August McLaughlin is “one of my writers”. More important, she is also a great friend.
We met at a writers’ conference some years back—perhaps fortuitously, or even inevitably, as she had come to the conference on a quest to find a writing coach and mentor. Seems she had begun work on a psychological
thriller that would eventually come to be titled, In Her Shadow. We hit it off back then and have since worked together on various projects, including the aforementioned In Her Shadow, which has since been published. More on that shortly.Though long based in Los Angeles (with husband Mike), August is by birth—and at heart—a Minnesota girl, this the catalyst for some of our banter, don’tcha know! She is a health writer and journalist, with many articles featured in magazines and on websites. She’s also an internationally recognized certified nutritionist with specializations in eating disorders and sports nutrition. In the past she has worked in the fashion, film, and wellness industries, serving in roles as diverse as culinary coach to runway model in Paris. She is also an exceptional blogger (my guru, in fact). Check out August McLaughlin’s Blog if you get a chance.
Recently I spoke to August about writing in general, and her newly published novel in particular. That interview follows—though first I must share this story, given how much it means to me. We had not known each other all that long when I had heart surgery in 2009. Soon after I got home, a package showed up at the door. It contained a bunch of amazing healthy baked goods (forever after known as HBGs) that August had made for me, figuring I had to be really down at that point. Ya think! She receives much credit for speeding up my recovery. Seriously, who does that!
MS: What motivated and/or inspired you to write In Her Shadow?
AM: I was an actress at the time and during the industry’s slow season, decided to write a short film featuring a role I wished to play. The film, Here Lies ED, was based on my experience with anorexia, which I nearly died of in my late teens while working as a model in Paris. A film producer took interest in my script and later optioned it. Rather than feel giddy, I felt a loss; I’d surrendered my “baby” to a stranger and missed writing. I returned home from an acting class one night with a burning desire to spill my guts. (laughs) I wrote a memoir, brain-vomit style. The process was cathartic, but it wasn’t a story I felt compelled to publish. I decided to fictionalize my story instead. As a long-time suspense and mystery fan, heading in that direction with the story seemed natural. Plus, no genre suits eating disorders like the thriller genre. Anorexia is a terrifying disease.
MS: Had you done any writing prior to this novel?
AM: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but my “work” was limited to journal entries, letters and songs that few people heard. Later in my modeling career, I worked as the editorial assistant of a magazine. I ended up writing quite a few articles, including the horoscopes when our resident astrologer fell ill—as Madame Augusta. Once the desire to write hit me like a tsunami, I sought every opportunity I could to do it. (I’ve never been someone who “dabbles” well.) I submitted articles and article pitches to local, national and web-based publications. Gradually, I built up writing credits and now have a fairly successful health writing/freelance journalism career. Journalism has so far strengthened and complemented my other writing, for which I’m intensely grateful.
MS: What is a typical writing day like for you?
AM: (She pauses to look up “typical writing day” in the dictionary…) Oh…THAT. I don’t really have a set schedule, but since I’m a morning person, I try to focus on fiction—my top priority—straightaway. Then after walking my dog at the park, I shift between novel work, articles and social media spurts until late afternoon. Sometime amidst all of that, I head to the gym with pages I’ve worked on. (I do some of my best reading and
thinking during exercise.) Since my novel release, I’ve also had the fun though hectic job of marketing and promotion. I’m still seeking ways to fit it all in.
MS: Given the chance, would you change anything in the story?
AM: Overall, I’m happy with how In Her Shadow turned out. In order to facilitate a longer ending, upon my agent’s request, I had to make significant cuts earlier on. There are a few scenes I omitted that I wish I’d had room for, such as the main character Claire working with therapy patients and a sweet old lady named Letta, but I realized that they didn’t move the story forward. Down the road, I’m sure I’ll see aspects I want to change—at least, I hope so. That’ll mean that I’ve grown since writing it.
MS: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
AM: I love all of it—conjuring new ideas, sitting down to a blank page, moving the story forward and even revising. I thought I’d hate revising. It sounds so boring. But there’s little as exciting as seeing your final story emerge and sharpen. More often it’s other “stuff,” whatever seems to pull me away from writing, that irks me.
MS: What about your least favorite part?
AM: I could do without the grunt work—reading every draft to check for mis-numbered chapters and clerical errors, formatting documents, etc. And I’d also love an assistant to take care of some of the business aspects. Whether we have agents and publishers or not, we are our own bosses and writing is a business. Accounting, schedules and other logistical tasks aren’t my forte. Oh, and a maid would be nice. Who has time to write, cook and clean?!? On my busiest days, I order healthy pizza and dim the lights.
MS: Two-part question: Why did you decide to seek the assistance of a writing coach/editor? Would you recommend this to aspiring or even advanced writers?
AM: I’ve always preferred to work with a mentor, someone who is more expert than I to learn from. I was on cloud nine after meeting you, because I knew I’d found that person. I feel every writer can benefit from an editor and/or writing coach, assuming they land a great one—someone who, like you, encourages growth rather than, say, writing for you. Writing and editing are highly different skills and processes, I’ve learned, and even advanced authors have difficulty seeing their own errors. Also, writing tends to be solitary work. It’s wonderful knowing that someone is on your team. (You’re going to edit this, RIGHT?)
MS: Actually, no, I’m not. Thank you for that. Finally, What do you have in mind for a follow-up project?
AM: I’ve recently decided to make In Her Shadow a trilogy. I’m working on the sequel now, after which, I’ll write the prequel. I also have two stand-alones on the back burner, which I may dip into along the way.
August McLaughlin’s In Her Shadow—a super thriller by a super person—is available in paperback and eBook. Enjoy!
SWORDS & SPECTERS: with a new year comes some new promotions. My sword & sorcery novel, The Sons of Ornon, will be available for free download on Kindle this Wednesday and Thursday, February 6th and 7th. Then, murder, mayhem, and Native American demons wreak havoc at an isolated writers’ and artists’ colony in Demon Shadows, which will be available for free download on Kindle this Friday and Saturday, February 8th and 9th.