I close the last page from Lauren's latest book Vertigo and set it on my nightstand. I linger in the moment, never wanting it to end, but too quickly the Victorian façade melts away and I'm back in my plain bedroom, back in my normal life that seems rather drab in comparison.
I begin to wonder about things, as we writers tend to do... How did she craft such an intricate plot? And in weaving such a tale, what made her heroine seem realistic? Then I remembered something that was more shocking now than when I first heard it: Lauren came out with three novels in one month, yes, one month, this year! I quickly scribbled on a piece of paper my first interview question. How could someone who apparently cares a great deal about her reader - enough to structure such a suspenseful epic - pump out three complete novels in one month? I knew already that this would be one conversation I would learn a lot from, and I know you will too.
Before becoming a published writer, Lauren Baratz-Logsted was an independent bookseller (11 years), a Publishers Weekly reviewer (292 titles), a freelance editor (nearly 100 titles), a sort-of librarian, and a window washer. Since 2003, she's had seven books published: four comedies, The Thin Pink Line, Crossing the Line, A Little Change of Face, How Nancy Drew Saved My Life, one literary novel, Vertigo, a Young Adult novel, Angel's Choice, and she edited/contributed to the anthology This is Chick-Lit.
WOW: Lauren, first of all, I have to ask you... how does an author come out with three new novels in one month? You're my hero!
LAUREN: I think you have to be a little insane to do this. Seriously, I had no control over the three books coming out at the same time - three different publishers each decided on their own pub dates. As for the writing of the three books, they were all entirely different projects. I think it's much easier to be productive when one works on such diverse things. Thanks for the 'hero' comment!
WOW: It's truly amazing, but do you think there is a benefit to having your novels come out around the same time?
LAUREN: If they were all in the same genre, it would be a detriment, with the books competing against each other for the same readership. But as it works out, it simply means I take up more shelf space in the bookstore - a good thing - and that when someone hears about one of my books and goes out to buy it, there's a chance they'll look at the others while they're there.
WOW: That could be a very viable promotion... the more work you have out there, the more chance of receiving good buzz. In fact, that's how I met you, in the cyber world of MySpace, where you have a very active blog. How has the experience there been for you book-promotion-wise?
LAUREN: It's one of those things where it's impossible to gauge the effects of. I originally came to MySpace because a writer friend I respect said I had to do it, that it was a great promotional tool. So I came for that reason. But once I was there, I met so many terrific people. Where else am I going to meet people in Lebanon or Peru who take an active interest in my work?
As for the blog, I've found that the people who read it appear to draw comfort/inspiration from hearing about my journey as a writer. One woman wrote to say she prints them out for a friend who, fallen on hard times, can't afford her own computer - praise doesn't come much higher than that. Of course, it would be nice if people there are buying my books - and features like the bulletins, where within a minute I can send notification of a new book being out to 4000+ "friends" are terrific - it's become so much more than that.
WOW: For all of you on MySpace, check out Lauren's blog, it's one of the best I've read.
You seem to be one of those rare naturally gifted writers. And from what I've heard, you don't experience writer's block! So, can you tell us, how much outlining do you do when setting out to write a novel?
LAUREN: It really depends on the book. Each story is different and demands to be written in its own way. The first draft of Vertigo was written with no outline at all. On the other hand, Angel's Choice, my YA about a high-school senior who finds herself pregnant, demanded its own fairly detailed outline; since the book spans a pregnancy, and is written in week-by-week diary format, there were just certain things that had to happen at certain times.
As for not having writer's block, I think if you treat your writing as a full-time job, it's amazing what you can get done.
WOW: That's funny, because I read in an interview that you write in a 'windowless basement'. I have a similar writing situation where I work in an artist loft, which is basically a warehouse.
Can you tell us how your basement is decorated, and how much time do you spend there?
LAUREN: I used to have the large room in the basement, which did have tiny windows at the top, but when my niece moved in with us for a few months, I moved myself to the tiny windowless room outside hers.
The walls are some version of a pale pink with white trim and on the walls nearest me there are maps of the U.S. and the world, with stickpins representing the places we've been, mostly before my daughter was born.
There is a carpet, if you want to call it that. I write on what used to be my late aunt's dining-room table and I've been working on a book, so there are messes of paper everywhere since I only clean when I'm between books.
To my right, there's a small TV my husband bought me last year, so I can keep up with the news and soap operas when I'm doing mindless paperwork.
How much time do I spend here? Put it to you like this, I'm so pale, I could give Golum from The Hobbit a run for his money. Oh, and I also have pictures and notes from my daughter down here - that's the best part.
WOW: You mentioned that you and your daughter have stickpins on the maps of the places you've been to, and many of your novels have taken place in exotic locations, such as England and Iceland. Does traveling inspire you to write a book, or is it the other way around?
LAUREN: As with so much else, it all has to do with the story - story dictates location. In fact, I've only spent a total of eight days in England, two in Iceland, in my entire life.
WOW: Your latest novel Vertigo is set in turn-of-the-century London, Victorian times... but I know you haven't been there! What was the draw of the Victorian setting for you?
LAUREN: I've always been a huge fan of British literature and I've seen more than my share of Masterpiece Theatre. Plus, as soon as I sat down to write the story, I saw that the narrator, Emma Smith, was an Englishwoman; it was just the tone she spoke in. Further, I thought the story needed to be set back in time, so readers would understand that even if they would never act as Emma does, she feels she has no other choice. Finally, the exact time chosen had to do with the fact that I wanted to write about the turn of the century and how, with a mere tick of the clock, the whole world changed, even if it wasn't immediately visible at the time.
WOW: And that is something you made real, made significant. In reading Vertigo, it transported me to a different time... one with exquisite characters, scenery and dialogue. How much research went into writing this book?
LAUREN: For lifestyle and scenery, plenty: several books on architecture, design, and the British penal system. Of course, the vast majority of what I learned never got used. Did you know the Victorians were huge on roller-skating? That was a shock to me, and I never got to use that item, although there is an ice-skating scene in the book. As for dialogue, there was no research into that - just a lifetime of reading.
WOW: I didn't know that about roller-skating! There's a lot of differences between that time and now, but one of the major ones that the reader notices right away, is that throughout the beginning of Vertigo, your protagonist Emma corresponds with an inmate, Chance Wood, through letter writing.
LAUREN: The obvious answer is to say the computer has changed everything - people write each other these short, off-the-cuff, often ungrammatical missives that fly at an alarming rate through cyberspace - and yet, sometimes the obvious is misleading. I actually think that, in a very real sense, email has encouraged a return to the romantic days of letter writing, at least among lovers. For example, my very first fan mail about Vertigo was from a man who said the book struck him deeply because, even though it's set so far in the past, the obsessive correspondence between Chance and Emma mirrored something that had recently gone on in his own life. So I think the letters are still getting written, only they don't look quite so pretty on the page being typed rather than in longhand.
To me, their letters are the epitome of Victorian times, where subtleties of words and the restraint of social graces battle with underlying feelings of truth. In your opinion, how has the art of letter writing changed?
WOW: That's why this book is visual on so many levels - that, and the themes throughout the book. One of the themes is incarceration whether it's psychological or physical. I think all of us have felt trapped in one way or another. Have you ever experienced/witnessed this theme yourself?
LAUREN: I think it's only human to suffer from grass-is-always-greener syndrome, although most of us will never take it to the extreme Emma does. And I further think that, even when we love our lives and what we do, we still fall prey to this. For example, I love what I do for a living, being a writer, and I'm daily grateful that at least for now I can make a living at it. And yet, there are days when the thing I love is a trap and then I start thinking, "Why couldn't I have set my sights on something else? Perhaps something with full benefits and job security?" The difference with Emma, of course - and here again we come back to the importance of her time period - is that unlike people today, who are trapped through their own choices, Emma is trapped by the choices society has made for her. That's a huge difference.
WOW: What do you hope readers will gain from reading Vertigo?
LAUREN: At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, I hope they will enjoy it. And if while they're enjoying it, they think a little bit about the importance of choice - a pet theme of mine - in their own lives, it's all to the good. Readers since the book's early draft in 2000 have all agreed that they love the letters, and the sex, which is gratifying; given that the book is a sometimes epistolary novel about a woman's awakening on all levels, it would be perfectly awful if readers hated the letters and the sex.
WOW: I have to say, that I thought you handled Emma's awakening superbly, just check out my review on Vertigo!
When you were twelve-years-old, you experienced a real encouragement from a teacher of yours, who read your story to the class for three days running. Can you recall what the story was about? And how did that make you feel?
LAUREN: Last question first: it made me feel that if I were one of the other kids in the class, I would hate my guts. It also made me feel like maybe I could write. The assignment was that we all had to use the same three elements - a priest, a nurse and a camel - and build a story around them. Mine was very Thorn Birds -esque. The priest decided to renounce his vows after having the nurse on the beach of the desert island as the camel - who'd been injured - was airlifted to safety.
WOW: That's very clever! I can't say that I've had a similar experience... mine tends to stem from a tragedy at a young age that propelled me into writing. Is there anything like that in your past that compelled you to write?
LAUREN: Maybe it has to do with being a second child? My older brother - being first born and a boy - got the lion's share of the oral attention. People always wanted to know what he was studying in school, what he thought about the world. So I think from a young age I told my stories in my own head. Then, as I got older, they began appearing on paper. As for tragedies, I've had my share throughout my life, and they do sneak into the writing from time to time.
WOW: So, when did you complete your first novel, and what process did you undergo to get it published?
LAUREN: I left my day job as an independent bookseller in November 1994 to take a chance on myself as a writer. The first draft of my first book, a comedic mystery called Waiting for Dead Men's Shoes about a bookstore employee who has all her dreams come true when her boss is murdered and she gets to run the store and solve the crime, was completed two months later. That book has never been sold, although it came close. I wrote seven books in eight years, and the sixth I'd written was the first that sold, The Thin Pink Line.
WOW: I am in awe of you Lauren... I happen to know that you write a draft for a book in about a month (Louisa May Alcott comes to mind, writing Little Women in twelve weeks).
Can you tell our aspiring authors what your secrets are to being so prolific?
LAUREN: Some books do take longer than a month and you can see, as is the case with Vertigo, a book can take six years to tweak before it gets published! When working on a novel, I try to work every day until it's done; I get very anxious if for some reason I can't. Once I get my rhythm with a book, I set goals I think are doable for daily page/word count. Richard Bausch I believe it was once talked about showing up to work every day, not because he was brilliant every day but so that he'd be there to catch it on the rare chance he was. That's me: showing up to work every day. I go to the Stephen King/Nora Roberts school of writing regarding work ethic: sit your butt in the chair for forty hours a week - in my case, more - and you're bound to produce something.
WOW: I guess persistence pays off... I admire your work ethic; it's very similar to mine.
When you're getting close and you have a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish with your novel and start revising, how do you tailor your writing to a specific genre?
LAUREN: That's an intriguing question, but I can't say I work that way. I do revise, plenty, to make the book stronger, while maintaining the integrity of the original vision. But I can't say I ever specifically tailor to genre, which I suspect is very frustrating for some of my editors. Here's the thing, though: I have enormous respect for my readers. I think they're intelligent people who won't be thrown by a book where not every item is explained, where something is left to their own creative imaginations, and where there's never any clear-cut Happily Ever After. I trust my readers.
WOW: And it shows! When we were talking a while back about Emma, you said that she suffered from the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. From what you know now, is there anything you would've done differently with your writing career?
LAUREN: I wouldn't have written a book in early 1997 called Falling for Prince Charles, given that Princess Diana died later that year, killing my book at the same time. Seriously, though, no. I can't play Shoulds, Coulda, Woulda, because if I do, I'll make myself crazy. I do think writers starting out today should take advantage of networking with other writers as much as possible, something the advances in the Internet make possible in an extensive way that simply didn't exist when I was first starting out.
WOW: Okay, fun, interpretive question: since this issue is called, "Spotlight on Readers," can you tell us what the spotlight looks like and where is it shining?
LAUREN: The spotlight is big and it's shining not just on the usual suspects - women in their twenties and thirties - but on women of all ages. And, oh, look - there are men under the spotlight too!
WOW: This has been fun! Thanks Lauren for making this an informative interview. I'm sure our readers will want to check out your website: http://www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com
LAUREN: Thank you for having me, Angela!
Check out Lauren's Blog on MySpace: http://blog.myspace.com/laurenbaratzlogsted
Or on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A27UE2VTJECEJV/ref=cm_ad_28/103-5292091-1340653
To hear more about Vertigo, check out my review: