Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Laurel Dewey, author of "Protector"

I was a cocky, sure-footed 29-year-old when I sent my Godmother a tear sheet from one of the celebrity magazines I wrote for. I was proud of it, in that Los Angeles, I'm-so-important-now kind of way. I was a writer working in the entertainment industry. It just didn't get any better than that. I was hob-knobbing with teen idols, movie and TV stars, rock 'n' roll bands, and had access to any backstage area I chose. Life was good.

So, when my Godmother returned the tear sheet to me enclosed in a long handwritten letter, I didn't know what to make of it. In her inimitable way, she derided the entertainment industry as only she could do. "Your promoting of these untalented idiots means nothing to me," she wrote. "You're better than this," she quickly added. "When are you going to write something substantial??" She underlined the word "substantial" several times. "When are you going to write something that has meaning?"

The letter continued. She suggested I leave Los Angeles, move to a small town and write "that novel."

What novel, I thought? I wasn't interested in writing a novel. I was keyed into the L.A. scene. I loved the smell of a soundstage; that fusion of hot lights, heavy make-up and the wooden floorboards. If I had any dreams for the future, it was to write a screenplay, not a novel. I had nothing to say. And move to a small town? You have to kidding me...

I stashed her letter deep into my desk drawer and ignored it for three years. The only way I found it was when I was cleaning out that drawer in preparation for moving...

To a small town...

I didn't leave L.A. to write a novel. That would be too Hollywood, wouldn't it? I left L.A. because I was burned out and I'd lost my way. My soul was tired and the distinctive smell of a film set that I loved so much had turned sour. Part of me had already left L.A. I was just trying to find where that part of me went.

I finally found it in rural Colorado, amongst people who didn't think like I did. They were tougher than I was. Tough in the sense that they knew how to live and not constantly react all the time. And they hated Californians about as much as they hated people who worked in Hollywood. So, I had to take it down a few notches. Okay, a lot of notches. I had to scrub the attitude off my skin. I needed to shift my reality. That took a few years.

But after several snow-soaked winters with only a woodstove to keep me warm and the only two-wheel drive Toyota 4-Runner in the state of Colorado, I slid into my new world rather well.

But still no novel. I would read my Godmother's letter many times and fixate on that sentence, "Write something substantial..." I'd always had a serious love of plant medicine and had a knack for helping people get over colds and minor injuries with herbs. So, I created a weekly newspaper column that dealt with alternative medicine. That column led to a non-fiction book and, four years later, another non-fiction herb book. In the nine years that followed, I had a dedicated following and traveled the country lecturing on how to use natural healing. Life was good again.

And then it all came crashing down. I can't explain it completely. But that same feeling I had before leaving Los Angeles crept up again. My soul wasn't in it anymore. This time, I fell into a deep depression that left me with thoughts too painful to express. Or were they? I was a writer and so I funneled the myriad of chaos into a character I called Jane. She didn't have a last name. Not yet. She was just the conduit for getting all those silent expressions out of me and onto paper. For the first time in my life, I was vulnerable and I let it happen. I released the fear and the anger onto the page and I didn't expect it to go any further than the back of my bookshelf in an unnamed folder.

Then a magical thing happened. Jane started to have her own ideas and her own back-story. We shared similar thoughts but her life was much more complicated than mine. Gradually, her life became three-dimensional and I created a story around it that was as healing to me as it was to Jane. Jane Perry, that is. Detective Jane Perry.

The process was nothing short of metaphysical. Detective Jane Perry's journey into the unknown realms of reality gave me a beautiful opportunity to explore esoteric ideas couched within a structured crime fiction thriller.

Four drafts later, I had my first novel, Protector. Nearly five years later and over 30 rejections, that novel is being published. And there's a sense now that I'm where I'm supposed to be. The response I'm getting from readers seems to confirm it. "Protector" is hitting a pulse with people that, I think, can only materialize when the words on the page come from the writer's heart.

My Godmother died just before I left Los Angeles. But somehow, I know she's looking down on me, relieved that I finally wrote something substantial.

To learn more about Laurel Dewey's work, please visit her website.


Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Backstory.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Saturday February 10th 2007, 1:56 PM
Comment by: James P.
I am just beginning to write after years of writing in my head. It is valuable to know about how writers arrive at a publishing point. thank you.
Sonny
Monday February 12th 2007, 10:25 AM
Comment by: Brian F.
It sounds like you have the fodder for your next novel in your own journey from LA to the bookstore shelf--quite a story. Congratulations. I admire your tenacity and will definitely pick up your book.
Wednesday February 21st 2007, 5:20 AM
Comment by: Jack B.
Ms.Dewey sounds like a wonderful insightful person with her life in the cool.I hope she has a four wheeler now.Oh yes I do intend to buy her book on my next visit to Barnes & Noble.LATERS. :]
Wednesday March 14th 2007, 5:14 PM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Excellent article! I just finished Ms. Dewey's debut novel, Protector, and was moved beyond words. This is truly one of the best debuts I've read in a very long time. I encourage readers from all walks of life to read her book and see for yourselves. So glad Visual Thesaurus included her on their site!
Monday April 30th 2007, 3:02 PM
Comment by: anna S. (South Africa)Top 10 Commenter
Based on this interview, I read PROTECTOR and seriously could not put it down. I see now that it really does defy classification of a specific genre as it springboards from a strong, character-driven story into realms of metaphysics and back into the traditional crime thriller element. I was so touched at the end of the book, that I cried (not something I'm prone to do with most books.) I didn't want the book to end and wished there was a sequel right away so I could delve back into Jane Perry's complicated life find out what happens next. Laurel Dewey has got a new fan in Ohio!

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.