Today I have an interview with Lauren Sweet, author of Aladdin’s Samovar, the first in a series of comedic mysteries.
To me, writing is hard but in a good way—like working to get really good at a sport or activity you love, or solving a difficult puzzle, or climbing a mountain with a spectacular view. It takes a lot of effort, but you don’t mind because it’s fun to do, and the results when you get it right are so satisfying. My favourite part of writing this book was making myself laugh. I started writing it because I was feeling kind of down. I had just moved to Portland after earning my Master’s degree, the economy had instantly tanked, and I had no money, no job, and—being new in town—no friends. One evening, after a lovely bout of feeling sorry for myself, I decided I needed to write something funny to cheer myself up—and that there were probably a lot of other people out there who needed a good laugh as much as I did! So I started writing Aladdin’s Samovar.
Of course, after a while you begin to feel a little peculiar sitting there in your apartment laughing at your own jokes—and you hope devoutly that you’re not turning into the kind of person who tells lame jokes and then laughs uproariously while everyone else is Not Amused. Luckily, readers have been enjoying the humor in the book, so I don’t feel quite so peculiar any more. (About that, anyway. Those who know me would probably tell you I have many other peculiarities…)
Not really. I think my three main characters (Amber, Jasper the genie, and Amber’s mother, Indigo) are all aspects of myself. (I’m hoping that doesn’t mean I’m a raging narcissist. Me, me, it’s all about me…) Amber has my serious side and my martyr complex—she’s surrounded by chaos, and she feels like she has to be responsible for everyone and keep everything together. (Of course, the people surrounding her are much wackier than (most of) the people in my life.) She also has my absurdist, sometimes snarky sense of humor, although I let her say things out loud that I would never have the nerve to say, which is always fun.
Amber’s mother, Indigo, has the hippie/New Age/spiritual aspects of my personality, multiplied by a gazillion. She also has a couple of characteristics I’d like to have—the ability to be herself without any concern for what anyone else thinks, and complete faith that everything will work out. (Of course, she has that faith because she has an almost magical ability to bend the Universe to her will…something I’m working to acquire. I don’t have her dog Merlin, though, who apparently is her avenue of communication to the Higher Planes of Existence.)
Jasper has my mischievous side—the part that wants to tease people, mess with their heads a little, and basically run around playing with anything that catches my eye and being annoying. (Why yes, I was the youngest child in my family. How could you tell?) I try to keep a lid on that in real life, so people don’t get the urge to smack me or lock me in the closet. Luckily, with Jasper I can really let myself go with the silliness, because he’s not bound by human conventions.
I don’t really enjoy doing a lot of research, so I set the book in a locale I know well (the part of New Jersey I lived in for most of my life). I also made Amber office manager at a plastic bottle manufacturing plant because I used to work in one, which meant I wouldn’t have to do much research there either. Once I decided on that, though, I saw the possibilities for shootouts in the warehouse, creative uses of industrial shrink wrap, and other assorted mayhem. So it seems that my laziness paid off!
I do lots (and lots and lots) of prewriting—I’m big on outlines. Luuuuurve them. Stories never come to me in a linear way—I get ideas for major plot points first, and then have to work out the setup, arcs, backstory, and so on. The only way for me to keep track of all that is with an outline. I’m also big on structure and storytelling technique, so I like to have an overview of how it’s all going to work before spending months writing a draft, only to find out that there are major holes in it. (Holes are WAY easier to fix in an outline, and it’s easier to try different solutions for problems and see how changes will affect the whole book when you’re working in shorthand, summary form, which is what an outline is.)
The other reason I love having an outline is that I don’t have to write in order—I can jump around. So if I get inspired to write a scene in any part of the book, I can go ahead and work on it if I want, knowing where it fits in the story and exactly what it’s supposed to accomplish.
Actually, there’s a funny story about that…My book is self-published, so getting a cover designed was all on me. It was probably the most stressful part of the publishing process for me (partly because I’m design-challenged). After one cover designer didn’t work out (dark, angsty cover for my light comedy), I approached (okay, begged) a client and friend of mine who has a background in graphic design to help me out. We sat in Starbucks, swilling down lattes (me) and chai tea (him), brainstorming and waving our hands and scribbling ideas on scraps of paper, until we (mostly he) came up with the current design concept. We first tried to get it done by an illustrator, since there seems to be a shortage of stock photos out there of genies wearing stripper tuxedos (go figure!). But a hand-rendered cover turned out to be too complicated and expensive, so my designer heroically put on a vest and bow tie and we used him as the photo model. (For which he earned my undying gratitude.) Then he was able to Photoshop the other elements in around him. So the bare-chested guy on the cover is someone I know. (Sorry, ladies—he’s married.)
Yes! I’m currently working on the next book in the series. I don’t have a title yet, but mayhem and trouble are brought down on Amber by one of the secondary characters from Aladdin’s Samovar— Iggy, the homeless midget who’s been secretly living in the warehouse at the plastic bottle plant where Amber works. He’s a former carnival performer, and he drags Amber, Jasper and Indigo off to help him rescue a friend from his carnie days. There’s a murdered clown, buried treasure, a midget cowboy show, and a very scary ventriloquist’s dummy. Plus a little romance, and hopefully a lot of laughs!
About Lauren Sweet
Lauren Sweet was born and raised in New Jersey, spending her formative years sneaking books under her desk to read during math class. After working in business administration for way too many years, she finally escaped to Alaska and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Lauren now lives near Portland, OR, and is a freelance writer and editor. Her other esoteric skills include astrology, figure skating, and the ability to do a perfect split.
Aladdin’s Samovar by Lauren Sweet
A nice, normal, boring life—that’s all Amber Polaski ever wanted. One where she’s not unchaining her flaky New Age mom from endangered trees, bailing her out of jail, or getting dragged to naked pagan rituals. But when Amber finds a sexy genie in her antique brass samovar, any hope of normal goes up in smoke.
It’s just one tiny little wish—to find her long-lost father. What could go wrong?
Plenty. Dad shows up, all right—with a computer drive full of stolen data and angry mobsters hot on his trail. Now Amber has Fugitive Dad holed up in her Manville, NJ duplex, fending off the Mafia on one side and the FBI on the other. And she has Jasper the genie lounging in her blue plush recliner, conjuring chocolate chip cookies and passing himself off as her boyfriend. While Jasper is trying to tempt Amber with more disastrous wishes—and his seriously hot thousand-year-old body—Amber and her mom are forced to fight off Mafia assassins with nothing but chutzpah and household appliances.
It’s time for Amber to call in the B-team: Iggy the homeless dwarf, Tim the ecoterrorist, and Wanda the Fairy Dogmother with her pack of Happy Puppies. Together, they need to save Dad before the Mob makes him disappear again—permanently!