Laura Rock Gaughan's [photo credit: Rebekah Littlejohn] first book, a short fiction collection called Motherish, was published by Turnstone Press in September 2018. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Canadian, Irish, and US journals and anthologies. She lives near Peterborough, Ontario, where she works as a communications consultant to non-profit organizations.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
It’s been just a month since my first book was released, so I’m reserving judgement on its life-changing effects for a while longer. It feels different to have people reading my work in longform, in a book, and letting me know their reactions. And launch events—it’s been surprising and fortifying and moving to witness people from different parts of my life gathering to celebrate my book.
Previously, I’ve published stories in journals, and some of those are in the collection. It’s always thrilling to place a piece of writing and work with editors of journals that I admire.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I’ve been drawn to all of them at different times. Fiction seems to have a stronger hold on me.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m usually a slow writer. Typically, I make a lot of notes and accumulate scraps of paper and random notebooks. By the time I’m finished with a story, I’ve been through many drafts. But sometimes I’ll write in quick bursts and that writing tends to keep its initial shape.
With some of my recent stories, I’ve noticed that the final form has come together more quickly, that I’m more decisive in the drafting and revising. I’m hoping that’s a trend.
4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
In the case of Motherish, I had several short pieces first and then began working on a collection. Other projects, still in progress, are meant to be books from the beginning.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I’m not sure I’d call public readings part of my creative process, because when I’ve done them, my piece has been finished. I do scribble last-minute edits on the page before I read, though, and I listen for which lines get reactions, so if I were to read unfinished work, I could definitely see how it would feed into the creative process.
And I love doing readings. Love.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don’t consciously set out to address theoretical concerns or answer questions, but I notice preoccupations that recur. Modern questions having to do with conflicts of interest, surveillance, human rights, migration, shared cultural ideas. And more human condition-type concerns, like goodness, sacrifice, beauty, and public service—what they mean, how they play out.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I’m not sure about “should” but my idea of a writer is someone who makes meaning from everything around. A person who functions variously as a mirror, a critic, an amusement, a consolation. The larger culture may take note, or not.
8 – Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I value editors and have found, so far, the process of being edited very rewarding. I vote for essential.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
You don’t have to ask permission to write this.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have a typical day or established routine. I fit the writing in where and when I can, and sometimes I’ve been lucky to go on retreats and have much more time than usual to devote to my projects. I try to read as much as I can, as well.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Walking helps. And yoga. Sometimes I’ll read a few pages of a book I love to just to hear and feel the language.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Grapes. I grew up in a wine-making region. In the fall, the whole town smells like grapes.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Theatre. I try to see as many plays as I can and find they inspire me long after the performance is over. And music, although I find it difficult to write well about music.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
So many writers, in no particular order: Zadie Smith, David Mitchell, Colson Whitehead, EL Doctorow, MG Vassanji, Linda Spalding, Ann Patchett, Jim Shepard, Emily St. John Mandel, Carrie Snyder, Madeleine Thien. I could go on.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a novel.
16 – If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
A painter, or, if I couldn’t produce visual art, then an art historian.
17 – What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I think it’s the pull of language. More and more, I appreciate that language is a gift.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I’m going to cheat and name the last two books: a novel and poem/play. The novel is French Exit, which lives up to the hype. It’s funny and sad and serious, light and dark, a smooth story that hides its craft. The other book—a “choreopoem”, is For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. It’s been performed since the 70s but feels utterly contemporary.
I don’t get to see a lot of films, but not long ago, I saw a film called Julieta, directed by Pedro Almodóvar. What intrigued me about it most is that it’s an adaptation of Alice Munro stories, with the setting Spain instead of Canada.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A novel plus a few stories in progress.