My guest today is an accomplished publishing professional who has turned her attention to her first love, writing. Please help me welcome author Laury E. Egan! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her writing process and her stories.
Laury A. Egan is the author of The Swimmer, The Outcast Oracle, A Bittersweet Tale, Jenny Kidd, The Ungodly Hour, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa, and Fog and Other Stories. Her novels range from psychological suspense, comedy, mystery/romance, young adult, to literary fiction. Four volumes of poetry have been published in limited edition: Snow, Shadows, a Stranger; Beneath the Lion’s Paw; The Sea & Beyond; and Presence & Absence. She lives on the northern coast of New Jersey.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Laury: After reading Death with Interruptions by José Saramago, I wanted to incorporate some magical realism in my writing and also to continue a trend toward more literary fiction. Although the main character, Bess Lynch, is nothing like my wife, who was also a therapist diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, the subject, and the idea of writing about a psychologist’s struggles, were inspirations. Having been the primary caregiver and witnessing the arc of the disease through its unfortunately inevitable outcome, I also wanted to create a more positive ending, one told from a secular perspective.
Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?
Laury: The unconventional mystery in The Swimmer surrounds Stephen, the most enigmatic of the primary characters. He says he’s gay, yet Stephen becomes involved with Bess, and his past and present lives are shadowy. Although Stephen is the embodiment of the story’s magical realism, I could see him clearly from the beginning and knew how he would behave. His dialogue and behavior required almost no revision.
Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?
Laury: The end-of-life situation provided the “what-if” spark, which, in turn, led to the setting—Truro and Provincetown—where I thought a woman who wanted to make major decisions might travel to be alone or, as Bess describes the area, “the farthest I could journey out to sea without leaving land.”
Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?
Laury: The protagonist, Bess Lynch, was the most challenging. As a therapist, she is used to being a caretaker, yet at this crucial point in her life, she needs to accept care. Many of Bess’ most valued attributes are suddenly challenged, so she is a character in extremis, one who must reassess her relationships with her husband and son, wrestle with her identity, and make decisions about how she will live and die. Bess is a nuanced, introspective woman, and I needed to follow her through the stages of her awareness as she reacts to the other players. In many ways, she’s a heroic figure—brave and honest—an easy part to write, yet she’s also bombarded with new realizations about her flaws—more difficult to write.
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Laury: Because I had first-hand experience with my wife’s pancreatic cancer and her symptoms, treatments, and surgeries, I consulted my notes and double-checked some medical information online. Every person who has this cancer will respond differently and will be given different protocols, plus I mention in the book that details are accurate for 2013-2015 and new approaches have been developed since then.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Laury: By “drafts,” I include editorial rounds and polishes. So, by my count, there were 54 revisions, which is more than usual (typically I do 25-30 rounds). Because this was my first foray into magical realism and novel-length literary fiction, however, I wanted to make this maiden voyage successful. I also struggled with some of the family dynamics and tended to make Bess, the psychotherapist, too controlled and reserved, both tendencies similar to mine. As one reader said, wouldn’t Bess lose her cool? Yes, she would!
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Laury: I began writing the novel in August 2016 and completed the first draft in November, so this book tumbled out in a very short amount of time. The reasons for the abbreviated writing time were a linear plot, which requires less mental juggling; dealing with a limited cast; and a manuscript that was modest in length. Then I began the revisions, which took far longer and involved integrating suggestions from several readers. I was delayed by another title in production, and finally submitted The Swimmer to publishers in the fall of 2018. The contract with Heliotrope Books was signed in August 2019, but because the publisher was skipping fiction in 2020, the book was postponed until April 2021. As for the typical length of time a novel takes, well, they are all different. Some are good children and enter the world smoothly, whereas others get put in the corner and reexamined much later when I can view the novel objectively and see its merits and failures. An example of this is a psychological suspense which I’ve excavated from 2003. In recent months, I’ve cut over 11,000 words and am doing major revisions.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Laury: Because I started my professional writing late in life (though my career was in publishing), I feel serious pressure to produce now, to make up for “lost” time. As a result, I usually work seven days a week, mostly starting at eight in the morning and finishing after five. For better or worse, I have few distractions, so this work ethic is easy to maintain. In many ways, I’ve become what I do, or as Andrew Carnegie (my university’s founder) wrote, “my heart is in my work.”
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Laury: Ouch. You put your finger on an issue that drives me berserk: repeated words. I frequently do “find” searches for some specific offenders, but often I do a round of reading looking for unnecessary insertions of “that,” “just,” and indirect softening phrases like “kind of”—oh, my, they get the red pencil busy! Each book tends to have a unique set of repetitive words depending on the genre, setting, and subject. It’s astonishing how impoverished the English language—how many words are there for “kiss,” for example?
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Laury: My mother was a very accomplished artist/painter who worked all day, five days a week. She was disciplined and dedicated and created for the process and not for financial remuneration. She believed in excellence and taking no shortcuts to get there.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Laury: I work at a desktop computer in a guest-room office. I could sit facing my ocean view, but this space keeps me focused on what I’m doing. That said, I always have paper at hand wherever I am. When I’m writing the first draft or in the throes of early rounds, I find that quiet time before sleep or while driving can produce epiphanies or reveal plot snags. If I don’t make notes immediately, I’m terrified of forgetting.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Laury: Although writing was my first passion, I veered into visual arts (graphic design and photography) for college and for the main part of my career. I still do some fine arts photography and teach the subject privately, but I’ve phased out my book design business over the last twenty years. While I enjoyed working with authors, editors, and production staff; creating the design of the entire book from manuscript to jacket and binding; I’m even more pleased being on the opposite side of the publishing desk and passionately believe writing was what I was meant to do. I’m very fortunate to be able to concentrate on my work. I’m also pleased when I have a chance to design my own covers, such as The Swimmer.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Laury: Whether this is a plus or a minus, I write diverse fiction, from psychological suspense to comedy to literary novels. I also think of myself as a “bridge” writer—one whose readership spans between straight and LGTBQ+ readers, with some titles exclusively falling on one side or the other, or some, like The Swimmer, mixing straight and gay characters. This fluidity feels comfortable and reflects my personality, so when I achieve this quality, I’m happiest. I also enjoy incorporating a poetic or literary style in books that might be deemed genre titles (suspense and mystery) and satisfying my fascination with psychology by creating in-depth characterizations.
Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?
Laury: I would love to share a bottle (or two or three) of champagne with Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Imagine the conversation between the two women! My next book (late 2021), Wave in D Minor, is about a composer writing an opera featuring these writers, which meant considerable research reading their journals and letters so I could create scenes and short snatches of lyrics. Even if armed with all this information, I would be too intimidated to talk to Woolf and Vita-Sackville West and would only ask questions. I’m sure the conversation would be as sparkling as the champagne.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Laury: I don’t define success as a writer the same way as I did my career as a book designer, in which I won numerous national awards and earned a decent income. Writing has always been my identity. It is who I am and has now become my life. Being widowed, without family, and dealing with partial disability, writing is my greatest pleasure. That said, reaching a higher level of “discoverability” would be wonderful.
The Swimmer: A fresh twist on a triangular relationship. A novel about compassion, generosity, love, selfishness, grief, bravery, and sacrifice.
Psychotherapist Bess Lynch makes a sojourn to Cape Cod to deal with her impending demise from pancreatic cancer. At the beach, she encounters an incandescently handsome man, who is mourning the loss of his husband to leukemia. They find solace in a tender affair until Bess’ son arrives and detonates the fragile calm. The dynamics between these three characters play out against Bess’ awareness that her cancer is metastasizing and her concerns about dying with independence and grace. With touches of magical realism, the novel rises above the somber subject into a lyrical elegy about kindness, love, and dignity.
“Egan’s story is for anyone contemplating the meaning of death, life, and everything in between: fear, regret, desire, hope, acceptance. A novel written with deep compassion and beautiful storytelling.”
—Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade
Buy Links: Amazon
Signed copies available from the author: www.lauryaegan.com
Drawing from personal experience to write such a touching story must be satisfying. Thanks for sharing it with us, Laury!
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