An Interview with
Lori L. Lake

August 8, 2003

Angela Reese and Betty J. Crandall
(Also Known As The Washington State Tag Team)

Welcome to this Tag Team interview, Lori, which is brought to your readers by the Washington State Tag Team. For those who don't know, I'm Lori's webmaster, and this is Betty, one of Lori's favorite readers.
Betty: And congratulations on the new book, Lori. I've seen the advance copy, but Different Dress is out now, right?

Yes, it is. Just this week. And what a relief. It was a lot of work, but it's finally out.

Angela: How does it feel to be a published author?

It took a little while to sink in. I mean, I have always been a writer, but now I have four books published, I guess I can officially say that I am, indeed, an author. It feels like a lot more work than I had ever expected when I was younger and dreamed about writing a book, having it published, and then holding it in my hands. There's a lot to do what with the editing, proofing, and promoting. But it feels great to be following my dream of writing full-time. I get up most mornings ready and rarin' to go, and I could work 14 or 16 hour days easily if my partner didn't drag me away from the computer periodically.

Angela: How did you have time to write 5 books?

I'm not sure! Up until the end of last year, when I quit my day job, I wrote a lot after I got home from work and on the weekends. I always tell students and other writers that if you just write 300-500 words per day for a year, you'll have a book-length manuscript by Christmas. I should take my own advice more. I tend to be a binge writer and don't write every day, so to write the first books, I would work for long spurts and then not get back to the writing sometimes for days or weeks. Novels require concerted effort, and I tended to stick with one more or less permanently until it was done, but the book of short stories is comprised of pieces I have been working on periodically for years. I just finally had so many that there was enough for a whole collection.

Angela: Who inspired you to write a novel?

Good question. I think a lot of writers inspired me from Alice Walker to Ray Bradbury, Ellen Hart to Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Moon to Stephen King. When I started writing Ricochet In Time in 1992, I had no clue what I was doing, but I had read literally thousands of novels in my life, and I hoped that I had internalized enough of flow and structure to muddle my way through. It took me over three years to write that novel, and I did fourteen rewrites. I must have learned something from the experience, though, because then it took only about nine months to write the first draft of Gun Shy, and I only did three drafts before it went to the publisher to look at. I finished Different Dress in five months and two drafts. We won't talk about Under The Gun, though. That one was a monster to finish.

Angela: Who would you say is the most "enlightening" author for you?

Do you mean a non-fiction author writing about craft? Or a novelist?

Angela: I mean the author that really spoke to you. Your all time favorite who really moved you....but at the same time you said, "I could do this for my readers."

That would have to be Anne Tyler then. I started reading her books just out of college. In fact, we were supposed to read Searching For Caleb in my last English class my senior year, but we didn't get to it. So here I had a book that I didn't need for class and couldn't return, so I devoured it on our three-day trip when we moved from Oregon to Minnesota. I was struck by how Tyler made her characters deep without ever explaining much about them. It's what they did, where they went, and what they said that mattered. I don't remember that much about what any of the story people looked like, but the writing, the plot, and the lives of old Daniel, fortune telling Justine, and accident-prone Duncan Peck stick in my mind even 20 years later.

I next read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and it knocked my socks off. The characters were nothing like my family, and yet, all the same feelings came up when I read of Pearl Tull's family. I was just blown away and went on reading all of her stuff--well over a dozen books now. I've lost track of the number. I ended up doing my master's thesis on the family dynamics in Tyler's books, and she is the only author for whom I have all the works in paperback and most of it also in hardback.

So Anne Tyler was a real bellwether for me. After reading her novels, which are all about the difficulties families have in relating to one another, I realized that there is nothing wrong with writing about things that are not trendy and flashy or dangerous and shocking. A common person's life and experiences can be just as fascinating as a spy's or a thief's.

Betty: Do you find it's easier to create and write when your mind is agitated or clear?

I suppose I have to say "agitated" because my mind is so rarely "clear." I think my mind is a scary place! Sometimes I am writing to exorcise demons; sometimes to organize my thoughts; sometimes just to delineate a scene or character, but in all cases, I seem to start out in a jumbled state. Often, after I have been writing for a while, I get into a flow where my mind focuses very intently, and many times, hours pass. When that happens, my mind feels very clear and focused with little or no agitation. It might not be until I realize I am hungry or my back hurts that the flow gets interrupted. Then I'm back to the wild and crazy mind again. Actually, I call it my Monkey Mind--lots of characters and plots swirling around in there along with my household To Do lists, activities, birthday lists, etc.

Betty: Does everyday life and it's pressures interrupt your muse and make writing difficult?
Angela: Yeah, once you quit your day job, was it hard to find the time to write - since there are so many jobs around the house and errands to run? Do you find time just slips by... without getting any writing done. Or are you pretty religious about it?

I wish I was religious about it! Time just blows by and I don't know what happened to it. One day I was just sitting down to write and the phone rang. They were calling because the computer was goobered up at the church, so I went down and helped the secretary. I returned home an hour later, got a snack, settled in to work, and the phone rings again. It's my partner's elderly parents needing something. So I ran off to do an errand, stopped at the P.O. on the way back, then figured I might as well get some groceries we needed, so I did. By then it was nearly lunch time. I fixed a sandwich and took it in by the computer, and what happens? The doorbell rings. It's some guy selling beef steaks out of his refrigerated van. I can't get rid of him, so I finally tell him he's offending me because we're vegetarians, and he leaves. Now I am really cranky. I go back to my computer, and there's a frantic email message from my publisher. So I answer that and start to despair I will ever get a word on the page! In fact, I never did!

I really enjoy the days when there are no interruptions.

Angela: You didn't tell me you two became vegetarians!

We're not! But if it would help me get more writing done, I would surely consider it.

Betty: Besides the interruptions, is it sometimes difficult to get motivated to start writing? If so, how do you overcome the feeling, or can you?

Hmmm . . . it's not really difficult to get started--more like difficult to stay focused on a project. They take so long. A novel requires an incredible amount of time, energy, and intensity. I could start new stuff every month all year round; it's the finishing that's the trick.

One thing I have learned is that some stories can't be told in a fast fashion. I mentioned Under The Gun earlier. That was a tough one. I started it in June 2000 and wrote 31,000 words by the end of that month. And then the next three months I had a dry spell. In retrospect, it had to do with not knowing where the thing was going. I tend to write in blocks of scenes and not in an linear fashion, and I had written all the easy stuff from the first six or eight chapters as well as a couple later scenes, but then, I wasn't sure where it was headed, not even sure enough to be able to hook the scenes together thematically. I was agonized, too. I had to knock off for a while and let the plot percolate, and I had this terrible fear that I wouldn't go back to it. After all, I had read in Lawrence Block's books that if you don't stay with a project consistently and finish it, it would lose its intensity and you'd end up dumping the book. Well, I already had slaved over 31,000 words, and I was dreaming about Dez and Jaylynn and Luella . . . I couldn't just let it go! But it was the letting go that made the difference.

I came back to it in October with a vengeance. It still took me another full year to finish it--and it turned out to be 205,000 words long! So, Betty, I would have to say that for me, it's a combination of patience and percolation that enables me to start writing and keep on until the work is done. I have to re-remind myself of that with every novel. They don't all flow out easily, and I'm not Lawrence Block either.

Betty: Sometimes artists create their best works under horrific cicumstances. Does too much ease stunt creativity?

I know that's true of some writers, but I hope it's not true of me. I know that too many horrific circumstances will certainly stunt creativity, but I think I am doing what a great many of my fellow authors want to do: quit the day job and write full-time. It's been wonderful to write on a more natural timetable, to have time to think about my writing and read both fiction and non-fiction, not to mention having the time to do something I have always wanted to do, which is to teach. But I must admit being in a stressed time right now with the publication of one book just taking place and the next right up on my plate. I've been editing like crazy, and I wish I could just be done with it.

Angela: What are you teaching?

If all goes well, it's a class at The Loft Writing Center in Minneapolis, and I called it WRITING GAY & LESBIAN FICTION. I hope to get a whole crew of excited students. I can't wait!

Angela: How's that mainstream novel coming?

You are so funny, Ang! Betty, ever since I finished my first novel, Angela has been telling me that if I'd just write a novel with mainstream characters--

Betty: You mean straight characters?


Angela: Hey! You're a good writer, and you deserve a broader audience. That's all I mean. If you write something more mainstream, you can find a wider readership.

So we get back to the old question about whether a writer should write for the marketplace or write from the heart. It would be great for me if those two aspects were in sync with one another like they are for John Grisham or Janet Evanovich, however, most of the time, the main characters who come to me are gay and lesbian or sort of on the fringe. But I do have one character I keep dreaming about, and imagine my surprise when I dreamed about her a while back, and it became very clear to me that she is straight. Still, a secondary character, her sister, is a gay cop. I am working in my head on a mystery with these characters, and when I am ready to write that, I have high hopes that it might be interesting to my current audience as well as to a broader audience.

Betty: If you could create the perfect set-up in which to write, what would it be?

To be honest, I am not yet sure. I have been working from home now for about eight months, and I still have not settled entirely into a pattern. I continue to struggle with the fact that there are four processes going on simultaneously for me all the time:

1. Writing a new, first draft project;
2. Promotional work for whatever the last book was (lately that book is Different Dress);
3. Editing and proofing of the project the publisher will issue next;
4. Continued promotional work for all the old titles as well as some reviewing, some teaching, and some other editorial tasks to earn a little extra "coin of the realm" to live on.

All of this is going on at once, and I feel like I am spinning plates on sticks half the time. I can see now why so many authors have secretaries and publicists. Unfortunately, the niche for which I write is one that has small numbers of readers, and I am not going to become rich and famous writing lesbian drama/action/romance novels. But maybe if I were to set up the perfect arrangement, it would involve having someone else do the promotions work so I could focus more on writing.
I might also knock out the den wall here and enlarge my den. Ang, I will give email you a picture of my den that you can put at the bottom of this interview. It's scary.

Angela: So with all that going on, how do you balance your life and writing, too?

Again, I am still working on that. I don't think I balanced well at all when I was working at my stressful government job. In some ways, my writing was an escape from the job I used to have, which was taking years off my life. Writing allowed me to enter into another world where I could examine some of the same themes from my own life while also having control over the events--unlike my real life. My partner was very patient with me, but often she had to haul me out of my office chair and make me go to the movies or out to see friends.

Nowadays, I have more time for her, and I think we are enjoying our lives and each other a lot more. We've had time to go on a couple short vacations this summer, have had guests come stay, and have really had a pleasant summer in a lot of ways. I am also doing more tasks around the house, and I think that makes her life easier because she has a very demanding job.

For me, balance is going to be a difficult thing at times. I'm not only a binge/splurge writer, but everything in my life comes to me that way. I go on fanatical kicks to learn new things. There are so many things I want to do. For instance, I would really like to write non-fiction books about marketing and about the craft of writing, not to mention several different novels and numerous short stories. There isn't enough time in the day!

Right now I am nuts about studying the form and history of detective and mystery novels. I've always wanted to write a mystery, and I'm reading all sorts of non-fiction books about it (like Carolyn Wheat's HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION: The Funhouse of Mystery and Rollercoaster of Suspense). I tend to read and research about subjects that interest me until I finally grow tired of them - - and then I go gangbusters with the writing and incorporate what I have learned.

Betty: What brings you your best moments then (not counting your spouse's TLC)?

Laughter brings me a lot of my best moments. I like talking with people about the absurdity of the world, sharing funny stories, laughing with my sisters and Diane about all the oddball stuff that has happened to us--and continues to happen. Visiting with friends--old and new--makes me happy. Ideas intrigue me, and I like to discuss those things with others, and not necessarily with like-minded people. I am just as fascinated by people who hold opinions that are opposite from mine.

Angela: What are your future plans?

Just to keep on writing. I have a few different projects going, though I am not working on any of them at the moment due to all the editing and promotional stuff. I'll get back to them. I was looking the other day at my writing routine for the last few years (I keep track of how much time I spend and how many words I write), and I don't seem to get much writing done in July or August. Some of that is due to my partner being here, I think, and us doing things around the house, having visitors, and going places.

My best months for writing tend to be late September to early April. Let's hope I can finish up one of these monster projects then.

Angela: Okay, that's it for now. Thanks, Lori, and I'll get this slapped up on the site before too long.

All right. Thanks to both of you.

Betty: Go ahead and get back to work! We're waiting for the next novel. I have already read Different Dress and need something new soon.

Greedy, greedy, greedy. I will do what I can.

Lori's Computer Area of her Den

And here is Lori's Writing Desk

She was right -- a bit messy!

Filed: August 2003
By: A.E. Reese


© 2003 Lori L. Lake, Betty J. Crandall, and Angela E. Reese

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