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Interview With Author Laura J. Underwood

Tell us about what you have written.

Do you really have THAT much space?  I started writing when I was in my teens, and sold my first article to Fate Magazine at 18.  From there, I wrote articles on horses and horse training, and then wrote book reviews and articles for the local paper.  Of course, all that time, I was writing fantasy and mystery novels and short stories.  My first fiction publication was the story “Sword Singer” in Sword and Sorceress V edited by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley.  More recently, I have had several novels and collection, including Wandering Lark, Ard Magister and Chronicles of the Last War, all out from Yard Dog Press as well as a lot of anthologies.

What inspired you to write those things?

Insanity.  No, but there has always been a need in me to write, and when I get my teeth into a story idea, I am not always willing to let it go.  Most of my stuff is set in one of two worlds I have created, so it’s more like stepping through a gateway and following characters around because their lives are so much more interesting to me.

Do you have a favorite thing that you’ve ever written?

That’s like asking which child you love best.  But if I have to pick a favorite, at the moment, it is the Demon-Bound Duology consisting of Dragon’s Tongue (published in 2006 by the now defunct Meisha Merlin) and Wandering Lark (from Yard Dog Press in 2010).

Do you have a favorite character that you write about? If so, who is it, what makes it your favorite and tell us about the character.

Again, I try not to play favorites.  They all stop talking to me when I do (just kidding).  Plus, it changes with the project.  I am currently loving Conor Manahan from the Ard-Taebh books.  He’s a strapping big Keltoran mecenary with a sense of humor and a bard’s soul, and a soft spot for his adopted mageborn son Rhoyd.  He’s a fun guy to write because he is a good fighter, a fierce warrior, and yet, he has this side of him that makes him easy to adore.

Almost every writer is inspired by someone else. Does anyone inspire you?

Barbara Hambly, Teresa Edgerton, Mark Twain, Edgar A. Poe…it’s a very long list.

How long have you been writing?

Well, let’s see.  As I said, I started selling stuff at 18 and I just turned 56, so you do the math.

When did you start writing?

Farther back than I can remember.  I wrote because I like remembering my “what if” moments, but also because it was a good way for a strange little girl with weird ideas to escape reality for a while.  We were rather poor, my father lost his job and the house due to illness, my parents eventually divorced and my mother tried to raise four children practically alone.  Writing was an easy way to get out the frustration and anger.  It was also a good way to keep the voices in my head from pestering me. *g*

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written? Why

Definitely some of the Bubba stuff, though I have to admit it came rather easy.  I was big on Epic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery, and along comes Selina Rosen asking me to write a story set in her Bubbas of the Apocalypse universe.  Of course, as it turned out, I was a closet bubba, and I had been writing weird strange stories set in my own East Tennessee, and it just sort of came together.

Some authors have said that their parents were supportive of their efforts when young, and some have said they had to sneak around and hide. What was

the case with you?

Supportive in some ways, though my mother always seemed discouraging.  But in truth, she was just trying to make sure I was doing what I wanted to do with my life and not what some fashion or my parents dictated, so she tended to sound like she didn’t care one way or another.  Truth is, she is So Proud, she wants to pop at times.  My stepfather tended to say I wasted too much time “tippy-tapping on that typewriter,” but now he tells everyone he meets that I am a published author.

Who drives the story, you or your characters?

I tend to write character driven stories, so the characters seem to be in control.  Of course, I am a practical person who knows that I am the one making the choices, and the characters are just figments of my twisted imagination.  We fight for control a lot, but I generally win–most of the time. 😉

Who proofreads and critiques your work?

My editors.  I proof my stuff myself.  I had a lovely beta reader who alas, passed away last spring, so I go it alone.  But then, I have been doing that most of my writing career anyway.  At times, I have belonged to writer’s groups, but I tended to outgrow them.

Where do you get your ideas?

There’s this little imp that lives under my bed.  I drop chocolate, he gives me ideas.  We have a very good relationship.  Now for the serious answer, that is hard to say.  I look at stuff, I get ideas, I write them down.  Sometimes I use them, and sometimes I ignore them, and sometimes, years later, they jump up and scream “My time has come!!!!!” and let them crawl into my lap and tell me a story.

Where do you write?

I write at work during my lunch break every day, and then I sit on the bed at home and write in the evenings.  On days I don’t work, I am generally carrying one of the netbooks to some place where I can sit and not be bothered.

When do you write – set times or as the mood moves you?

Well, as I said before, my lunch breaks and my evenings are my writing time for the most part.  I have a full time job so I have to schedule everything.

If you could take a character from someone else’s book on a date, who would it be and where would you take him/her/it?

I would fall all over myself to have a date with John Aversin from Barbara Hambly”s Dragonsbane, but I also would have fun with Antryg Windrose.  I would probably take them the park for a picnic and then pick their brains about their adventures.

If you could invite any other writer to dinner who would ask and why?

Considering that I have had dinner with everyone from Elizabeth Moon to C. J. Cherryh, that is a hard one.

Do you use the Internet to check facts, or the library?

I am a librarian in my other life, so I usually use the library.  I have scores of reference books of my own that I consult.  I go on the Internet using my smartphone for quick answers, but for the most part, I just write the story, and then worry about fixing the research later.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I make bead dragon and do art for my leisure.  I used to fence a lot (was once the Tennessee Women’s Foil champion, and place 3rd in the Southeast Sectional in Sabre years ago).  I take walks in the woods when I can.  I used to do a lot of hiking and camping.  And of course, I practice harp.  I own the original Glynnanis (the harp from my Harper Mage stories about Anwyn Baldomyre)

Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block?

Nah.  My brain never stops working, even when I do. 😉

Who’s your favorite author (other than yourself)? Why?

I have too many to name more than one or two.  Barbara Hambly is my goddess.  When I discovered her work, I things started to click for me.  Her descriptions, her characters.  They all inspired me.  More recently, I have fallen in love with the work of James Enge and Charlton Blake.  Enge because I just adore his Morlock.  Blake because he has created a totally new magic system that I am jealous of. 😉

What’s your favorite book (other than one of your own)? Why?

Dragonsbane will always be my favorite novel.  I reread it over and over when I can.

What’s the last book, other than your own, that you read and really enjoyed?

I just finished Swords & Dark Magic edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan.  Great stories.  I couldn’t put it down.

Some writers say that they have to write a certain amount of words every day. Do you do this? Why or why not?

Since my production is based on time rather than amount, I don’t have a limit.  I am a fast writer.  I can generally produce a short story in a couple of hours, a novel in a couple of weeks, or whatever–but of course, life interfers and so being able to write for an hour here and there is my only goal.  That and just making sure I do write every day.

If you could be any character (other than one of your own) from a book or movie who would it be? Why?

Actually, I am perfectly happy being who I am.  Though I would have fun being Edna in The Incredibles or Diana Trent in Waiting for God. I have always admired women who can be hysterically ascerbic and witty, and keep you on your toes, and I hope to become one in my old age.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

My advice to young writers.  Keep writing.  Keep reading.  Never give up, never surrender.  It really does take time to become an overnight success.  After nearly 40 years of trying to sell stuff, I am still waiting for my chance. 😉

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