Guest Author - M. E. Wood
Look out! This full time writer from Danbury, CT is raiding the bookshelves. Lauren has been writing since the tender age of twelve but she didn't hit what most writers deem the big time (publication) until 2003 when her off-colour story, "The Thin Pink Line", about a woman faking a pregnancy for 9 months hit the book stands. Two more books quickly followed. This married mother of one is rocking.
One of the things which stood out for me during the interview was Lauren's love for her daughter. Even through the words you can tell she's beaming. I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know more about Lauren, her books and her writing life.
Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I'd say we chose each other. Back when I was 12, my English teacher had us write a story using three seemingly unconnected elements: a priest, a nurse and a camel. He liked my story enough he made the class listen to me read it three days running. I'm sure it got on their nerves by the third hearing, but it certainly communicated to me that someone was interested in what I had to say.
Also, around the same time, I wrote a poem that began with the line, "When we made love, I felt I was on fire." Since I was still 12 at the time, it fairly shocked my teachers, but the critical reviews were good.
Moe: When did you 'know' you were a writer?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: When I started hearing voices in my head that just would not shut up.
Moe: What inspires you?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: My daughter, Jackie. She's an incredible child and I have the feeling she'll become a better writer than me. She tells stories that all have a clear arc, the conflict usually centering on bees. E.g., "And then the bees landed on their house." When I write, she's never far from my thoughts. I'm aware that I don't write the most important books in the world, but my first novel, "The Thin Pink Line", was dedicated to her and I hope that when she's old enough to realize what that means, even if she doesn't respect the work itself, she'll respect that her mother had dreams she went after full force.
Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I get up between 4:30 and 5:30, a vast improvement over the years when I rose between 2:30 and 4:30. I take a long walk, then get down to work. When I'm working on a novel, I'll work until it's time to get my daughter up for school, work again while she's in school. Then, if it's going really good, when my husband gets home from work, I'll hand her off to get a few more pages in. When I'm working on a novel, I also experience great anxiety if for some reason I can't work on it every day.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I write very fast first drafts. I wrote a YA in 16 days and an adult novel in 19. But, usually, it takes about a month. I tinker a bit as I go along, and don't necessarily write sequentially, but I reserve major revisions for once that first draft is done. I look at getting the first draft done as being like the one-day barn-raising scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you'll have?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: No. I write the stories I am moved to tell - be they dark comedies, YA, drama, or what have you - and worry about the audience once I start to revise.
Moe: When it comes to plot, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: Both. I've written several books where all I knew to start with was the title, main character, opening line and general plot. E.g., for "The Thin Pink Line", I knew the main character would be Jane Taylor and she'd be telling the story of how she faked a pregnancy for nine months. On the other hand, the YA novel I recently completed was written with probably the most detailed outline I've ever used.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: Some of the places I write about - England in "The Thin Pink Line", Iceland in "How Nancy Drew Saved My Life" - are places I visited years ago. I round out my research with travel guides and the Internet, where need be. Occasionally, I'll hear about a writing acquaintance going off for a month to do research in places like South Africa, leaving family behind, and I'll think, "Are you kidding me? My gang won't even let me off the leash to go as far as Bethel by myself!" (Bethel is the next town over, about two miles from where I live in Danbury.)
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I draw the line at anything that someone might find hurtful. My characters are truly not based on anyone I know - thankfully, no one I know has done any of the more insane things my characters have done, like fake pregnancies - but I do recycle the better anecdotes. A friend from Russia told me about how one time, when her two older sisters were fighting, one of them was breastfeeding and she pointed her breast at the other sister and sprayed her; I recycled that one in "How Nancy Drew Saved My Life". And there's a story in "A Little Change of Face" involving a dirty limerick and a limbo contest on the beach that is drawn straight from my brother's adventures in Bermuda during college. Additionally, whenever my characters soapbox about anything - politics, religion, the fact that low-riders should not be worn by most people - they are definitely speaking for me. My main characters usually come with the plot idea; e.g., with "The Thin Pink Line", I knew I wanted to write a dark comedy about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy. Well, what kind of person does such a thing? A sociopath! Thus was born Jane Taylor, so named because Jane = Everywoman, and Taylor because she stitches her own story together. Once the main character is set in my mind, I surround them with supporting characters based on need, not dissimilar to the way we add people to our circle in real life.
Moe: Writers often go on about writer's block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I'm afraid I'm going to give the kind of answer I did to the question about how long it takes me to write a book, meaning I'm about to say something that'll make people want to sew voodoo dolls with my likeness on them. The answer is, no, I don't ever suffer from writer's block. In fact, I suffer from the opposite: hypergraphia. There's a storyboard in my basement on which I've written all the titles for the books I'd like to write - there are a lot. I used to say that the only thing that bothered me about my own mortality is that I'll never have the time to read all the books I want to; now I worry I'll never have the time to write all the books I want to. But while I don't ever suffer from classic writer's block, I do sometimes come up on a stumbling block in a particular book - maybe I'll find myself mentally dragging my feet about writing the next scene or maybe I'm not sure yet about what some of the connecting scenes are from, where the character started and where they need to get by novel's end - so I'll jump ahead in the book and write later scenes that I do feel excited about writing. Then, once I go back to write the scenes I skipped, it somehow comes easier.
Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: It all depends on what kind of book it is - if I've written a sad book, I certainly don't want people laughing all the way through! But since the three I've had published to date are all comedies, I'd say my goals are twofold: I want readers to laugh and I want them to think. Because, even though on the surface, my books seem light, I do imbed serious themes in each one about the world we live in and the way we live our lives. I've actually had a few bizarre encounters where readers have said, "I hated your character, but the book made me think." And all I can say is, "Well, good."
Moe: Can you share three things you've learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: One, the experts don't know everything: I had one agent refuse to show "The Thin Pink Line" to Red Dress Ink because he said he knew for a fact that they were uninterested in books with a London setting, so I wound up selling them that book plus four others all on my own; two, that it's too easy, if you're the kind of writer for whom it's easy to spin out words, to say, "Oh, it's fine the way it is," when it could always use some work; three, that no writer, whether it's you, me, or J.K. Rowling, is ever entirely happy with the way things are going so you really need to create things and conduct yourself in such a fashion that at least one person will always respect you at the end of the day: you.
Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: My fan mail comes to me through my website www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com . Mostly they're letters from readers who loved both books featuring Jane Taylor, wanting to know if our favorite sociopath will be having more zany adventures. I also get several requests for help from people who want to get published. And I did hear from a man from Israel, whose last name was also Baratz, wanting to trace my branch of the family tree. I try to answer all correspondence quickly and, whenever I can, I try to offer others help. This is a wonderful business and a hard business; it took me nearly eight years to break in, so if I can make someone else's journey even a little bit shorter or smoother, it's my privilege and pleasure to do so.
Moe: What's your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: "A Little Change of Face" is about a very attractive, never married, 39-year-old Jewish librarian from CT, who, for one reason and another, decides to sabotage her own looks in order to find out how life will treat her once she's no longer one of the world's swans. It seems that, over the course of my reading life, I've read tons of books about women who lose 15 pounds or 50 and find true love while getting even with the men who did them wrong. And I guess that, in the back of my mind, I always felt that there was an inverse of that story that wasn't getting told. What happens to a woman who, having spent her whole life being and feeling attractive, suddenly confronts a world in which her circumstances have been changed? But, for a while, the idea wasn't totally gelling in my mind. Then, at age 41, I got the chicken pox, which was totally miserable but totally glorious too, as I realized, "I know! Scarlett Jane Stein needs to get the chicken pox too!" And that's exactly what happened: I gave my character my disease and that provided the motivation for her wanting to test the world to see just how she would get treated if she no longer had the face she'd had all her life.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I read everything: classics, contemporary, literary, YA, some nonfiction. For 32 years I'd averaged 100-250 books a year. This year, I set myself the goal of reading 365. I thought that this insane process would help me define - by seeing what I love and hate in the writings of others - who I want to be as an author in the future.
Moe: When you're not writing what do you do for fun?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: N-n-n-not writing??? I read - heh. I also like to watch political talk shows, some shows for entertainment, movies. Oh, and I love to shoot pool. Mostly, I like to spend time with my family. My schedule of writing and reading might make it seem like I wouldn't have much time left over, but each day my daughter and I do all sorts of things together - plus, we read together, natch. One of the advantages of having had my first child slightly later in life is that I've always been aware of the unforgiving minute: I know that I will not have her forever, that she is merely on loan to me from the greater universe, and I'd better enjoy every minute while I can.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I encounter so many writers who want to write Chick-Lit, because they think that's where the money is and that it must be easy. The truth is, the market changes all the time. So, even if you were to write your book quickly in, say, 19 days, by the time you found an agent and then a publisher, the market may have moved on. This is why it is crucial for writers not to write for a perceived market but to write the stories they feel most passionate about telling. Because if you do that, and do it well, it won't matter where the market is when your book is ready. Are there a thousand mysteries on the shelves? Yes. Do many of the offerings in individual subgenres seem interchangeable? Yes. If you write one that has a great voice that I as the reader can't ignore, will I still read it, even though I've previously read dozens of cozies/gritty procedurals/American-writing-as-British-person mysteries? Yes.
Moe: If you weren't a writer what would you be?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: A politician. I like to argue for good causes and I'm sure I'm always right.
Moe: What is your favourite word?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: I keep trying to come up with something brilliant to say here - "James Lipton, I'm ready for my close-up!" - but I keep coming back to something that's not a word but a name: Jackie.
Purchase A Little Change of Face from Amazon.com.
Purchase A Little Change of Face from Amazon.ca.
M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario, Canada. If you are going to find this eclectic reader and writer anywhere it is probably at her computer. For more information visit her official website.