On this cold and snowy May morning (yes, you read correctly. Snow on the ground here in Iowa. In May), I am so glad to get into my transporter, hop down to pick up this week’s featured author and travel to Hilton Head, South Carolina. On the beach as the sun is just below the horizon. The sky is aflame with pink and orange and red. Out in the water I see a fin rise above the waves. Laurie assures me it isn’t a Great White, but rather a dolphin swimming parallel to us.
I want to mention before our interview begins that I found Laurie through the quarterly magazine published by the American Taekwondo Association, the parent organization to my club. In the most recent issue, she, along with her daughter were featured. Her daughter attends taekwondo classes and was an inspiration for Laurie’s second novel. I admired, first that her daughter is a success in martial arts, second that Laurie wanted to write a book, and third that the topic of the book holds so much meaning and importance. I knew I couldn’t pass up a chance to get to know her.
Of course, I enjoy every author who is featured on my blog, but Laurie holds a special place because of her family’s involvement with martial arts and the sensitive subject matter of her books and how they are handled.
1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?
To the best of my knowledge, I am the only bilingual teacher, attorney, author, child advocate, personal transformation consultant and motivational speaker in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My life is a creative adventure!
2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?
As a former high school teacher, the author of young adult literature, and someone who has worked with kids professionally for decades, I tend to focus on the positive rather than the negative. Most people don’t know that I really hated high school. So much that I only went for three years. No senior year for me. Teaching high school for four years after college helped me to process a good deal of my own teenage baggage before moving on to law school.
3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as a movie star?
Movie stars spend their entire lives pretending to be people they are not. Writers spend their lives getting to know themselves and discovering who they really are. In doing so, writers give us all a better understanding of our universal human qualities and emotions and the unique aspects of our individual lives and experiences.
4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?
I would so love to have dinner with Barbara Kingsolver. I am so amazed and inspired by the depth, breadth, and beauty of her writing. I especially enjoyed listening to The Lacuna and Flight Behavior audiobooks, read by Barbara herself. I remember listening to the audiobook for The Bean Trees nearly 20 years ago as I was driving home from an out-of-town deposition, and I had to pull off to the side of the road because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see to drive.
5. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book(s) be great company?
Both Summer Sanctuary (Luminis Books/2010) and Maybe I Will (Luminis Books/2013) are quick reads, which means you could read at least one of them (maybe both if you are a very fast reader) while you’re stranded at the airport. In Summer Sanctuary, a 12-year-old homeschooled preacher’s kid meets a homeless teenager at the library and convinces her to live secretly in his church for the summer. In Maybe I Will, a sexually assaulted teenager resists conformity and discovers freedom of self-expression through the physical forms in Taekwondo and the poetic form of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Both novels would be great company on a deserted island because both are filled with poetry and big ideas. They make you think, and at the same time, the characters will feel like your friends.
6. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.
I usually start with a blank journal and a character that has a problem. As I picture the character and think about the problem, I start researching. I’ll check dozens of books out of the library, just scanning some and reading lots of others carefully for content. I take notes from my reading and sometimes write scenes or dialogues in the journal as they come to me. All of the journal prewriting gives me the sense of what I want to happen in the book and to start plotting the order of events. When I actually sit down at the computer to start writing a manuscript, I find myself doing lots of editing and rewriting with every few chapters, so I end up with fewer rewrites in the end. As I’m writing, though, the characters always find ways to surprise me and the story takes on a life of its own. I do most of my writing in the mornings. When I’m sitting at the computer, working on writing or rewriting a chapter, I often look things up on the internet either for quick fact checking or to help me have a clear picture in my mind. I did use Google a lot to help me picture people and places in my third young adult novel which will be coming out in 2014 because it’s set in Ancient Greece.
7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”
Start by reading lots of books in the genre you think your story will fit best. Think about how each author has developed the characters and plotted the events of that story. Look for themes, symbolism and sentences that read especially well. Then find the process that works for you. The best way to do that is to just start writing. Whenever you get stuck, read some more. It also helps to find several books about writing that you really like. You can read those when you get stuck, too. My favorite is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” what is your philosophy of life?
“There’s nothing more useless than a mind filled with someone else’s thoughts.” As a teacher/professor, it saddens me when the only questions students ask are “Will this be on the test?” I don’t have all the right answers, and I can’t tell my students everything they’ll need to know. We need to get back to nurturing our curiosity and natural sense of wonder. Human beings are not sponges designed to absorb information to be squeezed out at the appropriate time. That’s not how the human brain develops. We need to engage, ask questions, and make new connections. It’s not enough to just tweet and re-tweet sound bites. I think of myself and my students not as sponges, but as wells, each with our own source deep within. It’s a little dark and scary sometimes, but if you dig deep within yourself, you’ll be amazed at what you find.
9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?
I have two books scheduled for publication in 2014, so I’ve been working on rewriting and polishing those. One is the historical fiction I mentioned in an earlier question. It’s called Just Myrto: When Myrto’s father dies leaving no dowry for her to marry, Myrto wonders whether her brother will find her a husband or sell her into slavery. In Ancient Greece it is better to have a kind master than a cruel husband. At eighteen, Myrto finds a kind husband in the philosopher Socrates. Will Myrto also find herself and choose her own destiny through her relationship with Socrates?
I’m a huge fan of Socrates and the Socratic Method. The other book that Luminis Books will release at about the same time as Just Myrto is my nonfiction book that applies the Socratic Method to parenting. It’s called A Simple Guide to Socratic Parenting. I’ve started writing a local parenting column related to that as well.
I have an idea and have started a journal and drafted several chapters for a fourth young adult fiction book, but that’s been on the back burner for a while. I’m hoping to get busy on that again this summer.
10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?
People can visit my website www.SocraticParenting.com to get an overview of the things I’ve done then follow me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/laurie.gray.14. I am also interested in connecting with other authors and professionals through LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/pub/laurie-gray/19/b23/9a5 and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org) http://www.scbwi.org/MemberProfile.aspx?u=2862956617400496. If you’re interested in reading some articles I’ve written, go to SelfGrowth.com