Victoria Laurie hit the ground running with her debut novel Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye, and her career hasn’t slowed down since. She has multiple bestselling titles, and her latest novel, When, has been optioned by Warner Brothers for a TV adaptation.
When tells the story of Maddie Finn, a high-schooler with the chilling ability to see the death dates of everyone she encounters. Penning novels about extraordinary talents is second nature to Laurie, who says she herself is a psychic intuitive. We talked to Laurie about writing mysteries, writing realistic psychics, and her publishing journey:
What was your life like, pre-book?
It was sad—filled with corporate America, working for the man and really disliking that kind of a life. My brain automatically goes into story form all the time and to have to rigidly put it into spread sheets and dull boring meetings daily was a little soul-killing. It was very difficult for me.
I didn’t immediately quit my job after the first book because the advance was so tiny. It took me about three or four years before I could quit my day job and write full time.
Who were some of your favorite writers as a child?
Erma Bombeck—she wrote If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? It was the first time I [read] satire as a kid. She’s a very dry, witty, humorous writer, who wrote about being a housewife with kids she didn’t enjoy. I loved how she wasn’t trying to make her imperfect family perfect and how she coped through humor. She influenced me more than any writer I’ve ever read.
Did the fairy tales you read as a child influence your fiction?
No. But some of my stories were inspired by actual ghost stories that I’ve heard. The majority of them just popped out of my brain: What can I come up with that is terrifying, keeps the pacing going, and can be tied to a mystery with people who are alive? The books all have a sense of justice, where someone is doing wrong and needs to be held accountable. You can’t hold a ghost accountable—someone alive needs to be held accountable. I love writing about those little moments where the hairs on your arms stand up.
Is there a particular book that inspired you to be a writer?
Janet Evanovich’s first book, One for the Money. It was 2003. I had been laid off, and I was sad and depressed. I remember watching Janet Evanovich on a morning show, talking about her latest book. She had written about a dozen books by then. The host talked about the humor she used. I thought, I could use some humor right now. So I headed to the book store and bought the first three. The books were amazing, and her voice was very similar to mine when I wrote e-mails or letters to friends. Evanovich’s contribution to the cozy genre and the mystery genre—to mingle humor, and wit, satire and hijinks—she did a lot for the genre. [After I read her books], I called my sister to say I was going to write a book.
I am embarrassed to say that it took me days to figure out what my amateur sleuth should be. I was like, What could she do? “Oh, cool, someone wants an appointment for me to give a psychic reading.” What could she be? “Well, yeah: a psychic sleuth!”
When did you first realize you had psychic abilities, and how did you respond to that discovery?
It wasn’t just a lightbulb going off. I had to be convinced I had a talent for it. I am big on science. I love facts. Intuition can be backed up by odds, not evidence. I am right about 75 to 80 percent of the time.
There were small windows of my ability in my childhood. I remember asking my father at dinner if he was fired. The whole table looked at me, and my father was like, “No, why would you say that?” Two weeks later, he got his pink slip. I didn’t like it. There was a sense of Did I cause that?Could I have prevented that?
Now, I understand that it’s like a dial on a radio station; you pick up stuff. I met a medium who was jaw-droppingly good. She is world-renowned now. I convinced her to go professional. She was like, “I will if you will,” and we worked at a shop together… Word of mouth started to spread. People kept coming back saying everything I said was true. So, there was a slow realization of my ability, but no real lightbulb moment.
A lot of your speaking events turn into mass readings. Is that intentional, or is it just something that happens because you are a psychic?
That is totally intentional. I could talk about me—and that’s boring. I’m an introvert. I’m pretty vanilla. People love to hear about themselves. [Doing readings at events] makes it fun for me, because I get to make it fun for them. The range of questions takes me by surprise. It ends up making what could be a dull event more entertaining.
What do people usually get wrong in books about psychics?
I am so sick of reading about psychics who say something bad is going to happen—and there's no detail—no specifics. Real intuitives are very specific. We won’t say, “Be careful at night.” We would say something like, “Have you had interaction with a man knocking on your door at night?” The client says, “No. I have not.” Then we say, “Be careful of the knock that will come in the evening. Keep your doors locked, look through the peep hole, and, if you don’t recognize him, don’t open it up.” We pick up on a detail and hone it down; sometimes we can hone it down to hair color, ethnicity, height or personality. I think that’s why [my character] Abby Cooper has worked so well—because she is very detailed while discussing things to come or things that have happened involving a crime. She gives a lot of clues, but never the answer. The tricky part of writing an intuitive-based novel is retaining the mystery while giving enough specifics to make it believable.
What tips do you have for writers on writing realistic psychics and mediums?
It’s a difficult task. It came easy to me because it’s what I know. Avoid all the stereotypes: the overly-dramatic, fainting, bangle-wearing psychics. Avoid the psychic who is always on the verge of panic in talking about difficult subjects. Intuitives have touched on difficult subjects enough not to have super huge emotions over it. Sit for a couple of readings from good intuitives. We have a similar language; we say things like, “It feels like this…” or “I have a sense of…” It’s important to discuss the physicality of how we look when we are reading someone. If you look at my videos, you can see: When I’m cued in on someone, there is a look that comes over me. When I’m giving a message, I tend to look down and to the right. Most good intuitives do this. When I did research on this, I was intrigued—looking down and to the right accesses memory. That is a telltale sign that you’re in front of a real intuitive, because they are tapping into something, energetically speaking, that feels more like a memory. It’s not something they are making up.
What tips do you have for writers who hope to pen a mystery?
I think it’s really important to get dialogue right. A lot of writing can be really stiff and formal. You want to write the way people speak and the way you speak. I think it’s so important that people read their dialogue out loud to themselves. Read every word, and try to take the stiffness out of it.
As far as tips for writing mystery, I’m a big fan of a twisty ending. I am a big fan of writing myself into a corner and seeing if I can get myself out of it. I think it’s important to make sure that you’re going in a direction that hasn’t been done ad nauseam and isn’t too obvious. Make sure you have enough dead bodies and suspects to make it interesting, and have an ending that the readers can’t see coming.
Describe your current novel, When, in your own words.
When is the story of the importance of realizing that our time here is limited. To me, it was important to get the message to young people that we have a limited number of days. I wanted readers to consider what their expiration day is and that maybe it’s closer than they think. Question the choices you’re making; if they are bad, change them.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
My best friend’s father-in-law was dying of bone cancer. She was caring for him in her house. She called me, exhausted and depressed. She said, “This is unbearable. He is in pain.” I told her he would live through the holidays and die shortly after that. He did. He died in January. I heard a tiny bit of relief in her voice because his suffering would end. In one way, it was a cool ability in that moment to offer her a bit of peace, but it was awful to have to say, “You’re gonna lose him.”
We all know our birthdates, but not the day we die. I thought, Wouldn’t it be interesting if I had a character who could predict the exact date that someone would die? How would that affect them and the family around them? She is a young adult, so that makes it harder for her. I wanted it to be a mystery, so I threw in a serial killer, and you have When.
Mysticism, mystery and murder are essential in your fiction. Do you deliberately pursue subjects that involve these elements, or do they come to you organically?
They come organically, the path of least resistance. It's easiest for me to write this way; it’s organic. It’s become my style. You can recognize a book from me.
Can you describe your writing process?
I head to the library Monday through Friday, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. I take a backpack, and I treat it like going to work. I crack out 1-=0 pages in that four hours, and I have a book in six weeks.
How do you discover your characters?
Most of them come from interactions with people I know well. Cat is loosely based on my sister. Most of my villains have shades of my mother; rather than spending time on a couch [at a therapist’s office], I write.
Tell me about your publishing journey.
Abby Cooper was my first foray into publishing—and she got rejected. I sent queries to 121 agents. A couple said, “Send me the full manuscript,” and she got rejected by every single one. My current agent, whom I adore, left the door open for a rewrite. I returned it to him in 10 days. I rewrote 11 chapters. He thought, since I returned the changes so quickly, that I didn’t take him seriously. He was disappointed, so he didn’t even open it for a month. When he finally opened it, he was like, “Oh, she did make the changes.” He offered me representation. I knew, in that moment, my life had changed. Abby went on to sell 250,000 copies.
How did you cope with rejection in the querying process?
Not well. Who does? It’s terrible. There was wine—me whining with wine. Rejection physically hurts. There is a quote that gets me through: An agent who rejected me sent a pamphlet that said, “If anything can prevent you from becoming a writer, go ahead and let it. If nothing can, persevere.” If I wanted to be a writer, and I couldn’t let the rejections stop me. Writers write. It’s what we do. I learned to take in the hurt, have a pity party, and keep going.
Looking back, is there one moment that you consider the biggest in your career so far?
I’ve been very lucky. Making the New York Times Bestsellers list was lucky. Warner Brothers optioned When, [for television], so my character Maddie is heading for big things. The one moment when my life changed direction in a positive way—and the highlight of my career—was getting my agent. It was an overwhelming feeling, having an agent who got what I was trying to do. He was excited, and he was ready to be my knight. That was the biggest moment—my favorite.
Did you celebrate becoming a New York Times Bestselling Author?
The day the list came out, I went to Starbucks at 6:00 in the morning, in the pouring rain, and had the barista take a picture of me holding the list up while I’m sobbing and crying. [Later I celebrated] with a glass of champagne—I had a bottle in the fridge because I had been close. I made the extended list a few times. The bottle has been in the fridge for three years, so I drank it. I was like, “Why am I drinking this? I don’t like it.”
Any advice for new writers?
This thing is such a gamble. Not being published says nothing about your talent or ability; it just means you haven’t found the right person to fall in love with your stories. Publishing is hard. Hone your skills, and keep working at it. Write a little every day. Keep it routine.
How has your life changed since publication?
In great ways. I have been able to quit the day job, and that was wonderful. I get to do what I love. I make myself laugh every day. If I don’t, it wasn’t a good writing day. I have colleagues that I love, like my editors and my agent Jim. They have become like family to me. They have enriched my life in so many ways.
What’s up next for you?
I’m working on a spin-off from the Abby Cooper series featuring Cat and Gilly. I am really in love with that now. I am writing a YA endeavor. I’m working on a fantasy series. It has a protagonist who’s not quite bad or good—she rides that edge. It’s a fantasy-based mystery series that has a mystery within a mystery. It's told from her point of view in addition to a man’s perspective, and they overlap. I've also been thinking of doing another series that's been in my head and won’t leave, so I am thinking of developing that—a sort of adult mystery, darkly humorous series.
How can people connect with you?
Thanks, Victoria. It doesn’t take any psychic ability to predict further success for your stories. Your talent and killer work ethic will continually provide entertainment for your readers.