Interview with fantasy author Laurel McHarguePosted: March 4, 2019 | |
I’m talking today with fantasy author Laurel McHargue, a woman with a lot of energy. She’s written eight books including her Waterwight fantasy series and an adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth, she hosts her own podcast, Alligator Preserves, is a former teacher and active community member, networks and promotes her works online, and finds time attend writing events for face to face interactions with her fans and potential new readers, as well as other authors. Even through email the positive energy radiates from this author. I could give you a lengthy fanfare on how impressed I am with this lady, but I think it’s better to let you see for yourselves. So, without further ado, please welcome Laurel Mchargue.
Kaye: Would you talk about your author’s journey? How did you come to come to be a writer?
Laurel: When I was quite young, I learned I could get attention by telling stories. As the fourth of five girls, I was low on the proverbial totem pole when it came to feeling important, so I had to be creative. I think my wild dreams helped, though eventually, my parents would roll their eyes when I’d come down in the morning with an “unbelievable” dream I’d just have to share. Who knew a dream would launch my first fantasy series? I didn’t then, but hey, I was just a kid!
Fast forward through a lifetime of unique experiences that people were curious about—I was frequently told, “You should really write about that!”—and I finally made the decision to make writing my career. I always did well in classes that required writing, and there were teachers along the way who encouraged me greatly.
I think I always knew I’d write stories someday, but until I made the commitment, it was always a “someday” kind of dream.
Kaye: What can you tell me about your YA fantasy series, Waterwight, and specifically about your Waterwight Breathe which will be released on March 15th?
Laurel: Waterwight started with a dream in which I was running away from bad guys through a dilapidated town, and I came up against a large body of water. The only way across it was to fly, and so I flew. Halfway across, however, I doubted my ability to make it to the other side and started to fall. A flying frog appeared and said, “Grab hold!” and I grasped his leg. He got me to the other side and then died in my arms. The dream had other elements I was able to use in my story as well. Anyway, I shared the dream with my author friend Carol Bellhouse (because I wasn’t living at home anymore!) and she told me I needed to write a story around it.
At the time, I’d never written fantasy, and the thought of turning a dream into a story thrilled and terrified me! Over the course of a year my story unfolded chapter by chapter, and by the time I got to the end, I wasn’t ready to leave my characters. I knew there was more for them to do, and there were questions I needed to answer. So, Waterwight Flux answers questions, develops characters, and sets up more challenges for Celeste, the orphaned protagonist.
I chose to write Waterwight Breathe, the final book, in first person present tense perspective after reading The Hunger Games. I love the immediacy of the thoughts and actions, and having the last book narrated by the protagonist seemed like the perfect way to end the series. I know it’s unconventional to have different points of view in the same series, but my life decisions have frequently been unconventional, and I have no regrets!
Waterwight Breathe is available on March 15th, and it might be my favorite work yet. I couldn’t wait to get to the ending, the only part of the book I actually planned!
Kaye: You received three CIPA EVVY awards for the first book in the series. That’s quite an accomplishment. What is it about this book that makes it EVVY Award worthy?
Laurel: The CIPA EVVY awards are highly competitive, and each book is evaluated with a rubric—not against other submissions. The judges look at everything from cover design to editing to plot and character development. Waterwight is a fantasy adventure with mythical and mystical elements and a female protagonist; it received praise from Kirkus Reviews and many readers. I’d like to think those readers and the EVVY Awards judges felt compelled to keep reading at the end of each chapter. I had fun ending most of my chapters with cliffhangers!
The first book is also divided into three parts, so readers get to see what’s happening from different perspectives in each part. As a bonus, and because I’m a former English teacher, I added a synonym glossary and questions for discussion in the back of each book in the series. I don’t dumb down my prose for YA readers.
I used 99designs.com for my cover design and couldn’t be happier! The same artist created my covers for all three books in the series. Also, I paid a professional proofreader to ensure there weren’t any annoying typos or misspellings.
Kaye: Your novel Miss? is based on your own experience as a first-year teacher and earned the IndieReader Approved Award. Tell me about this book.
Laurel: I’m incredibly fortunate to have friends who are authors too. In 2012, one of those friends, Stephanie Spong, challenged me to do NaNoWriMo with her. I had never heard of such a beast! Well, being the competitive individual I’ve been told I am, I looked into it, and after thinking the 30-day personal challenge was ludicrous, I signed up on October 31st!
This was about six years after my first year of teaching 7th grade English in a doomed middle school. As a resigned Army Major, I honestly thought teaching 7th grade Language Arts would be a breeze. Oh…Em…Gee! I was very wrong.
Because I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing each day, at the end of the day I’d create a bullet-point list of everything that happened. I walked into NaNoWriMo with a year’s worth of those bullet points and had all the material I needed to write my first novel.
I remember telling my students, “Someday, I’m going to write a book about you all!” I said it as a humorous threat, and every class would be filled with hands going up and exclamations of, “Oh, Miss! Can I be in it?”
Although I couldn’t put all 130 students in “Miss?”, I meshed together many of them and included actual events from that year. I say it’s “loosely fictionalized” because of that, and because I added some romance and a scary situation that didn’t actually happen, but could have.
Kaye: Could you talk about your adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth?
Laurel: The same friend who challenged me to NaNoWriMo challenged me to a 3-Day Novel Writing Contest! Stephanie Spong discovered the contest and really wanted to do it, so what choice did I have? (smiley face).
I sent my husband away for Labor Day Weekend (official contest dates), stocked my house with food and beverages, and set up little workout stations around the house. Stephanie came to my house ready to write for 72 hours and we agreed on rules: She could have the dining room, I had the “Red room” (that may have influenced my writing!), and no talking unless we happened to bump into one another in the kitchen.
We were very good girls!
As I enjoy challenging myself with different genres (and contests with crazy time limits), I decided to try something completely different for this contest. “I’m going to write it in 2nd person perspective,” I told Stephanie, and she warned me about the difficulty. Bonus, I thought. I also thought I’d write something light and funny.
Something happened, however, when I heard Rod Serling’s voice from The Twilight Zone in my head (in the Red room). My story turned darkly comedic quite fast, and there was nothing I could do about it . . . I had to see where it would take me.
I completed The Hare, Raising Truth—a Grimm’s Fairy Tale/Twilight Zone mashup—in about 38 hours. It’s novella length, and it was an absolute blast to write. My husband read it when he returned from his banishment and said it’s the best thing I’ve written so far, and I’ve had many people ask, “How did you get into the head of a horny teenage boy so well?”
Well…it wasn’t that difficult!
Kaye: You have a podcast called Alligator Preserves. What is that about?
Laurel: I started my podcast Alligator Preserves—which is about storytelling and the human condition—for several reasons. I wanted to be able to narrate my own books, so my husband set me up with the equipment I’d need to do that (even after I banished him that Labor Day weekend!). Also, friends had suggested that many of my blog posts should be recorded, since blog posts tend to get buried and lost once they’re posted. I wanted to be able to “tell” stories as well as write them.
When I started recording, I realized I had a great set-up for interviewing other people who’ve “done things” too, so I started asking racers and Reiki practitioners and authors and challenge seekers if they’d like to share their stories. The response was overwhelming, and now I have a hard time figuring out how to fit them all into my own schedule while still having time to do my writing.
Recently, I’ve gone to a pay-for-service model for anyone with a book or product they’d like to promote. Creating a podcast with another person is a lot of work. I value the time I spend reading and researching (prior to the interview) and editing and posting to social media (post recording). I provide all the links to the audio and video I create to my interviewee for use on their social media as well. For authors, it’s another plank to add to their author platform!
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing fantasy?
Laurel: I can visualize scenes in my head so clearly, and most of them are fast-paced. The challenge is in slowing down my writing to help readers see what I’m seeing. Also, sometimes my writing is dream-like, and I have to find ways to convey that not-quite-real feeling.
That’s how multiple drafts help. I may blast through several chapters, totally believing that I’m conveying what my mind is seeing, and then I’ll have someone read them and they’ll say, “Huh? What just happened here? I don’t get it”!
My challenge is usually in adding more to a scene rather than deleting. There’s always more an author can do to make their writing sing more clearly!
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing for you?
Laurel: I think many authors might say that writing “The End” upon completing a project is the most fun, and I won’t lie—a happy dance always follows—but really, the fun is in the little surprises that happen along the way. It’s the unexpected character that pops into my head while I’m walking the dog or the funny thing a character will say. I’m more of a “pantser” than a “planner,” so I’m surprised all the time!
Sharing my work and having a fan say, “Wow! I loved that!” is another obvious fun part, but that’s after the writing is published. I brought my work to the 2018 Denver Comic Con and was blown away by the interaction I experienced with readers. I’ll attend the 2019 Denver Pop Culture Con (new name) this year with my completed trilogy and a new graphic novel! Now, that will be fun!
Kaye: Fantasy isn’t the only genre that you write in, and you hope to explore as many genres as possible throughout your writing career. What is your favorite genre to date?
Laurel: I’m horrible when it comes to “what’s your favorite” questions, but I’d have to say that I’m really enjoying short stories right now. I’ve entered several “flash fiction” contests with very short time limits, and being able to complete a project in a week or less exhilarates me!
I’m putting together a short story collection now. I’ve promised my Patreon patrons a new short story every month (which I narrate on my podcast Alligator Preserves) and when I’ve created enough, I’ll publish them and acknowledge my partons.
That said, many of my fans tell me they love my nonfiction blog posts. Once Waterwight Breathe is launched, my next big project will be a nonfiction piece based on my dad’s WWII letters. I hope to have a draft completed by the end of 2019!
Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?
As Neil Gaiman said when asked where he got his ideas, “I make them up . . . out of my head.” (http://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%253F). But how does inspiration get into my head? It gets there from every sensory experience throughout my days and from the Technicolor dreams I’ve had since I was a child. Someone said dreams are your brain’s way of dealing with all the things bombarding your senses during the day, and when I remember my dreams, I can often link them to something that has happened, or something that’s been “on my mind.”
Real people and creatures inspire my characters as much as imaginary ones (and who says the bizarre creatures in my dreams aren’t “real”?). Old Man Massive, the mountain spirit in my Waterwight trilogy, was inspired by an outcropping of stone on Mt. Massive that looks like an old, bearded man. Names and superpowers were inspired by real people I’ve known or met while writing the series. Zoya, my tragic octopus, was inspired by a paddleboarding experience on Twin Lakes, as was Noor, my fire-breathing dragonfly. The whole series started with a crazy dream I shared with a friend. I see and find inspiration all around me.
People have asked me where I get my imagination from, and all I can say is that it must be a gift from the universe! It’s certainly not a “thing” you can buy, and I’m not even sure it’s a “thing” you can learn. I consider myself quite fortunate that I was born with an imaginative brain.
Kaye: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Laurel: When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing or I’m marketing my writing (sure wish I could clone myself for that task) or I’m reading or I’m recording a podcast episode or I’m cooking a yummy dinner or I’m brushing a pillow’s worth of hair from my German Shepherd or I’m cleaning out my sock drawer (because, where do all those socks come from?) or I’m swimming (several mornings per week, and not very fast) or I’m chatting with my friends or with one of my four sisters or I’m worrying about my sons (because I’m a mother) or I’m wondering how the day has passed so quickly. And other things, too.
Kaye: Hunting for Red Meat is a collection of memoir-style essays based on your own adventures hunting elk. When did you get the idea to make them a published collection?
Laurel: Several friends have told me how much they enjoy my blog posts, and one of them, Erin Sue Grantham (who also hunts), suggested I put them into a book. When I looked at putting them all in a book, I was overwhelmed by how many stories I had, and realized a book containing them all would be too big. So I thought about segregating them into topic areas.
After three years of hunting (and never filling a tag), I had plenty of hunting blog posts, so I decided to start there. Our oldest son, Nick, suggested it would be a “blook” a blog book, and I had fun coming up with the title.
I really thought I’d have a lot more sales by now with a title starting with “Hunt for Red…,” but alas, no. I honestly think many readers would enjoy it as it’s far more of an appreciation of the majesty of the wild outdoors than it is about hunting. I share my awe and my suffering, my adrenaline and my poetic moments.
My next “Blook” will probably be about our camping adventures.
Kaye: You have also published two books on Haiku. Do you have a special love for that poetry form? What is it that draws you to it?
Laurel: I love Haiku because—like a short story—they finish quickly. You have only seventeen syllables to play with, and it’s like completing a puzzle. Five-seven-five. That’s it.
Teaching grades 7-12 also gave me an appreciation for Haiku. When the word “poetry” comes from a teacher’s mouth, it’s generally followed by groans. Once a student learns how to count out syllables, though, and fit them into a “puzzle,” or a “math challenge,” for those more inclined toward that side of the brain, poetry suddenly becomes fun.
I was always amazed by the final products my students would create, boys as well as girls, and what fun it was to watch them tap on desktops or count on fingers while figuring out the syllabic pattern.
Haikus Can Amuse: 366 Haiku Starters “happened” after I dropped my cell phone into the ocean. Cell phones don’t like salt water. Anyway, I had a few weeks to kill before getting a new phone (I was away on vacation when it happened), and it was Leap Year, so I figured, why not come up with 366 first lines! I put that together as a gift journal for people who like filling in blanks and journaling just a little bit.
Hai CLASS ku is a spinoff of my cell-phone-debacle book, and it’s designed as a classroom workbook with a semester’s worth of haiku first lines (90) and space to draw a sketch and write a bit about inspiration. It’s also a great tool for substitute teachers.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?
Laurel: Dead? Steinbeck. Why? Because I love his writing. Alive? Margaret Atwood. Why? Because I love her writing. So many tremendous authors, so, so, so little life to experience them all.
I want to thank Laurel for joining me and sharing a little about experiences and her work. You can learn more about both at the links below.
SoundCloud (Alligator Preserves podcast): https://soundcloud.com/user-564361489
Stitcher permanent show link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=165314&refid=stpr
(this link is optimized for mobile and Twitter posts)
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Laurel-McHargue/e/B00INB9OO6
Blog link: http://leadvillelaurel.com/
LinkedIn: Laurel (Bernier) McHargue
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