Lauren Baratz-Logsted (yes, that’s really her name!)

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Lauren grew up in Monroe, CT, where her father owned a drugstore at which her mother was the pharmacist. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where she majored in psychology. She also has what she calls her “half-Masters” in English from Western Connecticut State University (five courses down, another five to go…someday!).

Throughout college, she worked semester breaks as a doughnut salesperson, a job that she swears gave her white lung disease from all the powdered sugar she breathed.

Upon graduation, she began work at the venerable independent bookseller, now sadly defunct as such, Klein’s of Westport. There, she bought and sold for the better part of 11 years.

In November 1994, Lauren left the bookstore to finally take a chance on herself as a writer. Success did not happen overnight. Between 1994 and May 2002 – when Red Dress Ink called with an offer to buy THE THIN PINK LINE – Lauren worked as a book reviewer, a freelance editor and writer, and a window washer, making her arguably the only woman in the world who has ever both hosted a book signing party and washed the windows of the late best-selling novelist Robert Ludlum.

Since Red Dress Ink’s call in 2002, Lauren has been kept very busy with writing more novels and checking her Amazon ranking on a daily basis. She still lives in Danbury, with her husband and daughter, where she has lived since 1991.

In addition to writing, Lauren’s daughter keeps her busy, accounting for the rest of her time.

Lauren wants you to know that, however you are pronouncing her last name, you are probably pronouncing it wrong.

1. I often have trouble while writing because I always end up drawing a blank. Does this ever happen to you? If so, what do you do to combat this problem? (Sam)

First off, let me say, at the risk of annoying people, that I don’t get writer’s block. That said, sometimes you come to a part in a story or novel that, for whatever reason, makes you start dragging your feet. What I do in those instances is one of two things: 1) jump ahead to a part of the piece that I know I’ll be excited to work on, in which case I can come back later to fill in the blanks; 2) work on a different writing project, or even do a bit of blogging. Think of it like a person who wants to get in physical shape: you wouldn’t run every day, or do weights every day; instead, you’d mix things up a bit, thereby creating balance in your training and keeping yourself from going bonkers. Of course, if the writing is going good, ignore this advice and zoom ahead.

2. Is the fear in Vertigo a reflection of some of your strong fears, if any? (Keri)

Hmm, do I fear wanting to fall (which is Vertigo’s heroine Emma’s fear)? No, I don’t think that’s it. But I do think Emma is an extreme example of something I believe we all go through at one time or another: the recognition that we can only live one life at a time and yet, even if we are content, the dawning curiosity as to what those possible other lives we fantasize about might offer. We live in a time, when we are free to make changes in a way that’s not possible for Emma, given that she lives in the Victorian era.

3. How do you write erotica without being sexually graphic? (Jordan)

I guess whether my sex scenes are graphic or not depends on the eye of the beholder! I did a whole blog on Amazon called “Graphic Sex Included” in which I talked about my surprise at the frequency with which professional reviewers mention that Vertigo contains graphic sex. The book is billed by its publisher, Random House, as “a literary novel set in the Victorian era with erotic and suspense undertones,” the book is clearly marketed with adult consumption in mind, and the sex scenes are rather tame compared to much that you’ll find elsewhere. And yet, you still encounter this prudish attitude that doesn’t seem to balk in the least at all the violence out there, just the sex. Getting back to the crux of your question: If the sex you include is organic to the story, meaning it naturally occurs based on the particular story you’re telling rather than being forced on to the story for whatever reasons, you should be fine. It doesn’t mean you won’t encounter prudish attitudes from some quarters, but if you’re intentions are sincere in your effort to serve the story, you’ll be fine.

4. How do you build suspense in your novels? (Barbara)

Think about when you were younger and a parent or grandparent told you a story that got you excited. What got you excited was that, whatever happened in the story, it kept making you say or want to say, over and over, “And then what happened? And then what happened?” Successfully writing suspense means instilling in the reader the intense desire to learn what happens next. Sometimes storytellers do this by keeping the foot to the pedal the entire time, filling a story with constant twists, turns, cliffhangers, complications. A book like Vertigo takes a different approach to pacing. Something exciting might happen, but then we pull back for a bit, until the end game which really is surprise after surprise. But for the most of the book it’s really more a rhythm like the sea crashing at you, then receding a bit before crashing at you again even harder.

5. All of your books seem to have very strong plot lines. How do you come up with a good plot line? (Analynn)

I am sorry – or proud! – to admit that I am a crazy lady. I see the world in 250- to 450-page chunks. A few times a year, something will happen that makes me think, “Hey, there’s a whole novel in that!” Thus, my own wonderful surprise pregnancy becomes inspiration for a book about a woman who fakes a pregnancy (The Thin Pink Line) and so forth. I think part of being a writer of strong plots is simply becoming hyper-aware of the world around you. See that guy in the Zorro costume at the mall? What if he really believes he is Zorro? So much of storytelling is dependent upon “what it?” You can also train yourself to think quirky concept by examining other stories/films to see what’s ripe for inversion or a new twist. In the late 1960s there was a movie called “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” about an African American going home with his white fiancé to meet her family for the first time. A year or two ago that killer concept became fresh again when the story was recast only this time it was a white guy meeting his African American fiancé’s family for the first time.

6. Do any of your novels stem from personal experiences or are they usually from the depths of your imagination? (Harrison)

I’ve never faked a pregnancy (The Thin Pink Line), deliberately sabotaged my own looks (A Little Change of Face) or conspired to commit murder (Vertigo), so the short answer would be no. That said, I do often use anecdotes from real life and it’s quite possible if the book in question at any point discusses being a writer, even in the case of the pompous John Smith from Vertigo, chances are that character is speaking for me.

7. To you, just to you, what is the real meaning of writing? If you had to change your genre, what would you change it to? (Tung)

There’s a saying that includes the phrase “dance as though no one is looking,” which you may think is either wonderful or hokey. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but just to me, writing means telling stories I am burning to tell even if no one else will ever read them. That’s not to say I don’t want you to read my books – please do, and tell all your friends! – but the original impetus is always to tell a tale and tell it well. As for what genre I’d change to, I write in so many already – contemporary comedic novels (The Thin Pink Line etc), literary/historical/suspense (Vertigo), YA (Angel’s Choice), plus short stories and forthcoming books for the tween market and for even younger readers – it’s tough to think what’s left for me to try. Mystery, maybe? I don’t think I’d be very good at Sci-Fi/fantasy. I just love writing and stretching myself as a writer in new ways; it keeps me fresh.

8. Why did you decide to write a novel with erotic undertones? (Ben)

I didn’t. The idea for Vertigo came to me in fall 2000. I saw in my mind a story about a good woman, trapped by circumstances. I knew how her story would open, I knew how it would end, I knew some of the climactic events that would need to happen along the way. But I didn’t decide to write something erotic. Rather, as I started writing the story, erotic undertones decided they needed to be a part of Emma’s journey. It may sound crazy, but it does work that way. I think if I ever sat down and said, “Today I will write something titillating,” I’d produce laughable rubbish. But because the erotic scenes in Vertigo organically grow out of Emma’s journey, I think they work.

9. How does your having a major in psychology affect your characters and plots? (Dacia)

I guess it makes me aware of the complexity of the human mind. Although, in terms of majors, I did have as many credits in English as psych so it could have gone either way. In truth, I’m not sure your major matters so much as whether or not you read a lot and read widely. I think the best way to become a good writer is to be a good reader.

10. What are the difficulties of writing for three different audiences? Do you get ideas for YA when you are writing for adults? (Kim)

I do get simultaneous ideas and sometimes work on simultaneous projects but always for different audiences, never two books for the same audience at once. I would have to say the biggest challenge is making sure your voice remains consistent throughout any given project and that your contemporary Connecticut teen doesn’t start sounding like your Victorian society wife. In truth, the benefits far outweigh any difficulties. I love writing in different voices and I truly believe it keeps me fresher for my readers.

11. What part of the book is the most difficult to write–the beginning, the middle, or the end? Why? (Mehek)  

Definitely the middle. I always know the beginning and am excited to write that because…it’s the beginning! I almost always know the end and am excited to write that because…it’s the end! But the middle? I do think all writers have a weakness with one of the three. If you have trouble with beginnings, this is the worst problem because you may have lost the reader by the time you get around to being brilliant. Bad endings frustrate readers. But middles? I actually think writers have this problem more than any other – I certainly do – which is why we can all be grateful for the process known as revisions. Until you hand it over to the teacher or the editor, you can always revise, making your story as good as you can possibly make it.  

Thank you so much for having me! These are some of the smartest questions I’ve ever been asked!

Here’s more info about what’s coming up for Lauren:

Secrets of My Suburban Life, my second YA novel, is due out in January from Simon & Schuster and is about a teen whose novelist mother is crushed to death by a stack of Harry Potter books – when her father moves her to CT, she becomes embroiled in a sort-of mystery involving an online predator; my first tween book, also from S&S, is due out in March – it’s called Me, In Between and is about a precociously well-breasted 12-year-old who is conflicted by that fact; my next Chick-Lit book for RDI, Baby Needs a New Pair of Choos, is about the perils of having an addictive personality and is due out sometime in 2008. My husband Greg Logsted, if I may add, has his debut coming out in June 2008: Sock Puppets in Love, a tween book for S&S about a boy whose father died the previous school year and who is now faced with a gorgeous English teacher who has the eye for him. Finally, Houghton Mifflin just acquired the first four books in a series for young readers, which is being written by me with Greg and our seven-year-old daughter Jackie. The series is called The Sisters Eight and is about octuplets, the Huit sisters, whose parents disappear on New Year’s Eve when Dad goes out to the woodshed and Mom goes into the kitchen for eggnog.

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