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A Conversation with Laura Ellen Scott

To usher in her stint as Monthly Guest Blog Editor on The Spark, LAURA ELLEN SCOTT talks to Laura Ellen Scott about mystery/crime novels, Death Valley, writing ideas, forthcoming books, genre wars, and closet YA fantasy writers. Laura is the author of the novel, Death Wishing, a comic fantasy set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and Curio, a collection of 21 very short, creepy stories with illustrations by Mike Meginnis. She teaches fiction writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her latest novel, The Juliet, will be released by Pandamoon Publishing on March 22, 2016. Later in 2016, Pandamoon Publishing will release The Mean Bone in Her Body, the first novel in a trilogy called the New Royal Mysteries, set in a college/prison town in central Ohio.

LAURA ELLEN SCOTT: So now you’re a mystery/crime novelist? How’d that happen?
LAURA ELLEN SCOTT: Too slowly. It’s always been my preferred genre as a reader, and in my short stories I tend to use gothic-y, murder-y elements, but I write around and around them, diverting interest from the how-why-who to the nope-nope-nope. My first novel, Death Wishing, has a bit of intrigue in it, but the main focus is how the phenomenon of dying wishes coming true affects characters in post-Katrina New Orleans. In The Juliet, which comes out March 22, there’s lots of theft, murder, and mania related to the search for a cursed emerald in Death Valley, and those scenes were deeply satisfying to write. I also found a 90k, unfinished manuscript that is a straight-up murder mystery about the adult children of a famous cartoonist. I’d published a short story from that in an online issue of Mississippi Review when Anthony Neil Smith was editing, but the novel as a whole is a mess, very exposing.

It wasn’t until I read Stephen Dobyns that it clicked for me, and I wrote a 60-page story very quickly, gave it to some friends who enjoyed it, including mystery writer Art Taylor. He confirmed that it was indeed a mystery story—something I wasn’t sure about. That story became the first part of The Mean Bone in Her Body, which will come out at the end of 2016 and is the first book in my New Royal Mysteries series. I think I get it now.

Why do writers freak out when someone asks them where they get their ideas?
I know, that’s the most common question, isn’t it? I try to be ready for it with a solid, entertaining answer that takes the questioner seriously. I’d go farther than that and say a writer’s reaction to the question is a good gauge—maybe not of their writing but of their character. Same with animals—the way a writer is around cats or dogs would definitely affect whether I’d buy their book.

How can I write a novel really quickly?
Understand what a scene is, then write a whole bunch of them in a row.

Why are so many people writing vampire, zombie, and YA fantasy novels in secret?
Oh, because clearly the genre wars are over. That’s a joke. One of the main anxieties I had in joining Pandamoon Publishing was that they were so commercially inclined, and I had no experience with that reading culture. I couldn’t see where I fit in, having spent my entire adult life in academic literary environments that haven’t always been respectful of popular fiction. Things are changing, though—there are more fabulists in academic programs, and more “lit” writers playing with conventions and finding pleasure in them. There’s also been a real influx of nerd-sexy in the non-literature subgroups in English departments, and that’s been huge. It’s important to note that pop genre fiction normalizes diversity with greater speed and grace than literary fiction. I see that in the writing classes I teach. But that doesn’t answer the question. In my personal experience, the folks I know who are writing genre novels in secret are people who have achieved the professional goals that were expected of them, and now they feel like they have security, if not complete permission, to pursue dreams.

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