Laura Kalpakian is a well-known Bellingham author who has published 10 books. To my great satisfaction, she agreed to an interview with Village Books before introducing a colleague and fellow-author, Priscilla Long, at a LIT LIVE event in September. We sat down for a latte and a chat about the art and craft of writing.--Cindi
VB: Laura, How do you get ideas for your books?
Laura: I often stew on an idea for years, reworking in my mind, some little morsel or irritation, some fascinating bit of info. These will resolve themselves into a central character. And then the story comes and develops momentum. As a writer I am often a slave to my characters.
VB: Tell me more about the kind of characters and themes in your novels.
Laura: My characters are the same kind of people who interest me in real life. They are people who are ambivalent, who don't have all the answers, complex people reacting to complex circumstances. Thematically, F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, 'No writer has more than two good ideas.' I think that's true. Writers tend to develop the same themes over a career.
VB: Your most recent novel was American Cookery. How did the theme of cooking come about?
Laura: I love to cook. When you cook for someone, you get instant feedback because their response is immediate. That's very gratifying. When you send a book out into the world, years may pass before you get response. In American Cookery I took a motley group of Americans, and explored their stories through the food they ate, the recipes their families handed down, and how those changed over time.
VB: In your novel, The Memoir Club, you draw on a group of strong women who are working on their own memoirs. Can you tell me more about this novel?
Laura: I've taught creative writing and memoir writing for years. In these classes, I've met wonderful people, some of whom have become good friends. The characters in my novel are all my own creation, but the situation came out of my teaching experience. Talking or writing about the past draws people together, which is what happens in The Memoir Club.
I love the memoir as a genre; memoirs codify the past, give shape to the past.
VB: Has your writing style changed over the years?
Laura: Yes, it has. I am more conscious now in striving to capture the well-formed sentence. As a consequence, my stories are shorter, more concise. Writing is like anything else, the more you do it, the more you practice, the better you become. I write 6 hours a day, every day. Writing novels is different than real life because everything in a novel has significance, but that's not true in real life
VB: What do you think about the rise in Book Groups forming across the country?
Laura: Writing and reading are both utterly solitary activities. In a book group the reader is brought into a community of others, and the conversations come out of a shared experience, each one bringing their own perspective. I think book groups are great for readers as well as writers.
VB: You've spoken to the Village Books Book Group, as a guest author, when we read your book, The Memoir Club. Would you be available to meet with other local book groups?
Laura: I have often met with book groups and enjoy talking with readers.
VB: Thank you, Laura, for your insights and discussion about writing and book groups. Laura is currently working on a new novel, but says we will have to wait and see what it is about...