Laurel S. Peterson is a Professor of English at Norwalk Community College. She has two poetry chapbooks, That’s the Way the Music Sounds and Talking to the Mirror, and two full-length collections, Do You Expect Your Art to Answer? and Daughter of Sky. She has written two mystery novels Shadow Notes and The Fallen. She served as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s Poet Laureate from April 2016 – April 2019.
The Fallen – Clara Montague is dreaming again, and her dreams always lead to trouble. She survives a drive-by shooting that kills a cop but complicates her relationship with police chief Kyle DuPont. The hidden motives behind the shooting lead Kyle and Clara to New Orleans. Will Clara’s visions be enough to keep them safe from Kyle’s past?
Do you write in more than one genre? In addition to writing mysteries, I am a poet with four published books of poetry and two more looking for homes. I’m also working on a multi-genre work of poems and photographs. I tried including essays, but my writing group said they were just poems with too many words! The collection is about grief, so it may never find a home, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge of finding images that would extend my thinking rather than illustrate it.
I started taking photography classes online during the pandemic when, as a community college professor, I spent all my time staring at a screen, grading papers, and responding to frantic student emails. I needed something that wasn’t more words, and I had always wanted to learn to take better pictures. I signed up through a local gallery for a workshop with Thom Williams https://www.instagram.com/tmwilliamsphotography/, a fabulous and patient teacher.
What fascinates me about multi-genre writing is how it fragments forms, which so reflects modern existence. How can writers use that rupture and sense of existential threat to reflect something profound about the human experience? All writers try to do that on some level, but I like to try things that I’m not yet sure I can do.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Writing. Not funny? During the pandemic, a friend asked if I did yoga. Yes, I said, but I’m having a hard time just getting to the mat. Many people I knew in graduate school enrolled to give themselves deadlines for writing. It’s an expensive way to create self-discipline, but hey. If I focus on a project, it’s easier. I recently got involved with Writing the Land, https://www.writingtheland.org/, which pairs a writer with a land trust and asks them to write three poems about it during a one-year period. Being part of the project means I get to go on long walks in quiet places, which feels healing.
What are you currently working on? In addition to the multi-genre work I describe above, I’m also revising an old mystery manuscript. This will require setting and character changes. The original book was located partly in Atlantic City, but since Kyle DuPont is a local police chief, I need to shift the setting to Connecticut. Part of the story will now occur on one of Connecticut’s Native American reservations. It’s fun to see how malleable story can be.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I base many of my characters on real people. Isn’t writing mysteries at least partly about revenge?
In case you’re wondering about people recognizing themselves, I rely on the Anne Lamott idea that people will either always see themselves or will never see themselves in your work, whether they are there or not. Of course, no characterization is exact. That would be cruel.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Half and half. I write about 80 or 90 pages, and then I get stuck and need to outline the rest so I know where I’m going. That first spurt motivates me because it’s the fun part, where I’m fleshing out the story and trying to create energy in the characters and setting. After that, writing feels more like a puzzle, ensuring I have all the storylines active and intertwined successfully, making sure the characters are developing. There’s a lot of double-checking and rereading while moving forward in smaller increments.
Do you have any advice for new writers? If there’s anything else you can do with your life and still have a great time, do it. Writing eats at you and you can never retire. You always want more from it. (I just want to be published; ok, now I’m published but I want to be in a better publication; Ok, I’ve got a story out, but now I want a novel; Ok, I’ve got a novel out, now I want two or sixteen novels; Ok, I’m published, but now I want to make money at it; Ok, I’ve made a little money, but I want an Edgar…) Do you see? It’s a terrible idea to take up writing. Save yourself.
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