This is what you have been waiting for, so get comfy! You can read my January 18 post for my review of Bitter, Sweet – but now it is my great pleasure to introduce Laura Best, author of Bitter, Sweet. Laura has lived in the small community of East Dalhousie, Nova Scotia her entire life. Her fiction has been published in literary magazines across Canada, including The Antigonish Review, Grain, and Room, and she was a contributor to two Christmas anthologies published by Nimbus. In 2003, her short story “Alexander the Great” was nominated for the Journey Prize.
Laura, welcome to my blog. I’m delighted to have you as my first interview participant. To start things off, please tell us a little about yourself.
Nice of you to invite me to your blog, Lynn. Besides being a writer, I’ve been married for thirty-one years. I have three children, two girls and a boy, and last year I became a grandmother for the first time. I belong to the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia and I’m also a member of CANSCAIP. I’m very much interested in local history, and I’m a member of the local museum Society as well as a volunteer with the local church.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?
Although I enjoyed writing at a very young age, and continued to write through high school, I never considered it seriously as an option until after the birth of my third child. That was when I realized that I needed to do something for me, and right away I knew that ‘something’ was writing. Did anyone in particular inspire me? Not really, it was more of a matter of necessity in the very beginning, a strong need to express myself with words.
As a writer, do you do much reading? Who were/are your favourite authors or books?
Because a lot of my time is spent writing I don’t get to read as much as I’d like to, but I think I read a fair bit. A day does not go by that I don’t read something. There are a lot of authors whose work I really enjoy: Donna Morrissey, Jill MacLean, Christy Ann Conlin, Syr Ruus, Jan Coates, Ami MacKay, I could go on and on. Some of these are writers that I’ve met within the past two years whose work I thoroughly enjoyed.
Have you ever felt like giving up? When did you finally believe in yourself so you can say “I am a writer”?
It took quite a few years and a few published stories under my belt before I really believed that I was a writer. When I could actually tell others that I was a writer without a flicker of self-consciousness then I knew deep in my heart that I was. For many years I was a closet writer. Very few people knew my secret. I didn’t know anyone else who wrote and I was about as removed from the writing community as anyone would want to be. I didn’t even know a writing community existed. Writing in isolation like that takes a lot of determination. I might not have felt like a writer back then, but I was determined that one day I would. So much has changed for me since then. I’ve met more writers this past year than I could ever have imagined. My oldest daughter is also a writer and last Fall we both had work published in the same issue of R.E.A.L. Seems like I’m surrounded by writers and it feels pretty good.
As far as giving up goes, I think most writers feel like giving up at some point. Writing is not for wimps. It’s a lot of hard work with many disappointments along the way. My times of discouragement are always short-lived because when I’m completely honest with myself I know that I couldn’t give up. Even if I never had another thing published I would still write.
Do you have a motto or Bible verse or quote that you try to live by and that helps to keep you going?
I do have a favourite verse from the Bible. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” I truly believe that everything happens in its own time and that we need to have patience and faith. I try to keep in mind that no matter what is happening in my life that there is a purpose.
What do you remember about your very first time to be published, how did that happen?
My very first publication came in 1993. It was a short story that I submitted to The Amethyst Review, a literary journal right here in Nova Scotia. I saw an article about the journal in the Chronicle Herald and it mentioned that they were one of very few journals who offered feedback on the submissions. Since I’d never received any feedback it sounded like a good idea. I submitted the first time and my story was rejected, but then I reworked the story with the suggestions they had offered and it was accepted.
That must have been exciting! What have you had published thus far? Of those, what do you most enjoy writing?
So far my list of publications includes over forty short stories published in literary magazines, some non-fiction articles, pieces in two Christmas anthologies and a farm anthology published by Nimbus Publishing. My debut young adult novel, Bitter, Sweet was published in 2009 by Nimbus Publishing. As for a preference, I enjoy writing from a child’s perspective, for me it wouldn’t matter if it was a short story or a novel. I’m happiest writing either.
That’s a wonderful list of accomplishments. What process do you go through when writing and perfecting a book or article?
I usually spend some time thinking about the story I want to write before I begin. When I’m writing fiction I always need to have a character in mind before I start writing. I sometimes jot down notes as ideas sometimes come to me at the oddest times and when I’m no where near my computer. I’m not one of those writers who work from an outline. For me, it’s sometimes a matter of showing up on the page each day to see what will happen. I sometimes get surprised! When I’m not writing I’m often thinking about my characters and getting to know them better. I tend to edit as I write, and will go over a paragraph or sentence many times until I’m satisfied with the way it sounds.
What inspired you to write Bitter, Sweet?
The inspiration for Bitter, Sweet came from a newspaper clipping that I’d saved for a number of years about a family of kids who get in some trouble with the law. I saved the clipping thinking that a similar situation might one day make a good scene for a story. I wasn’t sure in the beginning if it would be a short story or something longer. Then one day out of the blue a line came to me. Turns out it was spoken by Pru, the eldest daughter in the book. When I got further into the story I began to see that it was going to be much longer than a short story and as more and more ideas came to me I knew I was writing a young adult novel.
How long did it take you to write Bitter, Sweet? Did you have to do any research? And how did you come up with that title?
Bitter, Sweet came about very quickly and ideas seemed to flow quite freely. I think I wrote it in about three or four months. Setting it in the community where I live I think helped immensely. It was easy to write about the things I grew up knowing about.
Although I had some knowledge of healing plants I needed to do more research on that topic. I had to check to make sure that the deadly nightshade plant actually grew in Nova Scotia. I was pretty sure it did but since it plays such an important role in the story I had to be positive.
The title is in reference to the deadly nightshade plant or bittersweet. The Publisher wanted to keep the title I had chosen because they felt it was the perfect title for the book even though there were many books on the market with bittersweet in them. The comma between the two words was the publisher’s idea to help set it apart from other books with the same title. Now that I’m used to the comma I couldn’t imagine it not being there.
Did you write a little of yourself into any of the characters? Do you have a favourite?
It’s difficult for a writer to choose a favourite character. We tend to like all the characters we create on some level. But if I had to choose, I’d probably say that Pru would be at the top of my list.
I think most authors put a bit of themselves into their characters. It would be difficult not to. I enjoyed writing the character of Issy the most, and her dialogue seemed to come so easily. Since I happen to share some of Issy’s beliefs, I’d probably answer yes to that question. I can see some of my own traits in Issy.
How did you go about finding a publisher? an editor? and do you have an agent yet?
So far I’ve hardly given any thought to acquiring an agent, but one never knows what the future will hold. When I submitted a synopsis of my story and a few sample chapters to Nimbus I waited about eight months before I heard anything. At that point I was asked to submit the entire manuscript. Four months after that I received a call from Penelope Jackson, the Children’s Book Editor. Nimbus wanted to publish my book. When it came time to edit the book Caitlin Drake was assigned as my editor. She was wonderful to work with. The rest is history.
Bitter, Sweet has been on a thrilling publicity ride. Besides your book making an appearance in the Hallmark movie November Christmas, tell us what honours this book has received thus far.
Last July, Bitter, Sweet was shortlisted for the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. This is a national award presented by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre in Toronto and it was an honour and a thrill to be nominated alongside some of Canada’s best known YA writers.
You are not only a writer but you have a job to go to every day, so how do you find time to write when you are busy with life?
Since my job allows me to have months off at a time I probably am fortunate to have more writing time than writers who hold down a year round job. Oddly enough, it is during those times when I am working that I tend to get more writing done. When my time is limited I make writing a priority. I set aside a specific time to write in the evening and I try my best to stick with it.
What other interests do you have for a change from writing?
My others interests would naturally include reading, but I’ve been known to do a little knitting as well. While I like to try new things I also know that any other hobbies would take time away from writing.
How do you consistently write? Do you have writing goals?
While the idea of writing goals sounds appealing to me, and I know having goals works well for others, I haven’t found that to be the case for me. Setting goals doesn’t allow for those unexpected things that crop up, revisions that you hadn’t planned on, a new plot twist, those kinds of things. I do like to keep a record of my daily word count so that I can at least look back on the progress I’ve made so far.
Do you have another project in the works? Any hints you can share with our readers about that?
I’m working on another novel at the moment. I don’t often discuss my work with others. All I will say is that it is young adult and set in a fictitious community in Nova Scotia.
Oh, that sounds intriguing, I look forward to reading it. Finally, do you have any advice for hopefuls?
The best advice I can give to hopefuls it to write as much and as often as you can. Pay close attention to any comments that editors send your way. Forget the notion that your work can not stand to be improved upon. Everything can be improved. You’ll start to know when you’re getting closer to publication. Those comments will be laced with a sweet touch of sugar as your writing get stronger. Lastly, don’t give up. If you believe in your talent keep working at it, perfect it to the place where someone will want to publish it.
Great advice! Thank you so much for this interview, Laura. It’s been fun learning more about you and I wish you much continued success.
Readers, I hope you enjoyed getting to know Laura Best a little better. Visit her blog, being sure to check out her Publications link and her November 29 post: http://www.lauraabest.wordpress.com
Also, Nimbus Publishing generously donated a copy of Bitter, Sweet for me to offer here. Check them out at: http://www.nimbus.ns.ca
Would you like a chance at winning this copy of Laura’s book? Simply post a comment here on my blog, telling what you most enjoyed in the interview. Enter only once, please. I will put the entries into a basket and at 9:00 pm (8:00 EST) on February 14 – Valentine’s Day – my husband will draw out the winner’s name. I will contact that person for his/her mailing address. If I do not get a reply by 8:00 pm EST on February 21 we will select another name – so check back!
Thanks so much for reading my first interview, and … Creative Musings!