Stephanie Lawton celebrates her debut publication, a Young Adult novel set in Mobile, and inspired by “a snooty lady at a Mardi Gras parade.”
So Stephanie, give us the spoiler-free rundown on your debut novel.
Want follows 17-year-old Julianne, who can’t wait to get out of Midtown Mobile to attend a prestigious music school in Boston. Failure is not an option, so she enlists the help of New England Conservatory graduate Isaac Laroche. Julianne can’t understand why Isaac suddenly gave up Boston’s music scene to return to the South. He doesn’t know her life depends on escaping it. She’s forced into some pretty scary adult situations at home, so it’s easy for him to forget that Juli’s ten years his junior. Their indiscretion at a Mardi Gras ball makes them realize that getting what you want isn’t always worth the price.
What is it about the YA “genre” that attracts you?
Because—hands down—young adulthood is the most exciting time in life. Not necessarily the best, but the most exciting with the most unknowns. Today’s YA novels are fast-paced, sophisticated, and reflect that fear of the unknown that none of us outgrow no matter how old we are.
Which authors are in your personal literary pantheon?
I’ve got a little bit of everything–Shakespeare to Charlaine Harris, Sylvia Plath to Rick Bragg, and just about every Young Adult book to come out in the last few years.
From the reviews and descriptions, it sounds like Want deals with some pretty difficult situations that some YA writers shy away from. What makes you want to write about those tough issues and present them to a younger audience?
It does deal with some heavy stuff, but there’s a lot of comic relief. I didn’t set out to write about those things, and as cliche as it may sound, I started with the characters and they told me their story. It’s a common misconception that YA doesn’t deal with more difficult situations. There’s almost nothing off-limits, as long as it’s told from a teen’s point-of-view and it’s not gratuitous.
So what’s your next project?
I’m currently querying a shorter contemporary novel set at Oakleigh. It was inspired by two TV shows: one on psychic kids and another on The Knights of the Golden Circle, a real organization allegedly in charge of smuggling the Confederate gold out of the South and away from Union hands at the end of the Civil War. It’s got elements of paranormal romance, soft horror and historical fiction. Basically, it’s a modern ghost story.
I’m just starting a third manuscript.
On your website, you’ve written about trying to write about LGBT issues without coming across as stereotypical. Can you tell us a little more about how you’ve approached that?
I’d never written about LGBT issues, period, until the manuscript I’m currently querying. I came from a very socially conservative, rural area in Ohio, so it’s not that different from Mobile in that way. I just hope I haven’t written a stereotype as far as the LGBT community is concerned. My exposure is limited so I did the best I could.
What do you get up to when you’re not authoring?
Since school’s been out, I’ve been playing referee between by 6-year-old and 3-year-old, but I also serve on the board of the Mobile Writers Guild and I meet with my Write Club critique group. I’m a member of OddNormality, a local paranormal investigation group, and I even manage to write now and then.
I read that Mobile is your adopted city. How did you end up here and what made you want to set your first novel in Mobile? Do you ever feel that you are writing about the South as something of an outsider since you haven’t grown up here or do you feel that other southern writers (say, those in your writers’ club) view you that way?
We moved here nearly three years ago. My husband’s company got a contract to help build a line at ThyssenKrupp and they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. We liked it enough to stay. I will admit, writing Want was a way to work through some culture shock. The contrasts were so stark at that time that I wanted to get them all on paper before I assimilated. (I’m about 70% there.) Already, some of the things I wrote about and described in the book don’t seem foreign to me like they did three years ago. Mardi Gras, however, still makes me pause. I have a love/hate relationship with it.
As for other Southern writers in the area, they’ve welcomed me with open arms. They are some of my closest friends and they’ve made be feel right at home, although they do laugh when I call soda “pop”
or if they use an expression I’ve never heard. A couple weeks ago, someone wrote that they had their “picture made,” and to me, that’s a really antiquated phrase. They looked at me like I was crazy. Also, Alabama writer Rick Bragg made me an “official ‘Bama girl,” and I’ve got the autograph to prove it. 😉
Stephanie Lawton’s debut novel, WANT, was published June 7 from Inkspell Publishing. Just about anything you could possibly need to know her or the book can be found at www.StephanieLawton.com.
Stephanie Lawton’s sequel to her first novel, WANT, is scheduled for a May 2013 release, and is tentatively titled NEED.