I love being a writer. I haven't been at it long, relatively speaking. Barely five years, if that long. For me, writing is an outlet. A form of expression. A way to satisfy the voices in my head. A communion with my Muse. It's all the aforementioned, and then some. And although I'm always grateful for the occasional sales and the dollar here and there generated from one of my stories, my writing projects have always been more about the labor of love than the business aspect.
That said, there are those for which writing is both. A passion and a provider. Welcome back to The Writers Block! This week I welcome one for whom the mighty pen is both a lifestyle and way of life. A writer. An editor. A literary agent. A writing coach. My next guest pretty much ran the gamut of the writing industry (or gauntlet, depending on your perspective). With such a resume, it is indeed a pleasure to introduce Laura Gail Black.
And now, let it begin.
KD: So, I introduced you as an editor, and agent, a writer. But let's open this up a bit more. Who is Laura Gail Black?
Laura Gail Black: Wow, that’s a tough one to open with. It’s the quintessential question everyone asks. Who am I? On the surface, I’m a mother (my sons are turning 28 and 30 this spring), a happily married wife, a salesperson, an author. I could go on. On a deeper level, though, I’m a storyteller. I always have been. I come from a line of storytellers. My father and my grandmother told long intricate stories. My mother always wanted to be an author. Storytelling is in my genes as well as in my soul. The ability to weave words together to bring joy, suspense, fear, excitement, thrills, chills, or any other emotion to a reader is what true
storytellers thrive on. I am no different.
KD: From the genes to the soul...I like that! Provide a little tidbit about your neck of the woods.
Laura Gail Black: I live in North Carolina just south of the Virginia border, nestled up against the Sauratown Mountains. We’ve lived here on 10.5 acres for a year and a half, and we love it. It’s peaceful, quiet, and private. The wildlife is amazing here, and the sunsets are breathtakingly beautiful.
KD: I visited North Carolina once. I loved it. In fact, I have a book series that features urban legends. Two of those stories are based in North Carolina. Does North Carolina have its own true to life urban legend? If so, do tell!
Laura Gail Black: I’m not much into urban legends, and I am not a North Carolina native, so I cannot speak to what urban legends North Carolina may or may not have.
KD: Okay, you North Carolina native/cryptid hunters out there. If you know of an urban legend in The NC, come spill the tea! Speaking of - coffee, tea, or…?
Laura Gail Black: Tea. I haven’t been able to drink coffee in years, as it no longer agrees with me. But I make a pot of hot tea every morning and make herbal teas throughout the rest of the day. I probably have 40-50 different teas on my tea shelf.
KD: That's a whole entire lot of tea! Forty to fifty different teas? I'm good if I have four or five tea bags in a corner! So this one is a three-parter. What genre of music/movies & shows/reading do you listen to/watch/read more than others?
Laura Gail Black: I listen to pretty much anything from classical to golden oldies and from hard rock to country—and pretty much anything in between—depending on my mood. Books and TV? In TV, I of course enjoy a good cozy mystery series or movie. But I also enjoy science-fiction, fantasy, thriller, and I must confess, Shark Tank. With books, I enjoy a wide range of genres, but I mostly read cozy mystery.
KD: Your Facebook page has…well…quite a few posts about dogs. And I see you have rescue dogs - is there a story behind how they’ve come to be a part of your life?
Laura Gail Black: That would be my personal Facebook page. You’ll find mostly book things on my author page. That said, I’ve always lived with dogs, even as a child. At various times I’ve been involved in dog training, dog showing in agility and in conformation, and in dog rescue. We currently have four rescue dogs. Our old man, Remy, a Lab/English Setter/Bluetick Coonhound mix who will be 14 in March, was at a rescue event outside a Staples. We went for printer paper and ended up with a puppy. Our 12-year-old black Lab, Cadie (sounds like Katie), came to us after the death of our older dog. Remy was grieving and needed something to love. Ellie Mae, our beagle who will be 8 in March, came to us when I took a friend to the shelter. They were having a puppy event, and several rescue/foster organizations were set up outside. And she came home with me. The baby, Jethro, who is a 6-year-old coonhound mix, was scooped up off the side of the road at 8 weeks old when he stepped out in front of my car in the middle of nowhere. Although these are our permanent dogs, we have had quite a few through our home. I’m not capable of leaving a dog on the side of the road. We feed and house them until we can find suitable loving homes for them. I’ve lost count of the number we’ve helped, and I’m sure there will be many more to come.
KD: That is so kewl. Like a foster home for dogs. Love it. Write me a story using only five sentences.
Laura Gail Black: The rain fell in sheets, soaking through her threadbare coat as she staggered up the crumbling brick steps. Hands numbed with cold pounded on the oak door until it swung open with a jerk, and she fell inward to lie in a soggy heap in the once-opulent foyer. Pain clawed through her chest and abdomen as she sucked in a breath, fighting the ravages of the poison. “Why would you do this to me when you know they’ll catch you?” She struggled to focus on the dim figure who knelt beside her, barely making out the words on the breath whispering past her ear. “They’ll never catch me if they never find your body.”
KD: One, two, three, four, fi-...
Laura Gail Black: Okay, I know it was six, but hey, I’m a rule-breaker.
KD: Well, it is a nice story. And since no white ferrets were actually harmed in the telling, it shall be allowed. Thoughts on the publishing industry as a whole?
Laura Gail Black: As both a former literary agent and a former senior acquiring editor at a publishing house, this is a near and dear subject to me. Publishing continues to change, as does the face of the typical author. Traditional publishing, self-publishing, vanity publishing, indie publishing, hybrid publishing, the Big 5, micro publishers, median publishers. The terminology is as widely varied as the authors and readers. I see threads on social media questioning the “best path” to publication. There isn’t one. Over the years, with the stigma of self-publishing fading away, quality books are coming from all fronts. Are there still books published through self-publishing avenues that shouldn’t be put on the market yet? Yes, because there are no checks and balances to ensure the book is well written or well edited. However, there are many who do take their craft seriously and are producing books as well done as those coming from more traditional publishing avenues. Yet while I do see self-publishing continuing to grow, I don’t see traditional publishing going away any time soon. There are still those who see the value in what traditional publishing has to offer.
KD: Food for thought. And you're right. The stigma of self-publishing is fading, which is great for a lot of emerging indie writers. Okay so, when writing, every writer has their…y’know…”thing”. It could be a favorite location for writing, that special coffee mug. For me, I always use a Pilot G-2 pen (with black 10 ink, of course), what is your thing?
Laura Gail Black: I sit in my home office on a small couch with my feet up, a rescue cat beside me (the people who owned this house before us abandoned him when they moved), my laptop, a cup of tea, and a fireplace video from Netflix on the TV on the opposite wall, flames crackling away.
KD: Wait, that one-hour Christmas fireplace video I watched last month for six hours straight? I love that show! That crackling got me through most of Christmas! What was your biggest accomplishment of 2023? What's a goal you have for 2024?
Laura Gail Black: My biggest accomplishment of 2023 was getting the fourth and final book in my Antique Bookshop Mysteries series through the publication process. My goal for 2024 is to finish creating a new series and get the first book out to publishers.
KD: That's a good goal to have! How important do you view social media when it comes to your writing career?
Laura Gail Black: I’m the worst person at social media. I didn’t grow up with social media, and I’m not the most faithful at keeping up with it. Should it be important? Yes. And when I have time, I do work with it.
KD: Literary agents are sometimes referred to as "the gatekeepers". Do you agree with that term? If so, why? If not, why not?
Laura Gail Black: To some extent, they are. However, the term as it is commonly used today doesn’t apply. Agents aren’t trying to keep readers from having access to certain books. When an agent represents a manuscript, it’s because the agent knows they have a publishing connection through which they can sell the manuscript. Often an agent will really like a manuscript, but unless the agent knows they can sell it, they must reject. This doesn’t just benefit the agent. It also benefits the author, as the last thing an author needs is for their manuscript to sit unsold with an agent for an extended time. The author is better off to continue to send to other agencies or to publishers who accept unagented manuscripts. That said, this list of publishers grows smaller each day, as they depend more and more on agents to help go through the hundreds of manuscripts each agent receives each month and select the ones that publisher might like.
This is why it’s important for authors to pay attention to what genres and sub-genres an agent handles or specifically states they do not handle. If they handle only mystery and romance, don’t send them your young adult fantasy novel and state it’s a romance because someone kisses at some point and claim the agents are gatekeepers because they didn’t offer for your book once they saw how amazing it was. It simply means they have no avenues into publishers who publish YA fantasy. Are agents gatekeepers? Only to the extent that they cannot represent what they feel they cannot sell.
KD: That is an interesting take. A perspective I'm sure some writers may not have considered. I’d like to think that every writer has a Muse that speaks to them. How does your Muse speak to you?
Laura Gail Black: I don’t really have a muse who whispers in my ear. My spark comes from a random “what if” question. What if ABC happened? Sometimes it will be an event, sometimes a setting, sometimes a character. I will randomly follow a storyline down a rabbit hole to see if it turns into a plot, brainstorming and typing whatever comes. Sometimes this turns into a plot, and sometimes it turns into garbage.
KD: My Muse loves to get chatty with it. Like, "Here, write this...wait, stop watching squirrels, and where is your Pilot G-2?" Can you tell me about a "wow" moment you experienced?
Laura Gail Black: If by “Wow” you mean something unexpected and exciting, I’d have to say it was in October when I discovered my fourth book was highlighted in Woman’s World as one of their weekly picks. I was over the moon and bought six copies of the magazine.
KD: As a writer, what would be the holy grail for you?
Laura Gail Black: That’s a tough one. I’ve had an amazing agent who I will miss dearly (she passed away recently). I’ve been well-published by a respected publisher. I’ve been published in hardback and have seen my books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. I’ve received journalism awards. I’ve now been a weekly pick for a national magazine with incredible circulation. I think the only holy grail left for me is for readers to continue to read and enjoy my books, both the ones already published and the ones to come.
KD: If peeps wanted to reach out and connect, what would be a preferred method?
Laura Gail Black: They can follow Laura Gail Black on Facebook. While I have a website, it’s in desperate need of an overhaul, so for now, Facebook will suffice.
My thanks to Laura Gail Black for being a part of The Writers Block. And my thanks to you, the readers! You all are the ones who make the interviews worth it. I've said it before and I will say it again - I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the interviews as much as I enjoy putting them together. Stay with me a bit longer...The Writers Block will continue.
Take a break from your world...visit for a while in mine. Come often. Stay for a spell.