Metro Detroit native Laura Lee divides her time equally between writing and producing ballet educational tours with her partner, the artistic director of the Russian National Ballet Foundation. She is the author of more than a dozen non-fiction books with such publishers as Harper Collins, Reader’s Digest, Running Press, Broadway Books, Lyons Press and Black Dog and Leventhal. Her Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation has sold more than 85,000 copies. She has also written one collection of poetry (Invited to Sound), and a children’s book (A Child’s Introduction to Ballet). She brings to her writing a unique background as a radio announcer, improvisational comic and one-time professional mime.
The San Francisco Chronicle has said of her work, “Lee’s dry, humorous tone makes her a charming companion… She has a penchant for wordplay that is irresistible.”
Angel is her first novel.
Questions with Laura:
Where are you from?
I live in Rochester Hills.
Tell us your latest news?
I am promoting my debut novel, Angel. I have a non-fiction book with Reader’s Digest coming out in the near future.
When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing as a child and published my first article at the age of 12. It was called “My first day of junior high school.” My
father was a writer and insisted I was a “born writer” but it didn’t occur to me until much later that writing was a special skill.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
There was a series of little things. My father pushed me in that direction– he suggested I write about junior high and submit the
article, for example. I wanted to be an actress and majored in theater in college. I never got cast in anything, and in my senior year, when I auditioned my last time and failed to be cast, I took my anger and frustration and turned it into a one act comedy, which a
group of students performed and I got great feedback for it. Realizing acting was not going to be my calling, I went to broadcast
school to become a radio announcer. As the other students struggled to write ads and news copy, I whipped them off and got praise. I
started to get the idea that I could do something maybe everyone else didn’t find easy. I started writing articles for local papers in a
half-hearted way when I worked in radio, encouraged by my father. It wasn’t until I burnt out on radio that I started taking the writing
seriously. I got a job at the Times Union in Albany, NY as a reporter and feature writer beginning as a temp, filling in for someone on
maternity leave. I had no formal training in journalism or writing and was hired on the strength of my clips. It was great training in
writing quickly and not waiting for the muse or to get your artistic thing together. I published my first book while working at the paper,
and I didn’t look back from that point on. Now I’ve written 14 books, both non-fiction and fiction.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I wouldn’t call my first book particularly “inspired.” I mentioned in passing to my father that I thought it would be interesting to
write a book about the real people behind familiar names like Sears, shrapnel, Chef Boyardee and so on. He didn’t let it go until I’d
produced a proposal and some sample chapters and sent them off to everybody using Writer’s Market. I was surprised when I got a call
from a publisher that wanted me to write it.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I am focused on fiction now, and would like that to be my future direction. What works for me in fiction is to start with some sort of archetypal image and to relate it to the specifics of a character in a certain setting and situation. I have a recognizable voice, I think,
in my humorous non-fiction. Now I’ve only published one novel, but I have two more that I’ve written that I’d like to put out and I hope
that I can develop a fiction voice that people recognize and appreciate.
How did you come up with the title?
My novel is the story of a minister who sees a young man and initially confuses him for an angel, although society would view him
as anything but. His relationship with the young man changes everything in his life. So Angel seemed like the best title.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I hope that it presents more questions than answers. I would like people to read it, think about the story, and let it speak to them in
a personal way. The message will depend a great deal on the reader, as it should be.
How much of the book is realistic?
It is all realistic. It’s a story about two men and their relationship. It is set in a church community. No aliens or vampires
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I drew on my experience working in a church to make the setting realistic, but it is not autobiographical in any way.
What books have most influenced your life most?
When I was in high school I had to read everything by Douglas Adams. In my early twenties I had to read everything by Milan Kundera. Now
I’m reading a lot of poetry and theology.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I didn’t have to choose. It was my father.
What book are you reading now?
The Big Red Book by Rumi.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I have been reading a lot of really old stuff. If I haven’t read it yet, it’s new to me.
What are your current projects?
I’m seeking a new fiction agent for a novel which I actually wrote before Angel and which I recently updated and revised. I’ve finished
a sequel to Angel, but that book really has to sell a bit more to make it worth publishing. I’m waiting for the non-fiction book I finished
this summer with Reader’s Digest to come out and there are a couple of follow up projects that might spring from that. I am also working on
a more theological project. So there are a lot of directions. I have a lot of literary egg baskets.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Not surprising for a writer, but I am a solitary character by nature. One time I did have a strong community in which I was highly active
was when I lived in New York and volunteered for the Guthrie Center. (Folksinger Arlo Guthrie’s non-profit.) Since I came back to Michigan
in 2004, I’ve become much more focused on writing, and much more of a loner.
Do you see writing as a career?
It is a calling, which is a bit different from a career, but it can be a career. Don’t get me wrong, I use “calling” in a matter-of-fact
way. I don’t think there is anything special about having one. Every career has a certain aspect of that. When someone gets laid off from
any job, he has a bit of an existential crisis. There are some fields of endeavor which are skewed much more that way. A person would do
them whether he got paid or not because not doing it would be unimaginable. If you would not feel that you were you if you didn’t
write, that’s what I mean by calling. This is an area where Angel has a touch of autobiography because one aspect of the story is this issue
of having one’s calling threatened. Writers face that all the time. Is it a career if I’m not being paid? If I can’t make a living doing
what I love am I a failure? Am I not who I think I am? Paul, the protagonist of Angel, talks about the downside of having a calling.
If you believe you know what you are supposed to do, you question your ability to do it well enough. He wonders whether people are so
imperfect that they are doomed to fail God either by failing to know what their calling is or by thinking they know and not doing it as
well as they would like. So that is what I mean by calling. My sense of self and my career are tied to each other in a way that might be
unhealthy, but what can I do? If it is unhealthy, I hope I do not get well, because I like who I am. Doing writing as my career was always
important to me. Some people are happy to make their money another way. That’s probably smart. It’s a choice.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I wrote it over the course of a decade and revised and revised and revised. I am happy with the final version. If it had not been
published, I would probably still be fiddling with it, but there is a point when you’re done and you have to stop re-thinking it.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Since the loss of his lively, charming wife to cancer six years ago, minister Paul Tobit has been operating on autopilot, performing his
religious duties by rote. Everything changes the day he enters the church lobby and encounters a radiant, luminous being lit from behind,
breathtakingly beautiful and glowing with life. An angel. For a moment Paul is so moved by his vision that he is tempted to fall on his knees
Even after he regains his focus and realizes he simply met a flesh-and-blood young man, Paul cannot shake his sense of awe and
wonder. He feels an instant and overwhelming attraction for the young man, which puzzles him even as it fills his thoughts and fires his
feelings. Paul has no doubt that God has spoken to him through this vision, and Paul must determine what God is calling him to do.
Thus begins a journey that will inspire Paul’s ministry but put him at odds with his church as he is forced to examine his deeply held
beliefs and assumptions about himself, his community, and the nature of love.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
One of the challenges is to resist the urge to make characters more articulate than they would be in life. As a writer you can find just
the right words to express an emotion, but your characters are not professional writers. So sometimes you have to “ugly up” the perfect
expression of something because it just wouldn’t be realistic for, say, a 24- year old recovering alcoholic to speak in poetry.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I am an eclectic reader. There is not one writer that I am focused on at the moment.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
No, but I am on tour five months out of the year with my ballet project.
Who designed the covers?
The cover artist of Angel was Anne Cain based on a concept I proposed.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The novel evolved out of a trip I took in 2000 to Mount Rainier in Seattle. I took a bus tour and the driver was entertaining and kept
talking about burning out on his old job. Toward the end of the tour, someone asked what his old job had been and he said “a minister.”
There were a number of things that stayed with me about that, which I thought would make a great novel. The fact that Mount Rainier was
beautiful and a dormant volcano, and the idea of someone who burned out on the ministry to become a mountain guide. I was reading a lot
of Eastern thought at the time, and it seemed to me that there could be a great story about someone having some kind of life change, maybe
a crisis of faith, or a new direction, that put him on a course that would separate him from his congregation. It would “breathe” the
beauty of the mountain, show how he was called to both. I didn’t know what the “thing” would be though, that separated the minister from the
church and brought him to the mountain. I had a feel for what itwould be, but no specifics. I spent the better part of a decade
meditating on it and trying different things. When the “thing” came to me– that he would fall in love with a man– everything fell into
place and I wrote it quickly as if a tap had been turned on. I just had to catch the water.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I became quite interested in the Bible as a result of imagining the inner life of a Christian minister.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
The main thing is not to rush it. When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I felt pressed to write a novel and I rushed to get one
on paper and it was terrible. You have to do a lot of bad writing, and you need the patience to let an idea lay fallow for a while, maybe
for years. A professional photographer once told me that the key to taking memorable photos was just to take tons of pictures and most of
them won’t be good and a few will be brilliant. I write like mad. I don’t throw anything away. Eventually some of the stuff that I thought was trash turns out to have gems in it. The longer I work at it, the more automatic the process becomes and the better the
gem-to-trash ratio gets. So the advice is that everything takes much longer than you wold like it to. You need the patience of Job.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Angel gets slapped with a lot of genre labels, and some of them scare off certain readers. Don’t be put off by the idea of a “gay Christian
romance.” It is something other than that, and I hope you will give the book a try and decide what animal it is for yourself.
Name of Author: Laura Lee
Name of Book: Angel
Author Website: angelthenovel.com
Twitter Link: @LauraLeeAuthor