Creative talent usually comes with more than one outlet. In the case of Laura Elise Taylor, she divides her time between writing in the winter and photography during the “wedding season”. This Canadian author slash photographer was born in Port Credit, Ontario: Mississauga’s Village on the Lake. Being twenty minutes West of Toronto, a well known creative hub for Canadians, it’s no wonder she hasn’t settled on just one outlet. Laura earned a M.A. from the University of Alberta and currently lives in Guelph, Ontario. Although she has had a number of photo shows, A Taste for Paprika is her first published book. I hope you enjoy getting to know this creative adventure seeker.
Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
Laura Elise Taylor: After my master’s degree (in English Lit and Creative Writing), I went off and became a photographer. I made a conscious decision to not write for a living; I was afraid that the addition of the money element would ruin my most precious creative outlet. I quickly discovered that when writing is not a part of my work life, I don’t do it very much…so here I am, a writer after all.
Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?
Laura Elise Taylor: When someone paid me for something I’d written. I call myself a writer simply because I make half of my living by stringing words together; writing is something I do, rather than something I am. I shy away from the more mystical, glamorous interpretations of the designation. Maybe some day I’ll believe that they apply to me.
Moe: Were you a good writer as a child? Teenager? Etc.
Laura Elise Taylor: As are most children, I was completely unselfconscious in my writing. Even though a lot of it is endearingly silly and decidedly precocious, it’s inspiring to re-read my very old journals and see how free I was with ideas and words.
Moe: What inspires you?
Laura Elise Taylor: Stories. The complexity and quirkiness of human beings. People who have the guts and confidence to know their dreams and follow them.
Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. Most of them vary like the wind while some seem to follow a pattern similar to other writers. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Laura Elise Taylor: My ideal writing day begins with a half-hour meditation followed by a bit of journaling. This automatic writing warms me up and lets me clear my brain of busy-life clutter. I write until lunch time, after which my brain turns to mush, so I run errands, do correspondence, etc. for the afternoon. Amazing how the ideas develop during the non-writing hours, especially during exercise or house cleaning. My favourite writing hours are from 9pm to midnight. The still, dark, undisturbed night opens my concentration and imagination.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Laura Elise Taylor: It depends on the project. The seeds for my first book were planted in a creative writing class in high school. I completed the book during my master’s year, six years later. However, the text as it now stands was completed in a calendar year, and the chapters were work-shopped as I wrote them. I’ve just started working on a novel, the idea of which again has come from life. At the rate I’m going, it should be done in six months.
Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre and type of readers you’ll have?
Laura Elise Taylor: Absolutely. All art is all about communication. If I didn’t consider the readers, I would be writing into a void. As much as I need to write for personal processing, what I write for publication I write to the readers in the hope that through the stories we connect.
Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Laura Elise Taylor: I’m a structure kind of gal. Once I have the story (and that’s the most difficult, most excruciating phase, hands down), I plan how that story will unfold. No details, just general sections. In the writing of those scenes or sections, the overall structure often changes, and that’s exciting. But to jump in without a plan? Couldn’t do it.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Laura Elise Taylor: Much of my writing comes from personal experience. When I need to research something, I have to set up boundaries, because I often get sucked in by the unexpected things I am learning and look up from the computer six hours later completely disoriented and unsure of what I originally needed. I wouldn’t want to write about a place I hadn’t been to. Besides, choosing a far off place is a great excuse to travel.
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?
Laura Elise Taylor: My first book was creative non-fiction, a family memoir that reads like a novel. What can I say? The people around me are wonderful characters, more complex and fascinating than any I could conjure up. That being said, my family would kill me if I wrote about them directly again. Fictionalizing the people and events of my life does allow for the themes to broaden, and to become relevant to more of our lives (that’s the plan, anyway).
Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?
Laura Elise Taylor: I’m starting to recognize the difference between writer’s block, procrastination, and the natural period of distillation before the writing can begin. For me, writer’s block is just another word for insecurity. Once I have faith in my story, any lulls in the process are either procrastination or a necessary pause.
Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Laura Elise Taylor: I hope they find themselves nodding in recognition. I hope they connect with the characters and their experiences in the world. It would be nice if something in the book were useful in casting new light on something in their lives.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Laura Elise Taylor: Never, ever sign a contract without legal advice. Don’t send your manuscript to the smallest press first, send it to the biggest; you never know what might happen. Talk to as many writers as you can to find out how they are making the business of writing work; have no illusions of wealth-by-the-pen.
Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?
Laura Elise Taylor: I’m thrilled by each and every email, and respond to them all. Most readers share personal stories about their own grandmothers, their own family history, and thank me for telling a story that needed to be told.
Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?
Laura Elise Taylor: A Taste for Paprika is the story of my Austrian-Hungarian Oma and her experiences before and during the Second World War. She tells those stories—sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often terrifying–to me as we cook and bake the foods of her homeland. The book is also the story of my struggle to connect with my mother, who never speaks of her experiences of immigration to Canada as a teenager and the tragedies that followed, tragedies that shaped all of our lives.
The book I am currently working on chronicles the funny and not-so-funny experiences of a “third wheel,” a woman whose partner is going through a long, drawn-out divorce.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Laura Elise Taylor: My shelves appear to be full of fairly recent Canadian fiction, books by South Asian writers like Gita Mehta, a whole range of stuff. I’m currently laughing and crying my way through Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Laura Elise Taylor: Read, go salsa dancing, get away on canoe and kayak trips into our gorgeous, renewing wilderness, ride my horse, travel whenever I can…
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Laura Elise Taylor: Join a supportive writer’s group or workshop. Be kind to yourself. Try to let go of the need to write something amazing and profound; whatever you need to write is what you should focus on, not what you think you should write. Write something every day.
Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Laura Elise Taylor: A biologist, an Outward Bound leader, a musician, a therapist, rich.
Moe: What is your favourite word?
Laura Elise Taylor: Rambunctious. My partner just taught the word to his two-year-old nephew who ran around the house yelling it for the rest of the day.
Originally published 9/15/2005 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.