It’s my pleasure to introduce Laurel S. Peterson to Before They Were Authors. A fellow Barking Rain Press author, Laurel’s debut mystery novel, Shadow Notes, was released in May 2016. In addition to being a mystery author, Laurel is also an English professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and she has two poetry chapbooks. She is currently serving as the town of Norwalk, Connecticut’s poet laureate. Let’s find out a bit more about her, shall we?
Judy: What was the best job (besides being a writer) that you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?
Laurel: The best job I’ve had is being a college professor. I love seeing students master a concept or skill. I like seeing them complete a course they didn’t think they’d make it through. I love classroom debate and laughter, and watching minds probe, toy with, wrestle with ideas. I like reading student papers when the student has invested him/herself in the process or has something fresh or unusual to say.
As far as influencing my writing, the job’s biggest gift is time. I have summers off, a month at Christmas, and a week in the spring. I can also get a fair amount of writing done at the beginning of the semesters as I don’t have a lot of grading yet. It also puts me in an environment with others who love language and ideas. However, there was one draft of a novel way back when that killed off a college president, although not the president at the college where I teach now (and no, it’s true, not just politic!). There are a few people I wouldn’t mind killing off. I imagine I’m on some of their kill lists, too, which is only fair.
Judy: Have you quit your day job?
Laurel: I wish. (Surprising after all that praise above, but I grade an average of 600 papers/1400 pages each semester.) And given that I’m supposed to be promoting a book and acting as my town’s poet laureate and writing a new book in addition to teaching, giving up any one of them would be a step in the right direction. It’s just that they are a) fun to do or b) paying for my groceries.
Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?
Laurel: I wouldn’t say there was much deciding involved. When I was in junior high school, I started keeping a journal. I was being bullied by the kids, while the teachers treated me as an advanced student. The journal allowed me to process that dichotomy. It was just mine, safe from judgment. One day, the bus trip home was particularly harrowing. I wrote a story that afternoon in which something violently awful happened to the bully. I don’t remember what, but it was very satisfying to write! By mistake, I left the journal on the breakfast room table, where my parents read it. Instead of asking about the bullying, they told me they were dismayed I was thinking this way, and that I should never write anything like that again. I don’t respond well to ultimatums.
Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?
Laurel: Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do. Write what you’re curious about. Find someone who knows what they are doing, and get that person to help you write even better than you do now. Pay attention to every word. Allow the reader to revel in your sensory dream.
Judy: Thank you, Laurel, for sharing your story.