Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Laura Lam?
I’m a displaced Californian who now lives in Scotland. I moved across the world when I was 21 and started writing books seriously once I got here. Other interests include reading as much as I can, cooking (with occasional disasters), traveling (when I can afford to), and drawing (passably well).
Your next novel, False Hearts, will be published by Macmillan in June. It looks rather intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Orphan Black meets Inception. Conjoined twins Taema and Tila were raised in a cult in the redwoods outside of San Francisco. When their shared heart begins to fail, they escape and are pressured into being separated and being fitted with mechanical hearts. Ten years later, Tila is accused of murder, and Taema is given an offer she can’t refuse: to impersonate her sister, go deep into the underbelly of San Francisco crime, and try to prove her sister’s innocence to save her life. It’s part of a series of standalone thrillers set in the same world. There’ll be at least two, maybe more.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
One lunchtime, I read an io9 article about conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were famous vaudeville stars in the 20s. I started wondering what it would be like if you grew up conjoined to someone, unable to keep secrets because you were never alone. Even if you were separated, it’d be a very close bond. How much would it unnerve you if your literal other half hid something from you — like murder? How much would that eat you up? How desperate would you be to find out the truth? Everything followed from there.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I grew up with it. My parents read to me as a child, and we usually read science fiction and fantasy together. I devoured things like Animorphs and Goosebumps as a kid, and I was a total Potterhead throughout my teens, waiting in line at midnight for new releases and then reading them throughout the night. I went through a huge phase of reading Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey. They were so prolific I knew I’d always have something by them to read. Robin Hobb became a firm favourite — she’s still my favourite author. In my later teens, I found cyberpunk and literary sci fi, like William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Margaret Atwood.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It is my dream job, but like any job, it can have its ups and downs. I started writing seriously in 2009 but was only able to quit my day job at the end of 2014. I had my first break after submitting my book, Pantomime, through an open door in 2012. Pantomime came out in 2013 and its sequel, Shadowplay, came out in 2014. Three weeks after that, I found out my publisher didn’t want the third book, Masquerade, and I was completely heartbroken. A few months later, the imprint went bankrupt. I had landed the agent and the book deal, seen two books on the shelves, and then this happened. I wondered if my writing career was pretty much over. I wrote another book, because that was all I could do. False Hearts sold in a great deal, and later, Macmillan UK bought my backlist, including Masquerade. Everything turned around completely. Writing can be one hell of a roller coaster.
Being able to play around in my own worlds all day is a dream, but being financially totally dependent on your creativity is also a different sort of stress. I make enough to live on at the moment, but there is nothing resembling job security in publishing. So, long term, I think finding a part-time job I enjoy to give me a bit of steady monthly income and structure will be the perfect way to go.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m pretty methodical. I can’t simply start a manuscript and see what comes out. My process is something like this:
- Come up with book idea. Either the initial hook hits all at once, or I get a few smaller ideas that finally come together in that Eureka! This usually happens when I’m doing something innocuous like washing dishes. I tell close friends about the idea, stumbling over my words in my excitement. The book idea is all new and shiny and I’m so thrilled by it. This is one of the best parts. It’s full of potential.
- Try to actually outline it into something coherent. I usually start with the characters, then figure out the world around it, and then the major plot beats. I think in terms of a five act structure. I start researching subjects I’m unfamiliar with. For instance, with False Hearts, I let the book idea percolate for a few months while I researched conjoined twins, cults, neuroscience, possible future architecture, hacking, the mob, etc. I was going to be going back to California to visit my family, and I told my mom we had to go the Xanadu art gallery in SF. “Why, Laura? Is there an exhibition on or something?” she asked. Me: “I have to imagine the place riddled with bullets for a fight scene in my book.” Her: “Okay then.” We went. It’s a great gallery. I imagined crouching behind the big curving ramp of the building and shooting bad guys.
- Once I have the idea clear in my head and maybe the first line, I start writing. My outline methods shift. For False Hearts, I outlined 7 chapters at a time, with very vague notes after that. Wrote the 7 chapters, then outlined some more, and eventually figured out how everything fit together. With Shattered Minds, I had to have a complete outline before I could start.
- False Hearts was the fastest I wrote a draft: I had the initial idea for the book in February 2013, started writing it properly in August 2013, and had a short, shitty draft of 64k by November. I aim for around 1k a day, which is a comfortable drafting speed for me. I researched more as I went along. I made it a slightly less shitty draft of 74k by the end of the year, and sent it to beta readers in January 2014. By March or April, I had expanded it again to around 95k and plugged a lot of the worst of the plot holes and inconsistencies. Sent it to my agent. She gave me more feedback. By June, it went on submission to publishers, sold in 9 days (what?!), and then eventually it went through a few more drafts before it was finally finished in September 2015 or so, to be on the shelves by June 2016.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
It’s been my dream to write science fiction and fantasy since I was about 13 and realised people could write books as a job — I recently found my teen diary and on page 2 I ask my future self if I ever ended up writing a book. I got a bit emotional. I’m very aware that I’m living my childhood dream right now, and super grateful that, despite some rocky bits, it seems to have worked out. It’s also comforting to know that if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still write books. I would just do it from the deck of my yacht while travelling the world. 😉 Not many people are super certain what they want to do, so I feel very lucky. I had a lot of Plan Bs, Cs, and Ds over the years: at one point I wanted to be a lawyer until I actually worked at a law firm as an admin assistant realised that nope, that is one of the worst possible jobs for me. Writing was always the main goal.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
That’s a really big question. I’m very glad to see a recent push for diversity and having books from many points of view and backgrounds. I am very interested by diversity and particularly writing protagonists with atypical anatomy (my first series has an intersex protagonist and False Hearts has formerly conjoined twins). I’m not sure exactly how my work fits into the genre as a whole, though. I’m just glad to have them come out.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I have a ridiculously long queue of book ideas. I think there’s about ten in there at the moment. I’m currently doing the first structural edit of Shattered Minds, my 2017 thriller. I’ll be having Masquerade edits land soon, too, so it’s pretty intense until June when both books are due back. I’m co-writing a book with a friend as well, which is really fun and a different sort of challenge, and I hope that finds a home one day, too.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m currently re-reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, which I last read as a junior in high school. I’m also reading All of the Above by Juno Dawson, and next I might read Before I Go To Sleep, a thriller about an amnesiac by S.J. Watson. When I’m deep in edits or drafting, I tend to read in different genres to what I’m writing.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
A lot of people know the story now, I think, but I moved to Scotland because I met my now-husband on the internet when I was 15 and he was 16. He found my blog, including my list of favourite authors, and he downloaded a chat messenger to essentially defend Robin Hobb’s honour because I hadn’t listed her at the top. In my defence, it wasn’t in order of favourites and I’d only read Ship of Magic so far. He wasn’t as rude as that makes him sound. We started discussing books, became good friends, I fell for him, and I thought it’d never work with him in Scotland and me in California. We were long distance for 5 years and then I moved to the UK 7 years ago after we were married.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I have a pretty great year ahead. False Hearts is out in June, and I’m excited to have my first book out through a major publisher. I’m really hoping it does okay and finds its way to readers. In November and December, the paperback re-releases of Pantomime & Shadowplay come out (they came back out in ebook last December), and Masquerade will finally be out in March 2017. I’m hoping the good things continue.
Laura Lam‘s False Hearts is published in June 2016, by Macmillan in the UK and Tor Books in the US (cover below). For more on the author’s writing and novels, be sure to check out her website, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.