Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Chat with Laura Quinn

Today I'd like to introduce you to a fellow author whom I met at The Printers Row Literary Fest this past June. Her name is Laura Quinn and among her many talents she is the author of the novel Punk Charming.

Tell us a little about Punk Charming. What’s the plot?

Punk Charming is a combination love story, travel story and trove of pop culture. Kate is an American on her way to study in Oxford in 1986. Along the way, the eighteen-year-old travels through France and Spain and meets a British punk on the train from Paris to Calais. They instantly bond and spend the next few days exploring London. Miscues and sabotage by a fellow Oxford student keep the love-struck pair apart, but they remain in each other’s hearts and thoughts. Time and an ocean prove formidable barriers, testing the constancy of true love. Will they find each other again?

Your bio states the sparks for the story hit you in 1986. What was the inspiration?

Like my character, I traveled to Oxford in 1986. While studying at Oriel College, I managed to squeeze in plenty of trips to local pubs and dance clubs and met so many amazing people. Later, I wondered how you would ever find someone again, if you didn’t write down that person’s 411. Of course, this was all well before we had cell phones, the Internet, etc. That thought was the spark of this novel…but it took quite a bit of time before I actually got around to writing it.

Did it take that long to write the novel or was it a series of stops and starts?

My fingers could barely keep up with the speed that the story revealed itself to me. Still, it did take a good long while to put it all together. Then, there were the dreaded rounds of edits and rewrites. Plus, I did a lot of research. Although I lived through the 80s, I wanted to ensure that the details were accurate. Technology in particular changed at such a rapid pace. It seems like we went from our glowing neon slimline phones to pagers to the brick phone in the blink of an eye.

How’s the reception for the novel been?

In a word, awesome! I’ve received such kind responses from readers that range in age from 13 to 90 years, with as many (if not more) men as women enjoying the story. Recently, my publisher surprised me by telling me Punk Charming is being translated into Spanish. It’s now a race to see if I can revive my fluency in time, so I can actually read my own book!

Okay, the novel is set in the 1980s so let’s talk the 1980s: What do you feel is the most overrated song of the 80s?

This is a tough one! So many terrible songs were so popular. I just heard “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship, which sticks in my head for all the wrong reasons. They were also responsible for “We Built this City”, which so many renamed “We Bilked this City”. In thinking about your question, I remembered an epic battle with my manager at the time, deciding which 45 to put in the store’s jukebox. I had “Under the Milky Way” by The Church and he had “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N Roses. He ultimately pulled rank and put in the latter. When he quit a few months later, I immediately made the switch. In fact, a fellow New Waver joined me in the storeroom to reenact the record smashing incident at Comiskey Park, so that particular 45 never returned.

How about the most underrated song of the 80s?

Another tough one! The radio never (or very rarely) played the songs I loved, so I had to always travel with a collection of cassettes. My Renault was famous for eating tapes, so I also kept long tweezers to delicately extract the spools of OMD, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, etc. Back to your question – I don’t think I can answer it. There were so many hidden gems! Even the bands that became uber successful had incredible songs from earlier albums that were heard by very few.

What band consistently satisfied you with their music? 

That’s an easy one – Duran Duran! In fact, I just went to both of their concerts at Ravinia last month. They are as amazing as ever (I’m a die-hard Duranie, what can I say?).

How often did you go to Cabaret Metro?

Ah, fond memories there! I was there more times than I can remember – how’s that for accuracy? I was also a frequent visitor to Medusa’s. Not long ago, I found (then lost again) a ticket from the 1987 New Year’s Eve concert there – I think the Revolting Cocks played that show.

How about Wax Trax?

Surprisingly, only a few times. I spent a lot of time at other record stores – especially stores that specialized in imports. The Turntable in Schaumburg was a constant threat to my credit card limit.

What’s your favorite TV show of the 80s?

A three-way tie between "The Young Ones," "Murder She Wrote" and "Alf." I wonder what a psychologist would make of that combination?

What’s your favorite 80s movie?

"Back to the Future" is my immediate answer. If pressed, I would have to choose BTTF 2, but it’s really a three-way tie with that trilogy. The 80s was filled with some epic films (and epic failures!), and my list of favorites is a long one. Still, the experience of watching the BTTF movies is unlike any other, even today. For the 30th anniversary, I saw the trilogy at a local cinema. Even though we have much more advanced effects today, those scenes are still amazing. Despite having seen these movies hundreds of times, I still stress over whether or not Marty will make it in time for the lightning strike. The legend continues to new generations of fans, as I witnessed at ComicCon last week. A very, very long line wrapped through the hotel for a panel discussion with Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd. Fans of all ages patiently waited for hours, with most sporting the multi-colored Marty cap, Doc’s hair, and other iconic BTTF fashions.

What was your favorite wine cooler?

Seagram’s. I don’t remember the flavor other than it was citrusy. I’m not sure we had many flavor choices back in the day.

Doc Martens or red gym shoes?

Docs! I still have all my pairs, including my red plaid (my faves!), green velvet and oxblood tall boots. The plaid Docs make frequent appearances to book signings and events.

What color was your hair?

It was my natural color of auburn, augmented by streaks of color (courtesy of the colorful mascara choices we had – blue, pink, etc). During the summer, I tried my luck with Sun-In spray and lemon juice for highlights. My hair was also spiked with a heavy shellac of AquaNet Extra Super Hold. My entire record collection is forever preserved by the same shellac, courtesy of styling my hair while hanging upside down off my bed, record player blasting.

That was fun, but let’s gets back to your book. The cover is very eye catching. Who designed the cover?

Isn’t it amazing? DawnĂ© Dominique is the talented artist. I was so lucky that Punk Charming was assigned to her. She just got the whole essence of the book and created that cover on her first try.

Did you have any input on it?

I had given the cover much thought, but really had no idea exactly what I wanted—though I knew it had to incorporate the UK flag. When I saw DawnĂ©’s design, I knew that was it.

In terms of the romance genre, what book do you consider over rated and what book do you think should have more popularity?

There are more than a few best-sellers that fall under the first category, but I’m not going to name names. In the past few months, I’ve met so many talented authors who put out amazing books that don’t get the attention they deserve. I know I sort of dodged your question here, so how about naming Shakespeare as my favorite? The Bard set the bar for writing timeless scenes of passion.

Did any book in particular inspire this novel of yours in anyway?

I can’t say that there is. We writers are such voracious readers, though, that I’m sure many works inspire subconsciously. Going into the writing process, I had no preconceived ideas. I really had no idea where the story would go.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I’ve been privileged to read so many beautiful books, I’m spoilt for choice. I gravitate towards character-driven stories, especially those that stand the test of time so brilliantly. Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and George Orwell are some of the authors whose works I can read again and again, and discover some new little jewel every time.

When/how did the writing bug bite you?

My first “published” book was authored in grade school. Our local library had a great program where kids would write a story, have it “bound” with a laminated cover and placed on the library shelves. I think they even assigned a number and check-out card (remember those days?) to them. Sure, only our parents ever actually checked them out, but the experience was a tremendous confidence builder for young writers to pursue their passion.

Anyone else in your family interested in writing? 

Some love to write and some hate to write. They all love to read, though, so we writers have plenty of beta readers to review our work. Luckily for our craft (though not for our egos), they have no hesitation in saying something is terrible.

What are some of your current favorites in books, movies and TV?

TV – I’m a British mystery junkie, desperately awaiting the next season of "Sherlock."

Movies – I haven’t had too much time to see many current films lately. I’m a "Mission Impossible" fan and am waiting to see the most recent "Star Trek" installment. The last film I rented was "Man Up", which was a great quirky romance.

Books – Some of the more recent books I’ve enjoyed are: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Twelve (now titled Ghosts of Belfast) by Stuart Neville, and Restless by William Boyd.

Do you have any sort of routine for when you write: Favorite music you listen to, a particular time you prefer to write?

I have a favorite spot where I like to write and I partake of special foods and drinks reserved for writing (Fortnum and Mason Jubilee tea, Thorntons or Charbonnel Et Walker chocolates, and occasionally Mumm Napa Cuvee M sparkling wine). Music is usually involved - the type depends on what I’m writing. I find music has a tremendous impact on creating and sustaining mood and pace in a story.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love to travel! If the winning lottery numbers would just cooperate, I would love to travel the globe and write. I’m also a culture junkie, so I fill the void by reading, going to galleries and museums, attending plays and concerts. Lately, I’ve found a new hobby of creating graphic art. I suppose it’s the frustrated artist in me, loving art but not being able to draw a straight line.

Have you ever written anything that afterward surprised you? Perhaps after a reading it you recognized a hidden subtext that you didn’t realize was there?

I’m a big believer in stream of consciousness writing exercises. I first learned it from one of my favorite writing teachers in college. When he first introduced the idea, I thought it was absolute nonsense. How wrong I was! Whether I’m facing writer’s block or just trying out new ideas, these techniques always produce surprising results. When I write my stories, I usually let them tell themselves, which often take unexpected turns. In Punk Charming, the character that my readers so love to hate actually started off in my mind as a good guy. He definitely drifted to the dark side!

Would you ever be interested in trying to write something in a different genre?

In fact, I’m working on two mystery series now. Like Punk Charming, they’ll be character-driven and feature strong female characters. It’s different in that I do have to do a bit of outlining, to keep track of clues and red herrings.

What do you like best and like least about the marketing process?

Meeting and talking with people has been the best part of the marketing process. I love sharing stories from the 80s, travel dreams and nightmares, and writing in general. I’ve been able to connect with fans over social media platforms too, which is fantastic. The downside is the time required to do all the marketing.

What would be the best advice you could give a new author?

Talk with other authors. If possible, take a workshop or join a writing group. Writing can be a long, lonely road. I think it helps to have a road map of what’s ahead, to prepare for the stressful bits and get excited about the journey.

Who would you like to see play the characters in a movie?

So many readers have asked me this! I’m certainly open to any actors who would like to pick up this project. I got to see the last season of "Smallville", and when I saw Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley), I said, “That’s James!” One of my readers suggested Max Irons for James. I think Jennifer Lawrence would make a great Kate! Simon Pegg (love him!) would be perfect for Ian. Suggestions welcome!

What song would sum up the energy of the novel?
It probably won’t surprise you at this point when I tell you it would be a Duran Duran song. When I heard their latest album, Paper Gods, I instantly thought "What Are the Chances" would be the ideal theme song. Others have told me the same. The song is stunning, with tailor-made lyrics, soaring vocals and haunting melody. When I heard it live at Ravinia, I got chills…and could just picture the film credits rolling on the screen. Simon Le Bon, if you’re reading this, have your people call my people.

The story has different moods and paces, so I’ll have to cheat and add a second one. I’ll go retro on this pick and choose "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys. They’ll be playing a concert in Chicago in November, so I’m available for a meeting with them as well.

Any future projects you can tell us about?

I’m working on a sequel to Punk Charming, which will turn into a series. The new books will be set in current times, but you can bet there will be plenty of 80s references. International travel will be a central theme.

I’m also working on a new mystery series that will be set in Chicago’s North Shore. I can’t tell you what it’s about yet, but I can tell you the stories will include a cause close to my heart, dog rescues.

Where can people find more information on you or your projects?