Interview With Author Anne Lauppe-Dunbar

Anne Lauppe-Dunbar is the author of “Dark Mermaids,” an award-winning novel about the East Germany doping scandal that lead to the mental and physical decline of many German athletes. Her main protagonist, Sophia, is a East German swimmer whose health has declined to such a degree doctors deny her treatment.

I was given the opportunity to interview Dr. Lauppe-Dunbar while she was visiting the United States on her book-release tour, and I asked her about her experiences as a writer. 

Me: Do you ever get writers block? What’s your advice to those who struggle with it?

LD: Yes, I do. The best advice my Ph.D tutor gave me was “don’t be worried about just staring out the window, it’s actually part of the creative process.” So if your mind is blank and you feel overwhelmed, let it happen. Don’t fight it, because if you fight it you’re pushing against it. Just accept it and read for a bit. Or do a bit of research, or go and read a book about the subject. Or go for a walk. You know, swim, anything. Just don’t try and push it.

Me: What is your favorite genre to write?

LD: Thriller, I think. I like characters, I’m a character writer. I like the type of writing where you feel like you’re inside the character’s skin. We’re contradictory as a species so you’ve got to allow those characters to show that aspect of humanity. I like anything as long as it’s got strong characters in it. I love fantasy as well.

Me: Which comes first: character or story?

LD: Both have to be intertwined. I think if you start with a character and have a story in mind, you can then follow your character and see how he/she reacts to things. Like with my character, Sophia, I tried to make her do something she did not want to do and it was difficult to progress from there. You must let your character lead the way.

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Me: What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?

LD: Finding time. And then allowing myself the first draft without getting really finicky about it. I have to give myself permission to make a mess. I find that quite difficult because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I think I went through about 30-40 drafts before I finished my first book.

Me: What advice do you have for people who want to become a writer?

LD: Be realistic. Be aware it’s a very long journey. I think getting published is really, really hard. And some people want the validation more than they want the work to be done. More than they want a challenge. At times, I was one of those people. You get to a breaking point, really. So I would say, you know, you have to look at it as if you’re going to be challenged more than you’ve ever been challenged before. And if you’re a writer, then you’re a writer. Take it bit by bit.

Me: It took you two years of submitting before you were published. Why did you stick by your story for so long?

LD: Because I thought the work was good enough. I never thought of myself as good enough, but the work itself— what I had created outside of myself— was. I had a sense that this work was ready. Sometimes you have to just defy any doubts. Even if you have worries about yourself and you think you’re getting pushed back. Sometimes you have to keep going.

Me: How do you know when your book is finished?

LD: You don’t. Not really. I think that’s normal. There comes a point when you just have to send it out. The things you have to ask yourself are ‘Do the sentences work?’ or ‘Are the ideas coming together?’ ‘If I give this to a stranger, are they going to get that idea?’ That’s the most important thing, I say. That’s when it’s ready.

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Read What You Want: Don’t Feel Guilty About Your Guilty Pleasure

I, like most readers, have a friend who does not read.

No matter how many conversations I and my reader friends have with her, she continues to express no interest in any form of literature whatsoever. Even the word “book” seems to make her eyes glaze over and her mouth gape open slightly as if her soul is trying to look for any available orifice to escape through.

So when she brought up the movie Fifty Shades of Grey, I assumed she knew nothing of its novel counterpart. And so I proceeded to verbally tear it a new one.

I was confident in my verdict of the novel because I had not hopped on the hate bandwagon as many others had done. Instead, I actually read half of the book and came to my own conclusion.

I won’t mince words. Not only was the book awkward to read, it was walking-in-on-your-little-sister-having-sex awkward. The main character’s narration sounded like a 15 year-old girl trying to pass herself off as a woman in her 20s and Christian Grey’s attraction to her was nothing short of baffling. 

I layed my criticism on thick and, all the while, I saw the excitement leave her eyes. However, it wasn’t until I ended my diatribe that I learned not only had she evidently read the book, she had liked it.

My brain bisected; one half tried to understand how she could have found this trashy gas station toilet paper appealing, while the other searched with the nervous energy of an over-caffeinated grad student on ways to backpedal and make this situation less uncomfortable.

For months this occurrence had me replaying all the times I was shamed for liking something some third party had deemed uncultured or stupid.

I thought back to the 14 year-old me that had to put book covers over her Star Trek novels because the other teens would make fun of her if they saw her reading them. The girl that enjoyed reading Nicholas Sparks on weekends between homework assignments.

How did she feel when her books were ripped apart?

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Some readers try to validate their bashing of certain books by arguing they have long-lasting societal effects. By reading books like Fifty Shades, or clones of this series, abuse in relationships will become normalized and the generation after us will set feminism back forty years. Readers of YA, popular fiction, or romance will lower the standard for what constitutes as literature and the rest of the world will suffer as a consequence.

However, as someone who is and knows people who read a wide selection of books from classics to contemporary novels, and so on, I can say that this is not likely.

Most of the fans of Fifty Shades that I’ve encountered (save for my friend) are happily married women with children, ages ranging from early 30s to mid 40s. These are not highly impressionable women that are going to leave their husbands in favor of meeting a sexy billionaire with mommy issues that would spank them with a paddle. These are women that want to let loose for a few hours and have fun.

Do I think they should be reading something with more sophistication like Jane Eyre or Anna Karenina? Sure. But—-call me crazy—I’m not one of those literary hysterics that believes the world is going to come crashing around our ears if a few people read something I find unsavory.

I believe that reading can be a transformative experience in principle, but I’m also aware that not everyone that reads a novel perceives it as a religious text on which to base the foundation of their lives.

Does that mean I’m defending Fifty Shades for it’s crappy writing and frankly rapey undertones? No. I’m defending the readers. All kinds of people read “un-literary” novels. Even academics can be tempted.

Every so often people want to read something that isn’t earth-shattering or intellectually revolutionizing. They’re just looking for a little entertainment to stave off boredom or help them sleep. They’re called guilty pleasures, nonetheless, I don’t think we should feel guilty for them.

Charles Dickens won’t lose his keen eye for detail if a single mother reads a Harlequin romance.

Jane Austen’s sharp wit won’t dull if a teenager leafs through the adventures of Bella Swan and her vampire lover.

All the greats will still be there, ready to share their brilliance with the world for many more generations to come.

So just relax and let people read what they want to read. For all you know, those crappy novels might be the gateway drug to higher reading.

Kill Them Like You Mean It: A Critique On Character Resurrections

There is a joke in the Whovian community: “Steven Moffat walks into a bar and everyone you love dies.” This seems accurate as the man’s body count ranges in the double digits. The same can be said for George R. R. Martin with his Game of Thrones series in which many characters face agonizingly graphic deaths that leave you a sobbing mess on the living room rug.

What is the difference between the deaths in Doctor Who and the deaths in the Game of Thrones series?

When someone dies in Game of Thrones I actually care.

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 It’s not that I don’t feel a connection with the characters in Doctor Who. My problem is Steven Moffat, as well as many other writers, are guilty of overusing the Lazarus Trope.

The Lazarus Trope occurs when a character— usually one of rapport— dies, but is brought back to life through some manner of plot contrivance.

And it’s not just Doctor Who that is guilty of overusing this trope. If I took a shot for every character in anime or comic book movies/TV shows that have died only to be brought back to life, I would need a stomach pump.

Seriously, it’s a wonder that people in these universes even have funerals anymore. You’d think they would just wait with a beer by the front door for their loved ones to reappear.

The Lazarus Trope is reaching epidemic levels in all forms of media from TV shows, to movies, to books, to video games and it needs to die (pun intended).

It has gotten to the point where I’m no longer bothered if a character’s life ends because I just assume they’re going to return later on. Therefore, all the unrest this character’s demise is supposed to create becomes dead on arrival.

The reason the deaths in Game of Thrones resonate so powerfully with audiences is because we know that once those characters are gone, they’re gone for good. And most of them don’t deserve the fates they were given.

To all you creative types out there, I implore you, don’t bring your characters back to life. Or, if you must, let there be a catch to their survival. Give them some sort of psychological or physiological side effect that will follow them throughout the course of their story. People who go through near-death experiences in reality don’t come out of it unscathed, so neither should those that reside in fictional worlds.

I’m not against the slaying of characters if it’s done for a good reason. But if you’re just going to use it as a cheap sleight of hand, then consider other alternatives.

Death is not a head cold. Don’t treat it like one.

Your audience will probably see it coming anyway.

Doing It The Hemingway

“Write Drunk, Edit Sober”- Ernest Hemingway

Most writers have read these words at some point while surfing the internet. Many have even bought a picture with this quote written in fancy typography and have given it a place of honor above their desk.

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Disregarding the fact that Ernest Hemingway apparently never said this (oops), is it a good idea to write while you’re drunk? Do you become a better writer when intoxicated?

I will speak for myself.

Yes. Yes, I do.

But not really.

Most writers I know (myself included) suffer from crippling self-doubt. We have an invisible critic reading over our shoulder at all times as we work on projects, their faces grimacing as they catch every awkward transition and plothole. They tell us that we should have become a registered nurse like our relatives advised. That we’ll be working in retail for the rest of our lives with a drawer full of stories that will never be read or published.

Drinking alcohol is like having someone hit that critic upside the head with a fold-up chair, then body slamming him John Cena style until he is a pulp.

Without the critic constantly turning his nose up at my work, it becomes easier to write. I’m more likely to experiment with turns of phrase or metaphors than I would be if I were writing sober. When I reread what I wrote the next morning it is usually a solid piece.

But did the alcohol make me a better writer?

Not really.

What the alcohol did was show me what I can accomplish if I turn off (or just dial down) my inner critic and give myself the freedom to create. 

If you’re an E.L. James you are not going to become a Charles Dickens after a few whisky shots.

Alcohol is not a magic potion and becoming an alcoholic won’t make you a best-selling author.

It’ll make you an alcoholic.

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It’s okay to have a few drinks every now and then to unwind. However, it’s a bad idea to use it like medicine for your insecurities because that can lead to dependancy.

The best thing any writer can do for themselves is push through the negativity.

This is easier said than done, I realize. Nonetheless, the alternative would be not writing at all, or indulging in a potentially dangerous habit.