Long and Short Reviews welcomes Laura Nicole Diamond, whose latest book Shelter Us was recently released. You can read our review here. I asked her to share something about the book that wasn’t in her blurb.
“Sarah’s maternal grandmother Bibi is an incredibly important person in her life. Bibi came to the U.S. from Guatemala alone, 17-years-old, pregnant with Sarah’s mother, and determined to make a better life for both of them. She’s strong, vibrant, and independent. Some of those personality traits are based on my own grandmother, who is positive, full of energy, and was a huge force for fun in my childhood. Her immigrant background is based on my living in southern California, where so many people come from Central America looking for a better life.
Another important element of Shelter Us that is not in the book jacket is the influential role of Judaism on Sarah. Her late mother was a convert to Judaism. One of the foremost memories Sarah has of her mother is her commitment to ‘welcome the stranger,’ a fundamental tenet of Judaism. The title Shelter Us comes from a lullaby Sarah’s mother used to sing to her, and which Sarah sings to her children, a song adapted from a Jewish prayer.”
The characters came first for Shelter Us. Laura started writing scenes from Sarah’s perspective.
“She was almost fully developed, although I knew next to nothing about what would happen to her. I say ‘almost fully’ developed because she evolved and deepened as I got to know her better,” Laura explained. “In fact, when I started writing, I did not know that she had had an infant die. I knew only that she was a mother of two young boys who was in a deep funk, that she was searching for elusive happiness. As I wrote, I discovered what had happened to create that depression.”
Shelter Us is Laura’s first foray into fiction. She’s always kept a journal and published personal stories on her blog, but she never had an inclination to write fiction.
“I was not a child who made up stories. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up (because adults have a strange need to press children into a corner on this subject), I answered: ballerina, actress, lawyer, teacher – even President of the United States – but never writer,” she told me.
Once she became a mother, writing became even more important to her as a way of preserving memories as well as puzzling through decisions.
“When I decided to take a break from practicing law and have more time for my then-toddler son and myself, I realized with a thrill that I could spend more time writing. It had always been a pleasure for me, because it was only for me,” she said. “Gradually I realized that I wanted to publish and share my work. I was writing about was parenthood, my daily struggles and joys. After I published a non-fiction collection of essays called Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, I was writing one afternoon about a mother (guess who?) but felt compelled to start making things up. I wanted her to do things that I hadn’t done, or wouldn’t do, and that is how my fiction career began.”
“What is your writing space like?” I asked.
“Describing my writing space is a tour of my home and neighborhood. At the moment, I am in my backyard at our large blue-tiled table, straining against the glare of my laptop screen because it is such a gorgeous day that I couldn’t stay inside any longer. Frequently I am in the dining room, facing toward the casement windows and the trees outside. Hummingbirds love the one closest to the house, and I love the light and views in this room. When I get stuck, I’ll sometimes just describe what I see, or sit for a minute in silence and wait for words to strike me. Other times, the house is filled with noise – my two boys, their friends, the Xbox games, shouting, music – and I’ll retreat into my bedroom, sit on my bed, and try to get something done.
I wrote the scenes that would make up the first draft of Shelter Us in the writing studio of Elana Golden, in the Rockenwagner café on Arizona street in Santa Monica (which is now closed), in the Village Pantry in Pacific Palisades (also closed), and the public library in Pacific Palisades (blissfully still open).”
“What was the scariest moment of your life?” I wondered.
“I have had several scariest moments, but they all have the same reason: I thought I’d lost my son. Once, at eighteen months, I was with my two boys at home and suddenly he was gone. I looked all over my house and couldn’t find him. That story, ‘Finding Emmett,’ is in Deliver Me, so I won’t tell you where I finally found him. Later, at two years old, he wandered off while we were on a pier. We found him entering the teacup ride, tagging along with another family. The worst was when he was nine years old and I watched helplessly as he fell out of a tree and came within inches of smashing his head at high speed on a driveway. It’s a wonder I don’t make him go through life wearing a helmet.”
She loves hearing from readers, and it always surprises her with someone she doesn’t know tells her they’ve read her books or blog, because she still feels like it’s only friends and family who read them.
“Most often people reach out to tell me that they’ve connected with something I’ve written, that they’ve felt the same way and I’ve expressed it for them. It feels like a privilege to be trusted with that intimacy, and an honor to have gotten it right,” she said. “I had one snarky comment on a blog about a field trip my 10-year-old son was taking to Sacramento, flying on an airplane without parents. I confessed that I hugged him so hard that he said, ‘Too much love, Mom.’ The commenter flew off the handle about what a controlling, smotherer I was, and that he hoped my child would get away from my apron strings soon. I laughed.”
Since the death of her newborn baby, lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom Sarah Shaw has been struggling to keep it together for her law professor husband and two young sons. With her husband burying himself in his career and her friendships all having withered, she is lost in a private world of grief. Then one day, walking in LA, Sarah s heart catches at the sight of a young homeless woman pushing a baby in a stroller and saving them becomes her mission. An unlikely bond grows between Sarah and the mother, Josie, whose pride and strained relationship with her own mother prevent her from going home to Oakland. Through her friendship with Josie, Sarah slowly learns that those we love are never far, even in death and that sometimes it is the people we set out to save who save us.
About the Author:Laura Nicole Diamond is the author of Shelter Us and the editor of Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, a collection of true stories by 20 writers. She is a civil rights lawyer and former Editor-In-Chief of L.A. Family Magazine. Laura also writes about family, parenting, and social justice for several publications, and on her blog, Confessions of Motherhood. She sits on the Board of Trustees of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless). Laura is a native of Los Angeles, where she resides with her family.