The Atlantic Book Awards Festival kicks off today and culminates next Thursday, May 16 with the Awards Celebration. One author who will be there is Laurie Glenn Norris. Her book Haunted Girl: Esther Cox and the Great Amherst Mystery that she wrote with Barbara Thompson (Nimbus Publishing) has been nominated for the Democracy 250 Atlantic Book Award for Historical Writing! From her Lower Kingsclear, NB home, Norris took some time to describe her life as an author—the challenges and rewards—and offers some advice to aspiring writers too!
AE: When did you first realize that writing was a passion of yours and what were your earliest experiences?
LGN: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. I don’t exactly remember when or how it started. Before I was ten years old, I would write mystery stories à la Nancy Drew and as a teenager penned terrible poetry. In 1973, when I was fifteen, I was published for the first time and got paid $5 for a short essay on what makes a good or bad teacher.
“In 1973, when I was fifteen, I was published for the first time and got paid $5 for a short essay on what makes a good or bad teacher.”
AE: What inspired you to write Haunted Girl? Was it quite a different project from your previous books (i.e. Cumberland County Facts and Folklore, your art publications and educational essays)?
LGN: I was inspired to write Haunted Girl by my best friend Barb Thompson. Barb and I both grew up hearing about Esther Cox and the Great Amherst Mystery and were always interested in the story. After one of our many, many conversations about Esther, I said “Why don’t we write a book about her?” So we did. Haunted Girl is similar to Cumberland County Facts and Folklore because they are both about the place where I grew up. It’s different in that it is a project that I shared with another person and it’s an in-depth look at a particular subject, and a biography.
AE: What book are you working on now?
LGN: I’m taking a totally different turn and working on a novel. Though the genre is a change, the subject matter is similar. It’s a historical novel about a young girl who lived in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteenth century. I’ve taken the story from true events. What happened to that girl took place in 1877, one year before Esther Cox started to have her experiences. Tackling a novel is a big challenge for me.
AE: It sounds like this latest book has been circulating in your brain for some time...is it something you're quite passionate about? How so?
LGN: I first came across the incident that I’m now novelizing back in 1996, and I’ve thought about it ever since. I want to tell this girl’s story. And, unlike the case of Esther, I feel the best way to tell it is through a novel.
LGN: It is an effort for me most times. If I spent the time I think about writing actually writing, I’d have had many more books completed by now.
AE: Do you have any writing rituals or elements in your "writing studio" that make the process more fluid?
LGN: I like to start writing in the morning and I like to listen to classical music. It helps me to think more clearly. My cat Sassy sits on the love seat across from my desk and watches me. She’s my muse. And, I’m very lucky: as Virginia Woolf advised, I have a room of my own.
“I’m very lucky: as Virginia Woolf advised, I have a room of my own.”
AE: What do you do when you're not writing?
LGN: I read a lot. I like to cook. I don’t really have any hobbies, I wish I did. Writers should do a number of things when they’re not writing. It makes them better writers.
AE: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
LGN: Read a lot, especially the classics and good writing in general. Read about the writing life. Read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Write every day and don’t put it off. Get out into the world and listen to face-to-face conversations. Take in writing workshops and, if you can, join a writers’ group. I’m a member of an email writing critique group and it’s very helpful.