Author Interview with Laury A. Egan

1 02 2013

Hello, readers!

This week Laury A. Egan has stopped by for an interview. She will be talking to you about writing her new book: Jenny Kidd. Laury A. Egan has also written a short story collection and two volumes of poetry.

First, let me thank you for this opportunity to “chat” with your readers. It’s exciting to have the chance to talk about my work and this novel in particular. Hopefully, some of your followers will comment after reading the book, either here or through my website.

To your question: the most obvious qualities of a good story are the ability to hook the reader, to sustain his/her interest throughout the book, to create empathetic protagonists and antagonists who are fully realized and equally fascinating, and to do all of the above with style. The reader should feel transitions are smooth and logical (even the unexpected), that the author is a trustworthy captain of the ship.

At a literary agent’s workshop I attended, they reviewed first pages of participant’s manuscripts and tersely rejected almost every one for failing to create immediate interest—a kind of what-will happen-next feeling or why is this character behaving this way—something ominous, puzzling, inexplicable that will propel the reader into the book. Another frequent criticism was that the forward motion was slowed by a clog of information explaining the main character’s personality and history. It’s a great challenge for writers to leaven in this “backstory” without slowing the narrative, but very important for a suspense, mystery, or commercial novel; somewhat less important for a truly literary work.

Although this does not contribute directly to making “a good story,” a novel written with impoverished vocabulary, at a high school (or below) level, usually disinterests the reader because the writing isn’t fresh, taut, or adequately descriptive to allow for immersion in the story. Poor usage, grammar, and punctuation literally remove “style points,” especially for more discriminating readers. Because my background is in university press publishing, I’m very old-school about how well a book is written and edited. Unfortunately, most publishers don’t do much editing or the editor is not experienced. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the author to dedicate as much energy on editing, revising, and polishing as on the actual writing itself.

Did you travel to Venice to write Jenny Kidd?

I have been to Venice three times, the last visit for 15 days (I taught an on-location photography workshop). Parts of the city I know quite well, plus I had the benefit of many photographic images to assist my memory. Several detailed guidebooks and on-line information completed my research. A story, “The Mime,” was my first effort using Venice as a setting (included in Fog and Other Stories), but I hope to return to the city soon and perhaps place another novel there.

What sort of research about art did you have to do to write Jenny Kidd?

In Venice, I spent time at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and later used their on-line website to select a painting by Kandinsky as the symbolic beginning for the book. Because my mother was a talented painter, I grew up in an artistic world and was brought to many galleries and museums in Europe and in the U.S. My degree is in graphic design and photography from Carnegie Mellon University, so I’m very well versed in design concepts, which I teach to fine arts photography students and abstract painters.

What character was the most difficult to write?

The most difficult was Jenny herself. None of the characters are autobiographical or people I have encountered, but Jenny’s personality and family history are quite foreign to my experience, thus she required the most effort to understand. She is an unformed woman as the novel opens, desiring autonomy from her over-controlling parents and the opportunity to make a career as a painter. I’ve likened her to a cue ball that is struck by the cue and bangs into the table sides and other balls—external forces determine most of her actions rather than the other way round, although as the novel progresses, she begins to take charge—not always wisely—and by the end, Jenny has matured and individuated from her parents and their expectations. The easiest character to write was the female dandy, Randi Carroll. I’ve never met anyone like Randi, but she came through into my head fully formed right down to her seersucker pants and tasseled loafers.

Were the crimes in Jenny Kidd based on any real incidents?

No, but I admit to an admiration for the work of Patricia Highsmith and often am attracted to claustrophobic, slowly tightening plots and characters who are both charming and treacherous. Venice is a fairly safe city, but if one takes a wrong turn, particularly late at night, its beauty and serenity can flip into an edgy kind of creepiness. In the novel, Venice serves as a glittering façade, which symbolizes Jenny’s naïve admiration and attraction to the beautiful. Pull back the façade, however, and Jenny finds herself in more sinister and dangerous circumstances.

Sexual freedom is a theme in your Jenny Kidd. Could you expand on that theme here?

I’m not sure that “sexual freedom” per se is a theme, though variations on different kinds of sexual attractions are presented, not all portrayed positively. At the novel’s beginning, Jenny is unsure of her orientation. When she is suddenly attracted to the mysterious Caterina Barbon, Jenny is confused about the intensity of her feelings. Her sexual exploration is a significant aspect of the novel, which does contain some graphic sex, though its inclusion arises systemically out of the plot and is not gratuitous. One of the chief themes is that people sometimes aren’t absolutely fixed in their orientation, or rather that it might change depending on who they meet. Although I believe most people are either gay or straight, I am fascinated by those whose sexuality is more ambiguous or in process or perhaps not a dominant factor in their psychology. Many of my primary characters are creative, for example, and tend to place that pursuit first over love, or at least until they run into people like Caterina Barbon.

Was it difficult to transition from writing poetry to writing a novel?

Although I began writing poetry at about age 7 or 8, I tackled my first novel several years later, so I don’t really consider myself a poet who transitioned into a prose writer. Poetry is actually a more occasional form for me, whereas writing fiction feels more constant and substantial, particularly during the last fifteen years. That said, my poetic inclinations have certainly informed my prose, but my visual sensibilities are equally important. Many readers of my poetry and fiction comment on the visual and sensory nature of my work. I’m very conscious of incorporating powerful colors, textures, smells, and natural elements. One thing I have noticed is that it is difficult to switch from writing to taking photographs (or vice versa) on the same day—perhaps a left/right brain issue.

Who are your favorite artists and why?

Good question! The beautiful and moody photographs by Michael Kenna—a real favorite, as well as Lynn Geesaman. Admired painters: N.C. Wyeth and his son Andrew, Howard Pyle, Gauguin, the Japanese print-maker Hokusai, whose “The Great Wave” is a significant image in my manuscript, Wave in D Minor.

If you could get an espresso with any of your characters who would it be and what would you ask him/her?

Randi Carroll would be my choice. She’s portrayed as a bit louche, perhaps British—though there is some doubt, a chameleon who may or may not be on the up and up. I think she is the most entertaining character, the most enigmatic. I would press her to answer questions as to her birth country and means of employment; to list other questions would betray the plot.

What are your upcoming projects?

Another psychological suspense novel, Doublecrossed, is under consideration by a publisher, and a manuscript, Wave in D Minor, a more literary suspense novel, is on the desk of several NYC literary agents. Most likely, a poetry chapbook, The Sea & Beyond, will be next out of the gate, joining my two full-length collections, Beneath the Lion’s Paw and Snow, Shadows, a Stranger. A collection of 23 stories, Fog and Other Stories, contains a diverse range of work from genre to literary pieces. I’m particularly proud of these stories, most of which have appeared in literary journals.

Where can my readers buy your work?

Jenny Kidd and Fog and Other Stories are available in bookstores and on-line retailers (paperback and eBook formats) or from their publishers (Jenny Kidd: Vagabondage Press and Fog and Other Stories: Publishing: Beneath the Lion’s Paw and Snow, Shadows, a Stranger are available only from FootHills Publishing or you may query me through my website for more information.

Learn more about Laury A. Egan:  Visit her blog:


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