Debut YA Author Estelle Laure on This Raging Light
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What can I say about This Raging Light by debut author, Estelle Laure?
I. Loved. It.
It slayed me until the very last word.
I loved it so much that about a quarter of the way through, I urged my husband to read it. He read it on his nook and loved it as much as I did. The writing is beautiful and the relationships authentic. The story unfolds realistically, and at times, it’s heartbreaking. But ultimately, it’s hopeful.
Here’s a brief description of the book by Laure:
Lucille loves Digby.
It’s not a slow burn.
It’s not something she comes to quietly, over time.
One day she doesn’t love him, and the next she’s faced with the kind of love that is so powerful that, although he has a girlfriend, in spite of the fact that it’s the worst possible timing, she knows down to her knees that there is fate involved. If she walks away she will not only regret it, she will never get over it and it will cost her a piece of her soul.
How she contends with her love in the face of enormous personal tumult forces her to face the most fragile aspects of the human condition. But as she fights a failing battle to maintain her balance and care for her little sister, that same difficult love helps her uncover new dimensions and discover the strongest parts of herself.
I was thrilled when Laure granted an email interview about her debut novel, This Raging Light (HMH Books for Young Readers, December 22, 2015) and about writing. (See photo below; Laure is in the center and Elizabeth Bewley, her editor, and her agent, Emily van Beek, on the left and right, respectively.)
Here are the highlights from our Q and A.
EZ: On your website, you say The Breakfast Club is the perfect movie. (I love it too). Why do you think so?
EL: From a technical standpoint, each scene has a purpose, a beginning and an end, a rise and fall. The story has perfect symmetry and a powerful payoff. Then the movie as a whole is the same. Every character is part of a single person, or as Brian says, we are all all of them. Also, can we talk about Claire’s eighties dancing and Bender’s fist pump? And Alison’s sandwich? And Brian’s pencil? I could go on and on. Perfect.
EZ: What book(s) have you read recently? Thoughts?
EL: I’ve been reading all women (with a few necessary exceptions) this year, and this last week I read Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill, which is a series of short stories. I found it a little dated (published in 1988), which was interesting primarily because of the ways in which women’s roles have both changed and stayed the same. Next up is I Crawl Through It by A.S. King. She’s one of my favorite YA authors. She’s super irreverent and anti-establishment, and also a little mind-bending, so I have no doubt I’m going to love it. I’m also reading about near-death experiences for my next book. That’s a good time.
EZ: Have you read your wonderful book, This Raging Light, since it was published? Thoughts?
EL: NO! I never stopped wanting to edit so I can’t read it. Laura Ruby once told me that making books is like having babies and sometimes they have three heads or eight arms and you love them anyway. I may love it, but I don’t want to look at it. That sounded meaner than I meant it to. It feels like the past. Does that make sense? I have looked over a few things to make sure the world is consistent for book two though. That is definitely a little odd.
EZ: You say on your website that one of your biggest fears is falling down (incidentally, I fell down the stairs when I was eight-years-old and broke my back and wore a body cast and could not walk for three months). Your other fear is denial. What do you think is at the root of these fears?
EL: OH MY GOSH! That actually happened to you? I’m so sorry. Well, I know someone whose mother fell down the stairs and died, and after having babies who wanted to launch themselves down every available staircase, I developed a pathological paranoia about them. Edna St. Vincent Millay died like that too, you know? I’m not making it up.
And denial. Blech. It’s so powerful sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it. One of my friends once explained that all humans need is plausible deniability and they’ll construct whole realities around the outcome they desire. I don’t want to live like that. Even knowing how complex reality is in and of itself, I’d rather take the bad news and know what’s going on than live in a flimsy construct.
EZ: You say on your website that you believe in “dancing it out.” What exactly do you mean by that?
EL: What I mean is that it may be goofy, unsexy, embarrassing even, but sometimes a person needs to turn the music up loud, throw on some heels and rock out, not caring what they look like.
EZ: Speaking of dancing, what ways do you like to stay fit and sane (or, as I say, #moveitorloseit) especially since you’re a writer who, like most (if not all) writers, sits a lot?
EL: I have fibromyalgia, so fitness is huge for me out of necessity. I do hot yoga as much as I can, usually four times a week, Pilates once or twice a week, and I do the elliptical and light weights (heavy are forbidden) a few times a week. Even one day without a serious stretch and I’m crippled, especially if I’m writing. And then, there is the aforementioned dancing.
EZ: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? And why YA?
EL: I guess it’s been about nine years since I started writing seriously. I dreamed of it when I was little, but I had very low self-confidence. Everyone else seemed more creative and competent than me. The YA part is kind of happenstance. I have only ever thought of stories starring teenagers so far. Maybe someday that will change, but I kind of hope not. It’s an exciting place to be and an epic age group to be dealing with.
EZ: What led you to pursue an MFA in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts (incidentally, that’s a dream of mine…maybe they’ll accept me in a few years when my kids are in college).
EL: A series of magical events. A friend of mine named Stephanie Payne had been on the adult side there. When I was done with my first novel, she referred me to Sharon Darrow from the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. After working with me, Sharon recommended I apply. This naturally turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I know lots of people say not to bother with an MFA. That was certainly not the case for me. I’m all about it. #vcfaworlddomination
EZ: Did you have a particular process for writing This Raging Light (to hit a word count or write for a certain number of hours each day/week)?
EL: No. I was getting divorced, had moved across the country, was working three jobs and in grad school while I was writing TRL. I wrote when I could. Period. I’m just now trying to work out a system since I’m hoping for a career. I think systems are good, or as Joan Didion puts it, “A schedule defends against chaos and whim.”
EZ: How long did it take you to write This Raging Light from when you first started until you handed in your final edits?
EL: About two years, but that’s only if you don’t consider other versions of the story I had that got tossed. I worked with Digby and Lucille for about four years altogether.
EZ: Is there a particular place you like to write?
EL: No. I write all over my house. In bed surrounded by pillows (helps with the pain) if I’m alone, at my desk if I’ve crept downstairs (carefully) at five AM, at the kitchen table if the kids and I are doing homework or something. I also work at Elevation Café in Taos a few times a week when I have to be in town for something.
EZ: How do you juggle writing with raising children (and how old are your kids)?
EL: My kids are twelve and nearly nine. I try to really be with them when I’m with them and really focused on my work when I’m not. I just ran into my friend Lisa and she told me I look like I’m down a very long tube, far away from everyone. That’s an unfortunate side-effect, but balancing health and creativity and parenting is no joke. I do have to work weekends and some nights, but I try to set a timer or be aware and not let myself get carried away. One thing I do is edit at night or do interviews like this. Things that don’t activate my imagination so much that I have a hard time engaging with the kids since when they’re here they’re my priority.
EZ: This Raging Light shows a beautiful relationship between Lucille and her little sister Wren. Was there anything or anyone in your life who inspired your writing of such a raw, authentic, and believable relationship?
EL: My brother and I are extremely dedicated to each other. He definitely inspired some of that. My life would be less interesting by half without him. He was the first person I felt a tiger-like protectiveness over.
EZ: Was This Raging Light difficult to write because of the dynamic of Lucille’s family?
EL: Every single paragraph of that book hit some kind of emotional nerve. But it was a cathartic as it was difficult. I don’t know how else I would have gotten through my life at that moment without having that project to work on. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say writing This Raging Light saved me.
EZ: You nailed the relationship between Lucille and Digby, her love interest who is also her best friend Eden’s brother. Did any relationship(s) in your past inform this relationship and how it unfolded, or did you make it all up? And did you have any second thoughts (no spoiler here) about how you allowed their relationship to unfold over the course of the novel?
EL: Sure. I know what it’s like to want someone I can’t or shouldn’t have. I know all about bad timing and unfortunate desire. And I know what it’s like to steep in self-loathing over it. So the characters are entirely fictional. The dilemma, though? Much less so. As to how their relationship unfolded, I agonized, and this was the most honest I could be about it.
EZ: Which character in This Raging Light is most like you (if any), and in what way(s)?
EL: I’d like to say Eden, because she’s this rebellious, cool, intelligent, talented person. Sometimes I am like that (sometimes!). But she’s only a facet, just as Lucille is this sensitive, self-doubting, passionate creature and I’m sometimes like that. Also, I’m obsessed with food like Wren. So I don’t know…take your pick.
EZ: What’s next for you?
EL: These Mighty Forces, a companion to This Raging Light, which picks up a different point of view in the same world. It’s been really interesting taking a whole different perspective while remaining in Cherryville. And this one has some magical realism to it, which is new for me!
To learn more about Laure and This Raging Light, visit her website.
You can also check out some reviews of This Raging Light or Q & As with Laure at the websites below:
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