Laura S. Schmidt
PAL Author interview of the month - August 2017
Our featured PAL author this month is Laura Stewart Schmidt. Always an avid reader, Laura was inspired to begin writing after reading “Harriet the Spy” in grade school. She now writes contemporary fiction and mysteries for young adults. Her first novel, SWEETER THAN LIFE, was published in 2015. Laura has worked as a community education coordinator, and has spent several years as a staff counselor at an agency that supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. Welcome Laura!
Laura, what was the inspiration for your book, SWEETER THAN LIFE? Where did the idea come from?
My young adult novel, SWEETER THAN LIFE, was inspired by my group of co-workers when I was 18. My family situation was strained, and my friends became a substitute family. They helped me through a lot of tough times. Originally my theme was revenge and how it is, indeed, “sweeter than life, so think fools” (Juvenal). But Wendy was a flat character and the story, while promising, lacked substance. I revisited it as a (I hope) more mature adult. At that time I worked for an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities and their families. When the character of Logan, Wendy’s stepbrother, was born, a new dimension was added to the book.
Where do you get your ideas?
Real life offers endless “What-if” possibilities. I carry a notebook and pencil everywhere. I listen to what people say—the most innocent comment can spark a story idea.
When you have an idea for a book, how do you go about writing it?
I am an OCD outliner. I have an outline and a box of index cards for each scene in my novel. That doesn’t mean I can’t surprise myself, or more fun, let my characters surprise me. The character of Jeffrey in SWEETER THAN LIFE surprised me, in a good way.
How did you find your editor?
Good old-fashioned querying. I received a RFF (request for full) and then a contract offer within days of that. I researched the publisher, including buying one of their books so I could get an idea of what my finished product would look like. I also had an attorney go over the contract.
However, even with proper vetting, things don’t always work out for the author. My publisher could not meet the terms of the contract and gave the rights back to me within weeks of my book’s release. SWEETER THAN LIFE is currently out of print. I would advise any other writer to have a written schedule with the publisher so you can verify the editing process is moving at the expected rate. Stuff happens all the time in the publishing world, so the plans may change, but your editor should be up front with you and offer alternative dates. Make sure your contract has a clause that allows you to break it and walk away with minimal penalty if things aren’t working for you. This is your book and your career, and you and the publisher should be a team whose goal is to deliver a professional product.
What kind of networking do you do as an author?
I make sure every indie book store around knows who I am. I have three library memberships as well and go to events and talk to librarians. When you have a book coming out, make more frequent visits and talk about it. Never be shy about telling people you are an author!
I also have a Facebook page, a website and an Amazon author page. I admit to being “old-school” and being more comfortable with people than screens. However, websites are a fun way to introduce yourself to readers.
What books or authors have influenced your writing?
HARRIET THE SPY is probably the reason I am a writer. EMILY OF NEW MOON was another favorite—there weren’t enough books about writers, and Emily’s struggles and successes were fun and inspiring.
As a young teenager I loved the gothics of Phyllis Whitney and Dorothy Daniels, although the latter was more plot-driven and I am more character-driven. Before she began writing romantic suspense, Phyllis Whitney wrote numerous middle-grade mysteries. I read every one, and from her I learned how to plot and subplot, as well as to flesh out a character by giving her a personal problem to solve along with the mystery.
Do you ever experience writer's block?
If I do, I don’t call it that. Just as fields need to lie fallow to rejuvenate, sometimes writers need to step back and take time to read and just live life. We are always writing, even when we’re not.
Where do you turn for instruction and inspiration?
A writer’s group is indispensable. I’m always happy to see The Writer and Writer’s Digest show up in my mailbox. I budget for one or two conferences or workshops a year—meeting other writers and professionals in the field is a wonderful learning opportunity.
What books were among your childhood favorites and why?
I devoured the Trixie Belden mystery series. I might be the only girl who never liked Nancy Drew. I simply couldn’t relate to someone that much older and with so much freedom. Trixie was closer to my age and was always in trouble in home and at school—as I often was. She solved mysteries through legwork and regular old “smarts.”
Robin Yocum’s A BRILLIANT DEATH is a brilliant book. All of J.A. Jance’s series are good, but J.P. Beaumont is far and away my favorite detective. I also enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, although A IS FOR ALIBI is still the best, in my opinion. Sherman Alexie’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN has one of the best voices ever.
What encouragement helped you along your way?
I had the pleasure of meeting Sue Grafton at my first writing conference, and she was very warm and gracious. Robert Randisi read some of my earlier works and offered encouragement and suggestions. When “real” authors acknowledge you as a writer, you start to see yourself that way. My mentor, Heather Luby (currently on staff at UW-Madison) always finds the right thing to say when I am ready to throw in the towel.
What do you love about being a writer?
At the risk of sounding crazy (which we all kind of are), it’s the fun of creating a world. Whether it is the world you want to live in or the one you’re glad you don’t live in, nothing is more fun than inventing people and starting to hear them talk and live their lives in your head.
What is the most difficult thing about being a writer?
Giving myself permission to write without feeling “lazy,” or thinking I’m not contributing anything to the world. I liken it to the chef cooking a dish. Maybe company will come and eat the food, or maybe the chef will eat it herself. Either way, someone will be nourished by it.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?
Sue Grafton told me to face my “dark side.” For anyone who's not a mystery writer, the advice is basically the same—she is saying that your best writing will come out of what you fear the most or are reluctant to deal with honestly. The hardest story to write is the one you need to write.
What projects are you working on now?
I have a completed YA mystery, UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT, in which fifteen-year-old Alison has two weeks to solve a fifty-year-old murder for which her grandmother was blamed.
I am also working on DON’T FEAR, MY DARLING, a new adult mystery. Louisa’s life is in chaos since the death of her beloved grandfather. When she takes a secretarial position with an elderly author, she thinks she has found the type of meaningful work she’s been longing for, but soon realizes the author is in danger from her antagonistic family members.
Anything else you would like to add?
I was named after a mystery. My parents also read to me and took me to the library as a child. You don’t have to name your children for your favorite book, but do read to them every day from the moment they come home from the hospital. It’s the best way to raise readers—and writers.
Thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your life as an author with us, Laura. I’ll look forward to seeing more of your books in the future!
Laura lives in St. Louis with her husband and two dogs. To learn more about Laura and her books check her website at www.laurastewartschmidt.com or visit her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/laurastewartschmidt/.
SWEETER THAN LIFE, Martin Sisters Publishing July 2015
FORMER Authors of the Month
Jessica Shaw writes for children from the picture book age through young adult, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in several magazines for children as well as doing work-for-hire projects. She received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI 2016 Magazine Merit Award committee for her poem My Favorite Sounds, published in Ladybug, May 2015. You can find out more about Jessica and her books on her website at www.authorjessicashaw.com
Patricia A. Miller writes picture books, including nonfiction, historical fiction, and fiction, and she has written several board book manuscripts as well. She has had two nonfiction magazine articles published in Highlights for Children magazine. Her latest article is “A Century of Blossoms,” which appears in the April 2017 issue of Highlights. You can find out more about Patricia and her writing on her website at www.patriciamillerbooks.com.
Clare Vanderpool writes adventure and historical fiction for middle grade readers. Her book Moon Over Manifest won the 2011 Newbery Award, and her newest book, Navigating Early, was a 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Visit her website to find out more about Clare and her books at www.clarevanderpool.com
Claire M. Caterer has been a freelance writer and editor for more than a dozen years. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Woman’s World. She lives in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Find more about Claire and her books on her website at http://www.clairecaterer.com/
Sue Lowell Gallion writes picture books, early readers and chapter books for children from her home in Leawood, Kansas. She is the former Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and is currently Co-Regional Advisor with Kim Piddington for Kansas/Missouri SCBWI. Sue has been published in children’s magazines and educational publishing. PUG MEETS PIG, released in September 2016 from Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), is her first picture book. You can find out more about Sue on her website at www.suegallion.com
Lisa Wade McCormick has written eighteen non-fiction books for children, and her stories have appeared in several children's magazines. Besides being a children's book author, Lisa is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years experience as a newspaper reporter and television producer. She is currently the investigative producer at WDAF-TV in Kansas City. You can find out more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisawademccormick.com
Rita Arens is the author of the contemporary realistic young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013), a 2016 Library Journal Self-e Selection. Rita is also the editor of a parenting anthology, SLEEP IS FOR THE WEEK (Chicago Review Press), winner of a 2009 gold National Parenting Publications award (NAPPA) and winner of an honorable mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival. You can find our more about Rita and her books at www.ritaarens.com
Patricia J. Norton is the author of phonics-based beginning readers and narrative non-fiction for children. In 2006, she started a new publishing house, Short Vowel Phonics, to provide phonics-controlled short stories for beginning and struggling readers. You can find our more about Patricia and her books at http://shortvowelphonics.com/phonics/
Amy Houts, Maryville, MO, is a freelance writer and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction books on assignment for educational publishers, as well as working on her own projects. She is the author of over 60 books, many for young children ages 3 to 7. You can find out more about Amy and her books on her website, www.amyhouts.com, or follow her blog at http://www.houtsandhome.com/amys-blog.
PEGGY ARCHER, O'Fallon, MO, loves to talk to students and adults about writing and her books. Readers can learn more about her author presentations on her website at www.peggyarcher.com. They can also check out her author blog, Peggy’s Pages, at http://www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm. NAME THAT DOG! ( Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN# 978-0-8037-3322-0) is also available through Scholastic Book Club and Scholastic Book Fairs.
JANIE CHEANEY is the author of novels for middle-grade readers. Her book, THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book by the Kansas State Library. Janie is also a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and co-publisher of RedeemedReader.com.
HOLLY SCHINDLER's first two published works, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt, were both YA novels. Her debut MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, released with Dial / Penguin on February 6, 2014, and her next YA, Feral, is forthcoming from HarperCollins. Find out more at hollyschindler.com
BRIDGET HEOS is the author of Mustache Baby (Houghton Mifflin, May 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0547773575) She lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children. Check out her Facebook page, Author Bridget Heos, or website www.authorbridgetheos.com for updates!
BONNIE HINMAN writes non-fiction books for children. She lives with her husband in Joplin, MO, close to their children and grandchildren. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at http://www.bonniehinman.com.
SHANNON MOORE is the former Assistant Regional Advisor for Missouri SCBWI. You can find out more about Shannon on her blog, Great Books for Children, where she reviews children’s books. http://greatbooksforchildren.com/index.php/about/.
JODY FELDMAN lives in St. Louis where she writes middle-grade contemporary novels for young readers. The first book in her series, The Gollywhopper Games, was an ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults nominee, and received the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award Honor Book for Children’s Literature. The second book in the series, The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion, recently made the St. Louis Post Dispatch Best Sellers list for kids' books. http://jodyfeldman.com
NANCY POLETTE of O’Fallon, MO is the author of picture books, fiction and non-fiction for middle grade readers, and has four easy readers coming out this year. Nancy is a former teacher of students in K through 8th grades, and is currently a professor of education at Lindenwood University where she teaches Children’s Literature.
ANN INGALLS was born in Cleveland, grew up in Detroit, and now lives with her husband and three children in Kansas City. You can find out more about her and her books, including J is for Jazz, on her website at: http://anningallswrites.com/ann-ingalls/
CYNTHIA COLLINS, from Jefferson City, enjoys writing for the teen and young adult audience. Her debut novel for teens, THE UNICORN TREE, was released by Mockingbird Lane Press in 2012. Two of her short stories published in the quarterly writers’ journal, The Storyteller, received a People’s Choice Award for 1st Place in Fiction. You can find out more about Cynthia and her writing on her website at www.cynthia-collins.com, and you can contact her at email@example.com
KRISTIN BAIRD RATTINI, Foristell, Missouri, is a freelance writer who has written for children’s magazines for 17 years, Kristin has enjoyed the challenge of introducing young readers to a wide range of topics and the thrill of hooking their attention with writing that’s both educational and entertaining. You can find out more about Kristin and her books at: Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristin-rattini/5/900/33a and MediaBistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/fm/PD.asp?user_id=6628
MARGO L. DILL, of St. Louis, Missouri, is the SCBWI Missouri webmaster and a children's and YA author. She currently has three books out: Maggie Mae, Detective Extrordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies (picture book), Finding My Place (middle grade), and Caught Between Two Curses (young adult). She is also a freelance editor and writing teacher. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com
SUE BRADFORD EDWARDS writes from her home in Florissant, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and son. You can find out more about Sue and her work on her website at www.suebradfordedwards.com, and on her blog, https://suebe.wordpress.com/
VEDA BOYD JONES is the author of 47 books and over 500 articles and short stories. She writes children’s picture books and middle grade novels, fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in children’s magazines. She also writes romance novels for adults. Find out more about Veda and her books on her website at www.vedaboydjones.com
CYNTHIA REEG writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her writing includes fiction, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Her books have been published by Guardian Angel Publishing, and her work has been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her newest book, BUNNY BUSINESS, was released from Guardian Angel Publishing in September 2014. http://www.cynthiareeg.com/index.html
STEPHANIE BEARCE is the author of non-fiction for children and she also writes middle grade fiction. She is a past SCBWI Regional Advisor and is a full member of the Missouri Writers Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers. Find out more at www.stephaniebearce.com
BARBARA STUBER, from Kansas City, brings visual art and writing together as she weaves artwork into her stories for young adults. Her latest book, Girl in Reverse, was an NPR (National Public Radio) pick for the Best Books of 2014 in five categories. Her earlier book, Crossing the Tracks, was an ALA Wm. C. Morris Award Finalist in 2010. Find out more at http://www.barbarastuber.com
JEANIE FRANZ RANSOM, from O’Fallon, Missouri, sold her first story to Seventeen magazine when she was a teen, and has been writing ever since. She is an award-winning author of children’s picture books, and her books have received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. She is also a former elementary school counselor. Find out more at www.jeanieransom.com
JODY JENSEN SHAFFER is the author of 26 fiction and nonfiction books, which include titles like NINJA WARRIORS, INSIDE MY MUSCLES, BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS, and FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Her debut picture book, ROCKY, releases in 2017 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Find out more at: http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com/
ANOLA PICKET is a former teacher and school librarian and writes historical novels for middle grade readers. She is also the author of an I-Can-Read book for younger readers, and co-author of a book for teachers and parents, Multiple Intelligences and Positive Life Habits. Anola lives in Kansas City but loves to travel and finds ideas and inspiration in her travels. You can find out more about Anola and her books at www.anolapickett.com, or meet her on Twitter at anolamarie.
AMY SKLANSKY, University City, is a former editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Amy writes picture books and board books, and is the author of children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her books have received many awards including the Bankstreet College of Education Best Books of the Year, Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council, and have appeared on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers list. You can read more about Amy at: www.amysklansky.com.
CATHY GILMORE, St. Louis, is a picture book author, and freelance editor. Her goal is to help children discover the joy of God’s love through her books. A Certified Catechist of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, she creates stories that bring the gospel to life for children. Her newest book, LITTLE LAMB FINDS CHRISTMAS, won the 2015 USA Best Books Award in the Children’s Religious books category. Read more about Cathy and her books on her website at www.catherinecgilmore.com.