Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Laura Vanderkam. Laura is the author of The Cortlandt Boys, and several non-fiction books, including 168 Hours, What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, and I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The\Most Of Their Time. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband anfour children.
Norm: Good day Laura and thanks for participating in our interview.
How do you get started writing a book and what keeps you going?
Laura: For non-fiction it’s pretty straightforward. I get an idea, I hash it out with my editors, we work out a deal and I start writing with my deadline in mind. Fiction was a different matter. Basically, I had a story I wanted to tell, but no deadline to work against. So I got an accountability partner, made a pact to crank out 2000 words a week, and eventually got so into the characters that I wrote much more than that.
Norm: Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?
Laura: Often, it’s improvisational. I find that I figure out what I want to say by writing. Then I go back and make it sound better.
Norm: What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?
Laura: The most difficult part of writing a novel was having the energy to write more, given that I’m already writing a lot. While I’m lucky that writing is my day job, after writing a few articles, it wasn’t always easy to then write a chapter in a novel, too.
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: Writers owe their readers a good story. Personally, I think there’s also something to be said for engaging with the ideas and having a conversation. That’s why I blog.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? As a follow up, Do you have a specific writing style?
Laura: I’m a journalist, and that probably affects my style. I like things straightforward and not too florid. A few key details can do a lot of heavy lifting.
Norm: What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Laura: I have to like the characters, and while I like suspense, nothing too over-the-top. A bit of a mystery is always fun, too!
Norm: Can you share a little of The Cortlandt Boys work with us and what motivated you to write the book?
Laura: The Cortlandt Boys is about a small-town high school basketball team that wins the state championship with a last second three-point shot. The story revisits the characters ten and twenty years later as the ramifications of that lucky shot continue to shape their lives. The seed of the idea came from something that happened: my high school in Indiana won the state basketball championship years ago, and it was interesting to see the reaction. But the rest is fiction.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing the book?
Laura: Aside from carving out time, the toughest part was going through round after round of revisions. I’d be happy with the manuscript, then I’d put it away for a month. I’d come back and not be happy anymore. I’d hire editors and find more stuff not to be happy with, and since there was no deadline like I’d have with an article, I couldn’t as easily declare myself done.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Laura: I learned to be patient with the process. Eventually the book will read like you want it to read.
Norm: Is there a message in the book and if so, what is it?
Laura: One of my characters points out that there are often multiple ways to tell a story, and they can all be true. The Cortlandt Boys are sad in some ways, yet they also build lives in the shadow of fortune as best they can.
Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?
Laura: The novel has several basketball scenes. While I played for a season in middle school, and I enjoy watching games now, I had to really work to make these scenes accurate, yet also accessible to people who are not huge sports fans. I hope I succeeded.
Norm: Are the characters in your book based on people you know or have encountered or are they strictly fictional?
Laura: They are strictly fictional. We all form our world views from our lives, so I’m sure there are aspects of myself written into some of the characters, but not on purpose. Being true is no excuse in fiction. The characters have to be believable on their own, whether people like them exist in real life or not.
Norm: What is your secret in keeping the intensity of the plot throughout the narrative?
Laura: There’s no real secret other than lots and lots of revision. Every time I’d come back to the manuscript I’d see where my reading pace started to slow. Granted, I knew what was going to happen, so a first time reader might have stayed more excited, but I also knew that if I wasn’t interested, I couldn’t expect other people to be either.
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: The more voices the merrier! And more practically, I’d say that if you ever wonder if your writing is good enough to share with the world, just read the comments on some popular news sites. A lot of people don’t seem to be limited by this desire for quality. If you’re reading a website on writing, you’ve definitely cleared the bar.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Laura: I blog frequently at my WEBSITE and I’d love to continue the conversation there!
Norm: What is next for Laura Vanderkam?
Laura: My next non-fiction book, I Know How She Does It, comes out in June. This book is based on time diaries from 1001 days in the lives of professional women and their families. I look at how people who have it all make it work. I was really inspired by the women I studied, and I hope readers will be too.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Laura: Am I working on another novel? Not right now, but I wrote 50,000 words of something during National Novel Writing Month in 2014, and I’ll revisit that later this year. I’m looking forward to trying my hand at fiction again.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors