CHAT WITH REBECCA LACLAIR

REbecca

Author and magazine editor, Rebecca Laclair, has published short stories and band interviews in Gravel, Wordhaus, and Mixtape Methodology. She blogs about writing and is passionate about mentoring teen writers. Never further than a walk from the Pacific Ocean, Rebecca has migrated along the West Coast, from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, finally landing on a forested island in the Pacific Northwest, where she is at work on her next novel.

Time to chat with Rebecca!

What is your latest book?

Radio Head is a fast-paced sex, drugs and rock’n’roll novel about a 19-year-old girl with a magical ability to hear music in others, just by touching them.

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

I’m so excited to announce that Radio Head was released for pre-sale on November 27! The book’s official release date is February 12, 2016.

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How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I write contemporary fiction in several categories: Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult. I once tried my hand at Horror and placed my story in the first magazine I queried. If that’s a sign that I have a knack for the macabre, it’s an ironic twist; I can barely sit through a trailer for a scary movie.

If you were to advertise your book on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Everyone has a song inside.

What else have you written?

I am making final revisions on my second book, a middle grade road-trip adventure, How I Learned to Play Guitar. It’s kind of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Easy Rider, aimed at grades 6, 7, and 8.

I’ve published short stories, personal essays, and interviews of musicians, athletes, off-road racing champions, and business owners. I used to write articles about health, wellness, and green living for magazines. The motherhood blog I wrote in the past landed me on TV, and a cooking column I created was featured in a celebrity cookbook.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I believe every sentence counts, whether it’s an epic 200,000-word fantasy, or flash fiction. However, the shorter the story, the more significant each sentence becomes. Carefully chosen words carry the tone of the scene, reveal the unspoken backstory of the characters, and foreshadow what might come—or what is unseen backstage. Short stories are also wonderful for earning literary magazine bylines, by giving away a free gift to readers who join your author newsletter. They’re also wonderful when querying agents.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

On a daily basis. Letting go of control is a function of making art, isn’t it?

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

The process of discovery is exciting: putting the characters in a given situation and finding out what they’re made of and how they feel about it. I’m very much an independent soul. Writing from home, I’m surrounded by a lush forest; my dog and cat lay at my sides, and I can listen to music. But, I love coming out of solitude to volunteer for local writing events, and I mentor teen writers through my public library. Writing conferences and author lectures are invigorating and inspiring—and a great way to meet other writers. One of the best aspects of novel-writing is enjoying a sense of creative community. The thing I like the least is when I’m working on a scene and I know I’m not doing it justice, that it could be better. I have to walk away and hope a light bulb comes on for how to fix it. Or, brainstorm ideas with a trusted critique partner.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I’m with you, Lisette! I need to write in order. I can’t know how my characters feel unless they “live” through the conflicts first. How would I know how much they’ve grown, if I didn’t first give them reasons to fight? My characters depend on talents learned, also. What they’re able to do in Chapter Fourteen, for instance, is very different from what they could do in Chapter Three. That said, I struggle with opening and closing pages. Once the book is complete, I’ll rewrite the beginning and the ending over and over, dozens of times.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Good questions! I used to leave my endings ambiguous, so the story could go where it needed, but I found that without a clear destination, the middle section would suffer. Author Neil Gaiman said, “You need more than a beginning if you’re going to start a book. If all you have is a beginning, then once you’ve written that beginning, you have nowhere to go.”

I have to ask myself, what will my protagonist need to realize by the end? Will he or she get what they wanted, and if so, will they still want it? It’s all about my characters’ growth. My favorite books leave me with the impression that I grew, too.

I think titles are extremely important. Most write themselves, springing from the narrative. For those that leave me stumped, I’ve saved some fun title-writing articles I came across on the web, and apply those techniques.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I love, love, love NaNoWriMo, because it’s the one time a year I stop censoring, doubting, and second-guessing, and just write the damn thing. It’s a beautiful, and emotional process. Real progress is made. I always encourage writers to register in November! The rest of the year? I type, delete, type, delete. The words I’m happy with one day get dumped the next. I’ve been editing magazines for over ten years, and I’m in the habit of looking at sentences with a critical eye, cutting redundancies, and increasing readability. That’s all well and good, until it takes years (yes, plural) to complete a novel. I have to remind myself there’s no such thing as perfection, especially in creative endeavors.

Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?

Absolutely. Art is fluid and mercurial. You could tell the same story a hundred different ways. One of the hardest parts of writing is letting go. The terrifying thing about publishing a book is the knowledge that it could’ve been different—did I write the “best” version? At some point, we have to share our art with the world. There is a reader for every story, and our work serves no one if it’s hiding in a file on our hard drive, or in a drawer somewhere.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Yes. It happened when I was competing in a writing contest. All the participants were given a surprise genre, specific characters, and a limited time to produce a story. I ended up getting, “Horror.” My antagonist was a despicable, horrendous monster. I don’t even want to talk about what he did to the babysitter, his wife, and his own child.

There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to interview musicians, other writers, visual artists, photographers, and even interior designers. One thing I’ve observed is that successful creatives seek out opportunities. It’s tempting to hole ourselves up and nurture our craft on our own terms. The truth is that we don’t have to be A-type sales dynamos in order to pitch and sell our books. But, we do need to seek out and act on opportunities to teach, speak, share our knowledge, and help others however we can. We need to figure out who our real audience is (hint, it’s never “everybody”) and build relationships within those communities. Some of the best ways for introverted, sensitive people (like me) is to help. If there isn’t a local literary non-profit in your area, consider volunteering for a writing conference, teaching a workshop, giving a lecture at your local library, or assisting a PR exec part-time, to learn the ropes.

As writers, it’s very easy to go about making marketing decisions ourselves, because we spend so many hours working alone. Solitude is ideal for writing. However, the business of marketing communications and PR is an entirely different mindset and skill set. Once a writer makes the decision to self-publish, it’s important to get educated, talk to others who have done it successfully, and if possible, enlist the help of a public relations professional. E-book pricing comes down to what the market will bear. Social media is fun and free. As writers, the written word suits us well, so building an online platform can be exciting and interesting, if we allow it. Your Twitter and Facebook feeds should be filled with people who share your interests. Find your tribe. They are, in turn, looking for you. The important thing to remember is that we’re not trying to sell books, but engage readers. Our readers are, essentially, our dearest friends. We’re letting our readers see our art, our inner world. We’re sharing the thing we hold precious. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but I also use Pinterest. I created a Radio Head page, where I pin shareable memes featuring quotes from my book, and memes showcasing my best reviews from magazines, editors, and fellow authors.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

On the surface, Radio Head is a behind-the-scenes look at the rock star lifestyle, in Los Angeles. I lived in Southern California for eighteen years, so I have first-hand knowledge of my characters’ home. However, three of my characters are in rehab, and the one who isn’t—Stanford Lysandre—is the one who needs it most, and suffers the physical consequences of not seeking treatment. Radio Head is a book about avoiding being “caught,” illustrating the games people play, and how they rationalize their actions as reasonable, or clever. My characters each find their own means of coping; they’ve figured out how to get ahead. We’re all a little “crazy;” Does Shelby suffer from delusions as a result of a lifetime of abuse and neglect? Or is her special ability to hear music real? It’s up to the reader to decide. Zac is a borderline personality. He lives in the extreme, driving recklessly, engaging in unsafe sex, idealizing (or vitrifying) others, and has paranoid fears of abandonment. Weaving those characteristics in, yet keeping him attractive, lovable, and sympathetic was a delicate dance.

The Ashtynn character was tough because she’d been so badly hurt by the adults in her life. Growing up in the spotlight, she did as she was told, and Hollywood made her a star. She’s only a teen, but she has a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, and self-mutilation. She is a psychopath, and unlike a sociopath, she has no conscience, no remorse for her actions. As sordid and reprehensible as her behavior might be, I do want readers to see that she has been gravely harmed. Lastly, I have a social worker character and a psychiatrist, who happen to be married. They have their own issues, and as equipped as they may be to resolve conflicts and communicate effectively, they play their own games, they know how to hurt one another, and how to deflect.

I spent a lot of time talking with counselors, reviewing the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, and researching both celebrity and patient histories.

Additionally, I gleaned much from reading California police codes (and protocol) in the Official California Legislative Information website.

The most difficult statistics I came across, however, were those regarding military. The effects of long tours of duty (during the war in Afghanistan) were staggering. More enlisted men and women died of suicide than in the line of duty. It’s tragic, and my heart goes out to the families of those who suffered.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

It isn’t a secret: Our job is to write. We must meet the page every day, whether inspiration strikes—or not. I’m thankful I don’t suffer from writer’s block; I think it’s because I don’t stop writing. I just begin, and before I realize it, my characters are speaking for me.

I’m a huge proponent of the Pomodoro Method. I am consistently amazed by how much I can produce when I allow myself a short interval of undistracted focus.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

My very favorite thing is to ask a reader what the story is about. As I’ve said, no two people read a book the same way. One reviewer described Radio Head as “A girl who desperately wants her father’s headphones back and will do anything to get them.” Another reviewer wrote, “This is an insider’s view of the dark reality of fame.”

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I always enjoyed making up stories when I was little. My father paid me ten cents for each little book I wrote, illustrated, and bound with construction paper and staples. A fantasy of mine was to live by the water, or in the woods—somewhere very remote—and write book after book, and just send them to an agent in New York. In high school, I believed that was a ridiculous pipe dream and rejected the idea. I floundered under a Liberal Arts diploma, not knowing what I wanted to do. I traveled, then went to college for graphic design. I ended up working for an engineering firm and then as a marketing executive before finally deciding to write full-time in my early thirties. I moved to a remote, forested island a year and a half ago, and have completed two books.

I’m sure you’ve read many interviews with your fellow authors. In what ways do you find your methods of creating most similar and dissimilar?

I think many of us write the books we want to read. At some point, “the market” tempts us: what’s hot and trending, what kinds of books are garnering awards. When we meet the page, however, we owe it ourselves and to our art to write the scenes keeping us awake at night, the characters begging to be brought to life. I think one thing working writers have in common is passion for the stories we have to tell, the ones that won’t be quiet inside us.

How would you define your style of writing?

My writing has been described as “clear, concise, and thought-provoking.” I suppose I would define it as contemporary, with a sense of the immediate. My characters live in the here-and-now of their worlds, avoiding the demons of the past, but fearful of the unknown future, and those fears dictate their actions. Again, this is what I call, “invisible backstory.” I like to infuse a sense of hope. I often weave in, unintentionally, the theme of family—the meaning of it, the search for it, and the sacrifices made on behalf of family. My style of writing is a process of self-discovery, and I’ve noticed that’s common for many writers.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

I’ve never written Fantasy. Not as an adult, that is! I have a huge, detailed outline for an Epic Fantasy, but the story intimidates me. I’ve never built an unreal world before, and I think that’s the most intimidating aspect of my project. One of my goals for 2016 is to tackle that book. I’m dedicating one day per week to learning how to write Fantasy, and preparing the first draft.

Have you ever started out to write one book and ended up with something completely different?

Every book, story, and article opens my eyes to a truth I didn’t know before I started. So yes, absolutely, one hundred percent yes. I have to outline a novel before I can begin, it’s the only way I know how to write. But I only outline the action, the plot points, and my story’s structure and timeline. The feelings, the emotional fallout, and strengths my characters gain by throwing themselves into the action dictate what the story is about. I never truly understand my story’s theme or moral until my characters show me, and by that time, I have a first draft. Is that weird? It seems odd saying it, but that’s how it goes.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

First, I wish I’d adopted my practice of writing every day, even if it’s only twenty minutes of solid, focused work. Second, I wish I’d been confident enough in my writing to keep sentences short and as clear as possible. Readers get the most pleasure when they don’t have to stop reading to figure out what the writer is trying to say, or skip parts that are too cumbersome, or overly intellectual. In fact, one sign of intellect is being able to explain complicated information clearly and concisely. Smart readers want a good story, not fancy words.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Travel is important to me, even finite trips, like the time I spend chauffeuring my children to school, playdates, and activities. Through the years, the music in the car has changed, the songs we sing while driving, and the conversation, too. The same is true for riding in the car with my husband. We’re together as a family in the small, cozy interior of a vehicle, headed to or from an adventure. We have great conversations while in motion, it’s a dedicated time, suspended between responsibilities. All we have to do is “get there,” so the time is precious, it’s just for sharing whatever is on our minds without the distraction of what we must do after we park. Getting to our island requires a ferry ride. Aside from the fact that Conde Nast Traveler included it in the mag’s top ten list of most beautiful ferry rides, time on the boat has helped me recover the hours I spent in gridlock traffic in Southern California. I’m thankful for that.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Among my favorite cuisines are Japanese, Mediterranean, Vietnamese, French, and anything involving pico de gallo and guacamole. My ultimate comfort food (aka: addiction) is dark chocolate. I prefer at least 85 percent cacao, and enjoy a few squares every day. And by “a few squares,” I mean I engage in internal debate about giving up non-chocolate foods entirely.

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

That’s a tough question! I think my longest-held ‘super-power’ fantasy is to be polyglot, someone who can speak several languages fluently. I suppose this supports my feeling that I could live many places quite contentedly, but more than that, I want to know people, share their everyday lives, respect their culture and how it is expressed, and travel not as an ‘other,’ but as a passionate embracer.

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Email: WriterRLaclair@gmail.com

 

 

From Vines to Wine—a research journey to Tuscany, Italy, Switzerland, and California: Guest blog by Christa Polkinhorn

I love a glass of good wine with my meals and I love Tuscany, which is one of the reasons I situated my novel, The Italian Sister, in one of my favorite areas of Italy. Since I knew almost nothing about grape growing and winemaking, I had to do quite a bit of research. I read books, navigated the internet, but the best parts of the research were my trips to Tuscany, to Switzerland, and also to one of the wine regions in California, Paso Robles. I walked through vineyards, took photos, and most of all, I talked to many people involved in growing grapes and making wine. It was an eye-opening adventure. I was amazed to find out just how much work, science, and art goes into the process of transforming vines into wine! All the people I met were extremely helpful and generous with their time and made this part of my research a truly memorable experience. My friends and family patiently followed me around vineyards, introduced me to vintners, and shared their knowledge with me. And, of course, I got to taste some excellent wine.

One of the first exposures to winemaking during a vacation in Tuscany together with friends and family was in Querceto, a Tuscan hill town about half an hour inland from the Mediterranean coast. Querceto is a small hidden pearl of a place. The only tourists here seem to be those who have heard about the excellent wine that’s being produced in the local wine press house.

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We found a castle, a church, one restaurant with lodgings, the winery, and plenty of friendly, helpful people.

Here is where it all happens, the magical transformation of grapes into wine. In these huge fermentation steel tanks, the grapes simmer and sizzle until just the right time. After pressing and fermenting the grapes, the juice is transferred into barrels where it ages and is eventually put into bottles for us to enjoy.

Figure 2Figure 3Sounds magical? In reality, it is hard, backbreaking, and often dirty, sticky work. And the risk of a bad harvest when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate has ruined many small vineyards and winemaking outfits. You really have to love this process to continue. I haven’t met a vintner or winemaker who wasn’t passionate about his work.

And here are some of my loyal friends who patiently took me around to vineyards and wineries. Cheers! By the way, that young boy on the right is NOT drinking wine, just smelling it!

Figure 4If you want to know more about this charming hill town and its vineyards, here is a link:

Marchesi Ginori Lisci

The Tuscan villa near Cecina we stayed in as well as the many Tuscan houses made its appearance in my novel as well.

Figure 5Figure 6On one of the days, my nephew and I took a trip to Volterra, the hill town that served as inspiration to my imaginary town of Vignaverde in the novel. The drive through the gorgeous Tuscan landscape made me aware again, why I chose this to be the locale for my work. No matter what time of the year or day, Tuscany always shows its mysterious and charming face.

Figure 7Figure8Figure 9And here we are in Volterra. The walls surrounding the town are a mixture of Etruscan (about 700 BC) and medieval architecture. Situated on top of a hill and protected by thick walls, the towns were in a perfect position to fight off roving aggressors during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Inside the city, the narrow cobblestone streets are lined with a multitude of shops, coffee shops, small restaurants, and art and crafts galleries. Volterra has fewer tourists than the more famous hill towns such as Siena. The majority of the people are locals and the town has a vibrant life of its own.

Figure 10Figure 11Figure 12

In Switzerland, I visited a vineyard as well. My friend Silvia De Lorenzi did an apprenticeship as a young girl on a vineyard and introduced the family of vintners to me. Now in their third generation, members of the Obrist family were generous enough to take time out of their busy day during the grape harvest to show me around the vineyards and the wine press house. Another good friend accompanied me on this outing to a beautiful part of Switzerland, called Bündner Herrschaft.

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As you can see, winemaking is heavy-duty physical work as well as an art and science.

Back in California, I didn’t have to look very far to find excellent wine areas. One of my favorite places is Paso Robles in the Central Coast area of Southern Calfornia. Here I discovered the vineyards and winery of the Caporone family, one old Italian immigrant family of vintners and winemakers. It is a small outfit, run solely by a father-son team. Marc, the son, spent hours showing me around and answering my many questions. And he introduced me to my favorite Italian wines: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico among others.

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If you want to know more about The Italian Sister, here is the blurb and links to the book and my website.

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Standing at her father’s grave in California, Sofia Laverne mourns his untimely death. Henry had not only been a loving parent but Sofia’s best friend and mentor. Imagine her shock and grief when she finds out her father had lived a double-life, that she has a ten-year younger sister and inherited a vineyard in Tuscany. Torn between anger about his betrayal, grief for her loss, and hopeful anticipation, Sofia packs her bags and takes off for Italy to meet fourteen-year old Julietta. Arriving in the small hill town of Vignaverde, she is greeted by olive groves, neat rows of grape vines, and picturesque houses. Some of the inhabitants of this beautiful estate are, unfortunately, less welcoming and resent her intrusion into the family business. Soon, strange occurrences begin to frighten Sofia. When a suspicious accident lands her in the hospital, Sofia fears for her life.

Cheers! You can find me on the following websites. I love to keep in touch with my readers!

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