Interview with Author Laura Michelle Thomas: On Writing, Freedom of Speech and Charlie Hebdo

by Spencer Folkins, Age 16, Canada


Laura Michelle ThomasLaura Michelle Thomas is the author of Polly Wants to be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing and Getting Published (2013) and The Naked Storyteller (2014). She is also the publisher of jaBlog! A Blog by and for Junior Authors, as well as the owner of Laura Thomas Communications, an organization dedicated to fostering the development young writers worldwide.

Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting this interview with Laura, in which she shares why and how she writes, her advice to young writers, what she imagines the future of literacy to look like, as well as her thoughts on the importance of freedom of speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo Paris attacks.

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer and at what point in your career did you know for sure that dream came true?

I had a pretty strong desire to be a writer when I was twelve years old, but I do not come from a family that pursues careers in the arts, so it never occurred to me to take creative writing at school. But when I did get to university, I did really well, primarily because my writing was so strong. It took a long time and years of determination to finally strip away the other forms of earning income before I finally allowed myself to earn a living as a writer. I have a lot of strong skill sets, but written communication is the one that comes most easily and that I seem to be paid the most for.

Now, I have been freelancing for years in fiction and non-fiction. Most recently, I was head of creative writing and communications for an edutainment company. When the company downsized just over a year ago, and I was laid off, I decided that I was done with writing for corporations and that it was time for me to start getting my own ideas out on the market. I started with Polly Wants to Be a Writer: The Junior Authors Guide to Writing and Getting Published because I was already doing a ton of mentoring of young writers on the side and had lots to say to that audience.

Who do you enjoy reading?

Classics. I just finished Madame Bovary and am now rereading The Old Man and the Sea. I also like to read non-fiction books on the art and craft of writing and usually have one on the go. I also enjoy dystopias and have the first draft of one written. I’m not sure when I will get back to it, but perhaps after my current novel project (an animal fantasy adventure for young readers) is on the market.

What do you do to get in the writing mindset?

I have to get my daughter and husband off to school and work so that I have the house to myself. I need peace and zero distractions to work creatively. I can answer emails, judge stories and poems, or edit and publish blog articles when they are buzzing around, but I can’t do the deeply creative work that it takes to write a novel. I need to have my full attention on that, which means I also have to go offline during my writing sessions. Monday to Friday, I try to set aside three prime hours for creative writing per day.

How we read has changed drastically over the past few years with social media and devices such as Kindles and e-Readers replacing books. What do you think the future of literature and literacy look like?

I think there has never been a better time in history to be a writer. It’s not just big publishing houses that can produce text anymore, it’s every writer. I think we are finally on par with other artists who have never been forced to go grovelling to a third party to get their work to market like writers do. Every writer now has a printing press and distribution network at his or her fingertips. It’s amazing and we all benefit from it––writers and readers.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors, especially young ones?

Take advantage of the fact that you live with your parents and don’t have to pay the bills. Write as much as you can and write about whatever moves you. Once you move out and have the pressure of supporting yourself, your artistic freedom will start to be limited by the demands of the marketplace.

With recent events like the Sony hacking and now the events in Paris, there’s a lot of talk about freedom of speech and freedom of expression. As an author, what are your thoughts on the importance of both and what effects do you think these two events will have?

Charlie Hebdo. It made me realize that in life, as in fiction, we always have conflict: man versus man, man versus society, man versus nature, man versus self. In fact, each of us is always entangled in multiple conflicts every day. Being human is about choices and being brave about making them when you know there is someone else out there who is equally brave and determined in their own choices which are directly opposed to yours.

I think what this tragedy has made clear is that freedom of speech and freedom of expression on a policy level has nothing to do with freedom of speech and expression in practical terms, because when you speak your truth you are always going to be defying someone else’s truth. And so the conflict continues…because we are never all going to agree on a single truth. A writer has to be brave, braver than a politician, even.


Spencer Folkins is an avid reader and writer. He is a student at Sussex Regional High School and has had four poems published to date. He enjoys reading Stephen King and first considered being a writer after meeting the bestselling author. Spencer continues to write and is currently working on growing some form of facial hair. He lives in Ratter Corner, New Brunswick, with his parents, young brother, and their dog. You can follow his reviews on Goodreads.


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