Hello folks, today we have Laurie Stevens visiting Ginger Nut Towers. Laurie is a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright.She has written for television, film. Her stage play, “Follow Your Dreams” ran for eight weeks in Los Angeles.
She has had many articles and short stories appear in publications her new novel “The Dark Before Dawn,” which is the first in a psycho-thriller/detective series based in Los Angeles, has just been released, and has gained a Kirkus Award.
Hi Laurie how are things with you?
Great, Jim. Thanks for asking!
Can you give us some background information on your good self?
Well, I’ve worked behind the scenes in the entertainment field, in television production and promotion. Then I switched gears and went into the music industry, working for Columbia Records and then a newspaper! I guess I’ve been around. Today, I write mostly and I am married and have a two kids.
In five words describe yourself?
Focused, Intense, Imaginative, Optimistic & Communicative
And in five words can you describe the person you aspire to be?
Content, content, content, content & content.
You have always been in and around the media, what drew you a career in the media?
Honestly, what drew me is that I hoped that if I worked behind the scenes, I could somehow get to
the front of the scene. Word of advice: don’t do that. If you’re a writer, just write.
What did your love the most about it, and what about it annoyed you the most?
What did I love about it? It’s a great place to work when you are young and single. I used to trade music with my friends at the studios for premiere passes and screening tickets, and that was a lot of fun. It’s a pretty crazy industry, and, as in any industry you’ll definitely find things that annoy you, but for the most part, I found working in the entertainment industry… entertaining!
You spent some time at Columbiarecords, are you a music fan, and did you get to meet any of your favourites?
I am a music fan and I did get to meet some favourites. It was not unusual to share an elevator ride with a famous person. I remember pointing at nice gentleman one morning and saying, “You are… ” and he answered politely, “Michael Bolton.” Something for which I’m very grateful was the chance to see Michael Jackson perform, up close and personal. He was the consummate entertainer. He worked very hard for his audience.
Have you any good stories you can share?
My first job out of the university was working for a mega-manager who had an incredibly large ego. One of my main jobs was to babysit his girlfriend, who always seemed to need babysitting because she was usually on one drug or another. One day, she took every piece of clothing out of her closet, got into the Mercedes Benz, took off, and dumped all her clothes on someone’s lawn. I had to scramble after her and pick up all the clothes. I had to convince her to return home. One time, she got away from me and I had to tell the mega-manager that I didn’t know where she had gone. I had never heard a heard a grown man scream like that, nor have I ever heard it since. I do remember going to target practice soon afterwards with my father. I pointed the gun, pretended the face on the target was the mega-manager, and I made every shot!
Throughout your varied career you always wrote, why do you write? Is it something you have to do?
I did find out that it’s something I have to do. I tried to give it up once and it didn’t work. No matter what happens, a writer writes simply because he or she has a message to convey. I don’t know where that message comes from, but it will drive you crazy until you put pen to paper.
And if you didn’t write what other creative outlet do you think you would do?
Music. I sometimes fantasize about actually being able to play the piano well.
And who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?
I grew up with Stephen King. I think I cut my reading teeth on The Shining. But believe it or not, Pearl S. Buck’s “The Good Earth” had a big effect on my writing. If you’ve read the book, you’ll see the way she infuses her main characters with so much human intuition, it’s easy to see their souls. That’s an amazing gift and one I would love to aspire to.
If you had to be pigeonholed what genre would you say you write in?
That’s tough, because I think this series crosses genres. If I were to be pigeonholed, I’d have to go with suspense, because not all the books in the series will be true “who-dunnits.”
Who are your favourite authors and what is it about them that you love?
I enjoy Thomas Harris (after all, he created Hannibal Lecter). Edgar Allen Poe, because he used his words so effectively and knew how to set a scene. Tess Gerritsen is always good to read. And I have a host of poets that I get inspired by over and over again, like Longfellow and Wordsworth.
Before we chat about your novel, I’d like to talk about some other aspects of your writing. Can you tell us about your screen writing?
I always thought that would be my only goal – to write for film or television. The opportunities are here. I have a wonderful mentor named Ronald Jacobs (writer/director/producer The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy, That Girl, The Dick Van Dyke show) who has helped my screenwriting immensely. Ronnie and I co-wrote a stage play called “Follow Your Dreams” which ran for eight weeks in Los Angeles, and that was my first foray into being a playwright. We also wrote a film script called “Tarnished Gold” for Footprint Films.
Did you get to meet Chris Isaak, when you wrote the screenplay his Guide to the New OrleansJazz and Heritage Festival?
Unfortunately, I did not. His part did not need to be scripted. My obligations fell solely within writing about New Orleans and what to do there on a long weekend. It’s my understanding that this show was the last taped footage of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit.
You have also written for John Daly, how did this come about?
A writer/editor friend asked me to co-write with her on a project for John Daly’s Film and Entertainment. It’s called “The Ghost and the Gangster” and is based on the true story of a certain psychic to the stars. Well, this psychic apparently aided gangsters in their sixth sense endeavours as well. As my co-writer and I researched the project, we did interviews. I have a clear memory of sitting in a room with a gentleman who had black hair, wore black clothing, black sunglasses (inside, mind you) and who told me I wasn’t smiling enough. You can bet I pasted a goofy smile on my face for the rest of the interview. This same fellow ended up being part of a particularly large crime family indictment that took place a couple of years ago. I know if I ever see him again, I will be sure to smile!
Does screen writing throw up different challenges to that of writing a novel? And how do you go about overcoming them?
Oh yes. Well, first of all, you’ve got two very different mediums. The formats are obviously different. With screenplays, you have the chance to show off your abilities to create dynamic dialogue. Film is visual, so that’s where you want to concentrate your magic and it has to flow — there are no chapter breaks! A book is almost tactile. Your use of words is where the magic lies, in order to evoke emotions, descriptions, etc. For instance, in The Dark Before Dawn, a killer is loose. Is it the detective himself? You don’t really know what the killer looks like, because he’s in disguise. The disguise can be very subtle in the novel because the reader will use his own imagination to fill in the blanks of this character’s description. In the film version, everyone sees the killer. I cannot make a subtle disguise because the viewer will recognize him the next instant he appears. So you see, this presents a challenge. How do you overcome it? You just have to get creative and not be afraid to make changes so the mechanics work.
Have you hung up your screenwriting boots, or will we see you returning to it in the future?
Definitely not hung up. Currently at work on a project!
You have written a number of short stories over the years, what prompted you write a novel?
I think I had a bigger story to tell. Again, when you talk about formats, a short story is a compact piece of entertainment. I wanted to write something you could sink your teeth into over a longer period of time.
The Dark Before The Dawn, is the title descriptive of the some of the plot points and general direction of the narrative?
100%. The overall theme of the novel is about delving into the darkness we carry within us and facing the fear that comes along with that.
Can you tell the readers what the story is about? And why you think they should pick this book up?
The story revolves around a troubled detective, Gabriel McRay, who is fired from the Sheriff’s Department for police brutality. Gabriel’s problems stem from the blocked memory of a childhood trauma.
When a killer begins leaving notes on his victim’s bodies addressed to Gabriel, the detective is hired back to lure in the killer. With his career dependent on the whims of a psychopath, Gabriel soon realizes that the killer’s identity hides within his blocked memory. Teamed with his forensic pathologist girlfriend and a psychiatrist, Gabriel runs two parallel investigations. The first: a dark journey into the terrifying recollections of his past, and the second: the hunt for a serial killer who seems to know more about Gabriel… than he knows himself.
I believe readers will enjoy the fast pace and the suspense. It also serves as a half-demented self-help book, because the novel’s overlying theme explores the fear we face in facing our fears. Readers I’ve talked to are also entranced by the romantic element in the book, and often ask me if the relationship between the two main characters will continue its development in the future books. The answer is yes.
Psychology plays a large part in the story, how much research did you do for the novel? Did you call on any favours to ensure this element felt correct?
A lot and Yes. Different things interest different people. I’m a big fan of forensics and psychology. When I first began my research, a psychologist friend was happy to clean out her study and give me books and research papers on the effects of childhood trauma. Because my goal was to write a book and not to get capitol letters following my name, I had the luxury of choosing what psychological elements best fit my ideas for the plot. Being as true to life as possible is important to me, so I do ask friends in the psychology world, the legal world, and the world of forensics to read my drafts and give commentary. I usually return the favour by taking them out to lunch or coffee, and this allows me to pick their brains even more!
The novel is set in an around where you live and work, how important is the setting of a novel to
Extremely important. Your setting is going to give you your atmosphere. It’s going to allow you believable character types. I’m pretty certain that just about anybody living anywhere could write something interesting about their location. An imagination can do that for you.
Did you ever consider setting it in a fictional town?
Not with Los Angeles around. If I were to write a fantasy, it might be useful to create a fictional world. But for crime or suspense genres, I feel the more real the locale, the more impact the plot has.
The novel was selected by Kirkus reviews as a best of 2011, that’s pretty good going for a debut novel. How did you feel about this when you first found out?
I have to admit, Kathy (go-to person, publicist, and all-around great gal) and I jumped up and down.
I’m really intrigued by part of their review
“Readers will relate to the San Francisco and Los Angeles settings, and Stevens’ allusions to “Cask of Amontillado” and Frankenstein craft a story immersed in theater, disguise and secrecy.”
Can you talk about these allusions, or are they to central to key plot points that it would lessen the impact when reading the novel?
The Cask of Amontillado has a particular theme of vengeance which does play a part in the novel, so I won’t spoil that end of it, but it also refers to a theatre performance that takes place in the book. I’ve always enjoyed a good creaking old house story myself, so I use the atmosphere that I enjoy. For instance, the Sutro Bath ruins in San Francisco appear in the book. Why? Because I can take advantage of that fog-settling-into-the-dark-mouths of-caves element to set a particularly chilling scene. It makes the writing fun.
Are those astrology symbols on the knife blade on the cover? So what sign are you, I’m a Capricorn, and folk have been calling me an old goat for years.
I’m a Capricorn as well so that makes me an old goat, too. But no, the symbols on the cover are actually the seven chakras – spiritual power points along the body. These energy portals play a significant role in the novel.
How did you feel on the lead up to book’s publication? And how does it feel that it has now been released onto the world?
Every step of the way is a new learning experience. How does it feel now that the novel is out and about? Really great. It’s no good to write something only to have it sit on a shelf and yellow. Again, it’s about the message you feel you have to put out there. If you don’t get the opportunity to express yourself, it burns at you.
On that note, how do you get your literary offspring noticed out there in the big bad world of publishing?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? How do you get noticed among the many other literary works out there? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think the cream should rise to the top. Your writing should be the best it can be. For me, that means research, rewrites, getting editors to look at my work, and then polishing the piece until it shines. Good is okay, great is memorable. Readers need to decide how they want to spend their time and what kind of payoff they want to have at the end of the read. A new writer should enter contests, get as many reviews as he can, work the social media angle (I mean, what better way can you reach thousands of different people?). I’ve also found that word of mouth still goes a long way.
A lot of writers think that once the book is loaded up on Amazon, the job is done, whereas some other authors appear to do nothing but spam social networking sites with links to their latest magnum opus, what’s your take on this?
I don’t want to bombard people with “Hey, look at me! And while you’re at it, look at me again!” But I do Facebook and “tweet” about interviews such as this, because, believe it or not, people read them.
I’ve promised people on my email list that I will email them only when I have something important going on – like whether or not a film option takes or when the next book is coming out. But a writer is crazy if he thinks that distribution is enough of an effort. Marketing is key.
So what can we expect from you in the future?
More books in the series, for sure. And we are bringing that stage play, “Follow Your Dreams” to a bigger theatre. Hopefully, it will tour as well.
And do you have any final words for the readers?
Demand quality. My aim is to invite the reader to sit down, buckle up and get ready for a literary thrill ride, filled with twists and turns. I hope to leave you breathless at the end, and saying, “Wow, what a read!”
You can find out more about Laurie at her website
And You can purchase her book by clicking the buttons below
High in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, grisly murders are taking place. On each of the victim’s bodies a note is left for L.A. Sheriff’s detective, Gabriel McRay. The killer’s identity is locked in the suppressed memory of a horrifying trauma from Gabriel’s own childhood.
Teamed with his forensic pathologist girlfriend and his psychiatrist, Gabriel runs two parallel investigations. The first: a dark journey into the terrifying recollections of his past and the second: the hunt for a serial killer who seems to know more about Gabriel… than he knows himself.