Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
Summers in northern Wisconsin at my grandparents’ cottage near Eagle River were always an adventure for my little sister and me. Up North, we could roam the forest, and our grandpa would often take us fishing. Once, after we’d rowed out into the middle of the lake, he went to cast his line and caught me on his hook instead of the Muskie we were always chasing after. When he saw his hook in my ear, his eyes widened as if they were going to pop out of the socket. As he stood and came toward me in the tippy boat, I remembered that he couldn’t swim. Realizing that he was probably even more terrified than me, I sat as still as possible until he leaned over and, with trembling hands, set me free.
Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?
During college, I worked as an intern at The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly newspaper known for its entertainment coverage and investigative reporting. After months of filing papers and taking books out from the Boston University Library for one of my role models, the late author and columnist Caroline Knapp, I was asked: What do you want to write about? At the time, I was most interested in environmental issues and, with some coaching, wrote a feature story about water shortages. By the time the article appeared several weeks later, Boston’s drought had passed and flooding was the new concern. Regardless, I couldn’t have been prouder of the article or more grateful for the opportunity.
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
The Other Side of Sanctuary is set in the fictional town of Sanctuary on the perched dunes along Lake Michigan. I first visited the turquoise waters along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on a vacation with my parents in the 1990s. Years later, when I returned with children of my own, I was struck, once again, by the scenic beauty of the landscape. However, as a parent, I was more attuned to the risks associated with climbing the steep slopes and swimming in a Great Lake. I became intrigued by the legends surrounding the lakeshore along with the people who inhabited the area long ago and those who reside in the string of beach towns that exist there today. Over time, I gained a deep appreciation for this area of northwestern Michigan, which inspired me to write a novel that would capture its spirit.
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
I had roughly outlined The Other Side of Sanctuary before I entered the low-residency MFA program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2015. With regular feedback throughout the program from my faculty advisors: Jacquelyn Mitchard, Clint McCown, David Jauss, and Ellen Lesser, I wrote between 20-30 pages a month and completed a relatively polished full draft by the time I graduated in July 2017. It took me roughly a year to revise the novel before I sent it out to publishers. It was picked up by Adelaide Books in December 2018.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I often record voice memos on my phone to capture scenes or dialogue that pops into my head, especially at times when I’m on the go or sitting in the car waiting around for my daughters in the school parking lot. Sometimes I don’t quite finish my thought before they get in the car. The first time this happened, and they heard me talking to myself about how “Laura spilled the blueberries all over the floor,” my kids were so confused. Then they started making fun of me by repeating what I had said in a melodramatic tone. Now, they just roll their eyes at me as if to say, not this again.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
I find that various forms of artistic expression can work together. In addition to writing, I enjoy photography. For me, practicing yoga, growing container gardens, and paddle boarding, are also creative outlets that help soothe my soul. Listening to music often stirs my creative spirit on an emotional level and prompts me to sit down at my desk and write.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
My writings have been influenced by my faculty advisors at VCFA (noted above) along with the other faculty and students I collaborated with in critique sessions. I’ve also taken to heart advice from Wally Lamb, the author of She’s Come Undone, and an alumnus of the college who urged students to go back and read the old stories, which are at the “core of our humanity.” Over the years, I’ve appreciated the instruction and encouragement offered by author Christine DeSmet, coordinator of the Write by the Lake retreat at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Additionally, I’ve been motivated and inspired by the creative student writers in Ypsilanti, Mich., who I had the opportunity to work with as a volunteer through 826michigan’s in-school programs. Other writers I admire include: Elizabeth Strout for her ability to reveal truth through the character of Olive Kitteridge; Virginia Woolf for bringing the reader into the mind of Mrs. Dalloway; and Emily St. John Mandel for carrying the reader through time in Station Eleven.
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I’m exploring the possibility of a middle-grade science fiction story about a 12-year-old girl flying across the country to see her grandparents and her quest to stay alive as the lines between reality and her online identity blur and she becomes a target.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I aim to write stories with compelling characters that both male and female readers can relate to on various levels. On the surface, The Other Side of Sanctuary is a psychological thriller that someone can pick up for a quick read on the plane or at the beach. On a deeper level, it offers an intimate look at the struggles that surround loving family, caring for family, and protecting family—or failing to. For this reason, the novel might appeal to readers looking for a thought-provoking book club discussion about topics ranging from friendship and marriage to mental health and justice.
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
Believe in yourself. Make time for writing in your schedule and put it on your calendar. Network with other writers in your area and find writing partners who support, challenge, and inspire you. In addition to working with my writing partners in Detroit, I’ve connected with other writers through online critique groups, which motivate me to meet deadlines and continue to improve. Attend writing conferences and retreats if possible and, possibly, go back to school for creative writing. The low-residency MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts allowed me to earn my degree while still living in metro Detroit with my husband and our three daughters.
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Keep writing! Those two words of encouragement from author Summer Wood changed my life. I met Summer in 2011 through her “Wrestling with the Angels” novel master class at the Taos Summer Writers Conference. In our individual session I explained that, as a freelance journalist, I had never written anything I didn’t think I could get paid for; and I was afraid to write fiction because I might never make any money at it. There are no guarantees of becoming a paid author, she cautioned me, but you’re a storyteller so “keep writing.” Gradually, after years of wrestling with anxiety and some difficult emotions, I’ve learned how to let go of the fear of failure and instead trust myself and the process of writing to express something true.
How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
I belong to the Stonewater book club, which meets every month. We mostly read literary fiction, including novels like Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, along with a few memoirs, such as Educated by Tara Westover. I also appreciate other works of creative non-fiction. Right now, I’m reading Broke by Jodie Adams Kirshner, which details the effect of Detroit’s bankruptcy on the city’s residents. I often have a book of poetry within reach. If the Girl Never Learns by Sue William Silverman was one of my favorites this year. Additionally, there is usually a craft book on hand, such as The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
Coming from a journalism background, I write realistic fiction that explores what makes us human. I also try to distill my characters’ dreams. The Other Side of Sanctuary is about a young family in crisis and the tensions that arise as a dark series of events unfolds. Rob and Laura Sanders search for answers, unaware that they’re traveling toward a collision that will either save or shatter their vulnerable family, or maybe—both. I hope readers on this journey will find some common ground with the characters and possibly discover something new about themselves along the way. As author Ellen Lesser says of the novel, “This is a tale not only of how we fail but how we fight through to ‘the other side,’ to forgive ourselves and each other.”
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends? In October, I was fortunate enough to join Adelaide Books at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany where the industry is booming, according to Publishers Weekly. I would like to thank my publisher for offering me the opportunity to attend this event with authors from around the world. In addition to signing books, I shared the International Stage with several authors from Adelaide Books where we discussed the relevancy of our literary work in the global market. I also attended many presentations at the Future of Culture Festival and found the “Create Your Revolution” theme especially enlightening. Attending conferences and book fairs is an ideal way for authors to find ways to attract readers. Of course, that’s not always possible. Usually, I stay aware of trends by talking with other writers and reading magazines such as Poets & Writers and The Writer’s Chronicle. I also network through industry organizations such as the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) and Detroit Working Writers. Authors can also stay on top of trends and support each other by attending readings and liking events on social media using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Amazon Author Central.