Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Author Interview: Laura Lee + Giveaway

Today I get to interview Laura Lee, author of Angels, on my blog.  At the end of the interview, enter to win a signed copy of her new book, Angel (US only).

Thank you for being here today, please tell us about your novel.

Here is the cover blurb:

Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his religious duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind, breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so moved by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees and pray.

Even after he regains his focus and realizes he simply met a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction for the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through this vision, and Paul must determine what God is calling him to do.

Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul’s ministry but put him at odds with his church as he is forced to examine his deeply held beliefs and assumptions about himself, his community, and the nature of love. 

How did you come up with the idea for your novel?

It was a long time in the making, but the initial inspiration was the tour bus driver from a tour I took of Mount Rainier.  I was out in Seattle to speak at a conference and I had a free day before I went home and there was this huge mountain on the horizon.  It seemed like the obvious thing to do.  It was a wonderful tour and the scenery was stunning.  I was most impressed with the idea that this beautiful, seemingly permanent feature was a dormant volcano that was perhaps overdue for an eruption.  The unseen danger, the natural beauty, the impermanence of even monumental structures all played on my imagination.  The driver was also quite funny and entertaining and he kept going on about burning out on his old job.  You sort of pictured him as a corporate executive who had renounced materialism in favor of a quiet life in nature.  Towards the end of the tour, though, someone asked him what his old job had been and he said, “a minister.”  Huh.  That was interesting. 

As a regular writing practice, then, I thought about what would attract an ex-minister to the mountain.  It had to be a certain kind of dramatic problem.  I came to understand some of the stresses ministers face because I worked in a church office for a number of years.  So the internal politics and the every-day-job quality of being a minister were familiar.  For fiction, though, I needed something more.  I envisioned a particular kind of story where the minister, in trying to grow spiritually, actually came into conflict with his church.  I stumbled onto the idea that he found himself attracted to a man, and had to deal with his feelings about that and what it meant for him as a minister.  I immediately saw that it was exactly what I had been looking for.  It was the kind of conflict that allowed me to examine all of the philosophical themes I’d been musing on for a number of years.  It was also just a good dramatic story. 

What are the challenges of marketing a novel with controversial themes?  How have you dealt with them?

So far the response has been mostly positive.  I haven’t really encountered any opposition, but if the book becomes more visible that will probably change.  To be honest, I think I would handle someone flaming me because of some religious opposition to gay rights better than I would handle it if someone said the writing was terrible.  I know that some people will not respond well to the idea of a bisexual minister and there is nothing I could do that would make those people like the book or consider what it has to say.  So that doesn’t bother me much.  What is more problematic is the idea that people might hear what it is about and simply say, “that’s not for me,” and not give it a chance because of assumptions they have about what “gay fiction” or “spiritual fiction” are.

The big challenge in terms of marketing is to present the book as what it is.  It’s surprisingly hard because you want to tap into audiences that exist, for example romance, Christian fiction, lgbt fiction, but none of those categories are perfect fits.  At its heart it is a love story and a tale about someone finding his true place in the world.  People who want it to be a bit of political advocacy might be disappointed because I tried not to present any clear good or bad guys.  I would like to avoid having it pigeonholed as just a book for lgbt readers because I would love for it to be read by straight members of church communities.  I think there is a lot for them to take away from the book.  I’ve been trying to get the book reviewed by religion editors and Christian publications.  That is the most challenging because of the perception that homosexuality and Christianity are in some way in opposition.  When people talk about Christians vs. gays they forget that some of the Christians are the gays.  Then there is the other paradoxical problem, if I am successful in having the book accepted as “Christian fiction” there are people who will not pick it up because they think of “Christian fiction” as something that is out to convert them and preach to them.  Angel isn’t that kind of book.  So it touches on a lot of categories, and also defies some of the expectations of them. 

Why did you decide to start writing?  Have you always wanted to be a writer? 

My father was a writer and he always said I was a “born writer.”  When I was young, I didn’t have an interest in writing because it never occurred to me that I had a special skill.  I thought everyone could do it.  I wanted to be an actress, an idea that seems preposterous to me now, but I got a degree in theater and worked in radio for a number of years.  While I was struggling to get cast in anything as an actress, and struggling to work my way to a larger market station in radio, I started to get hints that perhaps I would be more successful in writing.  I wrote a one act play that got all kinds of praise and people were always saying great things about my radio commercial copy.  In broadcast school I would dash off a news story and be reading it on the air while my class mates were still struggling with how to word it.  So eventually I caught on.  I still have that experience of writing things and people saying, “this is great,” and I don’t know exactly what I did or how I did it.  That’s not to say that developing as a writer was an easy task once I decided that it was what I was supposed to do.  It’s a very hard road.  It’s a lot of work. 

Who or what encouraged (or still encourages) you in your writing? 

My father was always my greatest cheerleader when it came to pursuing a writing career.  I could always consult him with writing problems or the emotional highs and lows of being a writer.  When I lived in New York, he would send me encouraging cards and always signed them with “hang in there.”  There are certain things about being a writer that it helps to share with another writer.  There are some emotions that you don’t need to explain to another writer.  For better or worse, I inherited my father’s belief that I had to write a novel.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that.  So my father gave me both encouragement and drive.  When he passed away in 2004, I had to go through a process of finding the support I had been able to get externally from him within myself.  Some of my process in dealing with that loss informed the character of Paul (the minister), who is a widower.  He’s had a hard time finding inspiration for his ministry after his wife’s death.  So the novel is dedicated to my father.  I am disappointed that he did not stick around long enough to see it.

Drive sometimes comes in a negative form too.  I had an agent a few years ago who represented my non-fiction, which is light and humorous.  He viewed that kind of writing as “not serious,” “not important.”  He told me that “one day I would write an important book.”  When he talked about the ideas I was sending him, though, I got the clear impression he thought they were easy, lazy and required little talent. 

I thought about that, and I decided that he was wrong.  It did take skill and work to do the kind of humorous non-fiction I was doing, and that there was nothing “lesser” about it.  I allowed myself to think of myself as a writer of humorous non-fiction, to believe I was good at it and to take pride in it.  Interestingly, when I let myself off the hook and stopped defining myself as a “failed novelist,” that’s when Angel came together and I was able to write it.   I probably wouldn’t have come to that as early as I did except in opposition to my agent’s point of view.  So he was right about the “important book,” if you define the novel as the important work, but I have a different agent now.

What do you do when you are not writing? 

That sounds like one of those philosophical questions.  Who are you when you are not writing?  I have a second career producing ballet master class tours with a Russian dancer.  I bring him over from Moscow.  I love the time that we are on tour together, about five months out of the year.  I like the constant movement and travel and I like letting my partner be the star while I sit in the back.

How do you incorporate writing into your everyday life? How do you fuel your writing? 

The hardest thing for me is to write when I am under stress about money.  It’s hard to focus.  Other than that, I don’t find it hard to find time to write.  I would read and write all the time if it were possible.  My bigger problem is taking time away from writing to do other things that are more immediate money producers.  I would rather be working on my next novel. 

Do you have any special routines or rituals for writing?

The whole “morning pages” idea that is so popular in books on writing has never worked for me.  First of all, I tend to prefer to work at night.  Also, there is something about my personality that when I say, “Ok, Laura, it is now time for you to produce writing,” it tends not to work.  No matter what I am writing, whether it is a speech, or non-fiction or a novel, I start with general ideas and then I have to go away and not think about it for a while and let my subconscious work on it.  Even on a speech with a tight deadline, I make my initial notes and then go away and watch TV or take a shower.  I need to put it out of my mind for a while and let my subconscious do its thing.

In general, I just spend more time writing than not and my best lines and ideas always come when I am doing something else like reading a book, taking a bath, falling asleep or driving somewhere.  That’s when I can let my mind wander.  So I just keep paper and pens around all the time to capture those fleeting thoughts and I sit down and make sense of them when I have enough of them.  

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it?  If so, can you share it?

This comes a bit late in the book., so it is hopefully not a spoiler.  I’m fond of this passage:

The carefully crafted biography that Paul had been trying to write about himself had been wrenched from his control. Now the gossipers were the authors. They would decide the moral and meaning of Paul and Ian’s story. The members of the church wanted to know the nature of their relationship. Even if they got to the heart of that mystery—if they learned “the truth,” what would they know? Only that the two of them had sex. Was that really the “nature of their relationship”? How could they ever know the “nature of their relationship”? That is something two people spend a lifetime trying to understand.

Why had God brought these two souls together? What divine force had allowed such an unlikely pair to meet and fall in love? What did it mean—to love? Why did Ian inspire Paul so? Could either of them have become what he was without the other? Of all the mysteries about Ian and Paul, whether or not they had sex was by far the least interesting. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The publishing landscape is changing so quickly that I feel as though all my hard-earned knowledge about the writing field is obsolete.  For myself, I would say that I valued the difficulties in getting published in the pre-blog and print on demand days.  I valued the education that I got in having to revise and polish my work and hone my skills as both a writer and a marketer to please an editor or an agent. 

With self-publishing and blogs and so on, the barriers to entry are much lower, although I think the barriers to getting paid and being taken seriously as a professional are higher than they were.  Most of those low paying starter markets for writers are gone.  As with a lot of fields now there are a few people at the very top making huge advances on celebrity books, and a huge number at the bottom writing for subsistence or literally for nothing.   There is not a lot of middle ground any more.  There are a lot more opportunities to write for free and get your name out there, but the path to making that into a career is not as clear as it used to be.  I’m learning about this new publishing world as I go along too.  The people I talk to, agents and publishers who have been at this for years, are also stumbling along. 

However much the external system changes, though, I don’t think the nature of story telling changes.  Forget all of the nostalgia about the golden days when everyone was reading poetry.  It’s bad history.  Readers have always been in the minority.  Writers have always found it hard to get the financial support to do their work and have always needed persistence, confidence and self-motivation.  The ones who should be read have always found a way.  That has always been important and will always be important.  Society values it, even if the economics doesn’t always make that clear.  The only thing a writer can do is to keep writing and to be flexible and adaptable to the changing times.

What new projects are you working on or what are excited about right now?

The novel just came out.  I had been working on a couple of different novels.  Now that Angel is out, my focus is on it.  I’m kind of waiting to see how this one does to give me an idea of what might be next for me.

Thank you so much for being on the blog today.  I really enjoyed our interview.

How to find Laura Lee:
Blog: http://authorlauralee.tumblr.com/ 
Twitter @LauraLeeAuthor  
Interviews and reviews here: http://www.speechwriting.com/lauralee/angelpage.html 
To buy the book directly from the author & recieve an autographed copy: http://www.speechwriting.com/lauralee/books.htm 

And now for the giveaway!  Enter to win a signed copy of Laura Lee's intriguing book, Angel below.


  1. Thank you for the chance-interesting read for me, as I hope to one day publish a book.
    Diane Baum

  2. Good luck on your own book. This book does sound really interesting and I like hearing how it came about.

  3. I hope to read your book!
    The cover art is beautiful and I want to follow the journey!

  4. Laura guest posted on my bog a few weeks ago, and ever since hearing about the book and how it came to be, I've wanted to read it. Would love to win a copy (especially a signed one!)

    Thanks for the great interview and chance at the book. :)

  5. Jane, it really is a beautiful cover, I agree. Adam, it is an intreguing book. I love knowing how books came to be - it adds a whole other level.

  6. The cover artist is Ann Cain. She did great work. It is based on one of the angel statues at The Vatican with a slightly softer face, made to look like a DaVinci style drawing.

  7. Thanks Laura, the cover really is stunning.


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