Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Carole Lazar

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Ten Questions with Carole Lazar

Carole Lazar talks to Open Book about where she writes, how she got started and how working as a provincial court judge influenced the writing of her first YA novel, Lucy Unstrung, published this fall with Tundra Books.

Open Book:

Tell us about your novel Lucy Unstrung.

Carole Lazar:

Lucy may be a weird only child with no social skills, but she’s happy with her life. She and her parents live in a big house in a snobby subdivision, she goes to a private Catholic school, she has one very good friend and, most importantly, she has all the right answers.

Her mother, Kate, is only 28 years old and the life that Lucy finds so comfortable is suffocating her. When Kate challenges everyone’s expectations of her, Lucy’s comfortable little world is turned on end.

It’s bad enough that her parents split up and Lucy has to live in a trailer park and go to a public school, but then she also manages to annoy the class bully. Add to all that the stress of trying to keep her mum on the straight and narrow and it’s small wonder that Lucy succumbs to temptation and gets into trouble herself.

OB:

What inspired you to write this story?

CL:

A friend of mine has a silky terrier named Lucy. She’s a delightful little dog and I got thinking that I could model a character on her. I’ve always been curious about the religious beliefs and practices of others, and as a Catholic I knew that some of our lore might well amuse readers. It was with these scraps that I started to build the story.

OB:

How did your ten years servicing as a provincial court judge affect the writing of this book?

CL:

I served as a provincial court judge for nineteen years, and during that time sat on hundreds of family cases. The financial crises that accompany a separation is something I heard about often. Also, I found that it was common to see a role reversal between an older child and a parent, particularly if the parent began dating again.

OB:

Describe your process from concept to publication.

CL:

I did not use an outline at first but just started writing. My first task was to try to develop a voice for Lucy, and this required getting in touch with my inner prude. I wrote pages of “Lucy talk” that I did not intend to use, but this helped me develop a consistent voice for her. I had a rough idea of where I was going with the story, but it wasn’t till I finished the first draft that I went back and had a look at my plot. That is the point at which I developed an outline.

The publication process was painfully slow. Tundra first expressed their interest in October of 2007, so it’s taken almost three years to come to fruition.

OB:

Did you have a readership in mind while writing this book?

CL:

It is often said that you can expect your reader to be a couple of years younger than your protagonist, but although Lucy is 13 I thought this book might appeal to the older teen who would be better able to appreciate Lucy’s naivety and some of her strange jumps in reasoning.

OB:

What specific troubles did you have writing Lucy Unstrung, your first novel?

CL:

When I started this novel, it was as much Kate’s story as it was Lucy’s. I wanted to explore the dynamics of the marriage more, but since I also wanted a happy ending, that approach lent itself to too much of a quick fix. I finally left Kate and Harold to work on their own problems while I concentrated on Lucy.

OB:

What is your ideal writing environment?

CL:

I don’t know whether I would call my bed an ideal writing environment, but it’s where you would have found me any time I was working on this book.

OB:

Which famous Canadians (authors or otherwise) inspire you?

CL:

Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood are the grand dames of Canadian literature, and I am sure their names come up whenever you ask a female author this question. Miriam Toews is a younger writer who I admire. Because I was interested in writing humour and writing for a teen audience, I was especially influenced by Susan Juby. She was my Booming Ground mentor. (This is a continuing education program offered by the University of British Columbia.) Susan Musgrave also ranks high on my list of special people and has inspired me with her work ethic and her perseverance in the face of adversity.

Finally, leaving aside the writers, Beverly McLaughlin, the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada was my Evidence teacher back in the 1970s when I went to law school. She was one of the trail blazers for women, who at that time were only starting to make their way into the court rooms. She showed us it could be done.

OB:

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

CL:

At the risk of sounding like a Nike ad, I think I’d tell them, “Just do it.” The hardest part is getting something down on that page when you’re fussing about whether that first sentence is as perfect as it should be. In order to write at all I had to stifle my inner critic, so I gave myself permission to write the world’s worst novel. I probably succeeded, but it’s when the revisions start that the project takes shape.

OB:

Do you have any upcoming projects in mind?

CL:

They are not only in mind but on paper. I have another young adult novel completed and being considered by publishers now. I have a pre-teen mystery awaiting final revisions and I have started work on a doggie memoir that I hope will be of interest to both adults and young adults.


Carole Lazar practiced law for nineteen years in British Columbia before serving as a provincial court judge from 1989 until 2008. Lucy Unstrung is her first novel. Visit her website at www.carolelazar.com.

For more information about Lucy Unstrung, please visit the Tundra Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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