Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.
I had the pleasure of meeting her at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con, and we have been amusing each other on Facebook ever since.
For what age audience do you write?
I write contemporary fantasy for adults and young adults, with a healthy dollop of horror. Because I can’t resist adding things that scare me.
Henry: dol·lop (ˈdäləp) noun (not to be confused with dalek) – a shapeless mass or blob of something, especially soft food. Or HORROR!! Healthy dollop: a larger shapeless mass or blob, when a normal-sized blob just won’t do.
Tell us about your latest book.
The tagline on the back cover – which I love! – is “Stephen King’s The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad.”
Many Westerns begin with the story of a stranger coming to town, and this story is no exception. Geologist Petra Dee arrives in the tiny town of Temperance, Wyoming, to find clues about her father’s disappearance decades before. In the course of her investigation, Petra stumbles across a string of weirdly desiccated bodies that she can’t explain with science. She finds herself in a war among the local cattle baron, his undead minions, and a drug-dealing alchemist. It’s very weird west meets contemporary fantasy.
Henry: A geologist named Petra!? As in Petra-fied? Better call Saul!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I’ve been accumulating books on alchemy for many years, and I was thrilled to finally be able to put them to good use. The whole history of alchemy is fascinating to me: the intricate symbolism, the obsession with immortality, the idea that rocks could be changed to gold. The theme of this book deals with the first of seven processes in classical alchemy, the calcination process, in which all that is known is reduced to ash in the crucible of the alchemist’s lab.
Henry: As writers, we go through a similar process wherein all of our first draft is reduced to ash in the crucible of our word processing software and self-doubt.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
The most challenging part for me is always getting started. Staring at the blank page scares the daylights out of me. It’s a vast void that could become something awesome, or something really terrible.
Henry: Writers vary wildly on this score. For me, the most challenging aspect is knowing when to STOP revising. Was that a valid piece of feedback, or should I stick with my original vision? Vacillation, recrimination, excessive Twinkie consumption. You know the drill.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that it requires the same disciplined work habits that other jobs do. There are deadlines, accountability, and needing to work well with people. I feel like my previous work really helped me to be able to take writing as a serious endeavor and treat it accordingly. It’s not so much magic as sweat.
Henry: I tell my sons that self-discipline IS magic. It powers the practice to make you proficient at school or sports. It enables you to master your less gracious inclinations. There’s a quote from Randy Pausch about self-discipline that I love: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
I recently had the opportunity to attend San Diego Comic-Con as a panelist. Attending SDCC has always been on my bucket list, but the chance to go in a professional capacity was a dream come true. I loved all of it – the toy reveals, the cosplay, the comics.
Henry: I’ve moderated author panels at SDCC for the past few years. It is a blast.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Try NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – at least once. It’s a challenge each November to chuck your excuses and write 50,000 words in a month. It gets me out of my head and shuts up my inner editor, and forces me to get accustomed to working with a deadline. I use what I’ve learned in NaNoWriMo on every book I’ve written.
Henry: We picture book writers have our annual PiBoIdMo – a challenge to come up with 30 picture book concepts in one month. I’ve been pushing my own EatMoPiMo (eat more pie month) without much traction to date.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
My favorite is from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI: “No matter where you go, there you are.” It seems to be the answer to just about everything.
Henry: Warning: fanboy rant. For those poor unfortunates who haven’t seen this cult sci-fi movie, it features an all-star cast of Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Jonathan Banks, Clancy Brown, and Jamie Lee Curtis (in a deleted scene). The movie is creative as hell. I love how the aliens use “monkey boys” as an ethnic slur for humans. And how the aliens all have the given name John. And that one is very particular about how his surname is pronounced. The movie has many great quotes – in fact I did a blog post on that subject.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
This isn’t really very arcane, but when I begin a project, I start with an idea notebook. I scribble notes and ideas in it. Outlines. Thoughts for what should happen in the next scene. Pictures and meanderings. I have several pages in this notebook before I even dare open a word processing document.
If I get stuck, I pick up a Tarot card deck and draw some cards. The deck is my random idea generator, and is my surefire trick to get beyond writer’s block.
Henry: Sure, sure. Nothing strange about a Tarot deck at all. Nothing to see here folks. Move along.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility. I could be a fly on a wall, go wherever I liked…and collect some amazing story ideas!
Henry: I have two words for you: restraining order.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
My all-time favorite book is Robin McKinley’s HERO AND THE CROWN. I read it when I was a pre-teen, and fell in love with fantasy ever after. It was the first book I’d read that had a female protagonist who slew her own dragons. I was hooked.
Lauren DeStefano is another favorite. The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a must-read. I love her characters and the dilemmas she places them in – just extraordinary work that really makes me feel.
I read Yangsze Choo’s THE GHOST BRIDE last year, and it was positively luminous. I’d love to have her over for dinner with Robin and Lauren to discuss modern fairy tales.
Henry: Note to self – add these to my to-be-read pile.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
I’ve lately been obsessed with serpents of all kinds: dragons, basilisks, Medusa and her sisters. I have a garden in which snakes like to gather, and I’m curious about them. The snakes I have in the garden are small DeKay’s snakes, and they’re quite shy. There’s something very mysterious and elusive about them, and I can see why they’re such wonderful fodder for literature.
Henry: Just a tip. If one encourages you to eat an apple, don’t. Just don’t.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m playing with my cats. We have five (six, if I can convince the feral cat in the backyard to quit waffling and come inside), so there are a lot of bellies that demand rubbing!
I also collect comic books, Tarot cards, and action figures. I have a garden in the backyard that is slowly taking over the lawn, and it’s currently Tomatopocalypse here. I’m also trying to get back into drawing. I haven’t done much of that since high school, so I feel pretty tentative about it.
Henry: Feral cats are known wafflers.
What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?
Hm. “Still exploring” would work.
Where can readers find your work?
The latest updates on my work are at my website, http://www.laurabickle.com. Thanks very much for interviewing me today!
Henry: It was my pleasure. This interview can also be read at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.