An Exclusive Authorlink Interview With Novelist Laurie Fox
Author of The Lost Girls (Simon & Schuster, January 2004)
By Doris Booth
"My goal was to shed light on the fact that our imaginations never really abandon us." Fox
Laurie Fox calls her newest book, "a love letter to the imagination." And rightly so. THE LOST GIRLS is a brilliantly-written novel about the borderland of reality and fantasy. After her bestselling debut work, MY SISTER FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, Laurie Fox returns with a magical new story which plays on the themes of J.M. Barrie's beloved fairytale, PETER PAN. The book recounts how five generations of daughtersthe "lost girls"all have had an amazing experience with a Peter Pan-like figure in Neverland, only to find they must pay a dear price for their adventure. Each must grow up, leaving behind her first love.
Here, Laurie talks about her version of Pan's heroine, Wendy Darling.
She also shares the tough realities of developing a creative idea and getting published, and offers insight on how to sustain one's self through the long process. " I have always been interested in the relevance
of old fairy tales, and what holds true for our own times."
Fox AUTHORLINK: How did you conceive the idea for THE LOST GIRLS?
FOX: I have always been interested in the relevance of fairy tales, and what holds true for our own times. When I was writing poetry (SEXY HIEROGLYPHICS), I wrote a contemporary version of OUR LADY OF THE LAKE, and a close friend encouraged me to check out the original poem. However, I prefer to write intuitively and to do my research after the fact. My very first book was about a 1980s Cinderella. For THE LOST GIRLS, I was most inspired by poet Anne Sexton, who wrote a book of poems called TRANSFORMATIONS. These modernized fairy tales are funny, shocking, sensual. As far as versions of PETER PAN go, I was most taken with Mary Martin's performance as Peter in the Broadway musical which was broadcast on television in the mid-50s. I ritually watched this show each year it came on.
I was also inspired in the early 1950s by the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, where visitors can fly above the flickering lights of make-believe London and look down on the cityscape. Seeing Big Ben and other historical landmarks from the air just made me swoon. The ride was thrilling, poignant, though I'm not crazy about flying on a real airplane.
AUTHORLINK: Did you have the theme of the book in mind when you began, or did it evolve?
FOX: My first book (MY SISTER . . .) was autobiographical, about growing up in a family with a mentally ill sister. In that book, my protagonist (me) tells herself stories every night before going to bed just to calm down. One particular story I always told myself was PETER PAN. In fact, I extended the story over the course of ten years. While writing THE LOST GIRLS, I discovered that it's probably every girl's dirty little secret that she starts out identifying with the romantic fantasies of Wendy, and then evolves into Peter Pannot in gender, but in her imagination, doing Peter Pan-like things such as fighting Captain Hook. Peter, after all, had a juicier role, a bigger adventure.
In the original Peter Pan, J.M.Barrie writes of Peter returning to London, twenty years too late, to spirit Wendy off to Neverland, only to discover that Wendy is all grown up and has a daughter of her own, whom she then offers to Peter. Peter comes back for each new generation of Darling women only to find them grown and willing to send their own daughters off to Neverland. And thus the cycle begins anew.
I first envisioned a woman in a rocking chair who might have been the great-granddaughter of Wendy Darling from Peter Pan. She was doing more than waiting: she was longing for a certain somebody. The question I asked myself was: How would a woman in our modern world find herself in such a position and how would she handle it? This led to a story of lost generations of women who may have been ushered off to their own "Neverland," and the consequences of their return. " It does become harder
to retrieve our fantasies
in a world obsessed
Fox AUTHORLINK: Was it difficult to keep up with all those generations of women?
FOX: I had to work out each generation on paper, to squeeze in enough births of women to achieve a cohesive narrative. Like my first book, THE LOST GIRLS is a love letter to the imagination! I grew up in less than rosy circumstances, telling myself stories to get me through the night. The book starts when Wendy is age 42 (I'm soon to turn 52). Wendy is a children's book author who has writer's block. She believes her childhood imagination has abandoned her. My goal was to shed light on the fact that our imaginations never really abandon us, though they may go underground. It does become harder to retrieve our fantasies in a world obsessed with reality.
I wanted to demonstrate that by telling our stories out loud, we could develop a newfound respect for our own histories. If a friend is depressed, ask her to tell her own story. At first, friends may say that their lives are "nothing special," but when they see how rich their stories are, they have an opportunity to develop a new respect for themselves.
Our ability to draw on a deep source of creativitya creativity that comes so naturally to us as childrenevolves into something bigger than ourselves. It becomes a form of faith that things will change.
People have asked how I could write about something so whimsical in a time of war. I had to remind myself it was a worthy goal. Without being connected to a source of creativity, how can we solve the problems of the world? THE LOST GIRLS is a fun adventure ride, but it also takes on some really profound issues, such as mother-daughter relationships and women who wrestle with immature men. The book is about mothers who send their daughters off to experience a profound rite of passage, saying good-bye to their girls, who inevitably will fall in love with the same man.
AUTHORLINK: Is the book negative toward men?
FOX: Not at all. Fortunately, though, I am happily married! Of course, there are still men out there who are immature, afraid of commitment. But Peter Pan-like men also enrich our lives. It's more difficult to live with them than to have them as friends, of course, but they make our lives more entertaining and we could all use a little more charm in our lives!
AUTHORLINK: How does the story resolve?
FOX: Wendy Jr. is conscious of trying to stop the cycle of resentment between mothers and daughtersthe mothers are envious of the daughters' experience and the daughters wary of being sent away. When the daughters return, they have to deal with the fact that nobody believes that they've weathered such a radical experience. The girls are advised to get therapy and to try medication. They are not treated well by our culture, in general.
In my book, Jane is missing in action. She's the key to how my contemporary Wendy solves her problems and breaks out of her depression. Anyone who has been seriously depressed is always afraid they will fall back into that hole. My story starts with a character immersed in depression, but she emerges, by and by. As a writer, I enjoy placing passages with different tones up against another having a poignant moment follow a slapstick scene. It's how I experience real life. "It was a miracle I ever completed my first book.
I never imagined I'd finish."
÷Fox AUTHORLINK: Did you have trouble getting published?
FOX: As a literary agent myself, I've endured a 70 hour-per-week job working with other writers, so everyone else's story was often in my head. For many years, it was hard to compartmentalize. Therefore, it was a small miracle I ever completed my first book. I never imagined I'd finish. I had no time. I would work only on Saturday mornings for two or three hours, until the battery on my laptop was exhausted. Sometimes months would pass before I'd have another opportunity to write.
I also wrestle with a challenging illness, fibromyalgia, a close cousin to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. With the illness, however, comes a "brain fog" that forces one to live a temporary life in the unconscious. Thankfully, the unconscious is where much of literature lurks, and if one can find the energy to simply plow ahead, one's brain and fingers do the rest.
Though I work in the publishing industry, I still had to go through the same process as any other writer. I received my share of rejections. Even if you're the son or daughter of a publisher, you're never a shoo-in. Publishing is very democratic. Everyone in the editorial department has to support the projectfrom the editor to the sales and marketing people as a united front. After I received a round of rejections on the first book, I asked my agent to quit sending it out. I had a new idea to make it better, so I took the manuscript back and added some key material. Even after being published by Simon & Schuster, getting the second book accepted required some doing. My agent (Linda Chester) and I had submitted about 75 pages of a different manuscript than THE LOST GIRLS to Simon & Schuster. (A published author can sometimes submit a partial manuscript to a publisher). They liked the writing but didn't care for the idea itself. Instead of being devastated, I was grateful. I had had nightmares about the sample submission. It wasn't a book I really wanted to write. I had already begun the prologue for THE LOST GIRLS. So, I went back to the drawing board for another year with that project. It proved to be one that would captivate me over the long haul.
AUTHORLINK: Did you also have to go through the revision process?
FOX: Oh, yes. I did several revisions for my editors at Simon & Schuster, some radical revisions and some cosmetic ones. Mainly because of personnel changes, I have had four editors. My current editor, who is marvelous, is Marysue Rucci. All authors have to be open to a tremendous number of revisions even after they've been accepted by a publisher. As an agent, I don't take on an author unless he or she is very flexible and open and eager to start the revision process. It sounds like a pain, but when I get notes that are tough on my writing, I think of it as a form of literary tender loving care. I tell my own clients to adopt at least 80 percent of the suggestions they're handed by an in-house or free-lance editor, and disregard what just doesn't make sense to them.
AUTHORLINK: And do you still write only on Saturdays?
FOX: Now I have expanded to Saturdays and Sundays. I have trained myself to write at home instead of at one of four Berkley (where she lives in California with her husband) coffee houses. There, I felt supported by all the people at other tables and working or studying hard! But, with my illness it is now more difficult to be in public. So I have forced myself to write in my bedroom. The rest of the house looks too psychotically messy! I have a home office, but I like to get far away from it when I'm writing. "What will sustain you
is to be committed
to your story and your craft."
Fox AUTHORLINK: What kinds of projects do you represent as an agent (though we know you are not taking on any new clients)?
FOX: Fiction and memoir are my first loves. I am also a fan of science and popular culture. My authors lead me in the direction they're going. I have been agenting for 17 years. It is not such a glamourous business, but it is always fascinating. Each book is entirely different. I have a full house of clients35.
AUTHORLINK: Can you offer any advice for those still struggling to become published?
FOX: Question your intentions. Take a good inventory of the reasons why you want to publish. If you intend to be rich and famous, you may want to reconsider as this profession isn't likely to feed you. It's okay to dream that, one day, Oprah will embrace your book, but that dream won't sustain you through the long, arduous process. What will sustain you is to being committed to your story and to your craft. Keep the faith. But keep your day job.
Visit Laurie Fox at her web site: www.lauriefox.com