Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Authors To Watch: Laura Evans Serna, author of Desert Melody

Laura Evans Serna grew up in Albuquerque wandering the Sandia mountains and enjoying magnificent sunsets each night. She was spoiled by the mountain and desert wilderness and the freedom it offered. Now that she’s lived in Oxford, Washington, DC, and Tokyo, she knows how rare and precious that kind of experience is. 
As a teenager Laura would lie on her concrete driveway with her siblings and friends, watching Hale Bopp slowly cross the sky. She discussed science and theology with no reservation. What are the laws of physics, and where did they come from? What do they mean? Where do humans fit into all of this? What binds society together? Laura believes that these are the questions that make us human. They don’t belong to the scientists, philosophers, or theologians. Everyone has a right to make them their own.
Laura started her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the University of New Mexico. At the time, she was tired of Albuquerque. Until she left she didn’t appreciate the unique mix of cultures or the abundance of intellectual activity of her home town. She married a man in the Air Force and followed him to Colorado, where she spent her time teaching English with Catholic Charities and finishing up a degree in math at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Next Laura moved to the UK where she had the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford. She earned an MSc in Mathematical Modelling while pregnant and experiencing motherhood for the first time. (It was a struggle, to be sure!) Laura found Oxford to be a fantastic, walkable city perfect for pushing a newborn around in a pram. Although they only spent three years in Oxford, she will always feel as if it is a home of sorts for them.
Laura spent periods of time teaching math and doing technical editing, but motherhood suits her more than any other hat she’s worn. Her three daughters are a constant joy. She has come to the conclusion that the world over needs more, not less, of the maternal touch, and she wants to write stories featuring strong, intelligent mothers.

You can visit her website at or connect with her on Facebook.

For generations the Ahn, Voyan, and Humans have thrived living side by side. The ambitious Ahn need solitude.  The communal Voyan thought share and hear the voices of the sacred dead around them.  Now Humans are becoming more like the Ahn, and the Voyan are struggling. 
 Teagan is a single Voyan mother and wet nurse. She lost the ability to thought share.  Though she
spends hours walking in the desert searching for the voices she once heard, she embraces her new found intellectual focus and is drawn into the Human world of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Teagan plans to go into hiding to avoid being forced back to a Voyan community where her daughter would be an outcast. However she meets Josh, a generous and handsome man who understands her better than anyone.  She loves him, and Josh takes an active role in parenting Teagan’s daughter.
Teagan discovers that her behavior is more Human than Voyan because she has been unknowingly medicated.  She is part of a secret and manipulative eugenics program designed by Josh’s best friend. Teagan questions her faith in Josh while needing him in her life more than ever. Once off the medication, Teagan loses her focus, and her dream of helping her people through research slips away. 
Teagan is kidnapped by the Voyan and put into a lucid trance for months.  During this time she feels the desperation of her people.  But Teagan hears the call of the Kokopelli’s flute. She knows she is called for a purpose, and she escapes back to Human society.  At this point, though, Teagan can no longer speak verbally.  She asks the Ahn to continue providing her the medication so she can live as a Human and stay with her daughter and Josh.  She knows she is called to help her people.
Desert Melody is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

When did you begin writing? 
For much of my life, I believed fiction was pointless. I’ve always been in the science and math fields. Spare time, I thought, should be spent on useful, productive things. Unfortunately, I didn’t believe writing, or any kind of art, for that matter, fit the bill. Only now in my mid-thirties am I trying to live a more contemplative, slower life. “Wasting time” is good. Getting outside and socializing just for the fun of it is good. And art? Art is something we need to hold on to as many in society idolize technology as our salvation. 
I started writing fiction when I was homebound during my third pregnancy. It is important to find balance. I try to be disciplined. I don’t spend too much or too little time writing. I aim to spend some time in unfettered creativity and some time editing with a critical eye. I always consider what message is coming across to the reader and if that message is something I believe in.   
Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?
I tend to have writer’s block most of the day. It isn’t until about 9 pm at night (bedtime for my kids) that my creative brain turns on. My books almost always start with two characters with an interesting dynamic I want to explore. However I do try to be disciplined about developing the plot early on in the process. 
Can you tell us about your most recent release? 
Desert Melody is about a strong young mother who is Voyan. The Voyan are a sister species to humans, and they are fighting for their survival. Teagan struggles to balance her duty to her people and her desire to live with her daughter in human society. She wants to study biology and marry her human boyfriend. Her choices, however, aren’t completely her own.  
How did you get the idea for the book?
I’ve long been intrigued by how populations of people deal with change as well as how they maintain cultural continuity. I created a world where there are two subspecies of people other than humans. The Ahn and the Voyan have lifestyles that represent two extremes of human behavior. The book explores the benefits and hardships that might be experienced by populations who embrace these extreme lifestyles.   
Another significant aspect of the book is the focus on breastfeeding. I started writing Desert Melody when I was pregnant with my third daughter. Much of my life was consumed with aspects of motherhood which were rarely described in fiction. 
Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?  
I identify most strongly with Teagan from Desert Melody. She’s a breastfeeding mom with a strong interest in science. However my favorite character is Teagan’s love interest, Josh. He is willing to sacrifice things he has worked for as well as many aspects of his comfortable life to make a leap of love and faith into the unknown. Comfort is a poor measure of a life well lived. It is terrifying, but sometimes we have to take the leap, hoping to achieve something higher and more satisfying. 
What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
The length of the book. I’m an amateur novelist, and each step of the process is new. Each edit of the novel took several days from beginning to the end. Looking back, I should have broken into writing with a few novellas first. 
Which authors have inspired your writing?
I look up to Deborah Geary, author of A Modern Witch and the Witch Central series. Her stories are relaxing but inspiring. I think about them often. Her vision of family life and community has affected my own hopes and goals. I hope I can do something like that with my readers. 
When I’m working on dialogue, I almost always pull out one of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls books. Her characters aren’t terribly likable, but what they say is poetic. Her style is consistent, and that is something I strive for. 
I look to the writing of Deborah Harkness as an example of how to integrate the character and feel of a special place into a story. In The All Souls Trilogy, Harkness captures the feel of Oxford, England. In Desert Melody, I wanted to do the same with New Mexico
I have to mention Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. One of the things I like about this book is that it isn’t formulaic. The ending isn’t happy in the traditional sense, but it is happy. 
Emily Bronte is a cautionary tale for me. Her writing is depressing. What I love, though, is how even the most despicable characters have something compelling about them. When I want to be a little more courageous with my characters, I think of the depths to which she plunged Heathcliff and Catherine.     
What projects are you currently working on? 
Right now I’m working on two stories. Both are set in modern times and have elements of mysticism. The characters are immersed in the business of life with all of its stressors, yet they have these profound experiences most often associated with bygone times. I want to consider how people embrace and explore the mysterious, the unknown, and the spiritual, in an increasingly materialistic world. In addition, I can’t imagine writing any story without at least a touch of romance, so there’s that, too!
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Your writing is something unique to you. It is a job that can never be outsourced. It is a way to communicate with not only those around you but future generations as well. Write with honesty and integrity. Take risks.     

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