is honored to have as our guest today, author, humorist and playwright Laura Pedersen.

During her young life, Laura has accomplished many feats. She was the youngest person at age 20 to have a seat on the American Stock Exchange, while earning a finance degree at New York University’s Stern School of Business and she wrote about her experience in her debut book, Play Money. At age 25, she was the youngest columnist for The New York Times.

In 1990 Laura was name one of ten “Outstanding Young Working Women” and in 1994 President Clinton honored her as one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans.

Laura has appeared on national television outlets such as CNN, “Oprah,” “Good Morning America,” “CBS This Morning,” “Today,” “Primetime Live,” and “Late Night with David Letterman.”

She has also performed stand-up comedy at The Improv, among other clubs, and writes material for several well-known comedians. She has an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Canisius College.

Her books have been the recipient of several awards including Three Oaks Prize for Fiction, a B&N “Discover New Voices” selection, and a Borders “Original Voices” selection. Her fiction includes Going Away Party, the Hallie Palmer series (Beginner’s Luck; Heart’s Desire; The Big Shuffle; and Best Bet), the romantic comedies Last Call and Fool's Mate, and a collection of short stories called The Sweetest Hours.

She has authored a humorous memoir, Buffalo Gal about growing up in the economically devastated Rust Belt during the 1970s and was named best autobiography by ForeWord magazine. Laura received an honorable mention from The Eric Hoffer Book Award, and an honorable mention at the New York Book Festival.

Buffalo Unbound, humorous essays about the current revitalization of Pedersen’s hometown and the Western New York area also won the Indie Book Award in the Humor/Comedy category and was an International Book Award finalist in the categories of Travel Essay and Humor.

Her other nonfiction books include Trains, Planes, and Auto-Rickshaws and Life in New York: How I Learned to Love Squeegee Men, Token Suckers, Trash Twisters, and Subway Sharks.

Laura has also authored children's books, including Unplugged: Ella Gets Her Family Back, which was a Mom’s Choice Awards Gold recipient and won several other awards for its message about families and technology. It also received a Skipping Stones magazine Honor Award for respecting multicultural and ecological awareness in children's literature, was selected by the United Methodist Women's Reading Program Committee for their children's book list, and won a bronze for best picture book for children of all ages in the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards.

Her latest children's book, Ava's Adventure, is about the power of the imagination to entertain, and also features a multicultural family. Her children’s stories are developed around young people creating solutions for their problems without adult intervention.

Her award-winning plays have been performed in festivals and Off-Broadway and her full- length musical This Will All Be Yours (lyrics and music by Charles Bloom) premiered at the Midtown International Theatre Festival this July, and her award-winning full-length play, The Brightness of Heaven, opens at New York’s Off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre in October of 2014.

Pedersen is also an ordained minister who occasionally gives sermons at Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships around the country and in Canada. She belongs to the Authors Guild, the international literary association P.E.N. and is an honorary member of the Twentieth Century Club.

Norm: Good day Laura and thanks for participating in our interview. How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Laura: Hello Norm.  I’ve always enjoyed stories and comedy so I think becoming a writer is just where things were headed.  As much as I would like to be able to play “Kualana Pua” on the ukulele, it’s not in my skill set.  Nor is doing the hula.  However, I did win a few essay contests in high school along with the designation of class clown.  I love what I do, but I don’t have a long attention span, so the good thing about stories is that you finish one and move onto the next one with a whole new cast of characters. 

Norm: What has been the best part about being a published author and playwright?

Laura: I wrote a series of four books about a girl named Hallie Palmer who goes from age 16 to 21.  I’ve had young people write to me and say the books encouraged them to think differently about something in particular or purse an idea and that’s been tremendous fun. 

Since people read my books, essays and short stories in private it’s hard for me to ever find out what they’re thinking or what they may find funny.  With the plays, if I sit in the audience, I’m able to get more feedback, for better or worse.  There will always be one joke that I thought was really going to kill and it only gets a mild chuckle.  But then there will be another I ranked as low on the laugh-o-meter that receives a big howl and I’m surprised. 

Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

Laura: Oh, my family has given me enough material for three lifetimes of writing.  You could not make them up.  I outlined a few of them in BUFFALO GAL and BUFFALO UNBOUND and people asked if I was hyperbolizing.  I said it was just the opposite; they’re making me save the really good stories until after they’re dead! 

People asked if my mom in particular minded all the stories I’ve told about her.  She’s given copies of the books to everyone she knows and a number of people she doesn’t so I’d say no.  Also, being raised in the Unitarian Universalist Church colored my world view to a large extent and exposed me to social activism and different points of view.  I always say if you’re in need of material just head to the nearest Unitarian Universalist Church and sit through the section called something like “Joys and Concerns” where members get up and free associate about their lives.  There’s at least one Russian novel and an Annie Proulx-style short story in every session.

Norm: What genre are you most comfortable writing and why?

Laura: I have always loved comedy and found it rewarding to make people laugh.  There’s so much sadness and difficulty in almost every life and so little one can do to help with that.  But a laugh feels like a short escape from whatever troubles might be happening. 

I don’t go in for jokes that much.  I prefer topical and situational humor that arises from circumstances.  I enjoy culture and social history and have a book coming out next April called LIFE IN NEW YORK: HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE SQUEEGEE MEN, TOKEN SUCKERS, TRASH TWISTERS, AND SUBWAY SHARKS which is a humorous chronicle of my three decades in Manhattan.  Otherwise, I tend not to reach back into history beyond my own lifetime and don’t touch science fiction or symbolist poetry. 

There seem to be plenty of books on the Founding Fathers, JFK’s assassination, and how to bake the perfect cupcake, so I’ll leave those to the experts. 

Norm: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Laura: Yes.  I find it hard to make it so all of the characters don’t sound like me.  That’s why it’s good that I have some strong personalities in my life and I use them as stand-ins for how different types of people react in situations and how they would verbalize their feelings and concerns as opposed to how I would do it.  That said, people tell me I write like I speak.  And I suppose that’s true since I was suspended from high school for both writing AND speaking.

Norm: Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan? As a follow up, where do you get your information or ideas for your books and plays?

Laura: I only write stories that I’d like to read.  Therefore I want something I haven’t heard before, or if it’s a familiar theme it must be told in a completely different way.  I enjoy stories that are making a comment about human nature, our relationships, and how we interact with an ever-changing world.

Norm: What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how do you stay focused? As a follow up, do you find it easy reading back your own work?

Laura: I’m usually writing in my head when I’m walking from place to place, driving, or eating.  So it’s a rush to get back to the computer or find some paper and write down an idea for a title, a transition, snippet of dialogue, or an ending.  I think like most writers I’m always editing, so if you make me read an old essay I’ll want to polish it up.  That’s the terrific thing about play rehearsals—I can hear the dialogue spoken by actors and make changes before opening night.

Norm: What made you decide to try writing a stage play? When did you realize you wanted to write more than one and did you find writing plays different from writing children's books and works of non-fiction?

Laura: A stage play is real-time, three-dimensional, and live, which is so much different than writing for print.  I’ve enjoyed going to the theater since I was a kid.  There were always so many questions—do they do it exactly the same every time?  What if someone falls or makes a mistake?  Do the actors get bored saying the same lines over and over?  I was at a show where a seeing-eye dog barked in the audience.  You never know what will happen.

Print is terrific because the readers can use their imaginations to decide what a handsome man should like or what color the house is.  In a stage play the audience is given the people and the place but I think it’s easier to feel that it’s real, to escape right into the story, and that’s an exciting way to experience something. 

Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?

Laura: Everyone has stories to share if they care to tell them.  Some of the most important stories are told at AA meetings and other groups that meet to discuss living with chronic pain, animal companion loss, the death of a child, sexual addiction, and weight management.  Cave drawings suggest that stories have been with us since humans first walked together on Earth.  A powerful story can do many things, such as help us make sense of our world or shed light on a dire situation that couldn’t get attention otherwise.  Aristotle says in “Poetics” that storytelling is what gives us a shareable world.  Stories help us make sense out of life.  By trading subjective experiences we connect and identify with others.  This transforms a biological existence of eating, sleeping, and procreating into a human one.

Norm: Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?

Laura: I think writers should decide what they need to write about and the reader will judge whether they find something meaningful there.  If you’re feeding their mind or heart or soul in some way they’ll go on a journey with you; and if not they’ll change the channel to something that is better suited to their needs and tastes.  And that’s writer/reader democracy.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and you work?


Norm: What is next for Laura Pedersen?

Laura: Currently, Laura Pedersen is looking after a lot of cantankerous old people.  Don’t be surprised if the next play takes place in a retirement community with a crew of difficult and disorderly seniors who have a dozen dogs and cats running wild and say things like, “Those doctors don’t know their ass from their elbow.”

My play with music This Will All Be Yours is running as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival July 17th- August 7th at The Barrow Group Theatre in Manhattan.  Tilbury House will publish my second children’s book, AVA’S ADVENTURE, on September 1st.  Then I have a play called The Brightness of Heaven running at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Manhattan this fall. 

Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.

Laura: Which is better, Moe’s Southwest Grill or Chipotle?  If you’re a vegetarian then Moe’s is better because you can get mushrooms, which Chipotle doesn’t carry, and at Moe’s they separate the onions and peppers, in case you want one and not the other.  Also, Moe’s doesn’t serve the tofu spicy the way Chipotle does, which is preferable if you’re a “mild” person.  Someone needs to tell Chipotle that the customers can easily add hot sauce but they can’t remove it.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.

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