my airplane seat to talk to her friend proclaiming that no one in Washington was going to take away her corporate bonus because she’d earned it, being a psychopath for a day would help me to create stronger and more nuanced villains in my stories.
Me: What’s the worst piece of writing advice you were ever given? How did you get beyond it?
Laurel: I had a graduate school professor who told me I should “get beyond the domestic.” (Tell it to John Cheever, lady.) She was a well-meaning little thing, but she played favorites, and I obviously wasn’t one of hers, evidenced by the fact that when she wrote me a recommendation letter for something or other, she didn’t bother to proofread it and the address was full of typos. I’m not bitter.
I’ve gotten beyond it by telling all my students to ignore all advice that doesn’t ring true to them, even mine. I tell them no one knows what their intentions are better than they do or what their obsession is (John Updike: sex; Mark Doty: death and what happens after it). I tell them that every obsession is worthy of deep exploration, and that they should spend all the time they want thinking about, looking at, exploring whatever it is that means the most to them.
I was going through a divorce at the time that professor said this to me. Last Saturday, I read a couple of those divorce poems at a public event. Later, an attendee emailed me to ask for those poems, saying they had really touched him. So much for advice.Ignore all advice that doesn’t ring true. @laurelwriter49 #AOTC #AmWriting Click To Tweet
Me: What book do you wish you’d written? Why?
Laurel: Ingrid Hill: Ursula, Under. It’s expansive, poignant, intelligent, beautiful, thoughtful.
Me: Tell me about your mystery, Shadow Notes.
Clara Montague didn’t want to come home. Her mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead.
Clara suspects she and Constance share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her beloved father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.
Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.
Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma and gets a midnight visit from a knife-wielding intruder. Her dreams become more demanding and there’s a second murder. Clara realizes that only in finding the connection between Hugh’s murder and her mother’s past can she save them and finally heal their relationship.
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from your newest release, Shadow Notes .
A little introduction: Clara Montague, the main character in Shadow Notes, is speaking in this paragraph from chapter five. Her mother has been arrested for the murder of her therapist, and Clara, just home from fifteen years away avoiding her mother, figures the best way to find out what might have provoked someone to frame her mother for murder (or to figure out if she actually did it) is to get to know her mother’s enemies. The Winters—the subject of this paragraph—are definitely her mother’s enemies.
Saturday night was the political fundraiser for Mary Ellen’s brother, Andrew, where I hoped not only to lock up a job in his campaign, but also to talk to some of Mother’s friends, cry a little on their shoulders, and see what kind of information I could elicit. The Winters hosted the event at their mansion. It started at seven PM, so the attendees could get home in time to sleep off their excesses before the limo picked them up for church the following morning. The mansion itself was a huge error on the part of the Winters, a purchase, it was rumored, meant to give the family historic credibility. Apparently, the family’s first choice had been a home in which George Washington had slept as President, but they’d settled for a home where John Adams had stopped on his way to the First Continental Congress in 1774. Since then, the walls had been sheet-rocked, floors evened out, and an industrial quality kitchen, a second story and “architecturally-appropriate” additions fitted on. The result was a cross between the bridge of the Enterprise and a badger sett. Apparently, Architectural Digest didn’t agree with me, as they’d done three spreads on the house so far.
I love this paragraph because it captures something so essential about wealthy, southwestern Connecticut: its shallow self-presentation, its obsession with money, power, and social privilege, and the vagaries of taste. It also allows me, through Clara’s voice to comment on and mock those pretensions.
You can find Laurel here:
Abbie Roads writes dark emotional novels featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. RACE THE DARKNESS and HUNT THE DAWN are available now! SAVING MERCY Book 1 in the Fatal Truth Series is available now.