August 7th, 2020
I asked Laura where she would like to interview:
If Darby McAllister, Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s main female character, were asked to pick the world’s most perfect location for my Indie-Go interview, her choice, hands down, would be Original Farmers Market in Los Angeles’s historic Fairfax district. After all, that’s where Darby was “born.” If you’ve ever been to Farmers Market, which opened in 1934, you’d surely be a fan of the iconic retro décor that keeps the place looking pretty much like it’s still, well, 1934. And that’s only one of the reasons Farmers Market remains so popular. Laura Mae and I would enjoy aromas from food stands representing almost every type of cuisine that exists. We’d wander past stalls stocked with souvenirs, toys, home-made ice cream, meat and poultry, baked goods, kids books, fresh produce, beer and wine, gourmet food, groceries, and even custom-made shoes. Not to mention several candy stores that would thrill Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s Naz Nezri, the kid from Morocco with a big-time sweet tooth.
I would bring Laura upstairs to the Upper Dining Deck, whose bland name completely misses its charm. Amid the market’s bustle, I bet Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s third kid, Justin Pennington, would love the quiet. Surrounded by windows overlooking a sunny, tree-filled plaza, it’s perfect for writing and conversation. Laura and I would sit on the Market’s signature green folding chairs at one of the colorful round tables. Although we wouldn’t find ghostly Mr. Usher or anything like his magical carnival up there, we could have (years ago) enjoyed the view out the front windows of a green and gold trolley, which came by below about every 20 minutes. It stops elsewhere now, but that vehicle inspired Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s brilliantly illuminated, gleaming green coach that thunders over a wall, swoops down, and transports Darby, Naz, and Justin to Mr. Usher’s carnival where he helps them find their way to self-acceptance. Laura would be relishing a beverage selected from any number of coffees, teas, and just about any other liquid she could imagine, including Moxie, Frostie Blue Cream Soda, and other classic stuff. For myself, I’d swig a Diet Dr. Pepper, my own personal heaven in a bottle, and as we’d talk, I’d relish memories of the days when I wrote Summer of L.U.C.K‘s first draft in this very spot.
Laura Mae: What inspired you to enter the world of writing?
Laura Segal Stegman: Of all the books I read when I was a kid, there were five or six about family, friendship and self-acceptance that I never forgot. These books and their characters taught me a lot, or touched me deeply, or made me feel good. I loved them so much that I read them again and again, even as an adult. And when I thought about trying to write a novel, I knew right away it would be a middle grade story, one that I hoped would mean as much to kids today as those stories still mean to me.
LM: How long have you been writing for?
LS: Growing up, I may have attempted a short story or two, but business writing has been a part of my career as a public relations consultant for a long time. As for fiction, though, my middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., took almost twenty years from first draft to publication. Of course that includes multiple rewrites and revisions. With an emphasis on multiple. I really learned to write a novel by working on Summer of L.U.C.K.
LM: What are you currently working on?
LS: When Summer of L.U.C.K. is published on September 15, 2020, by INtense Publications, it will be a dream come true.
It’s about three kids searching for self-acceptance. Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate telepathically. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They meet the ghost of Leroy Usher, Carnival King (the title’s L.U.C.K.), who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he teaches them how to find their voices.
My contract with INtense Publications calls for two sequels, and the first one, which is called Ready or Not, is about two-thirds written. Folks will find Ready or Not‘s first chapter as a sneak preview at the end of Summer of L.U.C.K. Having lived with these characters for so many years, I can’t wait to see them come alive in the minds of everyone who reads it.
LM: Are there any books or authors who inspire your work?
LS: The Diamond in the Window from my childhood, my all-time favorite middle grade book, inspired me to write Summer of L.U.C.K. Like L.U.C.K., it’s sprinkled with magical elements, and one of its main characters is an 11-year-old girl searching for self-acceptance. Other childhood favorites that influenced my work were Beverly Cleary’s Ellen Tebbits and Sydney Taylor’s All of A Kind Family series. While not a book, I have to also mention the first The Parent Trap movie as a big influence on Summer of L.U.C.K. Readers with sharp eyes will find references to it throughout the book.
LM: What has been the most challenging for you so far?
LS: Summer of L.U.C.K. was written over a seriously long period of time, during which I learned about the craft of writing fiction. I can’t even begin to list all those challenges, but chief among them was building conflict into the story. Ready or Not will be done in a little over a year. The challenges of writing under a deadline trigger a whole new set of issues, especially my impatience when it takes me a while to find my way through a chapter or section of the story.
LM: What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Any rituals or ‘must-haves’?
LS: Before the pandemic, I spent every evening possible working on Ready or Not. Now, with Stay at Home orders and all business meetings held digitally (no traffic!), I have so much more available time, so I try to devote at least two days a week writing during the day as well as in the evening. My deadline is looming!
LM: Any songs or type of music you need to listen to when you write?
LS: I love listening to classical music when I write, especially Beethoven’s symphonies. I’m absolutely lifted by the energy in his work!
LM: What would you say is your favorite book or series of all time? Why?
LS: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, hands down. I’m one of the very few people who never read these books when they were published. Frankly, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Witches? Hogwarts? The Dark Lord? Not for me, I thought. But I finally picked up the first one about three years ago. Within 15 months, I’d finished them all. And the only reason it took me that long is that I was so devastated by the ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I had to take a break before reading the very last one. That’s drama!
LM: What genre do you typically read?
LS: Despite my love for middle grade stories, I’m a devoted reader of crime fiction, and my favorite authors in recent are Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), Louise Penny, and Tana French. I love French’s use of language, and I’m devoted to the characters in Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series and Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. Once I finish a Strike or Gamache book, I can’t wait to pick up the next.
LM: What are you currently reading?
LS: Having just finished Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In, my favorite so far of the Inspector Gamache series, I’m already engrossed in her next book, The Long Way Home. I’m also reading a bunch of middle grade books, including Grace’s Ghosts by Stephenie Wilson Peterson; Casey Grimes, The Mostly Invisible Boy by A.J. Vanderhorst; Derek Hyde’s Spooky Scavenger Hunt by E. Michael Lunsford; Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees by Rob Kent; Read at Your Own Peril by Patrick Hueller; and Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo. Yes, all at the same time. (I switch around.) Can you tell how much I love to read?
LM: Who is your favorite literary character and why?
LS: Ah, too many to choose from! But the name that popped up just now is Auggie Pullman from Wonder. His narration pulled me into this book and never let me go. This touching, life-affirming story about making friends, navigating through fear, and growing up despite challenge after challenge touches me in the same place as did my favorite childhood books.
LM: Besides writing, what is it you like to do?
LS: I’m a big fan of Major League Baseball, and I follow the Los Angeles Dodgers all season long (mostly on TV, although we go to a game here and there). Aside from the integrity of the team as a whole, especially in recent time, I love learning about the individual players through social media and interviews. Their TV channel does a great job of weaving players’ off- the-field lives into their work on the field, which greatly appeals to the storyteller in me.
As mentioned, I’m a big reader. I also love classical music concerts and theater, connecting with friends and family. You know, life stuff.
LM: In a brief statement, have you self-published or traditionally published? What was your experience?
LS: I’m grateful to have connected with INtense Publications, whose principals believed in Summer of L.U.C.K. just as I did. Although they’re small and relatively recently established, they’re mighty, with more than twenty books published in the last year. Like with small publishers in general, much of the promotional/publicity work falls on me, but I’ve built my pre-author career in public relations, so my promotional skills are serving me well. I’m thrilled that INtense is my publisher, and I’m grateful to be working with them.
LM: Are there any regrets you have or anything you wish you knew sooner?
LS: If I could change anything, I would have discovered the online writing community many years before I did. I elaborate on this below, but had I done so, I truly believe my journey to publication wouldn’t have taken as long.
LM: For aspiring writers out there, what would be the best advice you want them to know?
LS: On my way to publication, after I got as far as I could on my own, these things proved to be major factors in bringing my work to a level that helped me secure a publishing contract, and I’m happy to share them:
- worked with a development editor;
- connected with other writers to establish critique partnerships;
- followed writer-focused social accounts, blogs, podcasts and web sites/publications to learn everything I could;
- watched the promotional work of published writers I admired to see what they were doing;
- kept a notebook of promotional ideas well before I signed with a publisher that now serves as a great resource;
- kept the faith despite rejection after rejection;
- never stopped believing in myself, even when a publishing contract didn’t seem possible. “This CAN happen for me” was my mantra.
Laura Segal Stegman grew up in Southern California with parents who valued reading, and she remains spellbound by middle grade fiction. Some of her favorites, then and now, are The Diamond in the Window, Ellen Tebbits, All of A Kind Family, Wonder, A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Miraculous. As a writer, Laura’s non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York, and her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine and Christian Science Monitor, among others. A long-time publicist, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations and non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama and lives with her husband in West Los Angeles and part-time in New York City. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater.
Summer of L.U.C.K. – Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices.
As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.