Laura Morrison Wins IBR Book of the Month Contest
Interviewed by Joe Walters
Laura Morrison wins the IBR Book of the Month Contest with her thrilling, spine-tingling, and wonderfully weird novella Come Back to the Swamp!
IBR’s editor-in-chief Joe Walters sat down with the author to discuss main characters, evil swamps, the “don’t go in there!” trope, and more.
Interview with Laura Morrison
What Readers Want to Know:
IBR: Laura, thank you so much for writing Come Back to the Swamp. It enthralled us from beginning to end, proving to be an excellent choice for IBR’s Book of the Month. The book’s strange plotline and even stranger characters created a truly unique experience for our readers. What made you first begin this project?
LM: About ten years back when I lived in New Jersey, I worked at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge removing invasive plants. One day, out of nowhere, this crazy old lady rose out of the muck. This chance encounter started me down a terrifying, supernatural, life-changing journey that I just had to get it down on the page so the world could know terror that dwells within the swamp. And that’s all a lie except that I worked at Great Swamp NWR.
Really, it’s just that when I was out in the swamp getting all scratched up by thorny plants and getting eaten by mosquitos and ticks, I started thinking what a great setting a swamp would be for a story that was unsettling or scary in tone. It took me a few years to get started on it, but eventually I sat down and began writing, and Swamp just sorta happened.
IBR: As you may remember from our review, we admire Bernice for her ability to embrace her conflicts and drive this entertaining story forward. Not only does she approach her issues with bravery and strength, but she also does it with humor. If you could compare her to a few real-life and fictional characters, who would they be and why?
LM: As far as real-life individuals who inspired Bernice, first and foremost is Jane Goodall. I love her bravery, strength, and curiosity. A woman going off to research gorillas in the middle of the jungle when she was in her 20’s–in the 1960s no less–was quite a thing.
Another real-life influence is myself, of course. I’m an environmental scientist by training, I worked with invasive species, and I like space operas. My younger sister was also an influence for Bernice. She studies snakes and turtles, and her stories about her fieldwork were often in the back of my mind when I was writing.
As for fictional characters, I’d say Bernice is a mix of Hermione Granger, Westley from The Princess Bride, and Marina Singh from State of Wonder. Hermione has Bernice’s determination, intelligence, and bravery. Same for Westley, except he’s not exceptionally bright–sorry, Westley! I call it like I see it. He does, however, know a thing or two about swamps, seeing as how he got Buttercup through the Fire Swamp alive. State of Wonder is one of my absolute favorite books, and the main character, Marina Singh, is a pharmacologist who goes down to the Amazon and has a pretty hellish time; she only manages to get through it as well as she does due to her strength of character.
None of them really have Bernice’s sense of humor, however. My sister and I are the only people in this list of influences who are very funny.
IBR: Come Back to the Swamp opens with a riveting passage describing the invasive species in the swamp and how they illustrate “the sad downsides of globalization.” Because this opens the novella, we consider the environmental aspects of the novella to be quite important. What else do you believe that readers could take away from Come Back to the Swamp from an environmental standpoint?
LM: While I didn’t intentionally plant an environmental message in the story, my opinions definitely bleed through in this book and everything I write. For instance, the swamp in this story has a very definite power. I love the idea that no matter what people do to the natural world, and no matter how much they encroach on it, in the end nature will always be able to bounce back in some capacity–perhaps not in the way it has evolved to be through the millennia, but nature really does have a powerful ability to keep on going.
IBR: What is one thing you would like readers to know before they start Come Back to the Swamp?
LM: Be prepared to be nervous next time you’re out in the wilderness alone. It’s probably rather evil of me, but I love the feedback I got from beta readers that after they read Swamp they found themselves looking over their shoulders when they were out hiking, and wondering what might be lurking behind the trees.
What Writers Want to Know:
IBR: Like any good horror film, your book has the ability to urge readers to yell out, “Don’t go in there!” at any moment. But with your book, you make it clear why the character feels like he/she must “go in there.” Do you have any advice for how writers can effectively move the plot forward in such a believable way?
LM: I find that it’s helpful having thoughtful characters who go into the “Don’t go in there” situations with their eyes wide open. They see why they shouldn’t do it and they also see why they might want or need to. They weigh the consequences of both options and make their decision. It’s the characters who stupidly go running from safety and into obvious danger with no thought at all that I feel are unrealistic. The more they have a spirit of “Yes, I know this is dumb but here are reasons A, B, and C that I need to do it anyway” the better it is because the reader can then see that though the character is still doing a stupid thing it at least makes a bit of sense on some level.
Also, my main character Bernice clings quite tenaciously to science and logic, even in the face of what most others might see as the blatantly supernatural. Consequently, she finds it very hard to accept the supernatural, and her mind is quite good at finding ways to explain it away. Once she has pushed herself sufficiently far into denial, it’s easier for her to go into supernatural-related danger than it would be for a person who accepted the supernatural things.
IBR: Writers love to hear about a published writer’s early struggles, and unfortunately for you, we do too. What was the most difficult aspect of writing or publishing this book?
LM: If we were talking about general writing struggles I could rant for hours about the difficulties, but since we’re talking about Swamp specifically I have to honestly say the whole process was oddly easy. Usually I have to jam a bit of writing time in between parenting and gardening and beekeeping and all the other non-writer aspects of my life. But when I wrote this particular book I happened to be visiting my in-laws; when my kiddos are visiting grandparents they want nothing to do with their parents anymore because grandparents are much more fun, so I had an entire week where I had unlimited writing time. Since Swamp is only about 33,000 words, I was able to finish it in a week. It was amazing. I haven’t had as easy a time of writing a book before or since.
One of the characters, Kevin, did give me a lot of trouble, though. He was a headache in edits. I couldn’t make him a consistent character. I was only able to sort him out with the help of two of my writer friends who gave excellent advice.
As far as finding a publisher, there aren’t that many places that take novella-length stories so I didn’t have many places I could query, especially when I discounted the ones who turned up their noses at speculative fiction and humor. When I found Black Spot Books’ website I fell in love. They felt like such a perfect fit. I’m still stunned and grateful that they felt the same. Once Swamp was in their hands it was smooth sailing. The editing, the design, the marketing. Swamp and I are very, very lucky.
IBR: Before you leave us to create your next scintillating thriller, could you share some specific advice for an author looking to get published?
LM: In my case, all I had to do was go to the nearest crossroads at midnight and wait until this mysterious, dark figure materialized out of thin air before me. I asked, “Hey, will you give me a writing contract?” and he intoned in a voice to chill the marrow, “Sure thing, but the price is your soul.” Since getting published is really hard, I was like, “Cool, let’s do this,” and the next day Black Spot Books contacted me!
But also, write a book you love and believe in, share it with a few writers whose writing you respect, get their opinions, fine tune the manuscript, and begin hunting for a publisher. If you don’t personally know any writers whose writing you respect, join a writing group and find a few people; it takes a while and a lot of reading to make meaningful connections, but it is so, so worth it; finding a good group of writing friends is hands down the thing that has helped my writing the most, and with the magic of the internet any writer can find like-minded people, no matter how obscure their genre of choice or style. Never, ever give up. If you give up, you’ll certainly never get published. The more you try, the greater your chances.
|Laura Morrison lives in the Metro Detroit area with her husband, daughters, cats, and vegetable garden. She has a bachelor’s degree in applied ecology and environmental science from Michigan Technological University. Before she was a writer and stay-at-home mom, she battled invasive species and researched wood turtles. Come Back to the Swamp is her first novella and second book.|
|Website: Laura Morrison|
|Pre-order Come Back to the Swamp from Amazon: Here|
|Goodreads: Come Back to the Swamp|
|Facebook: Writer of Stuff|
|Other Review: Publishers Weekly|
|Author Interview: Black Spot Books|
|Independent Book Review: Come Back to the Swamp|
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