interview by Anne-Marie Strohman
We’d like to welcome debut author Laura Stegman to the blog! Her novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., which focuses on three kids who need to find their voices in different ways, will debut September 15, 2020.
KidLit Craft: Briefly tell us about yourself as an arts publicist and a novelist. Feel free to include your acting background too!
Laura Stegman: From an early age, I dreamed of being an actress. With a degree in Drama from UC Irvine, I pursued that goal, living the “starving artist” life for a few years. Then I fell into a publicist job at a PR firm. And guess what? I turned out to be good at it! Acting lost its luster.
Eventually, I opened my own publicity firm to represent arts organizations and individuals. Over time, as I communicated with the media about my clients, I discovered a love of storytelling. That led first to some free-lance non-fiction writing assignments for newspapers and magazines. Then, one day almost two decades ago, after I’d re-read my favorite childhood book for the *millionth* time, I decided to translate my love of storytelling into creating a middle grade novel that became Summer of L.U.C.K.
Although I’d already developed excellent business writing skills, my fiction abilities were nonexistent. It took work with an amazing developmental editor and making connections in the writing community — other writers, bloggers, agents, editors, critique partners and Beta readers – to learn everything I know (and am still learning).
After too many revisions to count, Summer of L.U.C.K. was acquired last year by INtense Publications. Set for release on September 15, it’s the story of three kids finding their way to self-acceptance with the help of a ghost who haunts a magical carnival. I may have given up on my acting career, but I never gave up on Summer of L.U.C.K.
KLC: What of your experience with acting and publicity have helped you with other aspects of publishing a novel? (Feel free to include tips for our readers.)
LS: My acting and publicity careers have served as an important foundation to my work in the publishing world. Before I’d ever written a query letter, researched an agent or received my first rejection letter, I had years of experience traveling a somewhat related road.
One of the most basic tasks in my life as a publicist (also known as a press agent) is pitching the media to write about my clients. To succeed, I must convince them why such press coverage will interest the media outlet’s readers. Sound familiar, right? It’s similar to how authors query agents.
And like querying, acting is full of rejection. Give up, and you’re done.
So, armed with an actress’ resilience in the face of rejection and a publicist’s ability to attract a reader’s eye, I have been well trained for an author’s career. As Lady Gaga says, “If you have a dream, fight for it.”
KLC: What of your experience acting and in publicity helped you in writing your novel?
LS: Like most authors, I develop a back story for each character. But as I write fiction, especially when I struggle with the narrative, I virtually “act out” character reactions as if I’m playing them, same as I would have done to prepare for an acting role. This technique improves my ability to describe feelings, gestures, reactions, etc. It helped enormously with Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s Darby, the character I related to the most. But it also worked for Darby’s friends, Naz and Justin, and Mr. Usher, the ghost whose magic carnival helps them all find their voices.
KLC: What was different about writing a novel from what you expected?
LS: When I turned to fiction, I expected my business writing credits to easily transfer. I was wrong. Although a publicity pitch needs to immediately grab the reader’s attention, just like the first sentence of a novel, that’s about where similarities end.
Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s first draft couldn’t be more different from the version that INtense acquired. It took a long time to bring L.U.C.K. up to standards that attracted a publisher. For example:
- I made big mistakes switching POV, because there’s no such thing in publicity writing.
- Even though complex language is right for press releases, it’s wrong for kids’ books. So after critique partners kept asking, “Will middle grade readers understand this?” I ended up eliminating words too advanced for the genre.
- Press kits are supposed to contain an overstock of information, but with Summer of L.U.C.K., I had to cut scene after scene that failed to move the narrative forward.
- And most of all, I had to learn about “show not tell,” which, frankly, improved my publicity writing.
KLC: What lessons did you learn in translating your acting and publicity work to novel writing that would be helpful to other writers?
LS: Here are a few tips that have helped me:
- I polish my publicity skills by keeping up with a long list of media outlets, and I’ve made it a habit to jot down phrases and quotes as inspiration for one thing or another. As an author, I enhance my craft the same way. When a line in a book, news story or anything, really, stands out, I note it in a journal. Then, when I’m stuck over how to describe something – scenery, for example – I look through the journal, not to copy another writer, certainly, but to trigger ideas. You never know where you might find inspiration. Frankenstein, oddly enough, has one of the most beautifully written scenery descriptions I’ve ever read.
- I once worked with a publicist who taught me to polish my pitching skills by finding a media story and coming up with a pitch letter that the publicist might have written to prompt it. As an author, I’ve practiced crafting queries and elevator pitches as if I were querying one of my favorite published books.
- In publicity work, I constantly use the internet for research. As an author, I constantly check out author web sites, writers groups, agent pages, and writer-related hashtags on Twitter, to name just a few. These and other online resources devoted to helping writers develop their skills, like KidLit Craft, are gold.
- Keep writing. There are no limits to our dreams!
Laura Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., will be published September 15, 2020, by INtense Publications, followed by a sequel in 2021.
For more of our Day Job Connection series, check out these posts:
Anne-Marie Strohman (co-editor) writes picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult short stories and novels. She is trained as a teacher, an editor, and a scholar, specializing in Renaissance Literature. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an active member of SCBWI. Find her at amstrohman.com and on Twitter @amstrwriter.