Name: Laura Vosika
Where are you from: Having grown up in the military, I always find this hard to answer. I have lived in Germany, Ireland, and the American east, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest. I currently live in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc
Wow, it’s hard to know where to start! I have a B.A in music and an M.S. in Education. I’ve been writing since I was quite young, but spent many years focusing more on music. I played semi-professionally for quite a few years after college. I played trombone for various pit orchestras, community orchestras, oratorios, big bands, and ensembles for church services, and later did a fair amount of playing on harp and flute, mostly for my church choir, but also for weddings, banquets, art fairs, and a senior lunch program.
Apart from music and writing, I have seven sons and two daughters. So just in case I’m ever tempted to retreat entirely into the world of music and writing, I have a houseful of boys (five of them still at home) who keep me up and moving, active, and energetic!
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
On New Year’s Eve 2013, I released my third book, The Water is Wide. It is the third of an expected five in The Blue Bells Chronicles. The whole story is that of Shawn Kleiner, a womanizing, drinking, gambling, self-centered, hedonistic musician who finds himself caught in medieval Scotland, mistaken for the devout and uber-responsible Niall Campbell, Highland warrior, who must help save Scotland. Niall, meanwhile, finds himself caught in Shawn’s life, mistaken for Shawn, and must somehow overcome all the ill will Shawn has gathered with his behavior, if he’s to get any help in getting back to his own time to avert the major disaster that history (as it is at the opening of the story) tells him occurred at Bannockburn. The story carries through their adventures as they seek to return to their proper times and how this adventure has changed them.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve been writing since I was eight–really, almost as long as I’ve even known how to write. I know people who started writing for specific reasons. A friend of mine, for instance, is writing a book for caregivers as a result of her experiences. But I personally write because it’s who I am. I can’t not write.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think I’ve always considered myself a writer. But I’m only recently beginning to feel like an author.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I finished my first book when I was 24. But I’ll talk, rather, about my published series, The Blue Bells Chronicles. Several things worked together to create the ideas. One was my favorite childhood book, In the Keep of Time by Margaret J. Anderson. It’s the story of four siblings who go into a Scottish keep in the 1970s, and come out into medieval Scotland. The idea of this mystical keep enthralled me, and of course is now very familiar to my readers, although my story concerns two men from different eras, with two very different personalities, who trade places in time.
My life in music has inspired much of the story, too. As a (former) trombonist, I loved working on the Arthur Pryor arrangement well known to every serious trombonist, Blue Bells of Scotland. The piece was written to show that the trombone can do much more than people think it can. Both the lyrics of the song–noble deeds and streaming banners–and the idea of there being more than people see on the surface, play into the events and characters of The Blue Bells Chronicles.
In part, the story sprang simply from an image that came to my mind, of a man so self-centered as to gamble away his livelihood–in this case, his instrument–and solve the problem by conning his girlfriend with a ridiculous story, backed up by his sycophant friend.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I don’t feel I do, but I think it’s like looking at our own reflection–we’re so used to ourselves that we don’t really see what others might.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I took the title of the first book, Blue Bells of Scotland, directly from the title of an old folk song. It has several layers of meaning, both in the fact that the story takes place in Scotland and draws on some of the images in the original folk lyrics, and in the story behind the Arthur Pryor arrangement of the piece as a showcase to show that the trombone was capable of much more than people thought. One of the themes running through The Blue Bells Chronicles is the idea that Amy, the long-suffering girlfriend, has stayed with Shawn because she sees something deeper and better in him than anyone else does. She has always believed he’s capable of so much more than what he shows the world. The question remains whether she will be proven right or wrong in the end.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are probably many messages. As mentioned above, the idea that people can often be so much more than what others believe; that sometimes a person needs someone to believe in him before he finally sees for himself that he is capable of so much better; that there is forgiveness and redemption. That we can change and grow if we really want to.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Apart from time travel, as realistic as I can make it. I have what is getting to be an extensive personal library on medieval and Scottish history, including a number of books particular to Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce, and James Douglas. I’ve visited hundreds of websites over the years, asked questions on forums, and visited the locations in my first book. I have tried to be 100% accurate historically. I’ve tried to keep human nature realistic, to really think about why people do what they do, what leads them to where they are, how would someone really react to such changes?
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some of them are. Conrad, for instance, has always been very clear in my mind as a trombonist/sometimes conductor I once knew, although Conrad is not exactly like that man. The time travel, no, that hasn’t happened to me or anyone I know. At least, if it has, they haven’t told me so.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
There are so many influences in life, and so many books, it’s almost impossible to narrow it down even to which books have impacted me. But I’d say maybe C.S. Lewis’s writings. In the Keep of Time has obviously has a huge impact on my own storytelling.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
C.S. Lewis. I admire the way he can wrap up such profound and serious ideas in a story that is simply fun to read. I love the way his Narnia series is a beautiful allegory, that can be enjoyed by young and old, on either the surface level of simply an enjoyable story, or on the deeper level. I admire that he didn’t set out to write an allegory to preach to anyone, but simply wrote a good story for children, and a deeper truth came out.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just started a novel called Funeral Music. But I’m also trying to work through C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress and God in the Dock, along with Middle English Literature. I just finished reading The Anchoresses’ Rule and started King Horn. The book gives both the Middle English version and the modern translation. I’m trying to get a stronger feel for what Niall, Allene, Hugh, the Laird, and Brother David would have known. I also started Drone On: The High History of Celtic Music. As you can see, I don’t necessarily focus on one thing at a time. I’ll read one book for ten minutes, the next for twenty, and a third for fifteen, before turning off the light at night.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Unfortunately, I don’t get as much time to read as I would like. So I’m not sure I’ve read any new authors lately. I really liked Brendan Carroll’s Stolen Time: Tempo Rubato, but I don’t think he counts as a new author.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I keep a number of irons in the fire. While finishing The Blue Bells Chronicles is my top priority, I also have a Work in Progress called Castle of Dromore that I’m excited to get back to. It’s the story of a young widow with a whole bunch of boys, who buys a castle in Scotland, trying to escape from the ugly events of her husband’s death. Unfortunately, she only finds out after she’s put everything she has into getting this castle and moving her boys across an ocean, that the castle is haunted. Like The Blue Bells Chronicles, it concurrently tells stories of past and present, as she delves into the story behind the haunting, and comes to terms with her own trauma.
I have a few non-fiction books I’ve started that I’m also eager to have time to work on, including a book on mothers of large families. There are some negative stereotypes out there about those of us with many children. I have met many amazing, brilliant, creative, accomplished, and beautiful women with 6, 8, 10, or even more children who completely defy those stereotypes, and they have wonderful stories to tell. I’d also like to put together a non-fiction work on The World of the Blue Bells Chronicles, about the fascinating stories, people, and events of Niall’s time.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Night Writers, my writers critique circle, has been my greatest encouragement and support. Perhaps, as Amy does with Shawn, they have from the start, seen more to me than I believed I had. I have a dear friend, in particular, who has endlessly encouraged, supported, and inspired me, bouncing ideas around, brainstorming over shrimp, sushi, and wine, and ‘being part of the creation of the Blue Bells world.’ He has had some very profound thoughts that have altered the course of the story.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes and no. It does help feed my children. And yet, I think writing, like any art, works best only if we can continue to do it for love.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
The problem with writing is that no matter how many times an author reads her own work, she will always find something she would change. I’m sure there are things I would change, but at a certain point, you have to let it go out into the world.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve been writing almost since I was able to write. It’s just part of who I am.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m currently editing both Westering Home and The Battle is O’er, the final two books of The Blue Bells Chronicles. For those who haven’t read and plan to, there’s an obvious spoiler here, but to those who have read the first three books, here’s the opening of Book Four. Shawn has just finished Book Three with a hard pursuit, across medieval Scotland, of the Thieving MacDougalls, and a battle through the night with them as they attack Glenmirril, while he’s attempting to make the cross back to his own time.
Helicopter rotors beat overhead, sending hurricane drafts down on the ancient stone tower. Amy bent over her infant son’s head, cringing into the rough homespun robe covering Shawn’s chest. She could feel hard chain mail underneath. He huddled, his helmet bowed over her, sheltering them from the roar and the spotlight flashing down from dark skies.
“Come down from the tower!” A voice erupted over a loudspeaker. “Shawn Kleiner, come down from the tower.”
James erupted into a high-pitched screech, kicking and squirming in the constraints of his parents’ bodies pressed on either side of him. Amy lifted her head cautiously into the waves of sound, looking around the small tower. Gray stones rose on all sides as they’d always had. Niall and the dying man had disappeared, the pressure of Niall’s fingers on her wrist just a memory. “They’re gone,” she said.
Shawn’s body remained tense, his arm tight around her.
“They’re gone,” she shouted, above the pulsing beat of the helicopter’s blades overhead.
“What?” he shouted back.
“Niall, the other man, they’re gone. You’re home!”
His arm relaxed, but only a fraction. He scanned the tower again, poised for action, before relaxing. He looked down at her. A beard, more auburn than his long, dark hair, covered his lower face. The eyes that had always been full of life still held flecks of gold; but now they were piercing and stern, wary and watchful, looking out from vertical eye slits in a medieval helmet. He looked once more around the ten by ten tower, up at the hovering helicopter, and back down at her. Slowly, he smiled. “I’m home? You’re real?”
“Shawn Kleiner!” boomed the voice from the loudspeaker overhead. “Come down from the tower!”
She nodded, biting her lip, then smiling, and laughing. Tears sprang into the corners of her eyes. She nodded again, harder. “You’re home! You really did it! You’re back!”
He gripped her close and kissed her, the way he had the first time, under the dripping awning.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Research can be quite challenging, as is editing and keeping everything working together in a story that now spans five books.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I really like Elizabeth Kostova and Jennifer Egan. I like Elizabeth Kostova’s turns of phrases, her beautiful language, and the research she clearly puts into her work. I’m not by any means a vampire-novel sort of person, but I loved The Historian and all I learned of the history behind vampire stories. I recently finished her novel The Swan Thieves, and once again, loved learning about the world of art.
What I liked about Jennifer Egan’s The Keep was how she took this very strange and unusual situation and turned it into something very believable and real. I liked how she told two inter-twined stories at the same time.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I flew to Scotland to visit each of the locations in Blue Bells of Scotland, and I plan on going there again this summer. I make occasional trips to give talks or do book signings.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I designed the covers for Blue Bells of Scotland (Book One) and The Water is Wide (Book Three). I’m sorry to say, I can’t find the name of the woman who did The Minstrel Boy for me.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a great deal about medieval Scotland and history. I learned all sorts of fascinating things like when cannons and buttons were invented, and how clothes were donned without buttons. One of the fascinating stories I learned was of the historical figure Thomas of Erceldoune, also known as Thomas the Rhymer, who lived during the reign of King Alexander III of Scotland, just barely before Niall’s birth. He was known far and wide as a man who prophesied and could not lie–this despite the fact he claimed to have lived in Elfland with the Elf Queen.
I learned anew, although I already knew it from music, how very much work it really takes to make something flow smoothly.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
The only way to write is to sit down and do it. And do it a lot. Other than that, I think the best decision I ever made, regarding writing, was joining Night Writers, my writers’ critique circle. Genny, Judy, Judd, Jack, Janet, Stephanie, Sue, Lyn, and Ross have been a wonderful group of people who have changed my life.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for your support and many kind words. I have been very touched.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, not at all.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Music. Lots and lots of music. I own about 40 musical instruments, ranging from large harps, a grand piano, and an organ with a full two octaves of pedals, down to penny whistles and recorders. I perform occasionally on harp. I’ve recently started playing the dizi, which is a Chinese bamboo flute, with Minnesota’s Chinese Music Ensemble. It’s a whole new way of reading and thinking about music, which has been exciting and expanded me as a musician. I write music occasionally, teach about 40 students each week on piano, harp, and wind instruments, and help with the Youth Praise Band at my church.
I enjoy studying other languages. I have course books, grammars, dictionaries, comics, and novels in Russian, Norwegian, German, Old English, Middle English, Norwegian, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Medieval Latin, and Old Norse. I do not by any stretch mean to imply that I’m much good at any of these. German is my strongest language and I’m not even fluent in that. However, I do enjoy studying and learning.
I also like doing kakuros, but can’t seem to find any lately. I love hiking the trails around Lake Superior, but rarely have time to do it.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I haven’t watched TV in probably close to a year. But when I do, it’s Walking Dead with my kids, or time travel themed Star Trek episodes or movies with a friend. I really liked The Scarlet and the Black, the true story of a priest in the Vatican who runs a massive underground network during World War II, rescuing Jews, escaped POWs, and others, from the Nazis. Timeline by Michael Creighton is another favorite.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food–sushi and shrimp. Colors–teal, pink, jade green. I wouldn’t call black a favorite color, but years in pit orchestras have left me with a lot of black in my wardrobe, and a tendency to wear it and just add color to it. Sometimes.
Music is a huge question, of course. I love the Russian classical composers, as they write fantastic brass parts–by which, of course, in my very biased opinion, I mean trombone! I love big band music from the 30s and 40s; pop, rock, and ballads of the 80s, folk music, Gregorian chant, and a great deal of classical music. The longer I live, the more I learn and the more I come to love.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I would have played trombone in a symphony orchestra. Barring that, I once had a dream of working with dolphins. That would have been a wonderful life, too.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Right now, due to a technical glitch I haven’t yet sorted out, I’ve been unable to update my website, so my most up to date information can be found at my facebook page. I also try to keep it updated with interesting posts–daily music, history, time travel, kilts, Scottish recipes, medieval recipes, and more.