Lauren McLaughlin is no stranger to the world of writing. Before she started writing books, McLaughlin spent her time writing screenplays for a living. Her debut novel, Cycler, hit shelves a little earlier this year and caught our attention here at yaReads. To read the book review, click here
Lauren was kind enough to sit down with us for a quick Q & A session about her work, and life as a writer.
Cycler is your debut novel. In your own words can you give us a quick description?
Cycler is the story of a teenage girl who turns into a boy four days every month. In her attempt to hide this fact from the outside world, she inadvertently splinters off a separate personality with a mind of his own.
Is Jack supposed to be a metaphor for PMS?
The story drew heavily from my own mind-bendingly awful experiences of PMS, but Jack is much more than a metaphor. I never establish the precise reason for the cycling or for Jack’s splintering because I wanted readers to draw their own conclusions. But I definitely didn’t intend for Jack to be merely a symbol of something else. I wanted him to breathe, to have life. I guess in some ways, he’s an amalgam of those parts of ourselves that we can’t accept. Beautiful parts, angry parts, ugly parts, uncomfortable parts.
Which character did you enjoy writing more, Jack or Jill?
Jack, of course. Jack basically sprang from my head fully formed, did a little dance, and said “look at me!” I could relate to Jack on a very profound level, whereas Jill took some getting to know.
You nailed the male voice well – did you find writing Jack a challenge, because you’re a female writer? Did you do any specific teen-boy research for him?
I’ve never found it particularly difficult to write male characters. All characters are unique and different from me, and gender is only one aspect of a character’s personality. I’ve always had very close male friends and I grew up with a brother. That plus plain old empathy make it possible to envision life from another’s point of view. Also, my husband, who is very much like Jack, provided daily inspiration.
Although it does it in a comical way, Cycler raises some interesting questions about gender roles. Is hermaphroditism and transgender something you have an interest in?
I have an interest in gender as a broad topic, but mostly because I think far too much is invested in it. We actually know very little about the subject and yet as a society we spend a lot of time talking about it, fighting about it, and constantly adapting our thoughts and feelings on the subject. I’m a firm believer in equality and freedom and I don’t think individuals, or society for that matter, benefit from strict gender rules. But I also think that a lot of people enjoy playing with the rules. Take, for example, male transvestites who often embrace the most stereotypical feminine traits. They’re playing. I’m interested in the ways in which we construct gender in an ever-changing way using biology and culture as jumping off points.
How long did it take you to write Cycler?
The project began as a screenplay in the mid nineties. I never finished it but it never fully went away. When I started writing fiction, I remembered how much I loved the idea and got right to work on the novel. It turned out very different from the original screenplay and it took me about a year and a half to write.
Do you have any specific routine or rituals you do when you sit down to write?
I can write anywhere at any time, but if I’m having trouble focusing I put on headphones and listen to Bach. Eventually, I’ll branch out into other music and each project will wind up with its own playlist that helps me get into the right frame of mind. I also do extensive outlining but my outlines don’t survive very well. I’m a big planner and a big destroyer of plans.
Can you tell us about the playlist for Cycler?
Okay this is going to be embarrassing as there are some very old songs from my childhood there and I don’t even know why. But here goes, my Cycler playlist in order:
Horse With No Name by America
Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues
As You Are by Travis
Big Ideas (bootleg version) by Radiohead
Dollars and Sense by Radiohead
Skip Divided by Thom Yorke (are you seeing a pattern here?)
Black Swan by Thom Yorke
Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead
The National Anthem by Radiohead
My Body Is A Cage by Arcade Fire
The Golden Age by Beck
Off You by the Breeders
Amsterdam by Coldplay
Cheers Darlin’ by Damien Rice
Landslide by The Dixie Chicks
Sara Smile by Hall and Oats (I’m cringing now)
Us and Them by Pink Floyd
Hey by The Pixies
Gigantic by The Pixies
A Wolf at the Door by Radiohead
Creep (live) by Radiohead
You and Whose Army by Radiohead
Basically my project playlists evolve according to a logic I can not divine.
Listen to Lauren Mclaughlin’s playlist!
Did you find the process of finding a publisher hard or easy?
I got lucky with this one. Though I’d been publishing short stories for a while, I had trouble selling my first novel. With Cycler, I got an agent through a recommendation from one of her writers. She sold it in within weeks. She’s good.
You had trouble selling your first novel? Can I assume that it is yet to gain publication? Are you planning on trying to get it published now?
I have not sold it and have no plans at this moment to attempt to sell it. It’s a space opera and something I was very proud of at the time I finished it, but it feels very foreign to me right now and I’m not sure I’m in the right frame of mind to polish it. I have not, however, ruled out turning it into a surrealist road fantasy. We’ll see.
You’re working on a sequel, when is that due out?
It’s due out in the fall of 2009. I don’t think they have an exact date yet.
Can you dish any info regarding the plot?
I can tell you it does not take place in Winterhead.
Is it true you’re working on a screenplay for Cycler?
I’ve already written the screenplay for Cycler and I’m in negotiations with a producer right now.
You have a screenwriting background, right?
Yes. I wrote screenplays for about ten years before turning my attention to fiction. I’ll still write the odd screenplay now and then, but my real love is the novel.
What are your fave books/authors?
I’m a big fan of Meg Rosoff and Cintra Wilson. Colors Insulting To Nature is a great book about a teenage girl that’s not quite a YA novel. I love Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway in particular. I love Kurt Vonnegut and William Gibson. I’m still discovering the wonderful world of contemporary YA but I think it’s a rich genre. Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier come to mind.
I’m a big Star Wars geek. I also love The Philadelphia Story and anything with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in it. I love musicals.
What are the best and worst things about being an author?
The best thing is the final draft. A story doesn’t even really exist until it all comes together at the end. It’s like an emergent phenomenon. The whole writing process, up until that point, is a battle for clarity over what exactly is the soul of the story. And it’s only after I’ve stumbled upon it that I even recognize it. Which brings me to the worst part of writing: everything that comes before that moment.
On that note, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
My advice is to read a lot, live a lot and write a lot. Those with sufficient hunger to pursue a story to the bitter end, don’t need any outside inspiration and probably already know who they are. The ones I feel for are the ones who *think* they want to write but lack the obsessive commitment to see it through. I think especially when you’re young it’s important to push yourself further than you think you can just to see what’s inside you. Maybe that obsessive commitment is there but hiding underneath other things – like laziness, self-doubt and procrastination. If, after pushing yourself, you find that the obsession is not there, that’s okay too. In fact, count yourself lucky. As far as the business side of things, I’m still figuring that out.
A big thanks to Lauren for taking the time out of her busy schedule to chat with us! If you want more information about Lauren, you can check her out at www.laurenmclaughlin.net