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An Interview with Lauren Emily Whalen & Lillah Lawson

By the pricking of my thumbs, something exciting this way comes! That's right, another author interview, this time with writing duo Lauren Emily Whalen and Lillah Lawson! Learn all about their gender-swapped cosy horror Macbeth retelling, Tomorrow & Tomorrow, and how the book came to be before the book's release day in mid-October.


 

Hello and thank you so much for joining us! We are super excited about your upcoming cosy horror novel, Tomorrow & Tomorrow. Tell us a bit about the plot and what inspired you to write it.


Lillah (LL): Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an adaptation of Macbeth, but with a twist: it’s gender-swapped and told from the point-of-view of an all-girl rock band from Athens, Georgia! But it’s got all the darkness you remember from the original Scottish play: ghosts, witches, prophecies, slow creeping dread and of course, there will be blood.


Lauren had a couple of Shakespeare adaptations under her belt already, and we’d joked around about writing something together for years. During the COVID times, through lengthy, increasingly unhinged voice messages, we just sort of…started putting an idea together. We joke that this novel just sort of stepped out of our noggins fully formed because the entire thing was just kind of seamless in that rare, lightning-in-a-bottle way.


Lauren (LEW): As Lillah said, I’d published two Shakespeare reimaginings, Two Winters (which is a riff on The Winter’s Tale) and Take Her Down (which is the story of Julius Caesar in the Me Too era). Both of those are YA, or young adult, novels. I’d never written a full length novel for adults, and I never thought I’d tackle Macbeth – I’m also a theater critic, and there are so many productions, it’s no doubt the play I’ve seen and reviewed the most over the years. But when Lillah and I brainstormed an all-female band, and gender-swapping a lot of the main characters, I couldn’t resist…



What made the two of you decide to co-write this book together? Have you co-written before, and are there any positives and challenges that come with the process?


LL: As I said, we’d talked about writing something together before in the abstract. I think during COVID, when everyone was locked down and trying to find ways to occupy themselves, we just had a little extra time to flesh out an idea. We were already talking a lot, and had both recently had books published, so writing was a topic we were already focusing on. It just sort of happened organically, which is the best way.


It was challenging because I’m in the south (Athens) and Lauren is in the midwest (Chicago), so we were primarily working together through Google Docs, voice clips and email. But we made it work! One of the biggest positives was that we were able to alternate days, which took the pressure off and gave us ample days off to replenish our energy and think about what would come next.


LEW: We’d like to thank Google Drive and Facebook DM audio messages for their part in this novel!


Lillah’s right – in some ways, COVID made cowriting a bit easier. I was still working exclusively from home when we wrote and revised the book, so I wasn’t commuting and automatically had extra time. Also, Omicron happened right as we were tackling revisions, so a lot of places either closed down or cut back their hours, so really, there weren’t many places to go.


However, COVID also brought its challenges, of course. I absolutely LOVE writing in coffee shops, and I could still do that to an extent, but during Omicron, the city of Chicago required patrons to show their vaccine cards before sitting down and stay masked until they ate or drank. But hey, those rules kept me healthy while we were collaborating!



Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?


LL: I identify a lot with Mac, which might scare people who have read the book – but just to clarify, I don’t identify with all of her. Just some of her backstory and the way she reacts to things. Mac is very ambitious and more than a little self-centered, but she’s also full of self-doubt and imposter syndrome, and she doesn’t mean to be as brusque as she is when she’s feeling anxious. I relate to that. But I’m also a lot of Teresa-Jo, her oldest and dearest, in that I’ll bend over backwards to cater to everyone and put aside my own comfort to make sure everyone’s having a good time.


I’m also like Granny Devereaux in that if you come to my house, I will be feeding you. No, I didn’t ask. Just grab a plate.


LEW: My far and away favorite character in Tomorrow and Tomorrow is Quincy Banks (the Banquo stand-in, who in our novel is a badass drummer and vocalist). She’s a tough chick, and has been through a lot by the time she, Mac and Duff form their band, The Scottish Play, but she also has a soft side and isn’t afraid to show it. She’s also proudly queer! I grew to love Quin so much, I gave her my hair color (blonde, with big chunks of hot pink).



This book is a gender-swapped Macbeth reimagining, but were there any other influences and inspirations behind the story? What drew you to Shakespeare in particular?


LL: Joan Jett was a huge influence on the book; we call her Tomorrow and Tomorrow’s muse. Both Lauren and I are huge “Joanie” fans and it’s one of the first things we bonded over. I grew up loving Joan, thanks to my mom’s influence (be sure to check out my back cover photo when the book comes out) and I think she’s an excellent role model for young girls, because she’s never conformed to some male-gazey idea of what a sexy, talented woman should be. It was natural that Mac, Duff and Quincy would bond over their shared love for her and The Runaways.


Obviously we also drew a lot from Scottish culture and media (two characters were loosely based on characters in the Outlander TV series, but I’m not saying which ones – you’ll just have to guess) and the Athens, GA music scene, too.


LEW: I’ve loved Shakespeare since I was little – my mom has a degree in English, which probably has a lot to do with it. I’ve even been lucky enough to act in several Shakespeare plays, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour’s Lost (that last one twice, in two different roles!). I really love the challenge of taking classic stories and making them contemporary and relatable to today’s world, which is at once very different from Shakespeare’s, but very much the same in a lot of ways. I mean, who hasn’t had an unrequited crush? Haven’t we all been deceived in a way that really hurt? How well do we really know our families, our friends? There’s a reason these stories are still told.



There are various settings in this book, including the North Georgia Mountains, Athens, Georgia, and Scotland. How and why did you come to include so many, and have you visited any of these places in real life?


LL: I was born and raised just outside of Athens; I’m a “lifer”. Both my husband and I have been in the arts/music scene for a very long time, so all of that is very natural to me, and I hope comes off authentically in the book. And of course I’m just a hop and a skip away from the North Georgia mountains, so I go there as often as I can.


Scotland has long been a bucket list dream of mine. I’m Italian and Scottish and as a genealogist, I’d love nothing more than to take off and visit my mother countries. But I’ve never been, at least not yet. I’m hoping that can happen in future, maybe with Lauren! It feels natural that we should visit Glamis together.


And side note: it also felt very natural that Scotland and the North Georgia Mountains, on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, would be two parallel locations in the book, given that millions of years ago they were the same mountain range (a factoid that is mentioned in the book!).


LEW: I’ve visited Athens once – and hung out with Lillah! – and I’ve been to Europe several times, but never to Scotland. (Ask me anything about Iceland, though!) Lillah and I felt strongly that Athens and North Georgia were the perfect settings for our story, so I relied on her a lot for accuracy there! Scotland is definitely on my bucket list, especially now that I know more about it.



The two of you come from different genres, with Lillah publishing in historical and horror, and Lauren romance and YA. How did you use these different backgrounds and perspectives to enrich the story, and did it inform the co-writing process at all?


LL: I think it helped a great deal. I’m always going to bring the southern gothic to the table, and all the annoying historical anecdotes. I’m hopelessly devoted to research. And Lauren’s work has a buoyancy to it that my work often lacks, plus she can write a killer love scene. And we both have a unique brand of humor. I like to think we both brought our specific talents and A-game to the table and came up with something really fun, sexy and scary.


LEW: I’m just going to add that Lillah’s historical anecdotes are NOT annoying! I will say that as a performer, I am very familiar with all the drama (pun intended) that can come with that life. Because the novel centers on a band, I was able to bring that particular perspective.



Will the two of you be co-writing again in the future? What can readers expect to see from each of you next?


LL: We’ve been chewing on a potential project for about a year now that would be really fun, but currently we’re both pretty busy with our own projects. I think it’ll happen eventually though, because we both enjoyed it so much the first time. So stay tuned for that!


I had a historical fiction novel release earlier this year (more on that below), and I’m working on two other novels (both historical; one a thriller, the other dark southern gothic) – querying one, and editing the other – that I hope will be on shelves soon! When I’m not writing books, I write a lot of essays and short stories, and I also have a column in my town’s newspaper. My most recent horror short “Oblong Objects in the Mirror (are Closer than they Appear)” appeared in the Aseptic and Faintly Sadistic Anthology by Cosmic Horror Monthly, which released to high praise (and proceeds go to the Chicago Abortion Fund, so I’m doubly proud of this story). I just signed the contract on a Neutral Milk Hotel-inspired short story (that Athens, GA connection again!), which will appear in an upcoming anthology with Hungry Shadow Press. My essay “A Close Shave with Death: the Framing of Henry Drake”, an essay I wrote about a severe miscarriage of justice that happened to a distant family member, was published in Scalawag Magazine last month.


LEW: I also write nonfiction – I have a book about Jennifer Coolidge out next April! I’m working on a couple of other projects I can’t talk about at the moment, but I write about theater and culture for Q. Digital, queer culture for GO Magazine, and books for BookPage. And you can find my creative nonfiction/personal essays in various literary journals.



If you could give any advice to debut authors and/or authors looking to co-write together, what would it be? How did you make the co-writing process work?


LL: Giving each other room to marinate on ideas, suggest things, and have the space to write their parts the way they want to write them is key. Neither Lauren nor I were very pushy when it came to the way the book evolved. She wrote her parts, I wrote mine, and we accepted suggestions and changes in the spirit of love. We both wanted the book to be great. You have to check your ego at the door for sure. I also highly recommend alternating days because it really, really helps with keeping everyone energized and motivated.


LEW: I think Lillah sums it up perfectly! Communication and open-mindedness are key in cowriting, and don’t forget to have fun.



Lillah, your novel, So Long, Bobby, was also featured in our Disability Pride Month list. Tell us a little bit about the story and how disability plays into it! Are there also disabled characters in Tomorrow & Tomorrow? What disability rep would you like to see/write more of and why?


LL: So Long, Bobby is historical fiction, and it’s a family saga – it’s a triple-timeline book (1960s, 1990s and present-day) that focuses on three generations of women whose lives are influenced by a number of tragic events, most specifically the tumult of the sixties. It was heavily inspired by Bobby Kennedy. It’s a book about friendships, about mothers and daughters, and the struggles that young people face growing up in times of uncertainty and turmoil. When I was a teenager in the nineties, I was obsessed with the sixties. I saw so many parallels between the time of my youth and the things that teens were going through during that chaotic decade. I wanted to write a book that focused on young women and how the things they went through could cause a type of generational trauma that has a ripple effect. It’s hard to break those cycles, especially if you don’t know you’re in a cycle. That is something we’re finally learning and talking about now that our kids are getting older. They’ve got so much better language, and better self-help skills, and they can set a boundary like nobody’s business. But we were different, and that was the story I wanted to tell.


I personally would love to see more autism/ADHD rep in literature. And I’d like to see it normalized more, rather than some kind of inspirational trope. I’ve had autistic characters in my books, but I don’t turn them into stereotypes of mascots; they’re just people. I’d love to see more disability rep in general – I think publishing is starting to finally prioritize lots of different identities and that can only be a good thing.



Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!


LL: I recently read Chuck Tingle’s Camp Damascus, and it deserves every single bit of praise it’s getting and then some (and ahoy, queer/sapphic rep!). I also recently read my publishing house sister Jenna Mandarino’s A Guise of the Sea, which is a historical romance and absolutely loved it. Scottish pirates, Oak Island and Jacobites? Gimme! As for shows, I’m always on board to gush about Outlander (my favorite character is Lord John Grey and I’ll forever be screaming that he needs a spinoff show) and Interview with the Vampire (Sam Reid is just *chef’s kiss* as Lestat). But the show I’m literally completely obsessed with is Our Flag Means Death. I might cry; I love it that much. Not only queer rep, but disability rep, a diverse cast and writer’s room…*dreamy sigh*. All of the shows I mentioned are queer or have queer characters, but not many sapphics…however, apparently OFMD Season 2 (which is out in a week!) has some new characters this season, including Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who were infamous female pirates (and lovers)!


LEW: OMG, all sapphics and sapphic-loving folk must see the movie Bottoms! It’s about two queer best friends and high school losers who decide to start a female fight club to get laid. One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time – written, directed by and starring women, by the way – and I am just obsessed.


When it comes to sapphic reading, Chelsea M. Cameron and her lovely, low-stakes romances are on my auto-buy list, and Chloe Caldwell’s Women is an absolute must. I’ve studied with Chloe and she’s now a friend, and she is a literary rock star.



About the Authors

Lillah Lawson has been writing since she was 8 years old, when she won a short story contest at her elementary school. The story was about a Princess who gets tired of waiting for the Prince to show up and saves herself. Once she saw her words printed in the local newspaper, she knew she wanted to be a writer.


Lillah's debut work of southern gothic, "Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree", was released by Regal House Publishing in September 2019, and was chosen as a finalist for The Georgia Author of the Year Awards 2020 in the Literary Fiction category. Her novel "Dead Rockstar", will be released by Parliament House Press in November 2020, with a sequel, "The Wolfden", TBA. She was recently chosen as a recipient of The UGA Willson Center/Flagpole Magazine Micro-Fellowship for her short story "Shoofly", which will publish in late 2020. Her short story "The Lady and the Tall Man", will appear in a yet-to-be-announced anthology in early 2021.

Happiest when straddling literary genres, Lillah enjoys writing historical and literary fiction, southern gothic, thrillers, horror and dark fantasy (which she lovingly refers to as "nerdy noir"), as well as essays, poetry and more. In addition to writing, Lillah is also a genealogist, avid cyclist and hiker, baker and music aficionado.

Lillah lives in Georgia, in the United States, with her partner, son and three rambunctious animals. She is currently working on another novel, a historical southern gothic thriller.



Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of three books for young adults, including TWO WINTERS, a queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, available everywhere September 14. Lauren is a freelance writer, professional performer, and very amateur aerialist who is an unabashed devotee of the Bard. She lives in Chicago with her cat, Versace, and an apartment full of books. Say hello at laurenemilywrites.com.











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