Meet the Writer: Laurette Folk

Thanks so much to Laurette for answering my questions! I hope you will read more about the author at her website.

What kinds of writing do you do?

I write fiction, mainly in the literary novel genre, essays, and poetry.

How have you developed creatively (pre-, during, and post-MFA)?

When I was living in New York in my twenties, alone and depressed, working a job I hated, I started writing stories to pass the time, and also as an outlet for my broken heart, or should I say broken hearts, plural, because I had several. I realized the world of imagination was an escape, and I didn’t need a television or a movie screen to go there. It was an important realization, that I could be self-directed through what I had always thought was a vast, abstract, and amorphous world. Also, depression was a portal of sorts, to an inner life. So, depression directed me inward, and once there, I needed to do something with the uncomfortable feelings, so I used them to create. But as I matured artistically, creation became something else; it became a way to learn, not only about myself, but the world at large. Expression eventually became more of an intellectual pursuit, rather than an emotional one.

Anyway, after I left New York, I dated someone who inspired me to write a novel. He said, “Why are you wasting time with short stories? Write a novel.” He was young and naïve and so was I. A novel—that seemed monumental to me, but I gave it a go. The novel was about my Italian American family, and I remember giving it to a friend to read, and he said it was terrible. It was, of course. At this point I desperately wanted to leave my career as an engineer and get out of the corporate world; I needed to make money doing something else. I wanted writing to be it, but clearly this was not going to be the case. This caused me a great deal of anxiety. I eventually left engineering and became a temp; this was the thing to do in the mid to late nineties: show up at one office one week and another the next week. That grew old, and I became panic-stricken about money. The only way to escape the panic was to write. So I did. I always wrote, no matter what. It was a safe haven for me.

I started teaching mathematics and then physics; I realized I had a passion for teaching, and it was a way to make money. Like many others, I used my summers to get the writing done. At this point, I learned to do research to enhance my writing; I also continuously read. I was reading Amy Tan, Louise Erdrich, Isabella Allende, Barbara Kingsolver. I wanted to be them. I rewrote that first novel and started another, finished a draft, and was accepted into Vermont College’s MFA program.

The MFA program gave me a community of artists and writers that I desperately needed. I felt completely at home there. I was a misfit in society, or so I felt, but at VC, I was a misfit in the land of misfits. I also learned how to analyze literature and write essays, which I would not have done on my own. I discovered top echelon women writers like Woolf, Byatt, and Atwood. At this point, my writing did not consistently have impact. In fact, my writing during the MFA period was pretty much awful. I don’t know why this is.

Post-MFA, I joined a writer’s group and found a writing partner there. She was a poet, a feminist, and I loved her work. She was also a professor at a university nearby, and she taught comp and lit. At this point, my writing was still not consistently impactful. I remember giving her a draft of my second novel and her telling me it was trash (well, not trash, per se; she was more diplomatic): I could do better. It was her criticism and not any of the advisors at Vermont College that pointed me in the right direction, perhaps because I was less narrow-minded and bull-headed; I was starting to lose those delusions of grandeur that afflict novice writers. Or perhaps it was because we were interested in similar topics: feminism, mysticism, and spirituality. Also, we met nearly once a week for seven years; we were both dedicated to our work, despite our busy home and work lives. We had similar writing philosophies. I think we inspired one another as women artists. Still do.

I had another growth period when I started teaching comp and lit at the college level. I now had to fully analyze everything I put on my syllabus and then teach it. I taught short stories and realized how dense, subtle, and complicated they were; these were things missing from my own writing. I learned through Hawthorne, Melville, O’Connor, Joyce, Marquez, and Chopin.

I see how you have a blog called Meditations and Reflections. What made you choose to start a blog, and how often do you use it?

My blog is a place I stash ideas to pursue at a later time; it is like a life-line to my writing, especially now, because I don’t have hours and hours to spend indulging in my imaginative world like I used to when I was single and childless. I have toddler twins and I am their main caretaker. If I can get at least two entries per month, I’m happy; I feel like I am keeping my writing life alive.

When I created the blog, I wanted it to serve three purposes: one, act as an impetus for meditation; two, enable me to develop my essay writing skills; and three, allow me to keep up with the Joneses, i.e., do what other writers were doing. For the most part, I have achieved these goals; however, lately the meditation time is becoming shorter and shorter.

Does mediation/reflection play a big role in your fiction writing?

Absolutely. Writing stems from your inner imaginative life; what better way to get in touch with your thoughts than meditation? This was something I realized while at Vermont College: to put the pen down and just sit and breathe, or to practice walking meditation, and for me that means walking my dog. The muse whispers to you when you walk.

Can you tell me a little about the cover of your novel, A Portal to Vibrancy, and what your role was in that part of the publishing process?

The cover is an acrylic painting I created in an art class I took while writing the last chapters of the novel. I wanted to be more in touch with Jackie, the protagonist, who is a painter. I manipulated the image of the painting in iPhoto and asked my publisher to use it. Big Table Publishing is a small literary press, so I had more say in the publishing process. We went through several iterations of color, font, etc. and made it work.

What are some of the most enjoyable ways that you’ve promoted your novel?

Recently I had a book club read the novel and they invited me to sit in on the discussion about it. It was interesting to see what scenes affected the readers and why, and also that the readers had some of the same weird thoughts as the protagonist. It generated excellent dialogue on Catholicism and feminism. I always cringe at self-promotion, but I really enjoyed that.

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