An Interview with Poet and Writer Laury A. Egan

You write both poetry and fiction—novels, short stories, novellas—and are an accomplished fine arts photographer.  Do you bring to your creative endeavors an encompassing artistic aesthetic?

Kudos to you, Karla! No one has ever asked this exact question before—so thanks! When I began writing at age seven (poetry), I was inspired by the natural beauty around me—a lovely laurel-filled woods across the street, a cliff that led to a natural springs and a beach with huge boulders, driftwood, shells, and the lower Raritan Bay. Across the bay was Sandy Hook and the Atlantic Ocean—all visible from my house, as was the Manhattan skyline. So my first inspiration was nature: vistas, oceans, sea life, and water, all of which are incorporated in my photography and my writing. My mother was a fine realist painter, who surrounded me with visual stimuli at home and also took me along on travels through Europe, visiting art museums. By high school, I’d already written my first novel, many poems, and some stories and then began drawing.

Kudos to you, Karla! No one has ever asked this exact question before—so thanks! When I began writing at age seven (poetry), I was inspired by the natural beauty around me—a lovely laurel-filled woods across the street, a cliff that led to a natural springs and a beach with huge boulders, driftwood, shells, and the lower Raritan Bay. Across the bay was Sandy Hook and the Atlantic Ocean—all visible from my house, as was the Manhattan skyline. So my first inspiration was nature: vistas, oceans, sea life, and water, all of which are incorporated in my photography and my writing. My mother was a fine realist painter, who surrounded me with visual stimuli at home and also took me along on travels through Europe, visiting art museums. By high school, I’d already written my first novel, many poems, and some stories and then began drawing.

Many of your novels have a solid psychological underpinning. You really know how to inhabit your characters’ interiors with remarkable depth and perception, and from what I understand, having had no formal training in psychology. How did you come to be so knowledgeable about the science of mind and behavior?

As an only child whose parents worked, who lived two miles from town, I spent most of my time alone, creating stories, writing poems, and analyzing my life; dealing with warring parents and discomfort with my peer group; and trying to understand my solitariness. This environment was ideal for producing a young writer, but it also led to a fascination with psychology. In college, I took courses in abnormal psych, social psych, childhood development, testing, and was praised by my professors for my insightful case studies—what better training is there for a budding novelist? Much of my fiction falls into the psychological suspense genre (Jenny KiddA Bittersweet TaleWave in D Minor), but as you pointed out, all of my work is filtered through a psychological lens. A current work, The Psychologist’s Shadow, allowed me to be a therapist and to write client sessions—I had a blast.

Your novels represent several subgenres of fiction—murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, YA novels, relationship dramas, including literary romance, not to mention the humorous Fabulous! An Opera Buffo. Why such variety? A deliberate choice or dictated by the story idea that arises when you embark on it?

To be honest, I’ve never set out to write in a specific genre or for a specific audience. My mother, the artist, always insisted success was about focusing on one endeavor exclusively, which, obviously, I never did—being both a verbal and visual person whose career was diverse. For the same reason, my characters and plots tend to drop into my head, and then I follow wherever the story goes, in an organic fashion. In some cases, I’ve had a “channeling” experience—the character of Jango Jacks in A Bittersweet Tale came in one night, his folksy voice clear and persistent until I sat at the keyboard, at which point he downloaded his persona. The gay opera singer Gil, in Fabulous! An Opera Buffa, interrupted my afternoon while I was sitting on the deck. He was so funny that I couldn’t ignore him and rushed to the computer—thus, a comedy was born. Because I tend to examine memories from my childhood and teenage years, I’ve dabbled in historical Young Adult fiction: The Outcast Oracle and the forthcoming Turnabout, although in neither case did I initially aim for a younger market when I started and, in fact, believe both are fine for adult readers. Usually, inspiration comes from a character, a setting, or a “what-if” plot. Two new titles are literary, with magical realism: The Swimmer and two partially connected novellas, The Black Leopard’s Kiss & The Writer Remembers. A literary suspense will also appear in 2021, Wave in D Minor. This makes sticking to one press tough because so many hew to their narrow genre interests, but perhaps I’ve found three wonderful publishers who together can encompass my range. I also consider myself a “bridge” writer, who navigates from straight fiction into LGTBQ fiction.  

What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you? The easiest? The most enjoyable?

Hardest: having the grit to keep revising and polishing a ms., which I usually do over 20 times and sometimes as many as 40 times. Writing endings—last paragraphs—can be a torment because I want the words and sentences to feel “done” as one feels hearing the last notes of a symphony. I can’t describe how this effect is achieved, but when it is, I know it instantly. The third most difficult part of being a writer is handling promotion. Writers are often solitary folk, and forcing us to post on social media, do podcasts, and beg for reviews is the antithesis of what we’re comfortable doing. Nevertheless, with the limited budgets of small traditional presses and with the huge competition for visibility in a crowded book field, the author is forced to self-promote. The easiest and most enjoyable part of the process is the writing itself—I love formulating a great hook in my first paragraph, though admittedly I can get a little too “Virginia Woolf” in creating atmospheric settings up front! 

What’s your work ethic?

Even before the Covid-19 restrictions, I tended to work seven days a week. Usually, I begin about 8:30 a.m., after clearing through email and NYT and WaPo headlines, and continue until 5:00 pm or 5:30. That said, like you, I keep paper near me at all times, especially at night, in case an idea barges into my mind. Because I started full-time writing in my late forties/early fifties, I feel the pressure of age bearing heavily down (I am now 70). Disability has also played an inadvertent role—no longer being able to walk easily has inhibited my traveling, trips into Manhattan, playing tennis, etc. so my focus has been funneled into my favorite occupation.

What are you currently working on? What can readers look forward to in 2021?

Three novels will appear in 2021 (or so I hope): The Swimmer (April 29) is a literary work about a psychologist on a sojourn to Cape Cod, where she hopes to make some end-of-life decisions about her pancreatic cancer. Instead, she meets an incandescently handsome man and then walks into a psychodrama when her adult son unexpectedly arrives. Wave in D Minor is about an opera composer who has been granted a remote ocean-side house in Maine during the winter. The novel includes riffs about creativity and solitariness but also crescendos into a suspenseful ending. Turnabout is a YA romance featuring two girls and two boys in the mid 1960s. They meet at a sailing class, which was based on one I took at the same age, and is set in an area where I grew up and now live again. It’s a coming-of-age story, including one character’s experience in Viet Nam and another’s girlhood crush on the female sailing instructor. Beyond these contracted titles, a second romance, The Firefly, is under consideration—this novel share much in common with Turnabout, though it is a story for adults. A favorite novel, Once, Upon an Island, is set in St. Croix in 1965 and contains some strong autobiographical elements—my mother and I were there for two summers while she was painting. The main character is fifteen and meets a fascinating Czechoslovakian widow—the two begin a transformative relationship. The two novellas are under consideration as is a suspense novel, Doublecrossed. The previously mentioned The Psychologist’s Shadow is nearing submission. Because of Covid and the huge lag in time between acceptance through publication, a large number of projects have clustered over the last two years. 

A trite question, but… What one important piece of advice can you give aspiring writers?

As is often said, “Just do it.” So many people talk about writing a novel or poetry and never put pen to paper. To be a writer—besides being an inveterate reader—you have to show up and put in the hours. Discipline and hard work are critical—almost as important as talent. Learning your style takes time, but then one has to watch out for stylistic tics and get rid of them. Mastering punctuation and usage (The Chicago Manual of Style should be a dear pal) is becoming a lost art—even among so-called professional editors. Finally, writers tend to become high on the exhilarating fumes of creation and don’t take the time to distance themselves from their work. Finding smart readers and weighing their criticisms is essential as is thorough polishing and revising over many months—unfortunately, a novel is never really finished. I shudder at how many times I’ve discovered plot snags or cloudy paragraphs after 30 rounds. That’s why a brilliant copy editor is the most wonderful gift to a writer.

Anything you’d like to add?

When we talked on the phone recently, I remarked that you were an incredibly diligent and dedicated writer—and we commiserated about sharing these traits, which sometimes can make for a different kind of life. I also would add resilience to that list—I could easily paper every inch of my entire house with rejections. Not wilting or losing drive in the face of these daily onslaughts takes a measure of fortitude (or lunacy?). Your dedication, fluidity, and constant creative exploration have been inspiring for me, and I know many other poets and writers feel that way about you. 

If any of your readers would like more information about my publications, my website is: www.lauryaegan.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laury.egan/ I love to hear from readers!

Photo credits: Author photo by Vicki DeVico; Egan’s fine art photograph is “Santorini Chapel”

12 thoughts on “An Interview with Poet and Writer Laury A. Egan

  1. Karla and Laura you both have very similar traits as a writer and poet. I did enjoy reading your interview. Never realized what it takes to be a serious arts. By the way Karla you are doing great in your newest endeavors. We will have alot to share when the feast comes in November.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Louis–very astute of you to note our similarities. We met when I submitted a long poem, “The Sea,” to Karla for a journal and have shared our professional highs and lows ever since!

      Like

  2. I found this to be an insightful read and a thoroughly enjoyable interview. My curiosity is now eager to check out Laury’s artistry for myself. Thank you both.

    Liked by 1 person

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