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Laura Jensen Walker
Favorite Scripture Verse: Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Laura Jensen Walker

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a transplanted Midwesterner and rabid Anglophile who lives in Northern California with my Renaissance-man husband Michael and our canine “daughter” Gracie—a sweet American Eskimo who’s just a tiny bit spoiled.

My love of reading—and dream of someday becoming a writer—was planted in my heart in the first grade in Racine, Wisconsin, when I read 103 books. I was the editor of my high school paper and my college paper (joining the Air Force and serving overseas in between) and graduated with a degree in journalism. But I soon discovered that local politics—city council, school boards, water district boards, cemetery district boards, etc.—were not my thing. Neither were emus, goat-roping or pigeon racing. Not exactly what I dreamed about writing.

Cancer compelled me to follow my writing dreams. The day after my first wedding anniversary, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but I’m now—thankfully—14 years cancer-free. My first book, Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde, (Bethany House) was published in 1997. Reconstructing Natalie is my third novel and 13th book, written last year when I celebrated being cancer-free 13 years. Is that God or what?

What is your favorite Scripture verse?

Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

This verse was first shared with me by a friend when I was a relatively new Christian and had just suffered a shattering disappointment. A future I’d planned and dreamed of was snatched away at the last minute and I was completely heartbroken. I couldn’t see any future at all. But this verse pierced through the pain and gave me renewed hope. It’s a continual reminder and promise from the Lord when I face other rejections and disappointments.

Where did the inspiration for Reconstructing Natalie come from?

My own life as someone who’s battled breast cancer, but also from my speaking engagements around the country at cancer events where I kept meeting younger and younger women diagnosed with the disease. I was fortunate to be married to a wonderful, supportive husband when I fought cancer. Not everyone is. I wanted to give voice to those women—especially the young, unmarried women. What would it be like to be diagnosed with breast cancer when you’re single and in your twenties?

Is Reconstructing Natalie the beginning of a series?

No, Natalie’s a stand-alone novel, but my first two novels, Dreaming in Black & White and Dreaming in Technicolor are a series. (And readers have been clamoring for a third, but at this point, there are no plans for another Phoebe Grant story. Although, you never know…)

Is any part of Reconstructing Natalie factual?

Some of it was based on my own cancer journey, but the fun of fiction is getting to create a whole new world, story, and characters.

For instance, I had a single mastectomy rather than a double, didn’t live in my parents’ back yard, didn’t attend a cancer support group, wasn’t best friends with the boy next door, and never learned to tap dance or become an interior decorator. (Although my renown magazine-fanning technique became Natalie’s.)

Do you prefer to write contemporary fiction?

Contemporary fiction is the only fiction I’ve written. Prior to crossing over to fiction, I’d written ten non-fiction humor books. Also contemporary. (Haven’t seen too many humorous non-fiction historicals.) I’m not too good with historical—fiction or non-fiction. Don’t have enough patience for all the research, although I do enjoy reading some.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

The same things most authors face: learning to balance my life with my writing, insecurity, the danger of comparison to others—even when it’s a close writer friend! For instance, recently my dear friend Annette Smith (author of The Ruby Prairie series, and the upcoming A Bigger Life with NavPress) let me read the opening pages of the current novel she’s writing and it was absolutely GORGEOUS! Beautiful. Literary. Deep. And I thought, “Why do I bother even writing? It’s a waste of paper. I can never write like that!” But I have to remember that God gave us all different gifts. And the gift He gave me is humor. And to echo Madeleine L’Engle, “God created me to write. I will write no matter what.” (This quote is taped above my computer so I can see it every day.)

How long did Reconstructing Natalie take you to complete?

With editing and rewrites, about six months total.

How much research did Reconstructing Natalie take?

A lot of the medical details I took from my own cancer history. However, my cancer journey had been over a decade ago and the world of cancer and medicine is ever-changing, so I visited several cancer and medical sites to make sure what I knew was still valid. And I was extremely fortunate to have the help of two breast surgeons, Dr. Dixie Mills, and Dr. Karin Klove—who performed my mastectomy—who answered numerous questions and read over my manuscript for medical accuracy.

Do you have a favorite character? Why?

I can’t pick just one. I love Natalie because she grows and changes as a result of the cancer and learns to take some risks. Yet, she’s flawed and real, too. Definitely not a saint.

But I also really like Merritt and think she’s a kick. She’s the young bohemian, artist side of me except I can’t paint or draw a lick. (And wouldn’t ever dye my hair blue or green.) And Rashida rocks! And sweet Jane, flasher Pat… And of course, Andy. Faithful and loyal, he demonstrates Christ’s unconditional love.

Are there any other new projects on the horizon?

My fourth novel, Miss Invisible (about a ‘big girl’ who feels invisible due to her size) releases in Spring 2007 with WestBow and I have an idea for a new series about a specific group of women, but it‘s only in proposal stage right now.

Who was the person who influenced you the most with your writing?

There’s really not just one. However, first and foremost, was my father. He was an artist who painted in the basement and always told me to follow my dreams and not to let anyone or anything stop me from pursuing them. He’d always quote Thoreau’s A Different Drummer: ‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Unfortunately, he died just after my fifteenth birthday, so never got a chance to see me published. The words on his gravestone are “He heard a different drummer.” My mom has also always encouraged my writing and been my biggest champion. When I was nineteen and leaving on a plane for my first Air Force assignment in Germany, she handed me a package wrapped in brown paper and said, “This is your father’s unfinished novel. Since you’re going to be a writer someday, I want you to finish it.” I’d never known my dad wrote, too! And I still have that package. Someday I’ll finish his novel.

And of course, my amazingly talented husband, Michael, whom I call my Renaissance-man because he’s the most creative person I know (acts, sings, paints, quilts, writes, and more.) All I do is write and decorate. Michael sacrificially works at a non-creative job with benefits so that I can write full-time. He was also my first reader and editor on all my non-fiction. Since I started writing chick lit, however, I had to find a female first reader!

I also need to credit a journalism teacher in college, Bruce Patt, who drummed into my head the whole ‘show, don’t tell’ maxim.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?

Read, read, read! And attend writers’ conferences. There are fabulous Christian writers’ conferences around the country with amazing instructors—including successful authors with hearts to serve and editors from the major publishing houses who are always on the lookout for that unknown gem. But go with an openness and willingness to learn and take criticism, and to hone your craft. Don’t expect to become an overnight success. Be prepared for an apprenticeship of years. Also, learn how to edit your own work—before submission—through such books as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Brown and King. And although all these things are important, the most critical thing of all is to simply sit down and write! And finish. Several people begin novels, not everyone finishes. Finish.

What were your favorite books as a child?

Too many to list. I was always reading—anything and everything (under the table at holiday dinners, by flashlight under the covers, up in my room on a sunny day—my mother had to force me to go out and play…) biographies of Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, and Sarah Siddons, the first lady of the theatre, but it was fiction that I really devoured. Some favorites include: Little Women, Heidi, The Girl of the Limberlost, and the entire Trixie Belden series.

What message would you like your readers to take away from Reconstructing Natalie?

That with or without her breasts, a woman is more than the sum of her parts. And that faith, family and friends make all the difference when you go through a life-threatening illness like cancer.

What is your goal or mission as a writer?

To make people laugh through the hard things (like breast cancer) and to tell a good story—whatever it is God wants me to tell—without preaching.


 Other Titles by Laura Jensen Walker

Phoebe Grant Series, Vols 1-2
Phoebe Grant Series, Vols 1-2
CBD Price: $21.99

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