Tea Cakes and Whiskey welcomes Laura McNeil for a talk about her new novel, Center of Gravity.
Laura will be having a book signing at Carpe Diem in Mobile on Tuesday, July 21, at 6:00 pm.
I am especially excited about today’s guest. Mobile writer, Laura McNeill, has agreed to sit down and discuss her new novel – Center of Gravity.
I’ve known Laura for several years. We met through a mutual friend and bonded over her second novel, Dancing Naked in Dixie, a rollicking love story, set in my hometown, Eufaula, AL. Laura is a master at capturing the feel of her settings, and I was happy to see her novel set in that picturesque little town. Of course, within an hour of meeting we were discovering that we knew many of the same people and places in and around Eufaula.
Laura’s new novel, Center of Gravity, is set in here in Mobile, AL, another great setting captured expertly. It is a story about family and the lengths one will go to protect the ones we love. It’s a great read with plot twists and turns that kept me up late – I just had to finish it!
So let’s get to it.
Kat: Hi Laura, so happy to have you visit the site today. I have a few questions about the book, but first, would you introduce yourself to the readers and talk a little about your inspiration for Center of Gravity.
Laura: The idea stemmed from the breakup of my own marriage and those of several friends, who all had experiences finding out that the people we THOUGHT we knew were not “real” or “true.” I always want to believe the best in people, and it’s a hard lesson to learn when the person you should most trust is someone dangerous. At its core, Center of Gravity is about seeing people for who and what they are, and finding the strength to start over. In Ava’s case, she must also protect her children.
Kat: Center of Gravity is written in first person and the age of your characters spans from 8 to 80. You do a great job handling these different voices. What were the challenges of slipping back and forth between points-of-view?
Laura: It certainly was a challenge, and I write books chronologically, so at first it was dicey making the switches between chapters. As I grew to know my characters a little better (Graham Thomas is a bit of a rebel and likes to cuss, Jack talks about superheroes and soccer, Ava is a naive and nearly-broken mother, Lucy frets about being an objective custody evaluator) it became easier to switch voices.
Luckily, with Jack, I have lots of boys running in and out of my house, so I overhear lots of funny conversations when my boys and their friends have playacted as superheroes and are off saving the world.
Kat: The themes in Center of Gravity are much darker than Dancing Naked in Dixie and Pie Girls, yet you retain their same fast-paced action. Was it challenging to maintain that action in a darker work?
Laura: For suspense authors, in particular, writing a tension-filled novel is tricky. You have to set the bar high, with all of the great thrillers and drama out there (Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Good Girl, etc.) It’s our job, once we’ve captured a readers’ attention, to keep them off balance and guessing until the bitter end.
A few things are essential. Creating characters a reader cares about is number one, and making that protagonist likable and relatable, but not perfect. The main character’s real world has to disappear—and be replaced with a whole new world or set of problems. The new situation disrupts your character’s world entirely, like being dropped into a new country where the character doesn’t speak the language (and oh yes, with snipers or serial killers around every corner).
The character must also have a goal, and there must be consequences for not reaching it. Think about Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. After volunteering as tribute to protect the life of her sister, Prim, Katniss must fight to the death. Before she leaves for the Capitol, Katniss promises she’ll try and win the Games, a seemingly insurmountable task. From there, an author should make things worse for the main character, down to cutting off the character’s support system. When an author piles on the setbacks and problems, tension ramps up exponentially!
Kat: We all grew up with heroes. The idea of heroes is prevalent in Center of Gravity. Did you choose eight-year-old Jack’s heroes from your childhood list?
Laura: I have two boys who have grown up adoring super heroes. I immediately chose from their “known favorites” (Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man), and then talked to them further along the process to find out who else I should use (i.e. Is Green Arrow cooler than Green Lantern? Thor or The Thing? etc.)
I grew up idolizing Wonder Woman (what girl doesn’t want a tiara and an invisible jet) but she didn’t quite fit into Jack’s fantasy world.
Kat: What is your best advice for new writers? Any tried and true rituals or suggestions for getting the creative juices flowing?
Laura: Read a lot and write a lot. I have a routine of writing every morning from 6 – 8 am. My creative brain turns on then, and whether it’s a good writing day or a not so good one, the “showing up” is very important. It’s like honing any skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll get.
Over the years, I’ve also learned to create a detailed outline and take my time crafting the structure of the story. Once I have that in place, the actual writing flows much more easily. It’s what works for me; many of my author friends don’t use an outline.
In addition, I’ve also become so much more adept at the process of revising my manuscript. I used to dread it, but have come to understand that editors are there for the purpose of strengthening a novel and making it sing. What better gift can we, as writers, be given?
Kat: Finally, just what you want to be asked after finishing a novel — what’s next?
Laura: My second HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson book will be released in April of 2016. Sister Dear is the story of a woman, Allie Marshall, who goes to prison for a crime she doesn’t commit, leaving behind a 5-year old daughter. When Allie is paroled 10 years later, she hopes to reclaim her quiet life and move on, but her daughter, now a teenager, soon challenges her innocence. In her quest to find justice, Allie discovers that the one person she trusts most committed the ultimate betrayal a decade earlier.
Kat: Anything else you would like to say about the novel before we finish?
Laura: It’s my hope that readers connect with Ava – a woman who finds strength deep within herself when almost everyone else has given up on her. Like so many of the women I’ve met over the years, Ava is tenacious, smart, sensitive, and, as it turns out, a bit naïve, when it comes to trusting and believing in the man she’s chosen to marry. She’d like to cling to the fairytale of having a perfect marriage, but eventually sees through her husband’s charming façade.
Thanks again, Laura, for visiting with us today. And a special thanks for all you do to encourage Mobile writers. See you at the book signing for Center of Gravity!
Find out more about Laura and her novels here: