Meet Lori Ann Stephens: author, college lecturer, mother
Q: What is your latest book about? Give brief description, title, target audience.
A: Thanks for asking! Some Act of Vision is about a 16-year-old girl, Jordan, whose typical life is disrupted twice: once by a deadly earthquake caused by fracking, and second by the toxic gas released by a chemical plant.
Jordan’s family wakes up invisible, and the rest of the story is about her trying to find herself, physically and metaphysically. There is, of course, a budding romance in the book. Although the genre is Young Adult, for 13 and up, I’ve read great reviews by adult readers…there’s a large and unabashed audience of adult readers of YA.
Q: Your first novel, Song of the Orange Moons, totally captivated me. Can you give us a brief summary and talk about how the book came to you? How you developed your three main characters? They felt like real people to me.
A: First, thank you. I’m always honored when someone reads my books. And then when I come across reviews from readers—well, they make my day. (Yours, especially, Kathleen.) I feel a strange sort of attachment to every single person who writes a review of my books—even the ones who admit that my literary fiction just isn’t their thing. They took the time to read, and that commitment is not lost on me. As you know, Song of the Orange Moons is essentially about three girls who go on a quest to find out how to love themselves. It was my “heart” book; I wrote it because my heart wanted me to, not because I thought any reader was waiting for the book. The characters came first—the girl hiding under the organ, the old widow who thought the moon landing was an elaborate scam, a grandpa who loved wood. The characters and events were my mother, my father, and my childhood self, molded into different bodies and times and spaces. There were other relatives, too, lingering behind the characters. So…they were real people. Even when I distorted them out of the realm of reality, they were still real to me.
Q: There’s a scene in Song of the Orange Moons where you write about one of your characters living at an orphanage in Texas during the depression/dust bowl days. The chapter felt so authentic. How did you go about bringing this chapter to life? How much research was involved?
A: Ah! That was my father’s story and my mother’s story, rolled into one. Daddy grew up during the Great Depression in Waco, and Mother grew up (much later) in an awful orphanage. I combined those two experiences and threw in a dust storm to make it more interesting. I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor of Half-Price Books, scouring for history books about the Depression and dust storms, but I was mainly looking for ones with photographs. (I bought those books, too, just in case you wondered. Go, bookstores!)
Q: Besides writing novels, you also write librettos. For those of us who are not musically inclined, can you explain this process? What are the challenges of writing a libretto over the challenges of writing the long-story form – the novel?
A: This is still a fun topic to me. I’ll be speaking about this creative adventure more in depth at the SCBWI North Texas workshop in Arlington on November 16, if anyone reading this wants to join me. The short version is that last year, on a whim, I entered an international contest hosted by the English National Opera: write a 7-minute miniopera based on Neil Gaiman’s character sketch. (If you don’t know who Neil Gaiman is, you should.) Gaiman ended up selecting my libretto as a top 4 semifinalist, and I ended up winning the contest. (“Shock and Awe” was my name for a few days.) After that, composers in London and the US contacted me and asked for libretti—stories and dialogue for their commissioned music. I’m not sure how it works with other librettists—which comes first, the music or the words—but I’ve always written the words first, just singing them in the shower, in the car, on the couch with a glass of rhyme. I mean wine. Yes, there is a lot of rhyming involved, and sometimes I’m afraid I sound like Mother Goose. But it’s mainly a cathartic experience, writing libretti. You have to plot out the scenes, but you “pants” out the lyrics. I mean, I fly by the seat of my pants when I’m actually writing the verse. And once you hand over your lyrics, they’re reborn again with new music. It’s thrilling to hear the composer’s interpretation for the first time.
Q: Besides being a writer and a lecturer at SMU in Dallas, TX, you are also a wife and mother. How do you juggle all of your jobs? Is it hard to find balance?
A: I think the key is to have an angel for a partner. Or just a partner/spouse who willingly and ungrudgingly takes care of your children when you write. I’m lucky. Our son happily eats breakfast and gets ready for school under the wings of Papa. That’s why I have time to answer these questions. It’s hard to find balance, no matter what job you have. The best decision we ever made was to not watch television. It gives us a few hours more each day to relax at the dinner table and read books as a family in our great big bed.
Q: If your son says, “Mom, I want to be a writer when I grow up,” what will you tell him?
A: “Go for it. Whatever makes you happy.” My older son is a senior at university majoring in Studio Art. He’s a painter. (Your son’s an artist, too, so you understand that Art is a force one cannot resist. My son is Luke Skywalker: the Force is strong in that one.) There are risks. Poverty, comes to mind. But, as Homer says, “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master” than to endure life as a chartered accountant. Or something like that.
Q: Are you involved in a writing community? If so, how important is it for you to have other writers in your life?
A: I have an online writing group for my children’s (YA and middle grade) books, and I still occasionally send my literary manuscripts to my old friends from grad school who are now spread out across the US. A community of writers is important to me—they understand the joys and challenges of wrangling with words, and they are just as busy as I, so they’re not offended when we have long spells of silence in the relationship. We’re just writing and balancing life.
Q: Why are some novelists more generous when it comes to promoting other authors and some novelists are only out to promote themselves? By the way, you are one of the “generous” novelists.
A: Thanks, Kathleen. I don’t know the answer to that question. Every novelist I know has been astonishingly generous in supporting fellow authors. Maybe I’m just lucky to know superb people. I try to adhere to a “do unto others” philosophy, but I also genuinely want to read and celebrate the stories that local writers (and writer-friends online) have published. Because of physics (limits of time and space), I can’t read everything every time, but I try to buy and review books as a small way of supporting and celebrating other authors who haven’t made the NYT Bestseller List.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who are your biggest supporters and who are your biggest disappointments?
A: I was nine. I illustrated a picture book about my mixed-breed mutt named Lollipop. He was an ugly dog, but we loved him and gave him a pretty name. I still remember that sense of accomplishment, showing the book proudly to my mother. I still have a lot of emotional support—my partner is unwavering. I have a “cheerleader,” Ashley, who reads my chapters hot off the first-draft-press (a.k.a, not so good, there) and cheers for more every damn time. She deserves a special reward in heaven. She’s indispensable when I’m on a deadline. My publisher, ASD Press, has been an incredible supporter. I have no “disappointments.” Life is too short to mull over disappointments. No one owes me anything.
Q: Are your college students impressed with your writing credentials?
A: Not really. I mean, yes, they say “Wow” if I mention my books. But everyone’s publishing books at the university. I’m a small fish in a great big aquarium. SMU is a pretty aquarium, though.
Q: At the end of your life, what do you want people to remember about you?