The Dames are pleased to spotlight their own Laurel-Rain Snow during the month of July.  Welcome Laurel-Rain!

 1.   Tell us about your latest book.

Web of Tyranny” came out in 2008, which was awhile ago, but I still have vivid memories of what I felt when I was writing it.  The character Meg (whose name she later changes to Lainey), comes to us first in her tenth year of life.  We see her surrounded by aunts, cousins, and other family members, feeling like she’s a part of something as they all work in the packing shed on the farm where Meg’s family lives.  She loves the secrets she overhears and the feelings of love and acceptance that surround her.  These feelings disappear when the cousins and aunts leave each day and she is left with the tyrannical control of a harsh, unyielding father and a submissive mother.  Her journey toward freedom takes her through a difficult adolescence and a marriage that offers her an opportunity to attend college.  College symbolizes a door that opens up new worlds for her. However, the leap into this ill-conceived marriage will turn out to be almost as tyrannical for her as the childhood life.  Following her journey through the radical sixties and seventies and ending in the bicentennial year, we see her growth, her hard-won independence, and the sisterhood of friendships that sustain her.

 2.  What are you working on now?

Currently I am working on two different WIPs.  The first, which I’ve called “Defining Moments,” is about a woman named Jillian who grew up an only child of adoring parents.  She expects life to hand her good things, but is sadly disappointed in her marriage to her college sweetheart.  Her one bright spot is her daughter Megan.  Teaching English and hoping to become a writer someday keeps Jillian afloat after her marriage falls apart, but some failed romances and a disappointing single life finds Jillian turning inward; isolating herself from everyone, she becomes dangerously addicted to the world of the Internet.  What happens next could turn her in a more positive direction, or lead her back into the darkest place she has known.  A bright spot on her horizon is an elderly neighbor, Ernestine, who has taken her under her wing.  When she is alone, Ernestine flashes back to moments in her life during WWII, when her husband was away, and to a long-buried secret. But despite (or perhaps because of her mistakes), she has a keen understanding of life.  She offers guidance and acceptance to Jillian during her days of recovery.

A second WIP is the story of a minor character from “Embrace the Whirlwind.”  In “Interior Designs,” Martha Scott Cummings explores the dark side she traveled when her marriage to Hal was breaking up; as she delves beneath the surface, she begins to understand what led to those choices and to change some of her behaviors.

 3.  How long have you been writing?

I remember scribbling in notebooks after finishing my work in the classroom, and then taking the work home and fleshing it out in scrapbooks.  I “illustrated” these early stories with pictures I cut from magazines.  I was about eight years old.  When I learned to type, I began a first novel, which was never finished, of course.  In college, I studied psychology and later became a social worker.  Over the years, I wrote in journals and formed a rudimentary plot for a book that I would write many years later.  I never gave up on the writing dream, even during those years when my daily writing consisted of case notes and reports to the juvenile court.  Just before I retired, I picked up those notes and journal entries and began the novel “Miles to Go.”

 4.   Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you could be doing something else?  Why do they appeal to you?

Oh, there are so many!  It is hard to select one over another, as I love each of them for the different things they bring to my life.  For books about issues, I adore Jodi Picoult’s books, which totally grab me and keep me focused throughout.  Elizabeth Berg knows just how to give us the details to bring us right into the lives of the characters and show us those ordinary moments in all their vivid colors.   Anna Quindlen’s themes resonate with me, while Lisa Scottoline is another favorite, as her suspense thrillers keep me up at night.  I could go on and on….I am always finding new authors to add to my collection of favorites.

 5.  Which authors did you read when you were young?

I still remember the first book I checked out of the public library when I was eight: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”  And, of course, I read “Huckleberry Finn.”  I was sort of a tomboy and imagined myself enjoying some of these adventures.  However, I liked Becky Thatcher, too.

Louisa May Alcott’s books were tomes I read and reread.  Even as an adult when I reread “Little Women,” I had to laugh when I recognized certain details in the book, like Amy having an obsession with limes, or how she put a clothespin on her nose to give it a tilt.

Then I enjoyed some books about careers, like a student nurse series, and some teenage books whose titles and authors escape me now.  I started reading Grace Livingston Hill books for the romance.  Then, of course, I read Jane Austen and another favorite:  Daphne du Maurier.

 6.  What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?    

Probably the most constant themes in my work include family dysfunction, foster care, women’s friendships, and the redemptive possibilities available when the characters really want to change.  These themes echo my years in social work, I’m sure, as well as some of my own childhood experiences. 

When I attended a book club of readers who were discussing “Chasing Stardust,” I was surprised and a bit amazed at how they saw the MC; some of them were quite critical of her parenting abilities (or lack thereof), and seemed disappointed in most of her choices.  While I, too, envisioned her as a flawed character, I always saw the good in her.

 7.  If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author, living or dead, who would it be?      

 For the authors who are deceased, there are several:  Louisa May Alcott, Richard Yates, Daphne du Maurier, and Ayn Rand.  Richard Yates is a newly discovered favorite of mine who was amazing at zeroing in on the dark side and the malaise that seemingly cripples ordinary people. His “Revolutionary Road” reminds us that behind the perfect exteriors of suburban lives lie the disappointments that can destroy us in little bits and pieces.

 There are several authors who are still living that I’d love to meet, like Jodi Picoult and Elizabeth Berg.  Beth Hoffman is another author whose work I admire.  Joyce Maynard’s amazing journey included a first published book while she was a teenager.

 8.  What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?  

 Wow, these are challenging questions!  Probably my greatest strength is my persistence.  When I first started my current WIPs, I often plodded along, not thinking I was finding my “mojo” anywhere, but I kept going.  Then I set the first one aside and returned to it several months later with fresh eyes.  Now it’s moving along quickly.

 My weakest area would probably be my tendency to get distracted by other things and put off working on my latest creation.  Even though I am persistent, I will dream up excuses for not getting to it right now.

 Once the work is finished, the marketing is difficult for me, too.  Except for the social networking, which I enjoy…maybe too much!

 9.  Is your writing character or plot driven?  Do you start with a plot and develop characters to make the plot work or do you start with a character and see what happens?     

When I begin, I usually have one or more characters in mind and a rudimentary plot.  I set up my character sketches and detailed files, but then I let the characters’ voices guide me.  Sometimes  my characters lead me to places I never expected to go.  They truly seem like “voices in my head.”

10.  How many hours a day do you write, where, and are there any specific circumstances that help or hurt your process?

When I wrote the five (now published) books, I wrote everyday for most of the morning.  My writing space in the beginning was in an upstairs bedroom with a window facing the backyard.  Then I moved my “office” downstairs to the dining room, of all places, but I didn’t feel as isolated there.  I don’t like distractions, but I also don’t enjoy feeling shut away from the rest of the world.

These days, I tend to work fewer hours, because I am quite obsessed with blogging and social networking.  I tell myself I am “marketing,” but I know that I am also procrastinating.  Lately I’ve been participating in writing challenges and my efforts are more regular.  This week I’ve worked for six hours (since Wednesday) on rewrites for “Defining Moments.”  Now I have a separate office, and since I live alone these days, there are few interruptions (except the ones on the Internet and in my head!).

11.  What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

I do tend to focus on issues familiar to me, but some of my characters have taken me to worlds I’ve only dreamed about, like interior design.  My settings are familiar ones to me, with all of my characters living in California in places I’ve lived, like San Francisco, Sacramento, and the Central Valley…as well as places I frequently visit like LA.

Aside from the characters and the settings, my themes are those that came up regularly in my former life as a social worker.

12.   What is the single most satisfying aspect of writing for you?   

Creating characters and situations and having the ability (or power, if you will) to orchestrate their life events in ways not usually possible to us in our real lives.  I take my characters to places I dream about, and even when their love lives are disappointing, I try to bring them to a “hopeful ending,” if not a happily-ever-after one.

I am able to completely lose myself in the lives I’ve drawn until the characters feel like friends—which is probably why some of them show up over and over in other books of mine, even if their “roles” are minor.

To find out more about Laurel-Rain, visit her website, http://laurelrainsnowcreations.com/