Behind the Words: Lauren Kay Halloran

Posted by on Dec 27, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Lauren Kay Halloran’s nonfiction piece Stay was published in the “Beanstalks” section of Spry’s second issue, a portion of the journal created in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. Lauren’s work highlights the vulnerability that is pervasive following a tragedy, and she masterfully weaves together past events to highlight how emotional reactions are formed in the present. The 2013 winner of Glamour’s personal essay contest, Lauren is earning her MFA in nonfiction at Emerson College and blogs here.


Julia: Your nonfiction piece Stay (included in Spry’s “Beanstalks” section focused on the Boston Marathon bombing) was a powerful testimony to your experience.  It seems that after traumatic events—9/11, Newtown, war, the Boston Marathon bombing—people turn to the written word to seek understanding. How did you approach writing “Stay,” and what would you say were the effects of crafting this piece?

Lauren: I actually wrote “Stay” as an in-class writing assignment. My nonfiction workshop met a couple days after the bombing, and, as I think was the case for many people in the Boston area and beyond, that day dominated our thoughts. We took the first part of class to write it out, just get down whatever we were feeling on paper, and “Stay” is what came out of me. Usually I’m a slow writer. I tend to be a perfectionist and edit as I go. But it’s important sometimes—as a writer and also as a human—to just let the emotions and raw feelings pour out.


In your Glamour essay, you mention swapping manuscripts with your now-fiancé. Have you found it important on your writing journey to have a community of trusted readers?

Absolutely. Trusted readers are important all through the writing process—from sounding boards in the initial idea stage, to reading first drafts to make sure you’re saying what you want to say in a way that makes sense outside your own head, to line editing when your eyes are crossed from staring at your computer screen for too long. It’s also important to have people who aren’t afraid to provide criticism (better from a friend than an editor!), and people who can keep you motivated (and sane) when the rejections come rolling in.

For me it’s also key to have both military and non-military readers so I can get feedback from both perspectives. Ideally, I’d love my writing to resonate with both audiences.


What book would you never tire of reading? What are you reading right now?

I read The Giver by Lois Lowry every couple years. It’s been my favorite book since we read it in my sixth grade class. I usually read multiple books at the same time. I’ll have an intense or dramatic book I read during the day, a lighter one I read a chapter or so of before bed, and sometimes a fun weekend book too. Right now my day book is Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and my pre-bed book is Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. I’m also just starting Catcher in the Rye for the first time ever because I feel like a terrible English major for not having read it.


What author(s) have influenced your writing?

Jon Krakauer definitely, not in writing style but for getting me interested in the nonfiction genre. I’m inspired by so many people whose brilliance I can only hope will sneak into my own writing in some small way. Cheryl Strayed is so brave and just lays everything out on the page. Colum McCann has the most beautiful prose and his characterization mesmerizes me. He can also rock a scarf like nobody else. The way Michael Lewis plays with structure and time. I always admire writers who can weave in research without disrupting the prose. I like learning while I’m reading without realizing I’m learning. I recently read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and loved how she accomplished that.


Do you have any craft books that are particularly helpful to you?

I’m not a big craft book reader. I probably should read more of them.


If you had one piece of advice to offer someone just starting to write, what would it be?

Just write! Sit down and see what comes out. It will probably be terrible, but offer some redeeming qualities that you can work with. Don’t judge yourself, just keep writing. Own it. Love it. It’s yours.


Although you are pursuing a MFA in nonfiction, do you also write in other genres?

I’ve dabbled in poetry, but I really don’t know what I’m doing. Sometimes it just feels more appropriate to write in verse. Hopefully no one will ever see those poems. I wish I had the imagination to write fiction. Mostly I’m just fascinated by what goes on in real life.


What is your general writing process? Do you have any fun writing quirks or traditions you’d like to share?

I wouldn’t call them “fun” but . . . I mentioned before that I’m a perfectionist. I had a writing teacher who used the analogy of cooking to describe the writing process, as in you either make a mess and clean it up afterwards or clean as you go. I obsessively clean as I go. I’m very distractible when I write; I need a quiet place. And I’m a night writer. I usually get going around 11pm and can keep going until 4 or 5am. I wish that wasn’t how my creative brain worked, but alas. I also wish my creative energy wasn’t fueled by Cheetos and Twizzlers, but alas.


What’s next for you?

Unless I bomb this last semester I’ll graduate with my MFA in May. Then hopefully I’ll turn my thesis into something more than a thesis, like a book that maybe someone will want to publish and maybe a few people will want to read. I’m working on a book proposal as I write, and it is HARD. But it’s also very helpful because it forces you to think about the whole picture: overall structure and chapter structure, as well as things like marketability. I recommend it for anyone working on a long-form project. Especially if you’re a masochist.

I’m also getting married this summer to another writer (Colin D. Halloran), then hopefully we’ll live happily ever after surrounded by books and cats.

Click here to read Stay.
Julia Blake lives outside of Washington, D.C. and is a contributing faculty member in a Master’s Mental Health Counseling program. In addition to a PhD in Counseling, she recently earned her MFA in Fiction at Spalding University. She has a story forthcoming in Soundings Review and has served as a student editor of The Louisville Review.

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