I was born in Colorado. I grew up playing in the mountains and reading stories about girls going on wild adventures. (My hero was – and still is – Pippi Longstocking.) When I was 7, I realized I wanted to be a writer when I heard my teacher read one of Shel Silverstein’s poems aloud. Here it is:
One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,
One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man went to see fair play,
A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”
A paralysed donkey passing by,
Kicked the blind man in the eye,
Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came to arrest the two dead boys,
If you don’t believe this story’s true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!
It struck me then that there is something amazing about language. It has the ability to turn and twist in unexpected ways, to raise goose bumps on your skin, and to defy your expectations. I remember running over every line over in my mind later, trying to figure out how exactly the writer had put together a string of words that made me feel so puzzled and delighted.
After that, I built elaborate stage sets, trying to recreate Shakespeare’s wooden O using duct tape and aluminum foil. The combination is powerful, and after long I had a silver, fully recyclable, sticky stage set for all of my stories to come true.
I spent most of my days writing, exploring, and laughing. (See childhood photos and elementary school writings at bottom of page)
Then I became a teenager. Ouch. It hurt.
I tried to be popular. I tried to be pretty. In every single way I knew how.
But I always failed. My best friend was the most beautiful, popular girl in school, and yet I could never come close to being anything like her. I was a quirky little poet-nerd with straight black hair and skinny matchstick legs. This is me in middle school:
See what I mean?
I never thought I’d get a boyfriend or feel good about myself. Childhood already seemed so far away, like a mystical land I’d been locked out of. And the duct tape wooden O went in the trash.
I cried a lot. I was lucky to have a supportive family, but even so, I was down on myself All The Time. I was also diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and the diagnosis made me feel more weird and out-of-place at my school than ever. At times, I felt like I couldn’t get any lower.
Then I discovered I was a Poet.
The world cracked open a little, and some light came in. I fit in somewhere. I had a talent that a small group of people appreciated. I helped start the Poet and Songwriter’s Society at my high school, and I really started to find my own inner light. My popular, beautiful best friend was still popular and beautiful, but I had something else: I had PURPOSE.
From that purpose, I found my people. I found my passion. I found myself.
And what I discovered was that I was beautiful. And once I figured that out, I became popular with my group of people. Because truly, they are all that matters.
College was a shining light of meeting new people and defining myself in a new way. I studied creative writing, and took a screenplay writing class. At the end of the class, my professor said; “You are very talented, but you will never do anything with your life because you are too lazy.” It shocked me to my core.
That screenplay writing class changed the direction of my life. When I got the opportunity to study abroad in Rome, Italy, I showed the screenplay to my film professor, and he loved it. He told me to follow my love of screenwriting to LA or New York. I chose New York.
When I got to New York City, I had big dreams. Dreams are great, but when you forget your authentic self in the process of dreaming, they can only crush you. So I got a manager, put on several off-off Broadway plays and readings, got jobs in the film industry, and got CRUSHED.
But something beautiful grew out of that. I quit writing screenplays for two years, and in the meantime, my true love for writing showed itself. In the void, I started writing stories for children. Not to “be a writer” or to “pursue big dreams,” but because the stories bubbled out of me like steam from a hot spring. They made me happy.
Of course, they were terrible.
But I kept doing it, just for the joy of doing it. After 9/11, I left NYC and moved to San Francisco, where I got a job with Chronicle Books. Then I got into graduate school at Naropa University and moved to Boulder, Colorado. I started teaching in Denver after Naropa, and I taught for a few years before I met my husband.
At that point, I had started a novel for fun called VIVIAN DIVINE AND THE DAYS OF THE DEAD (original title), but I knew I’d never finish it, mostly because of what my college professor said, that I was LAZY. But my husband-to-be convinced me to give writing a real chance, and so when he was accepted into graduate school in London, UK, I quit my job and we moved there.
I spent one year writing VIVIAN DIVINE for six hours every day, and working an online teaching job for income. At the end of the year, I won a SCBWI UK contest and was included in the anthology UNDISCOVERED VOICES of the best undiscovered children’s book writers in the UK.
After I won the contest, I signed with Jodi Reamer at the Writer’s House Agency, and she got me a two-book deal with Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. I was absolutely thrilled!!
In Summer 2014, we published VIVIAN DIVINE IS DEAD and did a first print run of 75,000 copies.
In the meantime, I was obsessed with reading books about the remote viewers who helped the US government during the Cold War. My book LIES I LIVE BY came out of how that research blended with my imagination. Callie, the 17 year old psychic spy, burst out of me with a voice of her own, and 18 months later, she was ready.
LIES I LIVE BY comes out Summer 2016 with Katherine Tegen Books.
Lauren’s Younger Years