Good morning everyone! Today I’m thrilled to invite Lauren Emily Whalen over to my Meet the Author feature! We’re chatting about writing your obsessions, keeping busy, what she’s currently watching, her most recent book, Two Winters, and more…..
What inspired you to start writing and where do you get your ideas?
I actually didn’t write (other than papers for school) until I was in my late 20s! One Sunday morning, I literally woke up, reached for my laptop and wrote a 10-page story about a college student playing Cinderella in summer community theater and her unrequited crush on one of her castmates. This story eventually became a novel, which was probably awful, but it led me to start taking writing classes and eventually look into traditional publishing. About a decade later, after several other unpublished novels and a lot of fits and starts, my debut YA novel, SATELLITE, was released!
One of my favorite authors, Joyce Maynard, advises to “write your obsessions,” and I like that advice a lot better than “write what you know”! I’m obsessed with a lot of big things like the performing arts (I was a theater major and have a dance background) and little things like coloring my hair pink, so there’s a lot to mine there. With TWO WINTERS, I got to dive into one of my obsessions, which is Shakespeare!
How many books have you written and published?
TWO WINTERS is my second novel, just released September 14, and I have a third YA novel, TAKE HER DOWN, coming out March 15, 2022. Both of these are contemporary, queer reimaginings of Shakespeare plays: TWO WINTERS riffs on The Winter’s Tale, and TAKE HER DOWN is inspired by Julius Caesar. My debut YA, SATELLITE, came out in late 2017, and I wrote a nonfiction book for middle-grade and teen audiences, DEALING WITH DRAMA, that came out in early 2021.
How long does it take you to write a book?
I wrote my nonfiction book, DEALING WITH DRAMA, in two months! I also work full-time and am a freelance writer and performer, so that was a very busy time: besides my day job and writing the book–which required a lot of research because it was for an education publisher and was aimed at schools and libraries–I was also working on two freelance articles and rehearsing in/performing a show!
That’s by far the shortest timespan for me, as writing novels takes a year or more. SATELLITE took seven years from first draft to publication, because I changed day jobs several times and had a lot of other life things happening. And that was just the writing–finding a publisher took time too!
Both TWO WINTERS and TAKE HER DOWN took a little over a year each. I feel like by now I’m finding my groove and I’m better able to carve out time to write.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
That’s a tough one! I love them all in different ways. I’ll always love SATELLITE because it was my very first published book, and I love my two main characters, Levon and Harmony. Levon is a serious ballet dancer, and that was really cool to write. DEALING WITH DRAMA dealt a lot with issues girls and young women face with love, friendship, and school, and I got to learn a lot about adolescent psychology and communication. And TAKE HER DOWN was therapeutic to write in many ways: Me Too and trying to live your life in a crazy political climate are both heavily covered. Plus, I wrote the first draft during the early days of the pandemic and it gave me something to focus on and look forward to.
I would say TWO WINTERS has my heart at the moment, however: the first half of the book is set in Catholic school, which I attended from kindergarten through senior year of high school (and I went to a Jesuit undergrad!). I always wanted to write about that very specific and intense experience, and when I looked at adapting Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and how I’d like to reimagine it, I felt Catholic school fit in well with the story. The second half of TWO WINTERS is set in Chicago, where I’ve lived for most of my adulthood, and I love writing about my city!
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
I always have a job or three! My current full-time gig is at an office in downtown Chicago (though we’re mainly working from home these days due to the pandemic). It’s mostly administrative: after working in fundraising and communications in nonprofits and academia for many years, I made the switch so I would have better headspace to write as well as work-life balance.
I’ve been a freelance writer since 2009, covering everything from local theater and dance to queer identity to digital archiving services at libraries! I am also a model at art schools and studios around the city and suburbs, and a professional actor and performer (Shakespeare is my favorite, of course!).
Do you feel it’s more important to have a) strong characters b) a mind-blowing plot or c) amazing settings?
I am a character person, all the way. I think it’s my acting background, but I want to follow the goings-on of interesting, complex people. I like reimagining Shakespeare because I already have a blueprint for the plot, and I can kind of go crazy with what the characters would be like in the modern day!
If a movie was made about your life, what genre would it be, who would you want to play you and what would its title be?
I recently heard a phrase on a TV show: “embrace the mess.” So let’s go with that for the title! I would play myself, it would be a screwball comedy with a lot of fun dialogue, and somehow we’d get Chris O’Dowd in there, because he is my big celebrity crush.
You win a million pounds – you give half to charity. Which charity do you pick and why? What would you do with the rest of the money?
Planned Parenthood all the way! They help so many people in so many ways, and while I give to them monthly, I wish I could do more. With the rest of my money, I’d buy my own place (or places) and fly to New York as much as I wanted, to see everything Broadway has to offer.
What are you currently watching?
I absolutely adore “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX/Hulu) and “The Other Two” (HBOMAX). “Shadows” is about a group of vampire roommates and their long-suffering familiar on Staten Island, and “The Other Two” follows a pair of adult siblings whose younger brother becomes an overnight celebrity, and then their mother does too! Both of these shows have hilarious dialogue and weird characters in funny situations, as well as great pop culture references–put these together and you have my sense of humor. I’ve also been enjoying “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV) for its wholesome vibes and British humor, and “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu) because you can’t go wrong with Steve Martin and Martin Short.
And my go-to comfort show, no question, is “The Great British Bake-Off”! I find it very relaxing and I have big crushes on Paul Hollywood and Noel Fielding. I’m so excited for the new season!
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
The winter of 1997 is a tragedy waiting to happen. Small-town life isn’t easy for seventeen-year-old bisexual and closeted Paulina, especially when her best friend Mia becomes pregnant and doesn’t want to tell the baby’s father, Paulina’s other best friend, Tesla. Meanwhile, Paulina’s secret relationship with volleyball star Ani is about to go public. One fateful night, everything changes forever.
Two Winters is a contemporary YA retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale about birth, death, Catholic school, improv comedy, and the healing nature of time.
Thanks so much for coming over and chatting with me Lauren!
If you have any questions or comments for Lauren, make sure you get in touch!