Today I’m excited to host an interview with author Laurel Garver. I read Garver’s young adult novel, Never Gone last month. I really enjoyed the book, (read my review here) so I asked Laurel if she would answer a few questions. The interview is below, and her responses are definitely worth reading. I really enjoyed her comments about writing for young adults and writing from a Christian perspective.
Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
I grew up in north central Pennsylvania not far from The Office territory. To fend off crushing boredom, I joined every arty thing: band, choir, art club, school newspaper, and speech and drama. I often scribbled stories during class when my teachers thought I was taking copious notes. (As the youngest of five children, I have a bit of a mischievous streak.)
As an undergrad, I majored in English with a communications minor (lots of theatre classes) and studied abroad in the UK. I went on to earn a master’s in journalism while working full time as an editor in Philadelphia. I have 20+ years experience in trade, association, and academic publishing.
During my post-college years, I gravitated toward poetry and put much of my creative energy there. (My poetry collection, Muddy-fingered Midnights, includes some early work as well as many new pieces).From 1995-2000, I was editor and publisher of a Christian literary magazine, About Such Things. Through it, I got to know the philosophy PhD student who became my husband. Our daughter was born in 2002.
I grew restless as a stay-at-home mom, and a friend urged me to pick up writing again. Something inside me lit up when I unearthed character sketches for Danielle Deane, a grieving teen I’d first imagined while on a walk in 1992. I’d heard her voice tell me about her difficult relationship with her mother since her dad had died, and her struggles to hang onto her faith when her church-going parent had been snatched away and she was stuck with the atheist. I’d lost my own father to renal failure a few years before this, and it felt like the time had arrived to work through that loss. There was enough difference between Dani’s circumstances and mine to help me have creative distance, yet emotional truth.
It took six years of writing and revision, research trips to NYC and England, and critiques from three writing groups to get Never Gone into its final form.
What does a typical work day look like for you? How much time do you spend writing fiction compared to marketing, blogging, working another job, etc?
I work 5-6 hours each weekday as managing editor of a scholarly journal. My work load can fluctuate quite a bit seasonally, so I’m able to squeeze in research or social networking during quiet periods. For the most part, writing happens during my lunch hour, on the train, the late afternoon after work, or while my daughter is at her Irish dance or guitar lessons.
My evenings are typically filled with household chores (not cooking, thankfully–my hubby is our family chef), overseeing homework, going to the gym, critiquing for my CPs, and attending church activities. Once my daughter is in bed, I most often creatively recharge by reading. If I’m feeling energetic, I usually try to make connections online, research marketing opportunities, write blog posts, and schedule tweets.
What draws you to write young adult fiction?
What turned me on to reading, and continues to captivate me, are stories that explore the places where heart and soul are tested and growing up truly begins. Volunteering with my church youth ministry opened my eyes to how teens today struggle to be real in a culture that glorifies superficiality. When beauty, strength, and charisma are idolized, all the ways we are broken never see the light, never have a chance to heal. Instead, they fester under the surface, filling our lives with poison. So I write about kids in crisis who learn to let go of their pretensions and falseness and allow God to remake them as people who humbly hope, believe, and love.
As a Christian and a writer, I am intrigued by the intersection of faith with writing, especially fiction. Tell us about the decision to make Dani a Christian character. Did (or do) you feel any pushback from the Christian themes in your novel?
I knew from the get-go that faith would be at the core of Never Gone. When a person is grieving, spiritual questions about the nature of life and of a higher power naturally come up. My approach was simply to write through the eyes of a character for whom faith is a natural part of life. It’s Dani’s framework for understanding the world, just like her artistic ability is. The imagery and stories of her faith weave through her thought world as much as the language of painting and drawing. Readers walk with Dani through sadness, longing, first love, turmoil, broken relationships, confusion and doubt. She has to come to grips with what is really real, who God is, and how she must grow and change in order to become her best self.
I’ve tried to walk the fine line of emphasizing the universality of grief while making sure readers are aware there is Christian content, so no one is blindsided by it. The response to my themes and approach has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers have appreciated my willingness to explore the dark emotions of loss while affirming that we can talk (and holler and cry) to our Creator honestly about our pain, which at root is an expression of faith that He hears, cares, comforts and makes things new.
What is on the horizon for you? What books are next to be released?
I’m wrapping up the final chapters of a sequel to Never Gone that takes place the summer after Dani’s junior year. I also have two nonfiction books in the works, one of which I hope to release later this year, Writing When You Can’t Write. It will be full of tips and exercises to keep your writing projects on track, even when you can’t be at the keyboard.
Finally, I’m always looking for recommendations for young adult fiction. What are a few of your favorite young adult books or series?
There are so many! The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Summer to Die by Lois Lowry and pretty much everything by Sara Zarr and Deb Caletti. In terms of series, I adore J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, as well as Susan Howatch’s adult fiction Starbridge series and St. Benet’s series.
Thanks again to Laurel for her thoughtful responses!
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