Q&A with Lori Lansens
LORI LANSENS was a successful screenwriter before she burst onto the literary scene in 2002 with her first novel, Rush Home Road. Translated into 12 languages and published in 15 countries, Rush Home Road received rave reviews around the world. Her follow-up novel, The Girls, was an international success as well. Rights were sold in 20 territories and it was featured as a book-club pick by Richard & Judy in the UK, selling 300,000 copies. Born and raised in Chatham, Ontario, Lori Lansens now makes her home in the Santa Monica Mountains with her husband and 2 children.
Her newest book is The Mountain Story, "a gripping tale of adventure, sacrifice and survival in the unforgiving wilderness of a legendary mountain." It truly is a gripping story, and so excited we were about the book that we arranged a Q&A with Ms. Lansens. You can find the interview below.
MRB: You were a highly successful screenwriter before publishing your first novel. Any particular reason you turned from scripts to novels? Do you still do any screenwriting, or do you think you'll ever go back to it?
LANSENS: When I was writing screenplays producers would often say, "Your movie reads like a novel." They did not mean that in a good way. I did get a reputation for being good with character and dialogue though, and soon had some Hollywood producers sending scripts that I worked on to finesse the dialogue and enrich the characters. I enjoyed the work, but it wasn't very artistically fulfilling. I longed for a direct connection to the reader and I found that connection when I started to write novels. With screenwriting, there are practical considerations regarding budgets but with novel writing we're only limited by our imaginations. I stopped writing screenplays when I moved to California, strangely enough. I've written four novels now, and feel like I've found my writerly home.
MRB: How do you write? Do you have specific rituals you need to follow, or a set of rules you stick to, or is just "however, whenever"? Any fun quirks you're willing to share?
LANSENS: Quirks? Yes! I wear mismatched pajamas and socks and sneakers. Shoes are important. They ground me. I also consume ridiculous amounts of tea. I can't write without tea (peppermint, lemon ginger, mango). Even now, before sitting down to answer these questions -- I made tea.
MRB: Let's talk a little about your new novel, The Mountain Story. Where did the idea come from?
LANSENS: I've always wanted to write a survival story with strong characters and a propulsive narrative. I wanted to challenge myself with this new one -- step a little outside of my comfort zone. The four main characters formed and took shape before I wrote a word, and then I started to look for my setting. I live in the Santa Monica Mountains in southern California and briefly considered setting the book there, but then discovered Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs. It's the second highest mountain in California and sits in the desert where it can be triple digits most of the summer. A tram takes visitors from those scorching temperatures up to a sub-Alpine wilderness in less than fifteen minutes! A magical place. The mountain top is miles and miles of pristine but treacherous wilderness. The second I saw San Jacinto it the mountain became the fifth character.
MRB: At the core of The Mountain Story is a tale of survival against the elements. What kind of research was required to write that portion? Did you go out on adventures of your own? Have you ever faced your own survival situation?
LANSENS: Have I ever faced my own survival situation? Well, I'm a parent, so yes. Before I wrote the first words I connected with a mountain expert -- Matt Jordon from Riverside Mountain Rescue Unit. I hiked with him on the mountain off and on over the course of the five years asking him logistic questions and practical questions. Sometimes I'd have him take me to a particular spot to watch the sunset. Once I asked him to leave me -- just for a moment -- alone on a freezing cold night in deep snow. He was an invaluable advisor.
MRB: Was there anything particularly challenging when it came to writing The Mountain Story?
LANSENS: The greatest challenge was time. It took five years to write the book -- one year for each day that the characters are lost. As a working parent I'm restricted to the hours when my kids are at school. There were so many days that I'd get on a 'roll' and have to stop. No complaints or regrets. The challenges that writer's face also inform the work in untold ways.
MRB: What's next? Another novel in the works yet? Any juicy details you can share with us?
LANSENS: Yes. Another novel is in the works. I'm in the hunting and gathering stage right now, reading, researching, scouting. I have the characters and the broad strokes of the story and now I need time. With the kids nearly out of school for summer holiday I won't be diving in until the fall.
MRB: If you were to come into our bookstore, which section(s) would you go to first? What author(s) might you be looking for?
LANSENS: I'm always looking for literary fiction and would most likely be seduced by the table with new books. I love to ask staff to make recommendations because booksellers are so well read and have no agenda but to please a reader. (Funny -- just occurred to me that I've never asked a waiter for a recommendation -- I think it's because they're always pushing the specials.)
MRB: What book(s) are you currently reading?
LANSENS: Guy Vanderhaeghe has a new book of short stories called Daddy Lenin. I'm toggling back and forth from that to a memoir by Peter Kavanagh called The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times. Both are wonderful and inspiring for different reasons.
A big thank you to Ms. Lansens from taking the time to answer our questions!
Thanks also to Penguin Random House for arranging the interview.