Interview w/ Novelist Carla Laureano

http://mikeduran.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Carla-Laureano.jpgCarla Laureano is a bit of a Renaissance Woman. She has held many
jobs—including professional marketer, small-business consultant, and
martial arts instructor. Recently, she has added “published author” to
her repertoire. Her first novel, Five Days in Skye, was recently chosen as a double-finalist in the RWA’s 2014 RITA Awards. Oath of the Brotherhood
marks her fantasy debut. Carla graciously took some time to chat about
her writing career, YA fiction, theology in storytelling, and the
possible future of Christian publishing.

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MIKE: You’ve
recently had back-to-back books published by different publishers in
different genres. How’d that happen? And do you consider yourself a
romance author or an epic fantasy author? Both or neither?

CARLA:
It definitely wasn’t planned that way. My fantasy was out on
submission, and given the difficulty in selling inspirational fantasy in
this market, I didn’t want to start writing another epic speculative
series. I took a few months to see if I could write a romance novel and
discovered that not only was I capable of doing it, I enjoyed it. When
ACFW time came around and I’d didn’t have any serious bites on the
fantasy, I decided to pitch the romance. I came home with several
requests for the full manuscript… and two days later found out that my
fantasy was going to committee. I was then in the surreal position of
having two contract offers almost simultaneously, and since the
editorial calendars didn’t overlap, I accepted both.

It’s hard to call myself strictly a
fantasy author or a romance author, because I truly love writing both.
(Naturally, I would pick the two most polarizing love-‘em-or-hate-‘em
genres in which to write.) I’m not going to lie—writing two genres
simultaneously is more than challenging—but they’re so different that
switching back and forth gives my brain a rest and lets me appreciate
the things that are unique to each genre.

MIKE: There’s
lots of “behind the scenes” things that happen to bring a book to
publication – life issues, some sort of inspiration, a professional
contact, a significant learning curve, etc. What are some of the most
significant “behind the scenes” components that have led to your
becoming a published author?

CARLA: I’ve had some people comment on my “immediate success,” but
in truth, I’ve been at this for almost twenty years. I wrote fantasy
for the general market for years, coming close with agents a couple of
times, but I was never able to sell a book. I finally realized that in
trying to remove all spiritual components from my stories, I was
hampering my natural voice. Once I decided to let the stories be told
the way they were meant to be told, I started to find some interest in
my work in the CBA. I went from being a finalist in the ACFW Genesis
contest to having six books under contract in only two years. But that
would never have happened if I hadn’t put in the work of learning my
craft, submitting, and learning from my mistakes for nearly two decades.

Oath-of-the-BrotherhoodMIKE: So Oath of the Brotherhood
is being marketed as YA. I’ve long contended that YA is a bit of an
artificial construct. Because a significant swath of YA readers are
adults, in some ways, labeling a book YA is a tactic to get adults and
young adults to read it. In your opinion, what distinguishes YA fiction
from adult fiction? And do you agree that the label is kind of nebulous?

CARLA:
In some genres, like romance or mystery, I think the label is
necessary. There tends to be a pretty big content divide between YA and
adult in those types of fiction. But with regard to speculative fiction,
I do agree that the YA label can be a little nebulous. It’s the nature
of speculative fiction to deal with bigger issues that would appeal to
both teens and adults. Add the fact that the bildungsroman has always
been a favored vehicle for telling speculative stories, and the gap
between them narrows even further.

That said, there are some specific
differences between YA and adult in terms of storytelling approach that
I’ve only recently identified for myself. Generally, YA takes one or
perhaps two characters and filters the bigger plot through their
point(s) of view. If adult speculative uses a wide-angle lens, YA takes a
zoom approach. There’s also typically a stronger and more integrated
romance thread that’s integral to the story, whereas in most adult
speculative fiction the love story could be removed without too much
damage to the overall plot. Additionally, YA tends to handle the issues
of sex and violence with more delicacy and less detail than adult
fiction.

So from that perspective, YA is very much
its own genre. I think it’s more helpful to ask what it is about YA
that draws in adults. What appeals to me is the visceral nature of a
close-in approach to storytelling. It’s almost as if literature tells us
when we graduate from YA to adult books, “It’s time to grow up now.
Trade all feeling for logic, and toss out the idealism while you’re at
it.” But the issues dealt with in YA still resonate with people of all
ages: identity, the need for acceptance and belonging, feeling of
helplessness in a world that is simultaneously too big and too small.
There’s also a sense of hope in most YA speculative fiction that we lack
in our more cynical adult fiction, the idea that the world is worth
saving and that a single person can make a difference. Even in The
Hunger Games, which I think we can agree takes a pretty dim view of
human nature, the reader gets the sense that it’s meant as a cautionary
tale—and by extension, that we must take action now if we are to avoid
this horrible end.

 MIKE: One
Christian author, in writing about the limits of speculative fiction,
recently suggested that zombies should be out of bounds for Christian
fiction. Unless the fictional cause of zombie-ism is viral, there is no
biblical precedent for the soulless dead returning to life. Of course,
theology is important to a Christian writer. But how much theology do
you think a Christian should impose upon their fiction? Should ANYTHING
be fictionally out of bounds?

CARLA:
I’m of the opinion that nothing should be imposed on a story that isn’t
already there. I think that’s part of the complaint many people have
with Christian fiction, that the religious aspect can feel tacked on or
forced. Even a highly religious book in which the theology or the moral
message is integral to the storyline or characters development will not
feel preachy. But just like you can’t just decide to set a novel in
space and call it science fiction, you can’t throw in a church scene and
a conversion scene and call it Christian. It has to be organic to make
sense.

That said, I’m quite conscious of the
theology that I’m putting forward in my writing, both out of an
understanding of the market and a sense of personal responsibility. If I
put a Christian-like religion in a speculative setting and then through
my story or characters imply that Christ is not the path to salvation,
am I responsible for those who might be led away from the central tenet
of our faith by those ideas? Possibly.

But does that mean that every book I
write has to have an overt parallel to Christianity? No. And I don’t
even think I have to have any recognizable religion in a book for it to
have a Christian worldview. (It just might be a little harder to sell in
the CBA.) I’m in an interesting position myself. Because the conflict
between paganism and Christianity was a central one in the Celtic world
upon which I based my setting, Oath of the Brotherhood has a pretty
strong Christian slant. The other stories I’m developing have a much
lighter spiritual thread. Will those books find a home with a
traditional publisher? Only time will tell.

 MIKE: I
have been fairly critical of Christian fiction, its readers, and the
strictures that govern it. It’s tilted predominantly toward women and
women’s titles, the stories tend to avoid more edgy subject matter, and
follow a traditional redemptive arc. What are your feelings about the
current Christian fiction industry? Are you hopeful or skeptical?

CARLA:
I’m not sure I have a good answer on this. Most days, I think we’re
headed in the right direction. We’re seeing edgier titles (though mostly
in the women’s fiction/romance arena), and I know of a handful of new
speculative projects that have been contracted by Christian publishers
in the last few months. Not to say that I think the books out there now
should not be published—it would be egotistical to argue that others’
reading tastes are less valid than my own. But I am encouraged that we
may see a wider variety of titles, genres, and subject matter in the
coming years. It will be interesting to see if the continuing buyouts of
Christian publishers by the Big Five result in more choices or fewer
choices in Christian fiction.

What checks my optimism on the subject is
the immediate backlash against the publication of Matthew Vines’ God
and the Gay Christian by Convergent Books, a sister imprint of
Waterbrook Press under Penguin Random House. Despite the fact that
Convergent and Waterbrook have completely different editorial missions,
some people immediately called for a boycott of Waterbrook as well. If
decisions made by a progressive imprint can harm a press that is related
only by business structure, I wonder if conservative publishers will
compensate by moving in the opposite direction and becoming even more
cautious in their acquisitions.

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You can find out more about Carla and connect with her at her website, on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest