Today I am very excited to introduce to you my dear friend, fellow writer and all-around lovely woman: Laura Anderson Kurk! Laura is a real-life author, a wife, a mom and (for me!) a local treasure! When we first met, several years ago, we connected immediately. We were both attending a writer’s group in which the average member was my grandparents’ age. Though there is an age difference between Laura and I, she wrote for young adults and I was a young adult, and so we became friends. When trying to decide whom to interview for this year’s March of Books, Laura was a no-brainer! I was thrilled when she gladly agreed to answer our questions.
Everly: So Laura, when did you start writing? And when did you know that you would be a writer one day?
Laura: It seems like every writer answers this question in much the same way. I, like most people who frequent groups like Kindred Grace where meaningful writing is celebrated, am most comfortable when hidden behind a few layers of typed words.
I’ve always been a writer, I guess, if you count my girlhood spent writing secret stories and burying them behind my house so my brother wouldn’t find them. I advanced to sharing them through writing contests and journalism endeavors as a student. As you know, it takes a great deal of courage for introverts to share their words, but once we find that courage, no one can stop us.
I majored in literature, studying narrative arcs and character formation, and stayed in school as long as I could through graduate work so I’d have an excuse to read and write all the time. After graduate school, I became a professional writer in the academic world and later in the business world. I thought I’d be able to change the world with my words that way, but not so much. My words seemed disposable, like so much fluff in the wind. All marketing hyperbole with no heart.
After taking a career break so I could stay home with my babies, I began to dream of meaningful stories again and it didn’t take long before I had to write what was in my heart. In fact, I would say, life made me a writer. It was after I’d lived some life (some truly hard times and some magnificent times) that I called myself a writer.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and where are you going?
This question made me smile. It’s so existential. Where do I come from and where am I going? I’m tempted to really try to answer, but then I worry you’re not being philosophical . . .
I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and that may be the best thing about me. Yeah. Small towns are the way to go. You get so bored that you have to turn inward and figure things out on your own. The kids that I started kindergarten with are the kids that I graduated with. We had to learn to live together in peace because there was no escaping one another. I believe this sort of environment gives you a million chances to learn compassion and forgiveness and reconciliation. That’s what it did for me.
I graduated from Abilene Christian University and then from Texas A&M University. I’m married to a truly outstanding man that I met at the end of graduate school. We moved around a bit, had a couple of ginger-headed babies, and now we live in a college town. I write and he works for Texas A&M. We live a peaceful, slow life, with a large margin of time that lets us listen to God’s direction and enjoy our kids.
Where am I going? I’m going where He sends me.
What did you like to read as a child? What do you like to read now?
I absorbed books as a child. It was all I had to do. That or ride my bike. Both were great. Books were everything, though. I read without prejudice. I found something of value in every book I opened. My parents were readers and we had full bookshelves. I got an actual palpable thrill from closing my eyes, picking a book by the way the dust jacket felt, and reading it. It didn’t really matter what it was. I loved emotional books. Madeleine L’Engle was probably my favorite.
I still read nearly everything. There are genres that I seek out, though. I love realistic fiction. I love young adult realistic, especially. I find that important things are happening in YA realism. Outside of young adult, I gravitate toward southern American literature. I cannot get enough of it. I have a hard time sitting through science fiction and fantasy, but, it seems, I’m in the minority there. The point is, though, to read, read often, and read well. I finish a novel every one to two weeks.
What made you start writing for young adults?
I write for young adults because that’s where my voice naturally falls. I think all writers have a “speaking voice” that bears out in their narrative. Mine is decidedly young adult – maybe because it’s full of heart and emotional while also tending toward sarcasm.
Tell us a bit about your books. What inspired them?
Glass Girl was a story that took over my mind when I was home with my first child, Amelia. It came in tangled bits and pieces of inspiration – the thought of a teenage girl (who became Meg) overwrought about something (but what?), the idea of a teenage boy (Henry) who would give anything to be her shelter, and the swirling heartbreak of the Columbine school shooting. Glass Girl takes an honest look at a family surprised by grief after the loss of a son. They find themselves in one of life’s gully washers. Meg, an exquisitely tender girl, does begin this journey without faith, but take heart, she makes it. She finds the truths being revealed to her through her reality—a mother who succumbs to debilitating depression and a father who copes any way he can. Meg reaches out a hand and God takes it. She meets Henry, a boy with a hard-earned maturity and a deep-water faith, and he loves her.
This isn’t a spoiler, really, because it’s the gentle unfolding of Meg’s soul that happens in the middle of the story that keeps you turning pages. The sequel, Perfect Glass, continues the story by showing how Henry gave up nearly everything for a group of kids that needed him and how Meg learned that sometimes God just wants us to be everything for one person who is desperate for love.
We have quite a few budding writers among our readership. What advice would you pass on to them?
Read. Read. Read. Read literary fiction. Read the giants. Read the best of humanity. Know yourself. Sit quietly with yourself and listen to your voice. Hear what your heart is telling you and do your best not to listen to the naysayers. Also, who said we must write only for publication? Who said that must always be a writer’s goal? Does a painter paint only to sell her finished work? She learns and gains experience and joy from the process. Writers are the same. Allow yourself to write for pleasure and joy. Give yourself a break from the constant fretting about publication. If you lose your joy for the process, you will feel like you’ve come unmoored.
What do you see yourself doing in the future? Any projects in the works?
I’m interested in so many things! I honestly could find meaning in writing about nearly anything. I have a project in the works, but I’m a bit superstitious about sharing details. I always feel like it will jinx my creative process if I try to distill it too soon. I think my future holds a lot more seeking. A lot more learning. A lot of curiosity about art in all forms. A lot more growing in Him.
Are any of your characters inspired by people in your life?
Here’s an example. Henry, my hero, existed and lived on paper before I met someone who made Henry better. One day, while lost in my own thoughts during a worship service, a college guy gets up to serve communion. I watched him for a while thinking, “He sure reminds me of someone.” Then I noticed heads of girls were turning and staring at me—girls who had been early readers of Glass Girl.
One of them gestured frantically at the college guy and then she mouthed, “He’s HENRY!” So, of course, I got to know this boy really fast and it turns out HE IS HENRY. He not only looked exactly like I had written Henry, he had the same interests, and the same personality. It was uncanny. This guy, Will Walker, was better than Henry and I was able to make Henry a richer character because I got to know Will. Incidentally, I was able to convince my cover designer to use Will in the design for the Perfect Glass cover. He’s now and forever “Henry” on the cover, and he’s posing with his soon-to-be bride, Candace Bayles. It blows me away how that all worked out.
What has been your biggest struggle as a writer?
Overcoming fear. The fear of letting others see my vulnerability. The fear of opening up and letting readers know just how complicated my heart and mind are. Also, procrastination can be a big bad bear at times.
Have you ever read a book on writing that really resonated with you?
L’Engle’s Walking on Water ranks high on my list. Being a writer who wants to write literature of belief without writing strictly Christian fiction, I struggle with merging faith and art. This book answers so many of my questions. Also, it’s not a book about writing, but a memoir by a writer that affected me deeply and forever is An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. That book spoke to my soul.
What’s the scoop on conferences? What do you recommend?
Conferences are, for some, the best thing ever. They love being in large groups of other writers. They love the class time and the pitch sessions. They love the impromptu table and elevator pitches. Me? They’re really hard. I find myself hiding in my room a lot. I get emotional during talks and tear up. I nearly come undone with nerves at the pressure of talking about my work in sound bites. It all feels very egocentric to me. I can’t marry the art with the business.
However, conferences are necessary and good. I can’t think of another avenue so expressly perfect for writers with publishing ambition. You simply must save your funds and select a conference that works best for you. Check out the agents and editors who will attend and make sure they line up with your genre and interests. Make sure you have a place at the table. You won’t regret it and you will definitely make solid, lifelong connections with tremendously good people. You may even go home with an agent or a contract. Try hard. It pays off. And look for me hiding in the corner. I’ll offer you a smile and a pat on the back.
Where do you write?
Outside is best. Inside works, too. Laptops make anywhere possible. I even write in strange places like laundromats if I’m working on a particularly intractable plot point or I need some great, earthy dialogue.
Laura has graciously offered to share two copies of Glass Girl with two of you! Enter via the Rafflecopter giveaway below. (Entrants with U.S. mailing addresses only, please.)
Laura Anderson Kurk writes contemporary books for young adults, a genre that gives her the freedom to be honest. Her debut novel, Glass Girl, is an unconventional and bittersweet love story, and its sequel, Perfect Glass, makes long distance love look possible.
She lives in Texas with her family.