Anne Laughlin

Author Anne Laughlin talks to us about what the writing life means to her.

Thanks for agreeing to take part in our Interview Sessions, Anne. It’s always a pleasure to be able to talk to an author just starting out in the business, giving our readers that unique insight into the author’s perspective. But more, in understanding the processes that not only go into writing a novel, but in what it takes to get it published.

KBV: How long have you been writing and how did you get started writing?

I’m a life-long reader, like most writers, and I’ve always had the notion to write in the back of my mind. Many things kept me from taking pen to paper, and none as great as the simple fear that I wouldn’t be any good. When I began to win my long battle with perfectionism I began to open myself up to trying something you absolutely can’t be perfect at. That somewhat explains why I didn’t start writing until I was 50 years old.

KBV: Who (if any) were your influences early on?

After reading so much it’s hard for me to pin point influences. Someone reading my work might notice an influence before I would. But I can speak to a few reading memories that speak to me as a writer. When I was college aged, Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento came out and that book had a profound effect on me, especially the controversial story Julia. Now whether Hellman actually lived the story she writes about as memoir is a subject for a different forum, but I remember that it was a time when the power of the story and the literary beauty of the writing had equal impact on me. I was captivated by the story of the two close friends (as a young, all alone in the world lesbian, such stories always grabbed me), and by the story of bravery by women.

I also have a strong memory of being about 10 or 11 and sitting on top of the heat register during a Chicago winter afternoon, reading Gone With the Wind, completely and utterly lost in the story. That was the first time that story and characters really tied together for me. It was a long while before any book grabbed me like that again. I remember thinking that for a reader, that kind of book experience is the high we’re always chasing. It’s what I aspire to one day provide to readers.

KBV: What underlying principal, if any, would you say motivates you to write?

I think in some ways I’m too new at this to have realized my underlying principal. In the on-going discussion the writing world has about literary versus plot-oriented or genre writing, I would say that I have a principal that believes the writer can entertain the reader with a fantastically involving plot that is populated by affecting characters, all of it carefully, beautifully written. Why it has to be one or the other I don’t know.

KBV: What draws you to certain subjects and issues, if any?

I am driven to write about women, but not necessarily about issues that affect women per se. I won’t write a book about having children or not having children, being sexually harassed, the glass ceiling, etc. All of these are important issues best left to others to write about. Nor do I want to write about lesbian issues, necessarily. But whatever the theme of a piece of my writing is, it’s almost certainly going to be written from a female point of view, with a largely female cast of characters. At this point, it’s the only thing that interests me. But just so people don’t think I’m demonizing or stereotyping men, I have made some men the good guys and some women the bad guys.

KBV: What, for you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Believing in myself.

KBV: How do you like to approach your writing when starting a new project? Do you do outlines and breakdown scenes, or do you just leap straight into writing the narrative?

With short stories I simply dive in and see where I end up. It’s very exciting, but also can feel paralyzing to me. With novels, especially since my first two novels have mystery-suspense plot lines, I do work with an outline. I’m not smart enough to keep all the twists and turns in my head long enough to see how they will unwind at the end. I have a fear of writing for weeks, only to wake up and realize there is no way out of the situation I’ve written my characters into. Having said that, it’s important to add that I’m not a slave to my outline. It changes as the book moves along, a very dynamic guideline.

“I remember thinking that for a reader, that kind of book experience is the high we’re always chasing. It’s what I aspire to one day provide to readers.”

KBV: How do you create your characters? Do you start with a basic outline of personality type, or work them up as you go along?

I don’t even know. I think the main character or characters have to be conjured at the very beginning, at least to the extent I can envision the type of person who will deal with the themes I plan to introduce. For instance, in my novel in progress, the main character is the Dean of a small liberal arts college. So we already know she’s smart. But she also is fear ridden and love starved, and she’s love starved because she’s fear ridden — she has to let go of some parts of her upbringing that haunt her in order to really live. So I want her to be likeable but also brittle and vulnerable. She defends herself with humor or wit, but can also lash out or act inappropriately. She’s complex. I didn’t know her beyond that outline when I started, but I’ve gotten to know her well and hopefully she illustrates my themes in a believable way. I don’t want THEME written all over the book, but if people think about Beth and how she behaves, they may come to the conclusion that freedom for Beth will come when she doesn’t care as much what people think about her.

KBV: Do you talk to your characters at all?

I don’t. I’ve always been curious when I read about writers talking to their characters. They’re not real people to me. Maybe I should look into that.

KBV: What are some of the things you do to improve on your craft? Do you attend conferences? Take workshops? Go on retreats?

I went wild this year. I had my first novel, Sometimes Quickly, come out in May, so I resolved to do what I could to meet people, network, and learn not only about marketing my book, but about being a better writer as well. In May I attended the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans where I met a lot of wonderful writers. I mean really talented, experienced writers and I learned a lot from them. My friend Joan Larkin was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and she dragged me along to dinner with Dorothy Allison and Maureen Brady. That was a thrill.

In July I attended the Golden Crown Literary Festival, also a blast. Katherine Forrest was the featured speaker and teacher there and I learned a lot from her as well. It was an honor to meet her.

I was selected as one of the Lambda Literary Foundations Emerging Writers and I attended their retreat in LA in early August. I saw Katherine there, and was in a workshop with Claire McNab, who is a fantastic teacher. The LLF really treated the 30 of us to an intense week of teaching and networking and it was an amazing time.

Right now I’m finishing up a month long retreat at the Mary Anderson Center of the Arts in southern Indiana. I’ve written a ton down here, but this will probably be the last travel I do for awhile. I went a bit overboard.

KBV: Do you have people read your work as you write, or do you wait till a project is complete? What would you say were the benefits to either approach?

I am one of the world’s most impatient people. I can’t wait to hear what people think about what I’m working on. My partner always reads my stuff as it emerges, and she gives helpful advice. And I usually do a reading when our best friends come over. I’m fortunate to have friends who are very good writers and teachers, and they take a look at work in progress. I have taken workshops, which is helpful also.

KBV: How do you see your work developing in the future?

I really believe I’m just finding my voice. I’m learning by doing. There are more novels ahead, but whether they are mysteries, literary fiction, historical – I’m not yet sure.

KBV: What genre do you feel most at ease writing in, if any?

See above. I’m not “at ease” writing anything and still have so many things to try my hand at.

KBV: What have you given up, if anything, to write?

I somehow lost my will to exercise when I started writing, which is so counterproductive. That I am determined to get back. I’ve given up all hobbies except reading, I watch very little TV, and maybe a bit of vacation time I would have spent with my partner.

KBV: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing right now?

I would still be looking for that thing that holds me the way writing does. I’ve been on the path to it for a long time.

KBV: As a writer what do you look for in a prospective publisher?

I wish for the one thing they all are cutting back on, including the large mainstream houses, and that’s marketing. I don’t have the willingness to put all of the hours in that are necessary to successfully self-market, so I want help with that. I’m realistic about doing a modicum of marketing, however. The other things I look for is professional editing and a good list of writers.

KBV: What, from your perspective, were some of the most common mistakes you made when starting out in the business?

Sending a manuscript out before it’s ready, which is a really common mistake. The irony is that young writers are the last people to be able to tell if a manuscript is ready or not. I had a form of blindness about my own work – I knew it wasn’t a blockbuster, but I thought it was as good as it could be. It wasn’t, and I got turned down. I worked on it some and it got picked up, lesson learned.

“If it were easy, it wouldn’t mean anything at all.”

KBV: What are some of the things you do to build up interest for your work? What do you think are some of the most effective things an author can do to advertise him or herself?

I am woeful at this. I will look forward to reading how your other interviewees answer this question.

KBV: How do you feel about e-publishing and the quality? And would you go that route?

I think it seems obvious that if we imagine ten or twenty years down the road will see a literary landscape that is not littered with physical books as we know them today. Think of the energy and resources that e-publishing will save. That’s a big picture view. In the immediate sense, I thing e-publishing is evolving in a very promising way. Sites like this one and Read These Lips are doing professional jobs. The biggest fight is the one of perception – that a writer isn’t really published until they’ve published in print.

KBV: What have been your best and worst experiences, so far, with an editor?

To tell you the truth, I can’t think of any experiences that qualify as best or worst. They were all fairly neutral. So far.

KBV: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about being a writer? And what, for you, are the worst aspects about it?

My favorite thing is printing out the pages I’ve written and curling up to read them for the first time. I sometimes feel at the keyboard that I don’t even know the person typing. Did I just write that? Where did that come from? It makes it feel a little more my own when I read it printed out, and if it’s good, it’s a real thrill. It’s what makes it all worth doing.

The worst is probably the self-doubt. It’s such a hard thing to do. I’m just finishing a novel and a couple of weeks ago I almost threw up my hands over the whole thing. I was up to my eyeballs in loose threads, inconsistencies, changes in plot, etc., and I asked myself why in the world was I doing this? It’s a mystery novel about a small college and I’m killing myself here. It’s not going to change the world in even an itty bitty way. But then a plot point falls into place and a character says something brilliant and you carry on. It keeps me off the streets and out of the bars, it may give a reader a few hours pleasure, and one day my writing may turn into something even more than that. If it were easy, it wouldn’t mean anything at all.

Author Profile:

Anne Laughlin’s short stories have appeared in the following: in Read These Lips (, 2007), Best Lesbian Romance (Cleis Press, 2007), Best Lesbian Love Stories: Summer Flings (Alyson Books, 2007), Best Lesbian Love Stories 2009 (Alyson Books, 2009). Her erotica, written under a pen name, has appeared in Erotic Interludes 4 (Bold Strokes Books, 2006), Erotic Interludes 5 (2007), and Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2009 (Alyson Books, 2009).

Anne was selected for the 2008 Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writers Retreat, an ongoing program designed to mentor and support the “next generation” of GLBTQ writers. At 53, she is thrilled to be included in the next generation of anything.

You can find out more about Anne, and her work, by visiting her web site here: ANNE LAUGHLIN.

SOMETIMES QUICKLY, Anne’s first novel, was published in May, 2008, by P.D. Publishing. She is currently finishing her second novel, a mystery set in a small college.

Anne’s novel is available to buy from:
Star Crossed Productions

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