Laramie Sasseville, a multi-discipline artist, is VP of Programming for the Midwest Fiction Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America®. She writes both urban fantasy romance and fantasy for young adults, although she describes her work as “a lighter sort of fare than most people would associate with paranormal or urban fantasy—what I call Magical Romance.”
Laramie lives and works in St. Paul, Minnesota with her imaginary husband and two cats. Her furry friends are adopted strays. Tigger is a ginger tabby, and Skip-the-Light-Fantastic (Skipper) is a polydactyl gray, whom Laramie adopted after he slipped in through a broken window in the basement when he was just a kitten.
By day, Laramie works various jobs through temp agencies—everything from receptionist to desktop publishing. She also does freelance desktop publishing and graphic design, selling both art prints and her handcrafted JewelMarks bookmarks at Science Fiction conventions and art fairs. (Check the drawing below where Laramie is giving away one of her beautiful creations.)
Laramie plays mandolin and loves to filk. (Filking is what science fiction fans do to folk songs, coming up with story-based lyrics to traditional tunes.) She’s addicted to online Scrabble and Bejeweled. For years, she participated in the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. In her youth, she hitchhiked around the US and Canada, hopping a freight train and camping overnight in a gold mining museum in Alaska.
Since Laramie is a big fan of mixed nuts and fruits, my virtual fare today includes a selection of her favorites. Help yourselves to cashews and pecans, filberts and pignola nuts, grapes and cherries, peaches and mangoes. I’ve added some sparkling waters in assorted flavors, so grab one of those as well and join me as we learn more about Laramie and her writing.
Hi, Keli! Thanks for having me; this blog is a great resource for aspiring writers!
Laramie’s Journey Begins
•What were your earliest literary efforts?
Before I could read or write I enjoyed daydream adventures in imaginary worlds. In those pre-literary days I would involve neighborhood kids in acting out some of these adventures. We’d be mermaids and mer-boys swimming around the neighborhood, riding the backs of fallen-tree horses, or exploring the passages of a bramble-bush palace. When I grew older I daydreamed of traveling through time and alternate dimensions to meet famous heroes: Alexander the Great, Theseus, Hercules, Merlin and Arthur, the Beatles in their pre-fame years. Of course such travels would require certain magical powers – starting with the ability to speak and understand any language, if I wanted to communicate with ancient Greeks, Celts and Brits.
Then, in the sixth grade I was enrolled in a ‘High Achievers’ class, and started writing down my stories as an assignment there. I originally thought of myself as a writer/illustrator ala Maurice Sendak, and for many years have gone back and forth between writing projects and art projects. Although most of my writing concepts are more suited to short story or novel form, I may someday get it together to produce some of the picture book ideas I’ve got on the back burner, or to explore the graphic novel form, which I find very appealing.
•When did you become serious about seeing your name in print and begin calling yourself a writer?
I started writing with a goal of publication when I met like-minded people through science fiction fandom. I had always loved stories with an element of magic, time travel, or futuristic technology – anything that stretched my imagination beyond the limits imposed by living in the material world. Meeting real writers, and real would-be writers through fandom made me realize that I, too, could take my daydream adventures from imagination to the page.
I became interested in reading and writing romances when I heard of a study finding that romance readers reported generally happier love lives. My love life to that point had not been happy, so I started reading to see what was in the stories that could make such a difference. I got quite a few clues that way and came to love the works of Lavyrle Spencer, Jane Austen and Nora Roberts in particular. This was back in the early 1980s and there was nothing like the huge interest we see now in Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Romance. I wrote a couple single title contemporary novels that never went beyond the first draft stage, and then another, set at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, which found an agent but never a publisher.
After that setback I did very little writing for many years (aside from a few short stories that were published) until 2006, when I ventured to take the NaNoWriMo challenge. By then things had changed, there was room in the publishing world for me to combine my love of the fantastic with my love of romance. That month I produced the first draft of Spirited! – an urban-fantasy romance featuring a handsome djinni and a ‘normal’ Minnesota artist who accidentally unleashes a succubus demon known as a lilit into the world and must free the djinni and save her friends from the lilit and its kind.
•You’ve ventured into the Contest Circuit and met with success. Please tell us about your placements and what they meant to you.
My manuscript, Spirited!, placed third in the San Francisco chapter of RWA’s ‘Heart to Heart’ contest last year, in the Paranormal category, and the synopsis placed second in the Maine Chapter’s synopsis contest.
I was thrilled to place in both contests. It’s so easy to become discouraged by all the rejections that seem to be an inevitable part of the writing life. A win proves that there are at least a few people in the world who think well of one’s work and those few are the jewels scattered among life’s gravel.
At this point I’ve entered enough contests to have learned to take the results with a grain of salt – that becomes inevitable, too, when you receive such a wide range of reactions to the same piece of writing. Some people will love it; some will hate it, many will fall in between, and it becomes clear what a large element of luck is involved in getting the right judges for a win.
•One of your short stories placed in a contest. How did you celebrate?
My short story, Survival was a (third-place) winner in the Minneapolis City Pages’ annual fiction contest. They published it and gave me a $100 gift certificate to a local bookstore. I was thrilled – though, naturally would have preferred the First Place prize. That was one of my earliest successes, and recalling it has helped me keep my spirits up through periods of disappointment and discouragement. I celebrated by going directly to the bookstore and buying, among other things, a copy of the Writer’s Market and a beautifully illustrated picture book.
•Contest placements are way cool. Congrats on yours! But you’ve experienced an even greater thrill: seeing your name in print. How many of your short stories have been published, and how did it feel when the first piece appeared?
My publication credits to date include four short stories.
1. Survival was the City Pages contest winner. (What happens when you come home only to walk in on a killer?)
2. Tess on the Stairs, a two-page story in a small press publication called Spinning Free. (How does a lonely ghost find her way home?)
3. A humorous piece exploring what fairy tales would be like Without the Wicked Witch, was published in a small press fantasy magazine called Daughters of Nyx.
4. My most recently published story, Mission Improbable, appears in the December 2009 issue of New Love Stories Magazine. (Can even a fairy godmother help a couple in trouble to see each other in a new light?) This story is published under my pen name for Romance Genre works: Naomi Stone. (As I write in more than one genre, I want to minimize confusion for the readers, so they’ll know what they can expect when reading a Naomi Stone story or a Laramie Sasseville story.)
It’s always exciting to have a story appear in a print publication, but I failed to appreciate that first publication properly – it was one of the first stories I’d ever submitted, and I had no idea that there would be so much trial and error, rewriting and rejection involved in getting other stories and novels published. Consequently, my most recent publication has meant the most, coming after many setbacks and disappointments.
•Publication must agree with you, because you’ve had a wide variety of your work published: a poem, greeting cards, and filk songs. How did each one come about?
The poem and greeting cards were flukes, really. I don’t write very much poetry and have submitted even less, but something I submitted to the National Poetry Review when I was in high school was accepted and included in their publication.
The greeting cards came about after I took an Open University class in writing for the greeting card industry. I was teaching drawing classes through Open U, so I could audit other classes for free, and this one sounded interesting – and was. I came up with a whole sheaf of ideas and the teacher of the class placed one right away. Then, years later, he contacted me to let me know he’d sold another of them. To make an income at it, a person would have to put a lot more time and effort into marketing greeting card ideas than I was willing to devote to it, but it was fun to try it on for size.
I’m much more invested in writing filk songs. Filkers are known (sometimes loved, sometimes reviled) in the science fiction fan community for writing lyrics based on fantasy and science fiction themes. Think ‘Weird Al.’ Sometimes filkers put their lyrics to traditional tunes, sometimes they create their own original music. I enjoy filk singing on a regular basis, and can hardly help coming up with my own filk lyrics from time to time. I’ve had a number of these songs published (gratis) in the small press compilations popular among filkers, and many are posted on my website as well. Here’s a little sample, written to a traditional tune called, Do You Love an Apple?:
Do you Love an Apple? Love your IBM?
Do you love a laddie met through your modem?
Yes, I love him, though I could deny him,
I’ll log on with him when ever I can!
Laramie’s Dream Put on Hold
•I noticed that you dealt with a setback at one point on your journey. You said your contemporary romance, the one set at the Renaissance Festival, led to representation by an agent but didn’t end up being contracted. How did you deal with your disappointment and keep your dream alive during that low time?
Yes; my agent shopped my manuscript around to eight different editors, but while some of these had positive comments, no one bought the novel. I was terribly disappointed and discouraged, but didn’t face my feelings for some time. I’m embarrassed by how long it took me to ‘get back on the horse.’
With so many different interests, it’s always easier for me to turn to something else than to persevere, and as my first short story publication came so easily I wasn’t equipped to grasp how important a role perseverance plays in a writing career. I still thought of myself as a writer, I still wrote down my ideas and plotted and made character notes, but most of the actual writing I did was in the form of journaling.
I journaled extensively, learning to know myself and gaining a better understanding of my feelings and inner growth process. That experience has contributed in many ways to the fiction that I’m writing now– certainly making for better-realized characters and more meaningful stories.
Partners on Laramie’s Journey
•A writer may spend hours holed up by herself pouring forth stories, but every one I’ve met has a group of people who’ve traveled the path with her, serving as teachers, encouragers, and mentors as well as sharing in her joys and disappointments. Who are your staunchest supporters?
Every writer who has written a book I love has been an inspiration and a teacher on this journey. Every person who has lived and participated in this world has contributed to making the fabric of life what it is, and so helped inform my understanding of the world.
Everyone I know (and many I don’t) have informed my understanding of human relationships and character. Everyone who has engaged me in conversation, who has shared a thought or a smile, and especially those who have made me care about them and have involved me in their concerns, have informed my heart in ways beyond words.
My animal companions (past and present) have taught me a great deal about the importance of communication without words.
And my invaluable beta readers and fabulous critique partners (Liz and Nancy are both Golden Heart finalists this year!) have taught me much about communication with words. I’m particularly grateful for the moral support of my friends in MFW and SF fandom who play along with my dreams of being a professional writer.
Laramie’s Best Tips for Writers
•What tips would you give to those embarking on their writing journeys?
Live. Read. Write. Share.
Live. Live fully. The life you live is your greatest source for understanding any character you may write about. There’s no substitute for directly experiencing the challenges, beauties, struggles, pains, joys, comforts and relationships life offers us. Wisdom may not grow with experience, but it won’t grow without it.
Read. Read widely; read the sort of stories you love best, but explore beyond to other genres, to mainstream, to classics and non-fiction. Get a sense of the width and breadth of human experience, of how many approaches there are to life and living, to understanding and interpreting the world. Enjoy. Observe what you admire in the writing, what not. Learn. Digest.
Write. They say you have to write a million words of crap before you’re going to write much that’s worth reading. I wrote, ‘a million words of crap,’ thinking myself very clever, and that still wasn’t enough. It’s by writing, reading what we’ve written, analyzing, weighing our reactions and rewriting (repeat as necessary) that we learn the craft, learn what works for us and what doesn’t, learn what we really want to say.
Share. That’s kind of the point. Why bother to write anything down if not to share it, at least with some future version of one’s self returning to look at what was on her mind at that earlier age?
- Share your writing. You already know what you’re trying to say, only someone else can tell you if the message is getting through. It may get through to some readers but not others; it helps to show your work to a number of other people, get their feedback on as many aspects of it as possible. Does it make sense? Do they get what you’re saying? Does it create the effect you want? Are they engaged, do they care about your characters? Are they stumbling over awkward sentences, bored by lengthy passages of exposition? To get the feedback you have to share what you’ve written.
- Share through your writing. You’ve lived fully, you’ve read widely, you’ve learned a thing or two in the course of it all and you have something to share. If it were the kind of thing you could just say in passing you wouldn’t need a novel to say it. In a novel you can establish the circumstances and experiences that evoke understanding in ways that are not so easy to just say.
Laugh. This is bonus advice. Not every story is a comedy, but none of the stories I love best are devoid of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
•You’ve been blessed to take workshops from Donald Maass and Michael Hauge. What were some of the most valuable lessons you learned?
The most valuable lesson I learned from Donald Maass is to challenge everything I think I know about my characters and my story, and to challenge my characters in what they think they know about themselves.
The most valuable lesson I learned from Michael Hauge was the importance of story structure in creating a satisfying experience for readers.
Laramie’s Journey Continues
•What are you working on now?
Lately, I’ve been working on a number of short stories from the files of the Fairy Godmothers’ Union, True Love Local. My novel in progress, Wonder Guy starts with a fairy godmother who grants super powers to a young man, supposing the mystery of a secret identity and the glamour of heroic acts will help him win the interest of the girl next door. (Hey, it worked for Spiderman.)
Looking ahead to when these stories are complete, leafing through the Fairy Godmothers’ Union files, I see the ladies granting the wishes of a group of women who’ve formed a Holiday Club, as none of them have family of their own to celebrate with on the holidays. The widowed woman must cross through alternate dimensions stemming from choices she made in her past, to find a world where she can be with the husband she lost in this world. An older woman who put her career before everything else travels into her own past to find a course that has room for love as well as career; another woman travels to a distant future, another communes with ghostly spirits, another journeys to a faery realm to rescue her elf-shot lover.
Five Fun Facts About Laramie
- In high school my imaginary friend was a Gryphon named Beogrunde.
- I make the most wildly extravagant bookmarks in the world.
- I’ve created a coloring book based on a silly religion and created a silly religion based on traffic signals. Perhaps I should create a silly religion based on coloring books?
- I have a gift for finding mutant clovers. My collection includes dozens of four-leaf and five-leaf as well as a few six- and seven-leaf clovers.
- As a teen, inspired by watching the old Batman TV series, I day-dreamed adventures as Robin’s long lost twin sister, The Blue Jay.
Laramie’s Questions for You
If a figure from history or media fell in love with you, who would you have it be?
If you could have one wish granted what would it be?
Laramie has generously offered to give away this handcrafted beaded JewelMark bookmark, Pearls in Bloom, which is one of her many beautiful creations. (To see others, visit her site – http://www.dreamspell.net/crafts.)
To enter the drawing, just leave a comment for Laramie by midnight May 14 (Pacific time) and enter your email address when prompted during the comment process. (You don’t have to leave it in the body of your comment this way.)
On May 15, I will hold the drawing and post the winner’s name here as well and will contact her/him via email to get a mailing address. (I don’t share your information with anyone, other than sending your mailing address to my guest, and I don’t add your name to any mailing lists.)
Congratulations to Tamara Hughes, winner of Laramie’s beautiful bookmark.
Note: Offer void where prohibited.
Odds of winning vary due to the number of entrants.
Learn More About Laramie
Visit her website ~ www.dreamspell.net
Friend her on Facebook ~ Laramie Kay Sasseville
Friend her on LiveJournal ~ http://skylarker.livejournal.com