Interview with Lori Stephens

Jen: We are excited to have Lori Stephens as our guest today. Lori, will you please share a short bio with us?
Lori: I’m very fortunate to have a career that I love and that leaves me plenty of time to do creative writing. I teach composition at Southern Methodist University, and spend my weekends and university breaks (which are long and lovely) writing fiction. I live in Plano, Texas, with my family and a hamster named Ra.

Jen: Tell us about Song of the Orange Moons and where it’s available.
Lori: Song of the Orange Moons is a story of friendship between two girls and a widowed neighbor. Rebecka, Helen, and the widow Adelle try to navigate the sometimes humorous, sometimes painful path through childhood, and keep their self-worth and dignity intact. Not long after Adelle recognizes a remarkable friendship developing with her two young neighbors, one of them moves away. As Rebecka and Helen mature, they turn from their devoted friendship in search of romantic love, finding more questions than answers to their place in this world. Three coming-of-age stories unfold that reveal each girl’s isolation and search for love, self, and meaning. In spite of their different cultural and economic backgrounds, the three discover an invaluable friendship along the delicate and self-conscious path to womanhood.

Song of the Orange Moons is available at Barnes & Noble (bn.com), Borders (borders.com), Amazon.com, and other fine booksellers.

Jen: At what age did you discover writing and when were you first published? Tell us your call story.
Lori: I think I was in the fourth grade when I really discovered writing. My older sister and I wrote narrative song lyrics and serenaded my mother from the back of the station wagon. That was also the year we wrote a story about our mongrel dog, whom the dog catcher knew well by name and bite. The memory of writing lyrics and stories for hours and hours is still salient, so I think it’s fair to say I unlocked the magic of writing then. I didn’t get any good at it, though, until I took a few writing courses in college and learned the craft of storytelling. My first published piece (that wasn’t one of many school-affiliated diddies) was much later, in a Dallas poetry magazine in 2000. The day my payment-in-issue arrived in the mail, I ripped open the package in a flutter of excitement to find my poem listed in the Table of Contents. “Hotel du Brésil” by Mary Ann Stephens. They got my name wrong, but it didn’t matter. My poem was published!

Jen: Are there any other writers, published or not, in your family?
Lori: No. I’m the only writer in my family, although I was inspired by my mother, who wrote poems for all her children, and spent a lot of time writing a manuscript about our mutt. Our dog was, apparently, inspirational.

Jen: Do you have any “must haves” with you while you’re writing?
Lori: I must have a glass of Malbec or a pot of coffee. Almonds and very dark chocolate also help.
Jen: Do you have a writing routine?
Lori: My routine is to sit in front of the computer screen for at least two hours, during which I mainly hit the backspace button, stare at the screen, and get sidetracked by revisions. But something magical happens right about the two-hour mark, and the juices start flowing. I can get several pages cranked out if I just have the luxury of those two initial hours to get started. As a result, I usually get most writing done on the weekends and during school breaks.

Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest?
Lori: Nothing’s easy about writing, except for the support system I have. My partner is my biggest fan, and he’s constantly encouraging me to write. I suppose it’s easy to create characters, but it’s also extremely challenging to understand them inside and out, well enough to make their conflicts and actions reflect their needs and fears in a believable manner.

Jen: What’s the most rewarding aspect?
Lori: Finishing the first draft is the most rewarding aspect of writing. It’s right at that point that you have an entire world and history before you, but it’s a world in progress, and much can (and needs to) evolve before it can survive on its own. I love that fragile nature of the craft. There’s so much potential in those pages, and you know you’re half-way there.

Jen: How do you pick the characters’ names?
Lori: I actively try not to pick names of people I know. I can’t say how many times I’ve said, “Oops—I know someone with that name,” and end up changing the character’s name another two or three times. My biggest fear is that someone will say, “Hey, that character is me, isn’t it?” It’s not—it never is. My characters are blends of traits of everyone I know, but mostly pieces of me. Twice, though, I’ve used the names of real friends, with their permission. But mainly I stick to names that simply sound right for the character.

Jen: If you could travel back in time for one year, what time and place would you choose? And if you could only take 3 things with you, what would they be?
Lori: Hard question! I might travel back to fifth grade, when I was shy and vulnerable, and bring my novel and my 2 beautiful sons, and tell that little me, “See? You’re not a dork or a loser. You’ll create some pretty awesome things, so believe in yourself, and don’t let anyone manipulate you into thinking otherwise.” (I was an outsider in elementary school.)

Jen: If Song of the Orange Moons was made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the main characters?
Lori: I’m so out of the loop with young actors these days. I couldn’t name five people in People Magazine. (Seriously. I was at the beauty salon today and wondering where all the movie stars went. Who were those people on every page?) I only see Penelope Cruz as the main character’s beautiful mother. All the other characters would be a pleasant surprise.

Jen: Who are some of your favorite authors and books? What are you reading now?
Lori: I have a diverse taste in literature. I love all of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels and Nicole Strauss’s The History of Love, Jhumpa Lahiri’s stories and David Sedaris’s essays (every single collection). I just finished T.C. Boyle’s The Women, and am now reading The Full Matilda, by David Haynes.

Jen: What do you do in your free time?
Lori: I watch old films, get knee-deep in dirt in the garden, and do some sort of DIY home repair or improvement (by choice or necessity) every month.

Jen: What’s next for you?
Lori: I’ll be doing some readings in Dallas, Richardson, and Chicago in November. In the meantime, I’m working on a new novel about two sisters on road trip.

Jen: Where can you be found on the web?
Lori: http://www.blogger.com/www.loriannstephens.com
My blog, linked from the website, is http://lastephens.blogspot.com/

Jen: Is there anything you’d like to ask our readers?
Lori: What’s your favorite book trailer? I was trying to find some good ones to get ideas, but they mostly look like they’re in the “beta” stage.

Jen: Readers, Lori is giving away a copy of Song of the Orange Moons to one lucky commenter. To enter the contest, you need to leave a comment or question for Lori. Then to complete your entry, you must either leave your email address in your comment or send a message to contests.bookblog@gmail.com. The winner will be chosen on Sunday, October 17.