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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Someday Stars: Meet Laura Christensen


What’s your name, and where are you from?

My name is Laura Christensen, (I also write as L.A.Christensen), and I've spent my life in California, Kansas, Utah, France, and Armenia.

How long have you been writing?

The earliest writing-memory I have is from first or second grade when my teacher had us write and illustrate our own stories in class. However, I wrote my first "book" in sixth grade. It was a grand total of 26 pages I called Dragonkin, and it was a highly derivative mashup of Anne McCaffrey's Pern series and Skysong's The City of Shar (which no longer exists). Thereafter, I taught my sister to read with a series of books I wrote and illustrated for her about a girl who goes about having adventures wearing ballet point-shoes. Yeah, don't ask.

What genre(s) do you write?

I write fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction—and lots of genre-benders. Science fantasy in particular calls to me, though I've found it really hard to sell. I'm also a literary translator, and I've translated several plays from 1600s French playwrights: one fantasy and the rest are "contemporary/pop culture" humor. I prefer translating fantasy, as translating ancient satire into a context we understand is ridiculously hard, so I think I will stick to that! 

What’s your current WIP? Can you tell us about it?

It all started when I was reading last year's Hugo nominations. One of the stories made a passing reference to my chronic illness—Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—and made a snide comment about it resulting from not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Anyone who knows me knows that I love my fruits and veggies and that CFS does NOT resemble scurvy. (As much as any of us would love to be a modern-day pirate...) CFS is triggered either by a virus that then disrupts the body to the point where it forgets how to reboot/recover OR by traumatic stress, sort of like PTSD. Yeah, big difference. So I decided to channel my offense into writing the illness correctly.

Also, I have had a lot of problems explaining to friends and family what CFS actually is, what limitations it puts on me, and what it's like from the inside. One day my therapist challenged me to write a fiction story about it, since writing is the strongest communication tool I have left in my toolbox. I decided to take her up on her challenge. The problem was, how do you write about a character (not me) coping with an illness and still make it interesting?

Thus, Queen of the Eight Banners was born. Inspired by 17th Century Manchurian history, (right when the barbarian-Manchus from the north conquered "civilized" China), it's about a young queen who loses her husband in the very battle that conquers their ancestral enemies. Due to all the stresses that bring her to this moment, she falls ill in the very climax where she gains control of not just her own peoples but the newly-conquered Gui. So the story is about her fighting against her brother-in-law who aims to usurp her new authority and destroy the peace she's created—and fighting within herself, learning that she can indeed accomplish everything she's set out to accomplish, even in the face of insurmountable odds.

What’s your current day job? How does it help or hinder your writing?

Simply put, I'm unemployed. My chronic illness is my full-time job. I'm able to do roughly the same amount of "work" as what I used to squeeze in on the side between going to school full-time and having two jobs back in my healthy days. These days, if I write for more than an hour a day, I get very sick and the rest of my day I'm pretty much useless mush.

That being said, writing daily keeps me going, mentally and emotionally, health-wise. Though I am no longer able to tally up my self-worth based off of how many things I can accomplish in a given day, week, or month (which is a blessing, I've found), creating something personal daily and crawling towards my goals still brings me great satisfaction and stability.

Time—and the expectations of arbitrary deadlines—has gradually lost meaning to me. Now it's more about the journey, more about the present, the moment, and of being who and where I am.

Who is your favorite author?

This has changed a lot over the years. I used to claim Anne McCaffrey as my favorite, but now I'd have to say Diana Wynne Jones. I'm a late-comer to her fandom. She was one of the favorite authors of my best friend who passed away almost four years ago, and I regret not reading more of her books when my friend was still alive. In any case, the audiobook version of Howl's Moving Castle has single-handedly saved me from many long nights of terrible darkness. Dramatically put? Maybe, but true. I also love her keen insight into human nature, and her ability to make me love her cast of imperfect people without ever being annoyed with them. A feat I wish I could do on my own. If you haven't read her autobiography, I suggest you do so, as well. (http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/autobiog.htm)

My favorite indie author would have to be Lindsay Buroker, though. Her The Emperor's Edge series is a set of humorous mysteries set in an era of steam. She has a knack for taking dark subjects and shining a light into them, so she's yet another life-saver for me.

Favorite book?

That would have to be Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt. I'm a sucker for its gorgeous prose, but also I love how personal and intimate the story is. It's about a small town girl who tries first to save herself from death (Sheherezade-style), and then to bring happiness to her friends while trying to save her town from plague. It was a breath of fresh air amidst all the epic fantasy I was reading at the time. The end of the world is not imminent, and so on. It's also just as amazing on a second read. Unfortunately, it's now out of print, so you would have to buy it used or hazard the imperfect formatting in an electronic edition.

What other hobbies or activities do you do outside of writing?

When I was healthy I loved to dance, and I've performed as a ballerina in roles such as the evil witch in Snow White & Rose Red. That was a blast. I also enjoyed martial arts and basketball. These days I'm much more sedentary. I draw and paint on occasion, and I've picked up freestyle embroidery again. I've also discovered how much I enjoy watching Korean dramas. Apparently I'm in love with Japanese animation, Chinese films, and Korean TV. Who'dathunk? (Oh, yes. Was that an admission to being an 80s fan?) 

What is something unique about yourself?

I'm a language nut.

It all started in elementary school when I took Spanish classes before I could properly read or write in English. I dropped those once I realized that I should probably learn English first. Go figure. Then I picked up French and Latin in junior high. I've won two gold medals in Latin competitions and perfect scores on both AP tests, but I dropped Latin once I realized it would condemn me to becoming a teacher or dusty professor for the rest of my life.

I decided then that I should study Mandarin Chinese since I knew it would propel me into being sought by businesses and I knew I could use the language absolutely everywhere I went. (I landed up being right, having used more Chinese in Paris than I did French). I studied Chinese for two years at university until I realized that I could never compete with all the return missionaries crowding my class. Also, I had 4-5 hours of Chinese homework every day and most days had to wake at 5 AM to get it done. Also, copying all those tiny characters made my carpal tunnel worse. So I decided to drop Chinese, or as I put it then, To Die and Go to France. So I did. I spent a school year working in small town France teaching English in two junior highs, returned home and switched my major to French which had been my minor up till that point. Apparently everyone else saw that coming before I did.

Then, when thinking about what I should do post-graduation to pursue my career in translation, I got the impression I should serve a mission instead. Like Jonah, I resisted. Thankfully, it did not take being swallowed by a giant fish to convince me I really could do it. I got called to Armenia, where besides learning Armenian and some Russian, I taught English and French on the side.

Yeah, language nut.

Do you have a blog, Twitter, and/or Web site we can link to?

I have a shiny new Web site now. So shiny there's nothing really there yet athttp://www.littletranslator.com/ However, it does link back to my writing blog at http://lachristensen.wordpress.com/ And I'm on Twitter at @titetraductrice, which is French for lil' translator. 

6 comments:

  1. I miss Anne McCaffery. I didn't know much about CFS until you tried to explain it some here. It sounds very debilitating. I hope you are able to cope and that someday they find a cure for it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about your WIP.

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  2. It was nice to learn about Laura and hear how she copes with CFS. My mom struggles with that herself and it's not easy for her to live with so I admire anyone that has it and does the best they can daily.

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  3. Well done on learning to work with what you can do and celebrating that. Great interview!

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  4. Yeah, I'm a big McCaffery fan too. Check it out:

    http://adamsapple2day.blogspot.com/2012/04/mccaffrey-letter-update-reply.html

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  5. Thanks for the interview, Laura! It was fun to read. Did you ever pick up any Georgian while you were in the Caucasus? ძალიენ დიდი მადლობა!

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  6. Thanks for all the well-wishes and comments. :D

    Joe: I can't read Georgian, though I do know some basic Georgian words and phrases. I never had a need for it, since Russian or English was everyone's common language and lettering, and the one Georgian woman I had an extensive convo with spoke fluent Armenian.

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