Monday, November 28, 2011

Laura Spinella-Northern Author With Honorary Southern Roots

Laura Spinella
  Laura Spinella's book of woman's fiction, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, was recently chosen as Best First Book of 2011 in the NJRWA prestigious Golden Leaf contest.  Spinella, a Long Island native,  used a southern setting for her debut novel. Before you question why, you have to know that she spent some time in the south soaking up southern lore and culture. While here, she  graduated from the University of Georgia, with a degree in journalism and her honorary Southern roots. In addition to writing fiction, she freelances for New England’s GateHouse Media and works with AuthorBytes, a major designer of author websites and online media. She lives outside Boston with her husband, three children, two dogs and two newly acquired kittens. Have a question or comment?Laura will be happy to answer them after the interview. 

Thank you for joining our blog to talk about your career as a writer. You’ve written your first novel, Beautiful Disaster, and it has already received a best first book of the year award for 2011. Congratulations. That’s quite an accomplishment!

Thank you! I was thrilled to be selected as a finalist, being selected as the winner is major icing on the cake!

Could you share a bit about your book and characters?

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is women’s fiction with a heavy thread of romance. I always say to potential readers, “You have to want the love story…” On the other hand, the novel explores a host of other elements: trust, friendship, marriage, the choices we might make when faced with a life-altering decision. Of course, there’s a guy. But I like to think he’s just not any guy. Flynn is the protagonist in BEATUIFUL DISASTER—a man with a half name, a shadowy past and no ties to anything earthbound, until he meets Mia. I think most readers readily identify with her character, particularly as she goes through a metamorphosis, figuring out who she is. When we first meet Mia, she’s a college senior, just graduating into adulthood and exploring ideas about what she wants to do with her life. Later in the book, we see the adult she’s become and the realization of those ideals.

Could you discuss the challenge of developing your characters to the point that readers want to cheer them on? Do you have a favorite character in this book?

Great question. Just expanding on the above, Mia’s character was a terrific challenge. Flynn arrived more complete—not that his story didn’t change along the way. But I had a really good grasp on him from the first draft forward. It took years to develop Mia into a character that was worthy of Flynn and worth the reader’s time. The light bulb finally came on when my agent suggested that Mia couldn’t exist merely to play opposite to Flynn, but that she had to be a full-fledged person unto herself. It made a lot of sense. From there I started building her past, which gave her goals for the future. Eventually, it led to a well-rounded character, who happened to be in love with a dangerously irresistible man.

Do you have a favorite character in this book? Naturally, people assume Flynn is my favorite character. I really don’t have one. Mia, Flynn, Roxanne and Michael are all so intertwined; I see them as an ensemble.

Do you have a favorite scene that you’d like to share?
Probably the opening scene in Chapter Two. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER had countless inceptions and revisions. If I look at it now, I still see a hundred things I’d go back and tweak. Chapter Two is kind of the exception to that rule. The version readers see in the bound copy is a fairly close match to the dog eared, pencil marked draft that lives in a box. Chapter Two captures the essence of the story. It was my canvas, and I was able to paint Flynn right into it. The book takes place in Athens, Georgia; it was the perfect eclectic atmosphere for an elusive character like Flynn. The scene sets the tone for the narrative and dialogue throughout; it was also my compass every time I got lost or felt like the story was veering off course.

Which is more important in your books, character or plot?
Chicken or the egg, hmm… For me, it’s the characters. I actually think it’s smarter to have a well defined plot first, and then the ability to add the right characters to it. But it just doesn’t work that way for me, so why kid ourselves? I have to be intrigued by a character. I’m never, initially, as intrigued by a plot. Of course, when you get attached to a character and start to play the, “what if…” question, that’s when things get interesting. For example, what if a dozen years later, the guy you were madly in love with crashed back into your life? What if, by then, you were married to someone else? What if that man had left you with more questions than answers? And, what if, you were still in love with him?

Did you outline before you wrote the book or did you just have a general idea about where you wanted to go with the story when you started? I love the idea of outlining, but my brain doesn’t really cooperate with that theory. If it did, BEAUTIFUL DISASTER probably would have taken a lot less time to write!

How did you get started in writing?
Well, if you saw my grade school/high school math tests you have the answer to that question! I was always into the arts, theatre, music and writing. Writing happened to be the one I could earn a living at—kind of.

What ignites your passion and galvanizes you to write beyond paying the bills?
In my experience if you’re writing to pay the bills, chances are you live in a tent under a bridge. I’ve always viewed writing, at least for me, as a compulsion. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but that’s how it works for me. I’ve never not finished a manuscript. That doesn’t mean they’re all worth publishing, but I’m kind of a dog with a bone when it comes to a WIP. I learn so much from every attempt, so there’s always something to be gained; even it’s not a published book.

What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing? Most difficult?
Gosh, I feel like I should say that ISBN#, aka having a book on the shelf. And to a certain extent it is. I was in the Barnes & Noble in Boston’s Prudential building the other day, and I was tickled to find several copies of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER on the shelf. Now, here’s the downside. As I approached, I was terrified that they’d be the same copies I signed on a drive-by to that bookstore last winter. (Once you sign, they’re theirs to keep forever & ever!) Finding those autographed copies would have been a thousand times worse than finding no copies. Fortunately, they were fresh copies! But there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, all rolled into one two-minute visit to a Barnes & Noble!

If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?
I never learned a damn thing from anybody saying, “Gee, I loved your book!” Of course, it’s what you want to hear, but it doesn’t give you anything to improve upon.

What tools do you think are invaluable for new writers?
Hands down, social media. Essentially, Facebook, Twitter, blogs (just like this one) are an invaluable resource and don’t cost a thing. I wish I’d mastered them long before my book came out. I have lots of FB friends who are aspiring writers. When they sell their books, they’re going to be in a great position as far as promotion and the perks of social media.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?
Putting the cart before the horse. I teach a community class on publishing; it’s nothing too intense, but it does give a basic overview on how you go about getting your novel published. People are to be commended for wanting to learn about the industry. But I’m always surprised by the number of participants who take the class saying they haven’t even attempted to write a book. At least take a stab a writing a draft before you worry about how you’re going to sell the thing.


On a more personal level, what is a little known fact about yourself?
I can’t spell. If I wrote in the day and age of the paper dictionary, I’d still be looking up “initiative” and “negotiation.” Thanks to spell check, you’ll never know I just misspelled them both, twice.

If you could have a beer, coffee, or tea with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?
If we can change that to a glass of wine, I’m in. The choices, of course, are endless. But I’ve always fancied myself having lunch with Margaret Mitchell. Some swanky Atlanta country club where they serve watercress sandwiches and mint iced tea. Of course, being a Northerner, I’d feel totally out of place. But, Ms. Mitchell, a true Southerner, would make me feel right at home. We’d watch the hydrangeas wilt in the June heat while I probed her mind for all the little nuances of Gone With the Wind that we’ll never know. I’d ask if she ever imagined the book captivating its audience like it did. And did the words timeless and epic cross her mind when she wrote it? Were the characters exactly what she perceived, or did they take on a life of their own? And, naturally, I’d ask the burning question we all want to know, “Does Scarlett ever get Rhett back again?”

Finally, where can we find you on the web?
You can always find me at And BEAUTIFUL DISASTER has a very interactive Facebook page

You can buy  BEAUTIFUL DISASTER at Barnes&Noble  and

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with us.
Thank you so much! This has been great fun!
If you would like to ask a question or leave a comment scroll down and click on comments.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great tips about writing.Hoping someday to also be a debut author.

Anonymous said...

We're so glad you could visit with us here in Texas. If you use the "what-if" method of planning your book, do you start with an idea, then branch out from the original idea with different what-if's like so. Man and woman running in different directions in hotel lobby slam into each other-what if he's got one month to get a million dollars-what if she is an heiress-what-if she needs to get married to inherit-what if he has targeted her- What if he hasn't? Is this what you're talking about?

Ruby Johnson said...

Thanks Jen and Thorne. And a big thanks to Laura for a great interview.

Bryan said...

Your time is invaluable to us wannabes, so thanks so much for sharing it with us! My random question as a writer would be, "What scene have you been most giddy about while writing it?" I live for those eureka moments when events fall into place and your fingers rush sloppily across the keys so you can see how it unfolds.

Laura Spinella said...

Hi All- Thanks again for having me! For the Anonymous comment: Yes, that is kind of what I'm saying. If you start with an interesting question or event, it always leads to another interesting question or reaction. As the writer, the tricky part becomes solving those what ifs! You also have to keep it organized within a plot. BTW, I love your premise, sounds like a great idea!

Laura Spinella said...

Hi Bryan,
Your timing is perfect! I was just revisiting a scene in my new manuscript. I'd been very back-and-forth on the protagonist's movtives. And if I'm unsure, imagine how crazy it might sound to a reader. Anyway, after walking away from this particular scene for a few weeks, I was able to take the hints I'd left and finally hone in on what's driving Aidan Royce (main character) Using that as my cue, I found myself writing away, saying, "Yes... this is where he needs to be!" That's very gratifying.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Best of luck with your writing. And I'll tell you a secret, I still feel very much like a wannabe...

Anonymous said...

Roughly motivational place of duty you give rise to at this juncture. Seems to facilitate lots of relations enjoyed and benefited from it. Cheers and credit.

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