Meeting Laura Harrington was such a treat! Laura is a playwright who took a risk and published her first novel, Alice Bliss, to great acclaim. It was chosen as one of the Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal in 2011. Alice is the story of a small town girl who is forced to grow up fast when her father joins the armed forces and is deployed to Iraq. Laura calls Alice Bliss a “classic coming of age story” with deeper layers about the sacrifices people make around war time. The fact that such a small percentage of our population truly endures these wars has “haunted [her] writing”
Laura did extensive research on teens whose parents are in the military for the book and found that “they feel they are invisible.” She shared that the theme that drives most of her work are “parts of culture that are hidden.” The biggest inspiration for her book was Our Town by Thornton Wilder because she was interested in how a community comes together, but she was also inspired by the recent passing of her father and says “love and grief for my dad are all over this book.” She was pleased to write a father/daughter story because she thinks they are too rare.
Interestingly, although the novel is told in third person, the book is also written in present tense so “you’re in every point of view in the book.” Laura shared that “as a playwright who has been writing monologues and dialogues that was comfortable” for her. She also shared that she thinks this “gives a point of entry for readers to understand experiences of others.” For example, she went on, “a fifteen year old might see what her mother is going through.” When I asked about my favorite character in the book, Alice’s best friend (and possible romantic interest) Henry, Laura said that “Henry showed up unexpectedly” and her daughter had a friend like Henry.
Laura experienced quick success with Alice. Laura related, “the book took a year to write, sold quickly and did well.” She is working to create a musical on the book and has the first major workshop coming up this month in April.
When I asked Laura what it was like to try writing something new after a long career as a playwright, she said it was “scary and exciting,” but that having family and friends cheering her on was helpful and the response was “amazing.” Her work habits as an author have remained the same as her playwriting days – “word counts don’t help” and she had actually never heard of that method until talking to other authors. If she’s working on a project then she goes to the gym first thing and then works from 9 am until she makes dinner at the end of the day. She takes breaks, but says “you have to stick around and fight distractions.”
Laura is hard at work on her next book, A Catalogue of Birds, which Laura describes as a book about a brother and sister who experience “the damage that comes from war and PTSD and how we try to save the ones we love.”
Laura has been volunteering at a middle and high school for a few years and is interested in school visits related to her book. She believes Alice “cries out to be paired with other books” and suggests The Kite Runner to explore the impact of war on teens and families and Catcher in the Rye to compare coming of age stories. I highly recommend Alice Bliss and think Laura would be an excellent author to invite to high schools to talk about her work.
Laura Gardner is the Teacher Librarian at Dartmouth Middle School