Author Spotlight #12

The Author: Laurie Oknowsky

Laurie Oknowsky had her start as a community author on Wattpad and Inkitt. As her success morphed into something worth trending about, she made the leap into the world of traditional publishing.

Class of 95’ is her debut book being published with Ukiyoto Publishing House. Not only is this a work of fiction, it is also a very personal account of a time of awkward adolescence into the hopeful aspirations of a chaste adult.

The Book: Class of ’95

What would you do if you got a second chance at true love?

When Eunice Rysner meets the sexy Jake Castellano, she already knows he’s going to be trouble. Though she tries to push him away to spare them both a lot of heartache, Jake is persistent. But his vindictive girlfriend and Eu’s nemesis since eighth grade, Geri Thompson, is determined to keep him all to herself-by whatever means necessary.

Even twenty years later, when the three meet up again in Long Island at their high school reunion, Eunice-now a successful novelist-can’t deny the feelings she still has for Jake. As she reacquaints herself with the now-divorced love of her life, she can’t help but wonder if this is finally the time to stand up for herself and give in to true love. But if she does, Geri may just steal everything she’s ever wanted from her yet again.

The Interview:

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?

How much I missed my youth. How I wished I could go back and do things over again.

Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?

That Eunice would be a different person if not for Geri. But, who knows how the story would have been told if Eunice was the Queen Bee – just in a kind way. Because if Geri wasn’t the way she was, it would be Eunice ruling the school – but in a kind way.

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

This question is like picking my favorite child. They all have a special place. But, for the sake of this question – my answer would have to be Geri. She’s hated throughout the bulk of the book – until the end. I know why she is the way she is, and I think I issued poetic justice without causing her physical harm.

What was the inspiration for the story?

The story is very, very, very, very, loosely based on my high school experience up until adulthood. Eunice is who I wished I could have been and grew up to be.

What is the key theme and/or message in the book?

 The message is that no matter how things look on the outside, a whole lot is happening behind the windows of someone’s glasshouse. That however how much you hate someone, the hate they feel for themselves may be uglier.

What is the significance of the title?

The title is taken from the year I graduated from High School.

What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?

 I already have a sequel and spin-off in the works. The sequel is about the daughter of the main male character, and the spin-off is about the healthiest relationship out of all of them. The main characters had their time. Although they told their story, they will still be around in the following books.

What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book? What was the highlight of writing this book?

The challenge to writing the book was making Geri’s psychosis believable but also making her seen as a victim too. The highlight was the ending. Making Eunice’s and Jake’s forgiveness of Geri’s actions a strength and not seen as a weakness. Forgiveness is not for the perpetrator but for the one being targeted. I think at the end of the day, I did what was best for all of them.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

The dreams I have. The voices in my head and how I feel about certain topics. One book I’m developing is about life and death and the fears I have about leaving the ones I love behind. How I am remembered by them and how their lives will be shaped due to the loss of me. It’s called My Life in A Year, and it’s about a young single woman (a music teacher) who is diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer and how she falls in love with her attractive oncologist, but he doesn’t know that until he finds her journal.

Who is your favorite author, and why?

I always had an affinity for Anne Rice. The reason is for her ability to take you away to a time and place that you’ve never been before. The lives she creates that can easily pass for a true moment in actual history. She makes her fantastical characters realistic.

What are you reading now?

At the moment, I am not reading anything except children’s books. But, I have been writing poetry and reading various stories in eBook form. It’s hard to have a quiet moment during the day with a 3-year-old.

Favorite book/story you have read as an adult, and what was your favorite book when you were a kid?

As an adult, I loved Black Hollow by Myria Candies and, as a child – The Secret Garden.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I write poems or play with my son.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

Write every day. Anything at all. Anything that pops into your head – write it down. Even if it’s a fleeting thought, a single word, or a one-sentence phrase. Jot it down. Use a thesaurus. That’s very important as being repetitive in literature is a nuisance.

How do you handle writer’s block?

That’s a hard question. I had dealt with this for over a decade before I began writing again. And you know what helped me? Therapy. I’m an advocate for therapy, and having someone to talk my problems out with was what gave me my biggest breakthrough. I understand that not everyone can have the opportunity to see an actual therapist. But writer’s block stems from a place of stress and anxiety. And if you can find a way or a method of defeating those stressors, then the words would just flow again.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

Being able to build your characters, your world, and making it relatable and as authentic as possible – even if what you write is sci-fi, fantasy, period pieces. Grammar, spelling, points of view, and dialogue.

What comes first, the plot or characters? How do you develop your plot and characters?

For me, it’s the basic plot. Then, the character development. I think this is a personal topic. We all work differently.

Describe a typical writing day. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

A typical writing day is in the evening, the moment my child is tucked away in bed and not making a peep. I sometimes have music on; I read my last chapter over that I wrote prior, and then I just write. I can’t give you specifics, but if I am listening to music, I go where the music takes me. The music I play dictates where my story goes.

How do you do research for your books?

To be honest, when I pick the locations of my stories, I usually pick places I’ve lived in or visited before. So, research is minor for that. If I am using certain character traits, like mental illness or cultures, I tend to research online or The Journal of Psychology, AJP. Just depends. I stay away from Wiki. If I have friends from a culture or religion I know little about, I use those friends as a research tool.

When you’re writing an emotionally draining scene, how do you get in the mood? How do you deal with the emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story?

It all depends on my mood. But if I have to write a scene of particularly draining emotions, I listen to music that brings it out of me. If I am not feeling a particular heavy emotion, I hold off on those scenes until I feel it. Otherwise, it’s forced and I hate feeling like I forced something that should have taken time to be written.

How do you handle literary criticism?

It depends. If it’s coming from a place of kindness in order to make it better, then I am all for it. If I ask for it, then I am prepared for it. If it’s unsolicited, then back off. When I first released Class of ’95 and entered a contest, I was actually told by one of the judges (that shouldn’t have been a judge on a contest she was the host of) that the plot was overrated and done before. That the bully storyline has been done before. The saddest part of it all was, my book isn’t a bully story. Being bullied is honestly only a small portion of the plot. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. That no matter what you’re put through, that you can get through it. And no matter the path you take in life – there are times that path leads right back to the people that should walk that road with you. Do I make any sense? Plus, the judge only read like two chapters.

How much ‘world-building’ takes place before you start writing?

Honestly, none.

Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?

Yes – and they love the characters. They love the dynamic of Connie and Eunice. They relate to Eunice. They immediately find similarities between themselves and her. I love that. I also love how they hate Geri.

Where can readers find out more about you and your book, and are you on social media? Can your readers interact with you?

They can find me on Instagram and Facebook. Yes – they can interact with me. I love talking to my readers. I still have books on Wattpad and Inkitt. I can be found on my publishers’ website – Ukiyoto Publishing House, and my book is on Amazon for purchase. My website is being finalized and launched by the end of November.

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