From A Writer’s POV: (POV) Why did you become a writer?
Laura Hoopes: (LH) I wanted women to hear the news that it is possible to have a career in science and a family, so I wrote my memoir. I got advice and took writing classes, and I got hooked. So I got a certificate in creative writing from UCLA extension (mostly through online courses) and now I am going for my MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) at San Diego State University.
POV: When did you know you wanted to publish a book?
LH: I am a professor, and I felt bad for my women students in a seminar on Biographies of Biologists because they thought you had to be a workaholic loner to go into science. We read about Nobel laureates like Barbara McClintock who found jumping genes and Rita Levi-Montalcini who discovered nerve growth factor. They were more or less married to their science, and my students did not want a life like that. But there was no biography or memoir to convince them they could still do science if they wanted a family.
POV: Why did you pick the genre that you write?
LH: I was trying to give something to my students, the confidence that they wouldn’t have to give up a family to go into science or medicine. But then, I got hooked and started to enjoy the writing. And fiction is so liberating after writing first science papers and then memoir. It’s not “just the facts, ma’am” but you can create your own world. I was amazed to find out, once your characters come into being, they aren’t really under your control any more, though.
POV: If you could write in any other genre, what would that be?
LH: Literary or maintstream fiction. I have started writing short stories, in fact a couple of them have been published and two have been released online. And I’m working on two novels. The one closest to being finished is The Bad Project. A Chinese American woman from SF comes to college in LA determined to learn to be bad. She wants to be a writer, and a literary magazine editor told her she should wait until she’s had some experience. So, she enlists her roommate, a black woman from LA, to teach her to be bad! Her list includes a tattoo, smoking, drinking, plagiarism, then sex. Of course, when you look for the bad, things go wrong. This novel starts off lighthearted, but it goes to a dark place before giving a glimmer of hope for the heroines at the end.
POV: What is your writing process?
LH: I can write at any hour and almost anywhere, but I seem to need long periods, at least an hour, to get started. My mind chews over where I am in the writing, and then begins to dive into possible future directions. I envy people who can write for fifteen minutes while waiting to load up the carpool. I just can’t concentrate enough to write something decent under those circumstances. I can write fast to prompts, but writing part of a memoir or novel just won’t work unless I have a long block of time, preferably half a day. My favorite place to write ever has been the Norman Mailer Writers Colony on Cape Cod (Provincetown), where I took a Biography workshop last summer and really got a lot of good material written looking out over Cape Cod Bay.
POV: How long did it take you to write your current book?
I started in 2006, but actual writing only took about three years. I had to keep taking time out to learn more about how to write. At first, I wrote two long chapters and showed them to my friends and asked for input. They were kind but firm. No! to strict chronology, no! to lack of description, no! to lack of emotions, and get that passive voice out of here. You see, scientists are trained to write the opposite of creative writers! So I had a lot to unlearn, and a lot to learn anew. It’s been great fun, though.
POV: What mistakes have you made with this book that you will be sure to correct next time?
LH: With this book, I talked with agents at meetings and heard that it was a university press type book. I submitted to a lot of university presses, and Yale, where I went for my higher degree, was interested. They sent it out for review and then recommended changes, which I made. The editor I was working with didn’t give me a contract, but said I was “in the queue” for three years. Then she sent me an email saying they wouldn’t publish it. Meanwhile, I had not let other presses that expressed interest in the book see it exclusively, and I had no good options. Emory and Scripps invited me to speak about my life in science this spring, so I decided to go with Lulu and self-publish it on a POD basis. So, the short answer to this question is that what I learned was, GET A CONTRACT, or else pull the plug. I have been happy with the Lulu process, and I’m hoping to get a big pulse of interest after the May 2 launch and over the summer.
POV: When do you feel most comfortable in your writing zone?
LH: When it is very quiet, with nature noises like the sea or the rain. Day or night both work well for me, so I’m not hooked on any special time of day.
POV: Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
LH: Favorite authors are WG Sebald, author of Austerlitz and other novels, writing densely felted together from feelings, details, sensory impressions, and Maya Angelou, author of memoir and poetry, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Current favorite book is Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, A Pure Woman. I love the landscapes in it and the way he shows that Tess is ruined without her ever doing a single thing wrong, just through society’s double standards. He shows the deviltry of factory farms destroying people with their demands, the way men felt they could sleep around but women became bestial if they were raped against their will, many other parts of society.
POV: What books are you currently reading?
LH: The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley. She goes to China, speaking no Mandarin, with her two little boys and her husband. She gets cancer which is treated there. It’s a very deep book, but rooted in the day-to-day details of life in China.
All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell. About Haiti, with amazing descriptions of the Haiti of long ago and inspiring words about a black leader who exceeded everyone’s expectations.
POV: What advice do you have for those who are looking to publish their first book?
LH: Write what is deep inside of you, never mind what you think the publishing world is looking for. Someone needs to hear your message, in its clearest, most telling form. Today, you may find a publisher or self-publish, but an audience is out there if you have a compelling tale to tell. But you still need to write your very best possible. Take classes, join critique groups. Some critique groups or classes work for you, some don’t, but you’ll find some that are great fits for your subjects and style if you keep looking. As for your text, if a lot of people tell you they don’t get it, you probably should rewrite. I can tell you it’s possible to learn to love rewriting, because you can get very subtle, interweave themes, and build in surprises. But most of all, never give up. If writing is what you’re meant to do, write!
Tomorrow on The POV Lounge…
My review for “Broken Promises Never Men” Come back tomorrow to see exactly how I felt about the book and if I think it’s a must read!
The Spring/Summer Author/Writer Campaign jumps up again in June. Our next campaign will be taking submissions in July for the Fall Author’s Campaign. Stay tuned!