L.A. Estabrook is the author of the dystopian middle-grade novel, Esme Zur: And the I of Age (available on Kindle Unlimited). In this inspiring interview, we discuss the life events that moved L.A. to write this book, writing a book while dyslexic, and how she juggles marriage, parenting, and a challenging illness with writing. Enjoy!
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Hi L.A.! I’m pleased to be interviewing you. Please tell us about yourself. Congratulations on your debut dystopian middle-grade novel!
What is about, and why did you decide to write about the subject matter?
I love dystopian story lines. I fell in love with the genre after reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school. There is something about thinking about the future as this mess that can be set right by a victor, champion, dreamer. It’s a struggle that we can relate to. Solving the world’s problems to set everything right. Focusing on that brings me peace and joy.
The world is a complex place with sadness and anxiety. Books take you away to another world. My stories embrace this reality of a mess and bring about a solution for the world, reliving that pressure of life. Focusing on changing the world for better, is a happy ending story that many people long for.
How long did it take to write Esme Zur: And the I of the Age?
Overall, it took four years. That was because I started writing for myself, to distract me and ease my stress. My young daughter, at 7 years old was diagnosed as ADHD, with auto sensory issues and a number of other ailments. Writing became an outlet due to all the years of journaling I had done as a young girl.
My poems and stories were a creative distraction from the world around me. I did not get serious and write down an outline until about a year and a half ago during a two week long vacation to the beach when I finally had time to think and relax. I am a stream of consciousness writer. So I had bits and parts of the story. In fact I had the end done before I had the middle complete.
It was hard to stop fiddling and put the book out there. From that summer it was a little over a year of consistent writing and almost six months of working with editors.
What inspired you to write this novel?
The plot of the story line came from my sadness over my sixth grade girl saying “No I don’t want to continue doing coding because no other girls are taking that class”. This was after receiving a very nice card in the mail from her coding teacher asking that she sign up for the next level of coding.
My daughter was good at something that was recognized by others and the only reason she did not want to pursue it, was that other females were not doing it. Inside that enraged me and right then I decided to have the plot of the story about embracing the talent God has given you.
This event coincided with me getting serious the summer of 2019. For me writing was my own embracing of my talent that I had ignored most of my life and that became the fuel for writing the book.
Did you always want to be a writer, and why?
I wanted to do two main things in life: write and be an Architect. I focused on Architecture because my family recognized it as a career, a way to make a real living. I continued to write in my journal, and in cards, just as my Dad did.
I say that writing is in my blood. My Dad has always written poems and for a time sermons. My Grandfather wrote music lyrics and my great grandfather speeches for a living. Writing felt natural, almost as if I was talking to someone. Story ideas and scenes would pop into my head and I had to jot them down before they disappeared.
For some reason I ignored or stuffed my gifts and kept them to myself with an occasional note in a birthday card or a speech for work. In September of 2019 after a long summer vacation I found out that I had stage four breast cancer. This was the second time I had cancer. The first time was in 2012. This spurred me to share the gift I had before I could no longer.
Why middle-grade literature, and at what point did you realize you were ready to write a book?
I have always believed that any author should start with writing about what they know. I knew girls up to 13 years old. I started writing Esme Zur when my oldest daughter was 9. Right in the middle grade world.
Also, the book speaks to relationships between mother, daughter, sisters and grandmother. All things I have experience with. I live with this world every day, so it was much earlier to write the dialog between all the characters. I could imagine either of my girls, my mother or I saying any of the conversations in the book. As I become more experienced and my children grow my books may grow as well.
I am not sure I ever felt ready. Bits and parts came over time. I needed to make a decision to commit time, effort and resources to the book. To see if I could do it. My first full novel over 220 pages felt surreal, unbelievable. I had a pit in my stomach, still do. Is it good enough? Will people like it? Can I turn this into a living? That first 5 star review is a relief.
What is your most challenging aspect of writing?
Working with the editor to be willing to change much of what you wrote. Whether words, phases, cutting whole sections, moving things around or adding more content. You really have to be open to feedback and willing to try something different.
I also needed a lot of patience. I am a goal-oriented person, so the moving of dates for completion frustrated me. I would take a walk and some deep breaths and acknowledge that the book would be better for it.
The other challenge was my dyslexia, trying to find the written word not just spell it right. I had not written a novel before or really learned how to do it. English/Literature classes were always the hardest for me. I find it ironic, I love writing even when reading has been so difficult for me. I believe that speaks to the strength of the written word.
What does your writing desk look like?
I work in many different places and with many different devices. I started the book on my phone in Google Keep. I have used my Kindle Fire, a mini computer hooked up to our large wall mounted TV and my laptop. You can find me in my leather chair with a lap desk, on my couch, or at the dining table.
I have really embraced this mobile world. For me it is more about when then where. I am best writing early in the morning 5 am to 6 am. Before anyone is up and my Mom and work duties have to begin. I will occasionally work in the evening after dinner and for hours on end Saturday and Sunday early mornings and afternoons.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I would say getting up before anyone else to have a quiet house is a ritual. I am not superstitious. I love setting goals. While working on a novel I commit to writing every day for one hour or two pages. I have to write that to feel as if the book is moving along. I do not worry about spelling or grammar. I get the words and story scenes out of me and on the page.
Every writer is a reader — how often do you read?
I try to read every day. For an hour or more. Usually while I am cooking dinner and/or driving around. For traditional reading, I may get in a half hour. It is hard juggling a full time job, two kids, my husband, my own down time, my health, working on my books and reading others. I wish I had more time to read and write.
Who are some of your favorite authors to read?
I struggled with this growing up as I have dyslexia and in the 80’s and 90’s did not have the resources many have today. I went to a classic elementary and middle school having to read everything from Dickens, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck to Shakespeare, and I struggled.
I loved being read to, by anyone. Stories always excited me and helped build my imagination. I remember in fifth grade going to a library and searching the area for the blind and getting a few books on tape. I enjoyed this! The time between high school and adulthood was filled with architecture books and parenting books. It was not until audio books became more common that my “reading” time has grown.
I would listen while driving to work (yes I still work full time in the field of Architecture as a manager) or as I cook dinner. My all-time favorite is Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery, the true romantic in me loves all the Jane Austen books, J.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, H.G. Wells, the dystopian in me, loves George Orwell, Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, for younger readers I love the creativity of Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, for more current authors I would say, Ernest Cline, Daniel Jose Older, Hugh Howey, Suzanne Collins, Orson Scott Card, and Jordan Ifueko.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I do like cooking and baking, exercising, painting and other crafts. My mother used to say I was a renaissance girl. I would do almost anything and be pretty decent at it. My goal is working hard to be great at a few things, instead of good at many things. As a family we enjoy watching movies, playing board games and going for walks.
The cover of the paperback version is matte, because my daughters say reading a book with a glossy cover makes your hands sweaty and it is no fun holding the book. I have cut out one excuse for a kid to read.
Thank you so much, Afoma!
About Esme Zur: And the I of Age
Perfect for fans of The City of Ember, Legend and Maze Runner, Esme Zur And The I of the Age is the first book in L.A. Estabrook’s, Esme Zur series. A grand dystopian saga which Esme Zur is transformed by friendship, self belief and love.
This strong young female, becomes the key to saving the world, bringing hope by learning to believe in her gifts. Leaning on her friends to solve the most difficult coming of age story, save yourself or save someone you love. In a future world decimated by the Versa’s AI. Esme Zur learns that her Dad was taken by the anti AI Andize for hiding her genius hacker skills. Her family is torn from within over her abilities. She must choose between staying in the shadows or hunting the mainframe, risking discovery by the Andize.
Needing more than herself to find her way, Esme discovers she may be the chosen one to bring about the downfall of all AI. Will she get caught and be forced to do the Andize’s bidding to fight the Versa or will she return stability to her family and the World. Staying in the shadows allows survival. Being discovered demands saving the world. – Commence discovery.
Meet L.A. Estabrook
L.A. Estabrook was born in New Jersey and received a degree in Architecture from Cornell University. She is an author, wife, mother and Breast Cancer thriver. Estabrook got serious about finishing Esme Zur, after her diagnosis of Stage 4 Breast Cancer in late 2019. As this was her second time with Cancer, She says, “Nothing gives you determination like knowing your time on Earth is shortened”.
Estabrook longs to write exclusively for a living and spend as much time as she can with her family. She is passionate about helping others with Breast Cancer, bringing hope, sharing her knowledge and gifts. By providing 10% of all book profit to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Breast Cancer Resource Centers around the World. She, her husband and two girls currently live in Austin, Texas.
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Visit the blog tab for more information on Estabrook’s writing and life with cancer for more information on Breast Cancer and how you can help others.