Funny, fantastic and weird books with Laurie Foos

On the Why We Write podcast: Laurie Foos is the author of sometimes funny, always fascinating fabulist fiction, including her most recent novel, The Blue Girl, as well as a foray into realistic fiction with her novella Toast. In this interview we talk about moon pies, autism, and writing unusual stories.

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Episode notes

Laurie Foos is the author of seven novels and novellas. As she explained in a New York Times interview, “I want to push the limits of reality, to make things seem absurd and grotesque in order for the reader to see things in a new way.” For example, in Ex Utero a woman loses her uterus in a shopping mall. In The Blue Girl, the lives of three sets of mothers and daughters are overshadowed by the appearance of a blue girl, to whom the mothers feed moon pies in secret. 

Laurie's work has been categorized as fabulist and magical realism while addressing issues of family, suburban malaise, and the role of women.

She is currently on the faculty of Lesley University’s low-residency MFA Program. In this interview, she speaks with Georgia Sparling.

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  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling: Hi, my name is Georgia Sparling. Today, I'm here with Laurie Foos, a member of our creative writing faculty and the author of seven novels and novellas, including her most recent titles, The Blue Girl and Toast, both of which we're going to talk about today. Laurie, thank you so much for joining me today.

    Laurie Foos: Thank you so much for having me.

    Georgia: I would like to start by reading a quote of yours from a New York Times article back in 1995. You can tell me if it still holds true today.

    Laurie: Of course.

    [laughter]

    Georgia: You said, "I am not interested in writing the traditional realistic story. I want to push the limits of reality to make things seem absurd and grotesque in order for the reader to see things in a new way. I like to bring to the surface what others don't want to look at, even what I don't want to look at." Is this still true and why do you write?

    Laurie: Yes, I think it's still true. The new book, Toast, is the first realistic piece that I've ever published in, I don't know, 30 years or something. That the last realistic thing I could remember writing, maybe it was that long ago. I'm trying to think about, I've been asked this question many times about why I write the way that I do. I think I was heading in a direction after coming out of college that I was moving into not quite fantastical or magical realist or absurdist, but things that were pushing the boundaries. A little bit quirky maybe was a word. I actually started to hate that word, quirky.

    I think Flannery O'Connor was definitely a big influence, Kafka was definitely a big influence on me, but it took me a long time. It's interesting how influence works because I didn't see that influence in my work until actually after I finished my MFA. I studied the MFA at Brooklyn College with two writers who started the Fiction Collective, which is an alternative press. They were tired of being rejected by the large presses. They each had novels with large presses and then decided that they were just going to do their own thing and not deal with the big New York houses. They started Fiction Collective.

    It was Jonathan Baumbach who actually recently passed away in March and Peter Spielberg, who were both experimental writers. They really encouraged me to go in that direction, to go on a much more nontraditional direction. Then as I started reading more and more of things like Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover and writers who were more experimental, I started to move in that direction but that didn't actually happen until after I was finished with my MFA. It's interesting how that all takes so much time to percolate.

    Something I try to tell the students here is that your work continues to evolve and change after a program. I think it's still the work that when I'm looking for work to read myself, the work that I like, it's not that I dislike the realistic writers or realistic fiction, which is interesting because I think non-realistic writers often hear from-- Like there was a feud between Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus. Jonathan Franzen said the experimental fiction didn't have a place or whatever. Then Ben Marcus wrote a rebuttal. It was this nice literary feud. People love literary feuds.

    It's interesting because you hear a lot of that. I should say you hear realistic writers sometimes who are resistant to experimental fiction or magical realism, that sort of thing but you don't hear that from the other side. You don't really hear experimental writers saying, "Those realists, I just can't read those realists." In some way, I think that my editor really helped me to ground the work a lot more in the realistic world. I think there has been something of an evolution. The first novel, I think was a different experimentation where the characters were purposefully flat and where the thematic concerns were more important. The metaphors were more important than the characters.

    I think as I've evolved as a writer and as a human being, that the characters have had more deeper or more interesting inner lives. I've gotten more into the inner life of the characters, whereas that wasn't the fiction that I necessarily liked in 1995. I think that's changed. Essentially, I think I still haven't really moved on my-- What comes is what comes out. I think you write what you write and there's not much you can do about it.

    Georgia: Is there any fear of people misunderstanding the genre or genres that you fall into? I'm thinking, oh, it's fantasy. Nothing wrong with fantasy but that's not what your books are.

    Laurie: One of our graduates told me recently that I-- He was at a conference that talked about slipstream. I was mentioned as a slipstream author. I guess slipstream has become an umbrella term for fabulousm, magical realism, nontraditional. I think fantasy even falls into that. I've been called an absurdist, I have been called a surrealist. My favorite I think has been a magical realist. One of the reviewers of The Blue Girl called me a surreally feminist. I was like that's something I can live with. I like that. Surreally feminist.

    Georgia: Add it to your bio.

    [laughter]

    Laurie: That's awesome. I like that.

    Georgia: Let's talk about The Blue Girl. This is like magical realism, but it felt very rooted in real life. There's three sets of mothers and daughters who are all enraptured by this mysterious blue girl that one of the daughters saved from drowning one day. Then she's under all of their skin. The moms go in the dark of night to feed her moon pies.

    Laurie: Right.

    Georgia: You know from page one you're in for an interesting journey. I wonder if you would set the scene by reading the first paragraph or two.

     Laurie: “The blue girl eats secrets in moon pies. She takes them in, her mouth and lips smudged white against her blue skin, tongue clacking against the roof of her mouth crumbs dribbling down her chin. We present them to her in the quiet of her room while she lies beneath the old, pitted, gray comforter and sucks in ragged breaths. Slowly her eyes close as we pass our secrets across the bed and into her hands. We watch as she swallows them. Sometimes whole, sometimes in excruciating bits. Sometimes, when the old woman who lets us into the house draws near, the girl gasps or twists her mouth but mostly she seems to enjoy them. Her lips pursed with the sticky surprise of the things we have come to offer her. The things that she has come to take. The old woman just opens the door to the girl's bedroom and lets us in one at a time."

    Magda is first and then Libby always last and I am in the middle because it doesn't matter to me when I go in since it was my daughter, Audrey, who saved her on that day she almost drowned, that day that everything changed."

    Georgia: It's so great.

    Laurie: Thank you.

    Georgia: It just pulls you right in. Immediately, you have this old woman, a blue girl, you get the sense of a fairy tale. Where in the world did you get this idea or how did it start to come out?

    Laurie: I was working on something else that I had set aside for a while, which I've come back to actually. It's been this novel that I've resurrected a few times. Almost  

    Georgia: You're resurrecting it.

    Laurie: I took a break from that because I just felt it wasn't working. Then I was at an artist colony and I had this line in my head, the blue girl eats secrets and moon pies. It just kept going through my head. I don't know where the line came from.

    Georgia: Fascinating.

    Laurie: Then I kept thinking, "Who is the blue girl and why is she eating moon pies?" I just decided that I had a little piece of it. I think I had the little bit of what the mother said. Then in the next paragraph, it became clear this was an old woman who was there, who was feeding her. Then it evolved into as I-- I go in a very unconscious way that I just really try to stay out of my own way as possible and let the story come, which I think you get used to. You can train yourself to do. I actually talk a lot about that in one of my seminars that I teach here about getting in touch with that unconscious space.

    Then I had these three daughters and three mothers. Then I finished the first chapter. Then it seemed fair that the daughter should speak. I have to say I was a little scared because I thought it's now two first-person voices and the first-person voices have to be distinct but they were very much there and right in the beginning. I wrote I think about 65 pages pretty quickly. Then I left it alone for a while.

    In the interim, I had two kids in pretty quick succession. Then when the kids came, it felt like this was something that was manageable to finish and rather than go back to what I called the big bloated draft that I kept trying to resurrect. Because they were almost sort of self-contained entries of these first-person voices, I could move in and out. I don't do any outlining or planning. I'm very much flying by the seat of my pants and I really believe firmly in-- It can be daunting when things surprise you, but I generally feel that if something doesn't surprise me that I'm a little bit suspicious of it.

    When the surprises come up, I try to just follow where they go. The big thing, certainly, I am aware that I'm working in metaphor. I've been doing this for a while, but I purposefully try not to dissect my own metaphors too soon. I got a great affirmation from reading a profile of Haruki Murakami in the New York Times several years ago, maybe it's even 10 years ago. He basically said that he didn't understand in the last book, 1Q84, there are these sheep and out of the mouths of the sheep come out these little men.

    The interviewer asked him something, and he said, "I don't know what the sheep mean, and I don't know who the little men are." Kind of like, I don't think it's my job to know. I thought, oh, okay, well, if he--

    [crosstalk]

    Laurie: -maybe this is okay. Maybe I'm doing the right thing.

    Georgia: That's so interesting. One thing I noticed just as I was reading it, it feels like this is a tale, like middle-class, like malaise and boredom. All the husbands are ineffectual and absent or just too quiet or you know. One of them is just playing Nerf ball on the back of the door, all day and all night and it's just kind of lost it. Then the mothers feel helpless and they're full of regret. Their daughters are at sea, trying to just do normal coming of age things. I was really like, is this just really reality or is this like a criticism or in the back of your mind, are these the things that are kind of--?

    Laurie: Yes, I think I definitely have especially in the earlier novels, I think there's an element of satire in all of them. The first novel especially was a real critique of consumerism and the way that women are fetishized and seen as objects and even just like vehicles for childbirth.

    Georgia: What was the name of that first one?

    Laurie: Ex Utero.

    Georgia: Okay. Oh, yes.

    Laurie: I think I have that kind of sensibility. I don't live the life that the women in the book do, but I think there is a certain-- I do live in suburbia. I was raised by a stay-at-home mother. I've always paid attention to women's roles and to the roles of mothers and that sort of thing. It was nice to read that review where they called me a surreally feminist because I was worried that the mothers appeared so stuck and passive. The fact that that was something that came through, I thought was really a good thing to hear because I was trying to critique the way that society is set up, in particular, certain kinds of towns.

    They live in this little lake town where there's not a whole lot to do, but they're doing the best that they can. They love their kids. They are loyal to their husbands, probably to a fault. I think that they're not necessarily-- They are doing something because they're feeding the blue girl. It may not be the thing that we think someone should-- The stereotypical role but they are actively-- For me, I always felt that they almost willed the blue girl into existence, like a collective consciousness. That somehow, they bring her and then they deal with her once she comes.

    Georgia: They go in the dark of night with these moon pies and they don't tell their husbands or their kids why they're making these moon pies. They go feed them to her, and even you can tell on that first page that it's this like-- It's almost like grotesque. It's sticky and they're feeding it into her mouth. Sometimes, she licks their fingers and your just like, ugh.

    [laughter]

    Georgia: But then too, they feel like they're feeding her their secrets and those secrets are dirty or just unpleasant. That's why they're secrets. They are the hard things that they're dealing with. I'm curious, I don't know if why moon pies is very good question.

    Laurie: Yes, no idea.

    Georgia: That's fascinating. It’s one of an unusual desserts. It is not necessarily the first dessert that comes to people's mind. But very portable.

    Laurie: When I was just starting to do research about moon pies and afterwards-- Because you have to ask the question of yourself then, "Okay, so well, the moon pie wants to be in here, but then when you get the whole novel written and you've got, well, does it need to be a moon pie? Should it be something else?" It did fit in the sense that there was the sweetness and then this gooeyness that the sort of this sticky inside. That fit with the secrets and the messiness of life.

    Georgia: It also permeated everything, like the smell of the vanilla extract, it's smelt all throughout their houses and just the baking. It was every scent.

    [crosstalk]

    Georgia: - where are you going? I thought that was super fascinating.

    Laurie: Which I didn't realize at the time, was not-- This is what I mean when I talk about not understanding the metaphors, trying to willfully not look at my intent too soon. Because I think if you do look at your intent too soon, if you start thinking, "I'm writing a novel about the roles of women or the role of secrets in the families and how they can be damaging," I think that you start thinking about that too soon, that you're dead in the water. It's going to come out didactic or it's going to lose the story part. I've tried to not think about what her role is and sort of-- Then when I had the draft finish, I thought, "Okay, well, what is this?"

    Then I realized that I had been-- I kept thinking about a Margaret Atwood story called the Sin Eater. I was playing with the idea of this modern sin-eater where there was this practice years ago where someone would go to the gravesite or sometimes at the casket and there would be someone who was supposed to eat the sins of the deceased. The fact that that actually existed--

    Georgia: It's so weird.

    Laurie: Right. I think that there's something to that-- I think that she provides some release for them, that there are these things that they're holding inside that-- Which even if think about it in a realistic way, it's easier to tell secrets to someone who has no attachment to them than it is to someone within a family.

    Georgia: That’s why people even go to a psychiatrist.

    Laurie: Right.

    Georgia: You see somebody who’s a third-party and is not in the middle of it.

    Laurie: Right.

    Georgia: That's so interesting. I feel like this book definitely brings up a lot of fears. Like even the men probably, even though they don't really get-- They don't get their own voice, but you see the fears of the moms, like one mom worrying about her daughter becoming sexually active too soon. Another about how her husband has just completely checked out.

    Is there a sense when you write that you want something hopeful as well, or are you okay leaving things like, yes, these are fears and maybe it's even hopeful that other people acknowledge those fears?

    Laurie: One of the scariest parts of it for me was that it's the first novel that I've written that doesn't have a comical premise or at least even if it's a darkly comical. I think there are moments that are maybe comical, but the overall premise and the mood of it is very sad. I was very nervous to show it to my editor. I was like, "So I've got this new novel and it's got six points of view." He said, "We've done more," at which that's one of the wonderful things about the press. I said, "And it's not funny." He said, "You don't always have to be funny." That was a great permission.

    I didn't try to make it bleak or I do think that there is some sort of hope toward the end and that there is some sort of-- People have changed a little bit or situations have changed, and that there is some resolution to some of the secrets and things that they've been holding on to.

    Georgia: Even just understanding amongst the different characters, I think that grows.

    Laurie: Yes.

    Georgia: As far as your writing process goes, I can imagine when you read back through a manuscript, you think, "Well, this could easily be too didactic if I'm not careful," or, "What am I trying to say with this?" How do you go about reviewing and honing in on your story?

    Laurie: I think I reached the point with every novel where I feel that I absolutely hate it and that I'm not going to be able to finish it. That this is stupid, it's never going to work and you don't have X, Y, whatever the X, Y, Z is for that particular, what were you thinking? The one thing that comes with experience is that the self-doubt part doesn't ever go away, but I do think you get better at telling yourself at least what I tell myself is, "You felt this way with the last book, you'll get through it again."

    Then you do have to look at the things that I'm saying like I willfully look away from. You then have to, at the end, really look very head-on at those things. "Am I being too heavy-handed? Is this symbolism too much or do this different like say there's the lake and then there's the woods and then there's the moon pie, and there's the little house and so do all of these things go together?" Which I think I've learned a lot working with the same-- I had the same editor for 20 years.

    Georgia: Wow.

    Laurie: He passed away a few years ago, but he really was a genius at laying that all out in his letters. I'd get as much as, say, 16 page, single-spaced letters from him. Yes, it was amazing. Also, one thing I do with at the end of each novel is that I just free write the glass out, what does this all mean? What do I think this all means? Okay, so what does this mean and how does this work with this. So, you do have to really look at things surgically and strategically.

    That's the other thing I think experience teaches you. That you get a lot better about being too precious with your own work that if something doesn't work, or some trusted reader, whether it's a trusted reader or a trusted editor, and someone says, "This doesn't work," and you resonate, "As much as I love this, it's he's right or she's right," it goes. That can be really liberating and can make all the difference for the novel.

    Georgia: That makes no sense. I want to transition to Toast. That series, that came out last year?

    Laurie: Yes.

    Georgia: As you said before, it's realistic, is completely reading them back to back, I was like, "Oh, this is completely different."

    Laurie: It's terrifying.

    [laughter]

    Georgia: It's a novella and it's about two kids who have their first overnight babysitter. We've got 11-year-old Mia and her 10-year-old brother Will, who has autism, and so it's from Mia's perspective. Really, I feel like the only similarity was that there was a non-neurotypical character in each book because in The Blue Girl, there's one of the sons, Ethan, he has, was it X--?

    Laurie: Fragile X syndrome.

    Georgia: So he's big and violent, not maliciously so but he's hard to control. Then in this one, you have Will, who's young and he can get upset about things and it's just can really--

    Laurie: Spin him out.

    Georgia: Yes, and so Mia is like his protector. She understands him and she's like, "What are we going to do with this random adult who is not mom and dad?" I was wondering, I believe you have a son on the autism spectrum.

    Laurie: I do, yes.

    Georgia: Was that kind of your jumping-off points for Toast.

    Laurie: Yes, so I had done another novella with them for their series, which is the Open Door series for--

    Georgia: With the GemmaMedia?

    Laurie: Yes. They had asked me to do another one and then I pitched her a couple of my usual magical. She was like, "Ah, I like that, Laurie, but maybe you could write something--" They needed something YA and then I thought, okay. I've been thinking about writing for kids for a while, and I thought, "Well, what is it--?" You can think about writing for kids, but you have to have something to say.

    One of the things that really-- In looking for novels for my daughter when she was about, say, 10 or 11, because we've had to have pretty frank discussions about-- It began with, let's say, special needs or difference and then becoming more specific about autism and that kind of thing. I started really looking for kids' books that had characters but were really about a brother-sister relationship.

    There were surprisingly not that many and not many that really looked-- Of course, the spectrum is so wide that the kids in the book that I found were either much higher functioning cognitively or much lower functioning or the relationship I thought made the-- I think it's a very complicated relationship. There are a lot of emotions that are involved in being the sibling of a child on the spectrum. It was interesting for me because I know and I have pretty-- My daughter is now 14, so we have pretty frank talks about that it's okay to feel embarrassed and then it's okay to kind of, "Oh my God," when he does certain things.

    I don't always have all the answers. I don't know why he does everything that he does. It was interesting that I had written a little bit about him. I have written some things about him in nonfiction, which I had never done before. That was new for me. Once I got the idea of, "Okay, well, what's the thing that happens?" Then it was like, "Okay, well there's a babysitter and they're going to be babysat," which is a big deal. People who don't have special needs kids will just say, "Oh, we'll just get a babysitter," and I'm like," Well, you can't just get any babysitter."

    Georgia: You don't want them to run out screaming. [laughs]

    Laurie: Right. I really just once I had that. It's interesting because there are some things that are almost directly things that have happened and but the boy is not my son. I actually made him a little bit more impacted than my son is, but there's a lot of similarities with the scripting at things, saying things from TV and some like resistance to change, which is pretty--

    Georgia: It's pretty common.

    Laurie: Across the board. I think the thing for me was that I hoped that it offered sort of a window into what life is like for a family where there is a child with difference and what the-- Things that people don't necessarily think of, that it takes sometimes a lot longer just to get out the door. Well, that maybe we don't go to certain places because they're not places that he can be comfortable.

    Georgia: This one does have humor too. You were saying The Blue Girl was uncharacteristically unhumorous real. This one, it was funny and I'm like-- How is it writing about something that could be really sensitive to a lot of people by adding that humor in there? How is it doing that?

    Laurie: That was fun. I'm glad that you saw that because that was one of the things that I wanted to have in the book was that he's very funny. Because the way that at least for a somewhat atypical brain works is endlessly fascinating and the way that things get stored and then come out. He'll say a line from a movie that he hasn't seen in three or four years and something that will just, for whatever reason, whatever the thing is that he's doing that triggers and-- [crosstalk]

    Georgia: Open connection in there.

    Laurie: He were in the pool one day, and he yelled out, "Have some candy," which is from Wreck-It Ralph. He had not seen in-- I don't know. We weren't eating candy and we both just, my daughter and I just laughed hysterically because it's just so funny.

    Georgia: You knew exactly where it'd come from.

    Laurie: Right. He also sometimes scripts appropriately. Like he'll use a script in order to convey something that he's thinking about but in ways that you that are sometimes just hilarious, like he'll use a line from Frozen. I think that's something that he said that I put that actually in the book. He quotes a line from Frozen, and I was like, "Oh, that was just [crosstalk]

    Georgia: Yes, [laughs] that's great. I thought it was interesting too that you had a glossary in the back. What prompted that or [crosstalk]?

    Laurie: That was actually the series editor's idea. It goes to emerging readers. Emerging readers can be younger people, can be adults who haven't had much exposure to literacy, can be, say, somebody for whom English is a relatively new language. She felt that it would be helpful to have the glossary. That was kind of fun and challenging to write because I didn't want to just to lift things, right?

    Georgia: Right. I'll take [crosstalk]

    Laurie: Also, in keeping with the series, keep the language and the way that things are explained relatively simple.

    Georgia: You teach here at Lesley and you also teach--

    Laurie: At Goddard College in their BFA creative writing.

    Georgia: You have two kids, your family, how do you make time for writing? How is it prioritized in your life and schedule?

    Laurie: One thing that I've done is that as the kids have gotten older, I've gotten back to-- I can't go for that long, but I do go to artists colonies. I try to go to one once a year.

    For example, I went in March to the Virginia Center For The Creative Arts. Actually, Tony Eprile was there while I was there, one of our other fiction faculty. There's something amazing about an artist colony where you don't have to do anything. Your meals are made for you. You don't have to do any laundry if you don't want to. Some people were stockpiling their laundry for a couple of weeks. [laughs] I think I actually did [crosstalk].

    Georgia: Back to the college experience.

    Laurie: Yes. There's this concentrated sense of, especially with the novel, I think, where you are so immersed in the work and don't have the responsibilities, even of just checking email and those kinds of-- You notice how the things that don't take long, how much that gets in the way. I've been able to produce a lot of work in those short periods. I try to use those. Sometimes I actually will go to a hotel for a couple of days. Since the kids are at school, that's helped.

    Georgia: There's no mom, mom, mom, mom, mom. [laughs]

    Laurie: Right. My daughter is 14 and my son is 12. He will go off on his own, go upstairs and watch his videos and stuff. Sometimes I write at night, sometimes I write on my phone at night. I really tried to snatch the time when I have it. It's interesting when you look at it that way. Instead of thinking, "I only have half an hour or even an hour and so I'm not going to get much done in that time." If you just try to take little pieces, it's amazing that you can actually-- Even if it's a little snippet that you get that like, "Okay, I can use this later." You try to do that.

    Georgia: Do you feel pressure because you're teaching people about writing and also you're like, "I am a writer like you." Some of it is harder to say if you don’t have a book. Do you feel pressured to get something done in a certain amount of time and be like, "I have to produce a book every X amount of years or a story or can you relax?"

    Laurie: I think we're a program that doesn't-- It's not like a traditional program or traditional professor job where it’s so important you have to publish X number of times or X number of years. Certainly, it's important that we're out there and we get so-- Also when I'm working on something longer, I'll try to write an essay or something that I can get out there that's a little easier to publish. Yes, I think even aside from what it looks like for the students, I think it's important to keep your name out there. The publishing world is fickle. We'll remind them that we're still alive. [laughs]

    I think it's also really helpful to be-- What I find is the students, both here and at Goddard, are really appreciative of the honesty of saying, "Look, I struggle in the same way that you do. I don't have the time either." I've got the kids and I've got this. Yes, I struggle with self-doubt. Yes, I'd like to give you a magic pill and tell you this will go away, but it's never going to. Especially, my undergrads, I don't know if they entirely believe me when I say, "It really doesn't matter how many books are on the shelf with your name on the spine. When you sit down to write that next one, it feels as if you've never written one before."

    Georgia: Which is terrifying. [laughs]

    Laurie: Right. It's also the flip side, the excitement of rediscovering the process of each book, I think dictates what it wants to be anyway. It's not like there's a formula for that. I think they appreciate hearing that we wrestle with the same kinds of things that they do.

    Georgia: Yes, writing is hard [laughs]. It just is. 

    Laurie: Exactly. Still got to sit your butt in the chair. You still got to show up.

    Georgia: Speaking about when you're teaching, what are some things that you have to impart to your students? That you know is just of utmost importance, that they understand or that they start to glean.

    Laurie: I think that one is one of them. I really stress in the first draft, that's my-- If I have a credo, I think that's it, is to trust that unconscious process, whether you call it the-- Ray Bradbury called it the muse. Robert Allen Butler has a whole book called From Where You Dream, which is about getting in touch with the unconscious and using that. That's helped, I feel legitimized that there is a craft book that actually talks about this sort thing because there are so many things about, this is how you do exposition and this is how you set a scene and this is how you-- The mystery of what goes on has not really been articulated.

    I let them know that that is really important to trust, not getting in your own way, not worry too much about what-- To shut off those voices of what are people going to think? Whether it's your mentor or whether it's your girlfriend or whether it's your ideal reader, whoever it is, you have to let go of that. That's one. I think that the other is really that perseverance is everything. I think that the difference between who keeps writing even if it's not, just keeps writing, is that you have to just keep at it and keep at it and keep at it.

    Georgia: If you never finish anything, you're never publishing it.

    Laurie: You have to be then relentless about sending things out. That's one thing that I talk a lot about. Those are some of the things that I think I in sort of broad terms about, regardless of what kind of work they're doing. I try to approach the work based on what they-- I try to listen to the work and try to get it to the place that it needs to be based on what it wants to be and to let them know that it still belongs to you and you can throw out everything I say, it's your story.

    Georgia: What are you working on right now? Is that a dirty question to ask?

    Laurie: I actually took Toast, and I expanded it into a middle-grade novel. I finished the draft of that in March when I was at this artist colony. Now I have to revise it. I gave it to one of my best friends. She gave me feedback. I have to thank all of the writing for young people faculty, all my friends here who've been so supportive because it was really going into a new [crosstalk] a new audience. I'm going to finish that. The novel that I was talking about, I've resurrected it again, and I think this time it's alive. I finally think I saw my way in, and I thought, "Okay, this is a risk. I know this is a risk from the get-go."

    It begins with these vignettes of cows falling from the sky. That's what happens. There's a series of cows. In the original version, I had a series of different things. There was a cow then there was a-- I don't know, there was all kinds of crazy other stuff. I thought it seemed to be the cows were the-- When I tell people the premise, they would always laugh about the cow and then think that the cow was the compelling thing of the rest of the things that I had falling from the sky. Characters, new characters are in it that weren't in the original version. I really just completely discarded the previous draft. I haven't even reread what I still call it the big blow.

    [laughter]

    Georgia: That stays in its own folder. We're not going there. [laughs]

    Laurie: There are things in it that are similar. The germ of the story, there are two characters that survived the new revision. I have about 150 pages or so of that. That's what I'm going to be working on next.

    Georgia: Nice, that's great. I can't wait for it.

    Laurie: Thank you.

    Georgia: I'm really looking forward to the middle-grade, the souped-up version of Toast.

    Laurie: Thank you. Thank you so much.

    Georgia: I can't wait to read that.

    Laurie: Thank you.

    Georgia: I thought they were both great. I'm so glad I picked them up.

    Laurie: Thank you. Thank you so much.