Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Author Lauren Acampora, who will be signing her new book at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester on Saturday, July 13 from 6-8 PM. Lauren is the author of the novel The Paper Wasp, published by Grove Atlantic in June. It’s been named a best book of the summer by The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, Oprah Magazine, ELLE, Town & Country, BBC.com, Daily Mail (UK), Thrillist, and Publishers Weekly. Lauren’s first book of linked stories, The Wonder Garden, was named a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and an Indie Next selection, and was chosen as one of the best books of the year by Amazon and NPR. It won the GLCA New Writers Award, was a finalist for the New England Book Award, and was longlisted for the Story Prize. She lives in New York with her husband and daughter.
Thanks for being here with us, Lauren. The first question we’d like to ask you is, where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester –though they should totally check here first!)
My books are available at most independent bookstores (or can be ordered from them) as well as through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I also have a couple of short stories available on the internet.
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I post news and events on my website: http://www.laurenacampora.com. I also have social media accounts. Twitter: @laurenacampora Facebook author page: @laurenacamporawriter Instagram: @laurenacampora
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
Ah, my favorite part of writing is doing the research! It’s always a great excuse to learn about areas of interest. For The Paper Wasp I was able to learn about the science of dreams, the workings of a film set, the responsibilities of a stylist and a personal assistant, the plight of Central American refugees, and the construction of kites. Writing this book also gave me a reason to go to Southern California. As it happens, my husband (who’s an artist) had an exhibition in Laguna Beach at the time I was working on the novel, so we made a family trip out of it. I insisted that we stay in the woods in Topanga Canyon so that I could capture the atmosphere of Paul’s cabin. I also drove us around Malibu in our rental car and stopped outside fenced estates. I’m sure I looked pretty suspicious getting out of the car and peeking through the gates. While we were in the area (that is, the general Southwest of the United States), we also visited the Grand Canyon, and drove for hours through the desert. We stopped in Joshua Tree and stayed in a tiny little camper van that I found on Airbnb. I learned a lot about the flora and fauna of the California desert this way.
As for facts that didn’t make it into the novel, I could fill a hundred pages. For instance, I waded through a lot of information about the science of dreams, and I learned quite a bit about the nascent practice of determining the stage and quality of someone’s dreams via EEG. Brain science is of perennial interest to me, and I found it fascinating that by monitoring brain activity during different stages of sleep, an EEG reading can theoretically give a pretty good idea of the quality of someone else’s REM sleep and their ability to dream lucidly.
What was the inspiration for Paper Wasp? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
I was standing in line to buy groceries at my neighborhood supermarket in Brooklyn about ten years ago. I must have been waiting in line for a while, because I found myself staring at the magazines near the checkout aisle and thinking about the glamorous movie stars on the covers, and how it might feel if one of those actresses had been a friend of mine in childhood. I thought about the conflict it might bring up in me, the mix of pride, resentment, and envy. I ended up writing a short story about two such characters: a woman whose star is on the rise in Hollywood, and her former best friend whose life has yet to get off the ground. I finished the story and showed it to a friend in the tabloid industry to be sure I’d gotten a few facts right. But I didn’t really do anything with the story until years later when that same friend casually mentioned that she’d always liked the story and thought it would make a good novel. I’d never considered expanding it until she put the idea in my head. I temporarily put my other book project aside, and the next thing you know, I was writing the pages that became The Paper Wasp.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
I always wanted to be a writer when I was younger, but I wasn’t at all confident that it was a plausible future. I wrote poetry for years, and it was daunting to make the transition to writing fiction. It takes a great deal of confidence to write pages upon pages of fiction; it’s a leap of faith that anyone will be interested in what you have to say. The problem was that I couldn’t find another profession that excited me enough to want to devote my entire life to it. There are many, many things that pique my curiosity, and which I want to explore without a permanent commitment. Neuroscience, real estate, zoology, art, architecture. The beauty of writing fiction is that you can be a dilettante, dipping into all sorts of things and creating characters that serve as temporary alter egos. You can also engage in plenty of wish fulfillment through fiction writing, and it can serve as a great outlet for anxiety. Writing is wonderful therapy.
As for the publishing process, working with talented editors is a joy. It’s a source of wonder to me when a gifted editor can discern a structure in my manuscript that I don’t even see. And when an editor “gets” what I’m trying to do and appreciates the layers I’m trying to build, it’s enormously encouraging. I was also happy with the cover design process for The Paper Wasp, which went shockingly smoothly. The cover designer found the perfect image for the book, by a fabulous artist named Lizzie Gill. It was a brilliant match, and I think the cover manages to reflect—and even enhance—what’s inside the book.
As for the greatest lesson of my journey so far, it’s to write like nobody’s watching and not take it all so seriously.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I have another novel on deck, which takes place in suburban Connecticut—a setting similar to that of my first book, The Wonder Garden. I’m also working on a collection of thematically-linked stories. It’s so refreshing to write short stories after being steeped in a novel for so long.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I write in the office/guest room of my house, at my father’s old desk, looking out a window onto the front yard and the street. When it’s nice out, I move onto the back deck. Having a view of the outdoors is preferable to me, but if needed I can write anywhere. I use a laptop that’s connected to the internet, which makes online research easy to do but is also immensely distracting. If I really need to get past a blockage in my writing, I’ll leave the house and bring my notebook with me. If I can manage it, I’ll find some outdoor place where I can just sit and think and jot down notes and ideas until I begin to work my way out of the rut.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I never used to have a furry companion, but now I do! We just adopted a rescue puppy a few months ago, and he’s a complete doll. He’s dozing on the rug in my office as I write this, sighing dramatically. He’s been a great help during the publishing process in that he’s kept me distracted from worry during the lead-up to the book’s release and its reception. I call him my “stress buster.” It’s hard to feel anxious when petting a sweet puppydog. That said, he also needs plenty of exercise and socialization, and I spend a good amount of time bringing him to the dog park and arranging puppy play dates. If I don’t, he’ll interrupt me constantly by flipping the office rug and gnawing on its underside. But as long as he’s had his exercise, he’s a very good boy. I’m sure there’ll be more dogs in my work from now on.
Thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Lauren, and we look forward to seeing you here on Saturday, July 13th!