Laura’s interview from 2016 and 2018
- Tell us about yourself:
- Where do you live? Currently, the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Yes, it’s cold here!)
- How long have you lived there? This time around, 15 years. I lived here for three years in high school and for six months when I was first born! Other than that, I grew up in the military and later as an adult lived in the Pacific Northwest.
- Are you married? Not anymore. I was for 23 years.
- Kids? Nine! Two daughters and seven sons, including identical twins. The youngest will soon be in high school.
- Full time job? I teach music lessons 25 or 30 hours a week and teach writing at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
- Education? I hold a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in education.
- Who is your favorite author and book?
I love The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. I love the Robin Hood stories and anything by Dick Francis. Of course, I can’t leave out In the Keep of Time, a children’s novel by Margaret Anderson, which was a huge influence on my own writing.
3. What is your preferred genre?
I like mysteries, historical fiction, time travel, and fantastical fairy-tale sorts of stories like Inkheart.
4. How did you start this journey to become a writer?
It really started almost as early as I was able to write. I wrote some poems (thankfully lost to posterity!) when I was eight. I started a novel when I was ten and wrote and bound stories to put on the book shelf in my classroom in fourth grade.
5. What have you written so far?
I finished a novel when I was 23, which I hope to publish some day, but among my already-published works are the five books of The Blue Bells Chronicles, a tale of time travel, romance and redemption, set against the backdrop of medieval Scotland’s great king, Robert the Bruce, and his battle against the English.
There is an associated ‘Not a Cookbook,’ Food and Feast in the World of the Blue Bells Chronicles: a gastronomic historic poetic musical romp in thyme which contains not only over 200 recipes linked to scenes in the series – modern and medieval, fanciful and practical, for the king’s banquet and for the warrior in the wilderness – but it contains glimpses of the history behind the scene, and a bit of poetry or lore.
I’ve also just completed my first collection of musical compositions, Glenmirril Garden, mostly in the style of Celtic jigs and reels. There are a few copies available though not yet generally released.
6. Tell us about your current book.
The Castle of Dromore is the story of Lisa Quinn, a young widow who moves her five boys to a medieval castle on the edges of a tiny village in Scotland. Only after arriving there does she learn it’s haunted by a woman in green, who wants…something…from Lisa and her boys. It is a story of betrayal, redemption, forgiveness, and how we move on in the face of life’s disappointments and our own failures.
7. What is the inspiration for your current book?
Funny enough, it came from an interview when my first book was on a blog tour back around 2010. I was asked to write a paragraph off the top of my head and what came out was walking into a castle, a new home, seeing the beautiful garden and fruit trees growing there—and then looking up to see the woman in green watching.
8. Who was your favorite character to write and why?
In my current novel? I enjoy writing the boys as a whole, and old Mr. McCann. The boys, not surprisingly, come from my own life, but I wrote ‘only’ five because I figured most people would find seven too hard to believe! I enjoy their energy, humor, resilience; how they deal with the craziness around them and their adjustment to a completely different world.
I like writing old Mr. McCann because he’s a bit mischievous and young at heart. He’s a good and kind soul, but has also deliberately left out vital information he should have told Lisa, as he struggles between loyalty to, and helping, an old family friend, and being completely honest with the stranger who can solve his friends’ significant problems. Like most of us, he sometimes struggles to do the right thing. He’s had tragedy, yet he continues to face life with joy and youthful enthusiasm and optimism.
In my Blue Bells series, I really had fun with Shawn. He’s obnoxious and arrogant yet also capable of growing, facing himself and his faults. And all along, he’s also had a sense of humor, great generosity, and a desire to help other people.
9. Is there anything of you in that character?
Of the boys—probably not.
Of Mr. McCann—I hope so! I hope I retain his enthusiasm and humor.
Of Shawn—we both play trombone. That might be where the similarity ends, although I like to think I have a sense of humor! It always makes me happy when I get a smile or a laugh out of my kids or music students.
10. What sets your book apart?
For The Blue Bells Chronicles (which is really five books) I’m told what sets it apart is the idea of two men switching places in time. I think part of what sets it apart, though, is that, while it involves time travel, the time travel is almost incidental. Many time travel stories are more history and adventure. The Blue Bells Chronicles is as historically accurate as I could make it and involves a great deal of adventure—but at its heart, it’s a story of redemption, of growth and change and coming to understand what true love really is.
I think there’s also the fact that Shawn is a complete anti-hero. Multiple people have told me they had a hard time reading beyond their initial introduction to the obnoxious, womanizing, drinking, gambling, and cheating Shawn we first see. I’m glad to say they always report they’re really happy they did keep reading! But Shawn, who is definitely a hero by the end of the series, most certainly does not start out that way!
11. What’s your favorite part in the book? (read it)
It’s impossible to pick one favorite part of a whole series. Some scenes I love for the humor, or the interaction between Shawn and Niall and others I really love for Shawn’s growing sense of those beyond himself. Here are two excerpts, each showing one of those things. Shawn and Niall are in Carlisle, spying on the English and using Shawn’s ‘gift’ to try to charm information out of all the young girls in town. He and Niall meet them in the orchard night after night, both posing as Brom the minstrel. But the girls have started to compare notes at the inconvenient time Niall’s arch enemy, MacDougall, arrives just as Shawn is supposed to play lute for the dinner he’ll attend. Red is a 14 year old orphan who has attached himself to them.
. . . .
In the chilly evening, sweat prickled under Shawn’s arms. Then her skirt swished, just on the other side of the tree, at the same moment he heard the first clatter of hooves in the streets beyond the orchard. He closed his eyes, begging, God, just for a minute, could we forget all the things I’ve said and thought about You? Maybe we could come to some agreements, if You would just let me live another day?
As if in answer, another voice sounded among the dark trees, over the growing sound of hooves ringing on cobblestone, coming from the town. “Emeline!” It was Red!
Shawn’s heart pounded faster. Red was here. Good column. He wouldn’t have to use more time going to look for him. Red was here. Bad column. Now he was in the middle of this! Would he flush him out unknowingly?
“Red?” From the other side of the tree, Emeline sounded more surprised than Shawn felt.
“You seek Brom?” Red’s voice approached. “He’s at the south gate.”
“Why would he be?” Suspicion lined her voice. “He’s to play for the commander’s dinner.”
“He’s running late,” came Red’s barely-pubescent voice.
“Well, that means he’s on his way back, and we mean to talk with him!” She sounded indignant.
The clatter of hooves grew louder. Soon, MacDougall and his men would fill the path between the two orchards.
From the other side of the tree came Red’s sigh. “He’ll be out after the evening meal. He’s meeting Gusselin.”
“Her!” Emeline was indignant.
Shawn wanted to lean around the tree and ask, “What’s wrong with her!” He thought better of it. She was jealous, that was the problem. Gusselin was easily the hottest babe in Carlisle, and her father was wealthy. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have taken him three days to convince her to meet him. Damn, he realized! He was going to have to stand her up! And she was hot! He leaned his head against the tree, breathing slowly, silently. He had bigger things to worry about, he reminded himself. MacDougall. Hanging. Come on, Shawn!
“He’ll be here after dinner,” Red repeated. “Bertrand is looking for you. He’s suspicious, My Lady. Certainly you’ll want to go to him and reassure him.”
The clopping outside the orchard gate grew to a small thunder.
Shawn imagined she’d tossed her head. Go on, he urged her silently. Come on, Red, think of something else. Something brushed his nose. He sucked in his breath, looking cross-eyed in the growing dark, and saw a spider lowering itself from the limb above. Great, just great. He resisted the urge to brush it away as it settled. He could feel its little feet moving across his face. He tightened his lips; hoped it wouldn’t decide to explore up his nose, or crawl down the neck of his shirt. He resisted the urge to fling the thing away. A spider was not going to be his death.
“We’ll wait,” Emeline declared.
The spider crawled up onto his nose, tickling, and making his nose itch with the need to sneeze. He held his breath.
. . . .
In this scene, shortly following, Red has just helped Shawn and Niall escape through the ‘conduit’—which has actually been found by archaeologists, right under the former monks’ home. I use very, very little ‘language’ in my books but this was one scene where Shawn could not have resisted the obvious pun!
. . .
Outside, a man shouted up and down the streets: “A Scottish spy is in Carlisle! Open up! Anyone who harbors a spy will be hanged! Open your doors!”
“Now what?” Shawn hissed. “Do we find more robes and blend in with the monks?”
Niall shook his head. He opened a door, revealing a small room with a wide bench against one wall. A hole was cut in the top. From below came the smell of raw sewage.
Shawn looked at him in horror. “You’re kidding, right?”
Down the hall, a fist pounded on the monks’ front door.
“Would it be the proper time,” Niall hissed, “to say dead serious?” He reached into a closet for a coiled rope, which he tossed at Shawn. “You first.” He lifted the bench off altogether, giving them room to climb through.
The pounding at the front door grew louder.
“Milords.” Red looked nervously from the latrine to the front. “I’ll mislead them, and bring your ponies to the fort.”
Shawn’s head shot up from his work securing the rope. “You can’t….”
“He’s right,” Niall’s forearms flexed. “They’re not looking for him.” He glanced in frustration at the bench in his hand, and added, “You need to drop this back in place, first.”
“Open up!” roared the voice at the front.
Grimacing, Shawn swung a leg over the edge, gripped the rope, and shimmied down, down, down, fourteen feet down into the dark. The smell grew stronger. The shouting above grew louder. They must be in the house. His leather boots sank into soft mush at the bottom. Niall was above him, on him. He jumped out of the way, his foot landing in another soft, slippery mess. Niall hit the ground, yanked on the rope. It slithered down and landed at their feet, even as the bench overhead dropped with a solid thunk. Dark closed in around them, black as tar.
They stood, listening to the soft click of the door to the chamber. Then everything became quiet, too.
“Pardon my French,” Shawn muttered, “but, holy shit!”
“The holiest there is,” Niall agreed grimly. “Lucky for us, it was cleaned only yesterday.”
“How are we going to find our way out in the dark?” His voice bounced off the stone walls.
“While you were dallying with the ladies, I was working.” In the dark, Shawn heard Niall moving carefully, slowly. There came a soft whisper of skin against stone. Muffled, angry voices shouted far above.
“They won’t search the bathroom, will they?” Shawn whispered.
“Hopefully we’ll have light and be gone by then,” Niall murmured back. A faint scratching whispered in the dark.
“What will they do if they see light glowing from the toilet?”
Niall chuckled. “I imagine they’ll repeat your very eloquent words.” Something sputtered, and a weak light flared. Niall’s face shone ghastly in it, with great shadows beneath his eyes. “Let’s find the exit fast before they consider the privy.”
“Holy shit indeed,” Shawn whispered. “They keep torches in their toilets?”
“I told you I’d been at work.” Niall followed the stone wall. It took only a moment to find the maw of a tunnel leaving it. They hurried in, grateful their light would no longer show above. Still, Niall kept his voice low. “As soon as I discovered they had a conduit leading out of the city, I offered in all holy humility to clean it, saying I had great sins of which to repent. The monk whose job it is was more than happy to accommodate my penance. I thought to have it ready, in case we needed an escape.”
The smell pervaded the tunnel. “We should have made Red come with us,” Shawn said into the darkness.
Niall shook his head. “They’d have found the bench open and been waiting for us on the outside. He’s saved our lives, and they’re looking for me, not a stable boy.”
“He’s just a kid,” Shawn objected. “We left a kid behind to save our skins.”
Niall shook his head irritably. “Welcome to the fourteenth century, Shawn. In your day, he’s a kid. Here, he’s a man. He works like a man, he’ll fight like a man.”
. . .
12. What was the most difficult part to write?
I’m not sure there was a most difficult part exactly. I find editing, as a whole, making the multiple story lines fit together, the most difficult part of writing such a story.
13. What was your favorite book to write?
I think I’ve most enjoyed The Water is Wide, which is where Shawn and Niall really begin to spend a lot of time together. Prior to that, in The Minstrel Boy, they were on separate adventures, at the end of which, Shawn rescues Niall from death. In The Water is Wide, as they are forced to spend time together, we see them moving from their disdain of one another to understanding. I really like the interaction between them, as they snipe at and take swipes at each other and yet finally develop a deep friendship and even call each other ‘brother.’
14. How do you write? Do you have a set time or place? How many hours a day?
I write anywhere I can, anytime I have some extra time. If I’m at home, I’m usually in my office or at my kitchen counter. If I’m running errands or picking up and dropping off or waiting for kids, I’ll open my laptop and write in the car while they run in to do shopping, or in their school cafeteria while they’re at practices or rehearsals.
How many hours a day, sadly, varies depending what else is going on. Currently, I’ve been focused on the poetry anthology project I’m overseeing. When that’s done, I hope to be back to about three or four hours every morning while kids are in school.
15. Why did you want to be a writer?
I’ve never felt I wanted to become a writer so much as I was born a writer. I’ve been writing almost since I was able. I was writing poems at 8 (which are thankfully lost to posterity!). I started a novel at ten, but soon discovered O. Henry had already written my idea in The Ransom of Red Chief. I wrote and bound stories to put on the book shelf in my fourth grade classroom.
16. How do you get your ideas?
They come from everywhere—something overheard, a headline, an offhand comment online, another novel I’ve read, song lyrics, a story my kids tell me about someone they met, a person in a car beside me in a traffic jam. Ideas come from asking: Why? What happened? Why do they think that? How did they get there? Where are they going and why do they look so serious (or happy or worried?)
17. What do you have planned next?
When I finish Castle of Dromore, which I hope to do March or April 2020, I want to begin the story of James (son of Shawn in the Blue Bells Chronicles) and his unique childhood and young adulthood in the sprawling mansion Shawn has built, as he prepares for an unbelievable and fantastical destiny.
I also want to write a collection of short stories called Glenmirril Tales or Glenmirril Tapestry, in which I tell more of the people of Glenmirril: the Morrison twins and how Margaret became a saint, Ronin, the Laird’s wife and sons whom we never meet but only hear about; Niall’s father and six brothers who died; his father’s conversation with the monks of Monadhliath in which he’s given the crucifix….and more.
18. What advice would you give new writers?
Find a good writers’ critique group, either in real life or online. Look for one where people really have a desire to help each other grow and do their best writing.
19. How can readers get in touch with you?
I’m pretty easy to find online. Probably the best way to contact me is DM at twitter or on my facebook author page.
Web Site: www.bluebellschronicles.com