Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Laurel S. Peterson - Guest Author

Laurel S. Peterson writes mysteries and poetry, and teaches at a community college. She is also a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

If possible, there is no background noise when I write. I grew up in a silent home (which sounds much worse than it was! Think of it as peaceful…). For me, anything requiring focus requires silence. When my father wanted to play his Dixieland jazz, he descended to his basement workshop. Now, I live with a husband, a dog and a cat. Cats understand silence. Husbands and dogs, not so much.

Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

I am a something-in-between. At the start, I tend to be a pantser. I begin with a clear idea of conflict, protagonist, and final scene. On that energy, I can make it through about a quarter of the text. When I hit 80 pages, I stall and have to start outlining. I find plotting the most difficult aspect of writing (thus, it involves a lot of chocolate—see writing advice below), and I’m so so so happy when that part of it is clear-ish in my brain.

When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

I generally finish the books I begin. I keep a running tally of the books I read each year, and to dedicate time to a book I don’t finish messes with my numbers. (I’m not competitive, though. No, not at all.) Occasionally, I’ll find I dislike a character intensely, or that an author’s style doesn’t work for me. But that’s pretty rare. I vet my books before I get them through friends, recommended lists on Goodreads or other book review sites or newsletters.

Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

I’m going outside the mystery genre here for a couple; I hope that’s OK.  Elizabeth Eslami’s book of short stories titled Hibernate is sad, poignant, disturbing. The title story is about a couple that decides to live underground with the bugs. Creepy.

Sharbari Ahmed’s stories, The Ocean of Mrs. Nagai, are explorations of what it means as a brown person to be American, both at home and abroad.

Finally, in the genre, John Roche’s Bronx Bound is a reporter-in-the-Bronx-in-trouble kind of story—good old fashioned detecting. My favorite thing!!

When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

Between my first and final draft, I cut a lot! I started my writing life as a poet, so I love condensed language. I tend to eliminate “extra” language—there is constructions, for example. I tighten verbs, choose more particular nouns (maple instead of tree), get rid of dialogue that doesn’t work, and wherever I can, make the senses more prominent. I’m always reminding my students that it’s not just what they can see that they are reporting when they write, but the cinnamon smell of apple pie, or the slip of wet leaves, or the metallic grit of a paper clip between the teeth.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My mother befriended a young man who is a healer. One summer evening, he and his lover came to my parents’ home for dinner, so that my husband and I could meet them. In the middle of the evening, I looked at him and thought, What does he know about my mother that I don’t know? What if something happened, and the only way I could know her was through him? From that, I imagined my character having been gone from home for a long time, a mother in danger, a therapist who knew more than he should… and there you go.

What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

I am an English professor. How long do you have?? Text-speak in papers. Would of done. Try and go, try and do, instead of try to go or try to do, etc. Ending commas that appear after the quotations marks…. I’ll stop there.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Sara Paretsky:  She’s just so damn smart. I love smart people. I saw her once at Bouchercon, and her ability to pull together multiple strands of thinking and ideas was so impressive. When I grow up, I want to be like that.

Mark Doty: Poet! I love poems—and I love his in particular. He understands light. He also wrote one of the most beautiful memoirs I have ever read, Heaven’s Coast, about the loss of his lover to AIDs. It’s painful, yes, but it takes me beyond pain into the bigger questions of existence.

Simone de Beauvoir: She made me a feminist. Little sheltered me, coming home from college in 1984, discovered de Beauvoir’s memoirs in the library. Suddenly, I understood why I was angry.

What is a piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing?

More writing gets done if the writer rewards herself (chocolate works well or walks with the dog) than gets done if the writer is mean to herself.

You can find more information about Laurel S. Peterson and her writing at www.laurelpeterson.com. Find her on Twitter @laurelwriter49, on Facebook, and on Goodreads. Thanks for having me!

Here’s a blurb for SHADOW NOTES

Clara Montague didn’t want to come home. Her mother Constance never liked—or listened—to her but now they have to get along or they will both end up dead.

Clara suspects she and Constance share intuitive powers, but Constance always denied it. When Clara was twenty, she dreamed her beloved father would have a heart attack. Constance claimed she was hysterical. Then he died.

Furious, Clara leaves for fifteen years, but when she dreams Constance is in danger, she returns home. Then, Constance’s therapist is murdered and Constance is arrested.

Starting to explore her mother’s past, Clara discovers books on trauma and gets a midnight visit from a knife-wielding intruder. Her dreams become more demanding and there’s a second murder. Clara realizes that only in finding the connection between Hugh’s murder and her mother’s past can she save them and finally heal their relationship.   


  1. I smiled when I read that you like peace and quiet when you're writing. Me too. I'm a former high school English teacher and college adjunct, so writing errors really bug me. I've seen several grammar and proof-reading errors lately in books by large publishers. I just shake my head.

  2. And Susan, I bet you catch them as I do on TV. I'm always correcting some hapless character's grammar! :). Thanks for reading.

  3. Very interesting interview. I, too, love condensed language. Look forward to reading the book!

    1. Thanks, Linda--and thanks for stopping by to read!