Welcome to our Fast Forward Friday feature, Laura! I look forward to learning more about you and revealing the cover for your upcoming release SUMMER OF L.U.C.K. Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself, please?
Hi Kathie! I’m honored to be featured. Your site is one of my favorites!
When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, writing a novel wasn’t my life’s ambition. I was determined to be an actress. Instead, life sent me in a completely different direction, and for many years I’ve owned a successful public relations firm specializing in arts publicity.
And even though I passed on acting a long time ago, I ended up with the role of a lifetime today: AUTHOR. But that came about slowly. Publicity work sharpened my storytelling skills, which led to some free-lance non-fiction writing assignments for newspapers and magazines. And one day, inspired by the childhood kidlit I still loved, I began writing a middle grade fantasy, which eventually became Summer of L.U.C.K.
SUMMER OF L.U.C.K., is your debut novel, and it comes out with INtense Publications on September 15th. Will you give us a brief synopsis of it, please?
Yes! Summer of L.U.C.K. is about three kids who long to believe in themselves.
Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin’s been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They’re greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices.
As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher’s carnival rides, they discover they’re capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher’s resistant son? If not, she’ll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all.
What aspect of this story came to you first, and how did the rest of the writing unfold? Is there some part of your own story that you wanted to share with young readers?
When I was a kid, my favorite book, The Diamond in the Window, was about an 11 year-old – my age at the time – with freckles – just like me. She hated her freckles – just like I did. And I’ve never forgotten that this character learned to accept not only her freckles but also herself. Her journey spoke to me so powerfully that, decades later, I decided to write a middle grade story that I hoped would mean as much to readers today as that story meant to me.
With self-acceptance and overcoming self-doubt as my starting points, Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s themes grew to include friendship, courage, and perseverance. I have to admit that the plot unfolded as I went along. And, it changed and expanded with each revision over the many years it took to bring L.U.C.K. up to standards that attracted a publisher. Like so many other writers, my files are full of discarded scenes and characters, with much kicking and screaming involved in letting them go.
Although I don’t share Darby’s, Naz’s, and Justin’s specific situations, I absolutely relate to their efforts to find their voices. As a kid, I lived with what felt like constant criticism, like Darby. I never lost a parent like Justin, but I’ve felt his loneliness. And then there’s Naz, whose endearing personality makes me laugh. Honestly, I have no idea where his antics come from, but I do share his sunny disposition, love of food, and tenacity.
I spent a couple of summers at sleep-away camp when I was the characters’ ages, so I had a bunch of real-life memories to draw on for that. Horseback riding, archery, and canoeing, for example. But Summer of L.U.C.K.‘s magical carnival came straight from my imagination. Each revision required that I dig deeper to envision the fantasy adventures and weave them into the characters’ arcs. Successfully, I hope!
What has the journey to publication been like for you?
Long and winding! I’m not a born writer, nor have I formally studied creative writing, but as an avid reader, especially of middle grade fiction, I’ve learned by doing. And re-doing. About halfway through the journey to signing a publishing contract, I worked with a development editor who helped me bring the story to life. Then I found a treasure chest of information online, such as web sites like this one, from which I learned about writing resources and opportunities to get input from agents. I entered Twitter contests to have my work evaluated and mentored by more experienced writers. I learned how to connect with critique partners. And I even linked up with a classroom of kids in a literacy program who Beta read and gave me helpful feedback. I’m so grateful for everyone who helped me along the way.
Because I fell in love with Darby, Naz, Justin, Mr. Usher, and their world, that was the story I wanted to tell. If I couldn’t share it, I wasn’t sure I had anything else in me to write. So I queried for years. And years. And years. I had crushingly disappointing moments along the way, especially full manuscript rejections by more agents than I care to remember. Sometimes other writers would suggest I let Summer of L.U.C.K. go. “Write something else,” they encouraged.
But I had faith in Summer of L.U.C.K., and I believed in myself. With every rejection, I worked harder on improving the narrative and the writing. It’s hard to put into words just how much it means to me to have this book published. It’s really a dream come true.
What do you hope that young readers will take away from your story?
I hope they’ll enjoy meeting my characters and sharing their adventures. I’d like them to finish the book knowing that whatever they’re struggling with, others kids struggle too, and they are not alone.
My contract with INtense Publications calls for two sequels, and I’m about halfway through writing the second book. The sequel’s first chapter is included at the end of Summer of L.U.C.K., so I also hope folks who read it will be drawn to find out what comes when the story continues “next summer.”
How do you balance writing other aspects of your life?
I wish I had an answer that lived up to this interesting question, but here goes. After signing my contract for L.U.C.K. and two sequels, I’ve devoted four to six evenings a week to writing the second book, which has been a joy. During the week, I spend time on my business, socializing, and other tasks, leaving L.U.C.K.‘s marketing/promotional work and R&R for the weekends. With no Major League Baseball, concerts and gatherings since the pandemic, I’ve had much more time to devote to writing and promotional work. That’s helpful as my deadlines approach! Still, I make time just about every evening for an hour or so of reading crime fiction, mysteries, and middle grade fiction, my favorite genres, and quality time with my husband.
Can you tell me who designed your cover, and if you were involved in the process?
My cover, which I just love, was designed by Kaylee Grissom, and she was great to work with. She absolutely incorporated my input, but the concept and the execution were all hers.
OK, it’s time for the cover reveal!
Wow, that looks great! Is there anything I haven’t asked you yet that you’d like to share with us?
In recent years, Lady Gaga’s speech when she won an Oscar has sustained me through the ups and downs of my writing career, and I love passing it on. She said, in part, “It’s not about how many times you get rejected or you fall down or you’re beaten up. It’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep going.”
Can you tell us where we can go to find out more about you and your writing?
Summer of L.U.C.K. will be released in September by INtense Publications https://intensepublications.com/shop/ols/categories/preorder
I’d love MG Book Village readers to visit my web site or reach out on my social platforms:
Twitter: @LauraStegman https://twitter.com/LauraStegman
Instagram: laura_stegman https://www.instagram.com/laura_stegman/
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Laura, and good luck with your debut’s release.
Many thanks to you for this opportunity!
Laura Segal Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., will be published in September 2020 by INtense Publications, followed by a sequel in 2021. Having grown up in Southern California with parents who valued reading, she remains spellbound by kidlit. Some of her favorite middle grade novels, then and now, are The Diamond in the Window, Ellen Tebbits, All of A Kind Family, Wonder, A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Miraculous. Laura’s non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York, and her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine and Christian Science Monitor, among others. A long-time publicity consultant, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations and non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama and lives with her husband in West L.A. and part-time in New York City. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater.