Episode 29: Laura Stegman | Author of Summer of L.U.C.K.

On this week’s dose of book recommendations, library love, and literary enthusiasm, our guest is Laura Stegman. She's the author of the middle grade book Summer of L.U.C.K. It’s her debut novel, with a sequel coming out next year (which will be from Justin's perspective). It was delightful to talk to her today about her journey as an author, and about her love of books.

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Today's podcast guest, Author Laura Stegman 


Laura Segal Stegman is a Los Angeles-based arts publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., will be published in September 2020 by INtense Publications, followed by a sequel in 2021. Laura's non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York, and her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Westways Magazine and Christian Science Monitor, among others. A long-time publicity consultant, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations and non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama and lives with her husband in West L.A. and part-time in New York City. She loves reading, L.A. Dodgers baseball, classical music and theater. 

Laura's debut novel, a middle grade story about three kids who learn self-acceptance and confidence through a magical carnival they encounter at camp one summer. 


Stuttering Darby is never perfect enough for her mother. Justin's been silent since his dad died. Naz is struggling to learn English. But after they meet at summer camp, mysterious calliope music from an abandoned warehouse grants them power to communicate without words. When they sneak inside, the dark, empty space bursts into a magical carnival. They're greeted by the ghost of Leroy Usher, who asks for their help convincing his family to restore the carnival to its former glory. In return, he promises to teach the kids how to find their voices. As Darby, Justin, and Naz are swept off on a series of midnight adventures via Mr. Usher's carnival rides, they discover they're capable of more than they ever imagined. With each challenge, their confidence in communicating – and in themselves – grows. Meanwhile, they scheme to persuade the Usher family to revive the carnival. But when Darby’s bunkmates trick her into starring in the camp talent show, her budding confidence falters. Can she risk being less than perfect by performing in the show and speaking up to Mr. Usher's resistant son? If not, she'll put the carnival in danger and sabotage her most important quest: to believe in herself, stutter and all. 

Laura's Journey to Publication 

Laura Stegman talked about her journey to publication, which took her 18 years from start to finish. She was working hard in her Publicist career, but had this story that she was inspired to write. One of the books that she credits with helping inspire the direction she took with her tale was The Diamond in the Window, which had a little girl named Eleanor, who had freckles, just like Laura. It helped her accept her freckles the way she was, rather than wishing they were different. 

Some notable points of Laura's journey to publication:

  • Finishing her first draft (took a few years)
  • Submitting to agents, getting largely negative feedback
  • Working with a development editor, who told her to "open her fist" and tell more of the story
  • Narrowing down the points of view
  • Started working with other writers, reading and critiquing each other's work
  • A classroom of students who read the book and gave her feedback (They wanted to understand the rules of the magic, for example.) 
  • Entering pitch contests
  • Querying again, with both agents and smaller publishers 
  • Getting offered a book deal by Intense Publications, who wanted Summer of L.U.C.K. and two sequels! 
  • First book was published September 15th, 2020
  • Second book deadline is end of 2020
  • Sequel is set for publication in October 2021 

"I think it speaks to the value of perseverance. It's been exciting seeing people I know be excited about it and buy it for themselves or the kids they know," said Laura, now that her book is published. 

Laura says she's not a quick writer. But, her second book has taken her more like 15 months instead of 15 years, which she said "speaks to how much more of an experienced writer I've become." 

Summer of L.U.C.K. was even lauded this upon release as a "good read" by L.A. Parent magazine

What we love to read

We discussed our mutual appreciation for the middle grade genre, "There are parts of us adults that really relate to the middle grade age, where kids are learning to figure out who they are. And many of us adults are still doing that too. It's really a great genre to read." We both also steer away from books that have "a little too much tragedy" in them, but will read them sometimes, too. We also both like books where characters develop and change, not stay the same or lacking growth. 

Laura Stegman did mention that she enjoyed reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame in her book club. While there are some terrible things that happen and many characters perish, it has what she referred to as an "uplifting" ending. She went on today "And that's why I wanted Summer of LUCK to be uplifting. It's not like everything has to turn out okay, but how do you deal with it? That's the jist of it."   

She likes that the magic in her books inspires the children, but also has them working toward what she calls "reality-based solutions." The kids discover that there is no such thing as magic solving your problems, and that you have to face the world as it is, rather than how you would like it to be. 

Just because everyone likes it does not mean that it is quality. It might have mass appeal, but it might not be that great. But neither are most fashion trends. I can see how that might be discouraging. I would rather have a book that is quality than trendy. But then it's hard, because I hang out on the book side of Instagram all the time, and you kind of have this fear of missing out if you're not reading the book that everyone else is reading. Which I think is part of how some of those (popular books) gain traction, is just that EVERYONE is reading them, so you want to read them too. 

Laura Stegman has a book filled with every title, author, and rating (from 1-10) of every book she's read from college to present. She enjoys using it as a reference to keep track of what she's read and enjoyed. Sometimes it's been only two or three books a year, but has increased quite a lot since she's started writing. 

Reading is part of Laura's workout as a writer. She's got to keep that muscle fresh, thinking and seeing and experiencing a how a great book makes you feel. One of the things she likes to do is to make a note of words or phrases that make her go "Wow, look how the author did that." She then keeps in a folder, and she said, "I get inspired from how they handled a certain way of saying something, and then I can do it in my way, it gives me an idea, a thought, it loosens something in my head."

In talking about Summer of L.U.C.K. and how well written I felt it was, I said, "Some books are a great plot, but not very well written. Some books are very well written in terms of words, but I don't know where the plot went sometimes. And some books have that combination of beautiful prose and excellent plot, and those are the ones that are in the sweet spot. And it's hard! Because you can get lost in the woods of pretty words and not be able to see the forest for the trees, but then if your forest doesn't have any trees.... well, you know." 

Books Laura Miller recommended to Laura Stegman: 

White Bird - A book that happens in the same universe as Wonder, which tells the story of Julian's grandmother, Grandmère.

El Deafo - A graphic novel about a little girl who is deaf who is navigating school and relationships. She dreams up her own superhero alter ego, El Deafo, Listener for All. I've seen this on the "if you liked Wonder, you might like..." kind of lists. 

New Kid - on the topic of graphic novels, this is a Newbery winner and an excellent middle grade book. A young black student at a new school experiencing being a person with a difference, and also learning how to treat others who have differences too. I love this book so much. 

Books by Erin Entrada Kelly: She's already read You Go First, so I recommended Hello, Universe and Lalani of the Distant Sea

Sweep: A Story of A Girl and Her Monster - set in Victorian era where kids were still chimney sweeps. So beautifully full of loss and love and creativity. 

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise - one of my all time favorites, a spunky girl on a road trip with her father. A found family story that deals with loss and love. 

Liturgy of the Ordinary - I recommended this because of her appreciation of the character in A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids and her catholic faith. This book is about spiritual practices and how to apply them to everyday life.

DragonSpell and the rest of the books in the Dragon Keeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul - much like the characters in the Summer of L.U.C.K., one of the main characters in this story is gifted with the ability to "mindspeak" and must learn how to use it. This is the first book in which I encountered this concept, and love it so much. 

The Mysterious Benedict Society - (the cover reminded me of The Matchstick Castle when Laura recommended it) and it's about a motley crew of kids that must save the world from an evil mastermind through the combination of their unique gifts and talents. 

The Night Circus - Takes place in a circus that is black, white, and slightly mysterious. It's so beautiful and transportive. 

Summer at Meadow Wood  - Takes place in a camp, a sweet middle grade story. 

Books Laura Stegman recommended to Laura Miller: 

Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life  - She had to pick it up, because of her name! We both read Laura Ingalls as younger women. 

The Diamond in the Window - one of the books that inspired Laura to write Summer of L.U.C.K., author also wrote The Fledgling which won a Newbery. 

A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids - Mary knows it's her job as a junior bridesmaid to make the day run smoothly, but she sure could use a little help from above. Laura Stegman enjoyed seeing how her faith informed her actions 

Eleanor, Alice, and the Roosevelt Ghosts - This is a book that Laura Stegman is looking forward to reading, she loves books about the Roosevelts. 

The Miraculous - this middle grade book about a little boy who navigates grief with his family after his baby sister dies, and learns to believe in the miracles of life again. This is one that she gave a 10+ in her reading journal. It's beautiful, with emotional moments and realistic characters. 

Wonder - She gave this one a 10+ too. This is a book that Laura read while she was working on Summer of L.U.C.K. especially from the points of view being so varied. She said it's heartbreaking but inspiring. 

Sticks and Stones  - A girl has to learn how to think better thoughts about herself, because whatever she thinks about herself appears in red marks on her skin. 

The Matchstick Castle - A next door house is magical and gets explored by the main character while he is staying with his aunt and uncle. 

A Rambler Steals Home - a girl who travels with her family and helps sell concessions at a small-town baseball park. 

The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield - a beautiful story of a recovering alcoholic who returns who her hometown and rediscovers herself. And there's baseball! Her mother is the coach of a women's baseball league, which Laura Stegman loves. 

Liane Moriarty's books (I've read What Alice Forgot, but it wasn't one of Laura's favorites) and Laura recommends Three Wishes, then The Last Anniversary, and also Nine Perfect Strangers was pretty good (although she had to look ahead to make sure everything would be okay) - beautifully written with well-developed characters. 

The Dollhouse - Laura was currently reading and was enjoying it very much. A story with dual timelines about a real building in New York, The Barbizon Hotel.  (Fiona Davis's newest book is The Lions of Fifth Avenue, which is about the NY Public Library, which also sounds amazing!) 

Tana French's books, especially Faithful Place and The Secret Place - mysteries set in Ireland, well written and engaging. 


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Library Laura
Laura is an avid reader who is happiest when surrounded by books, tea, blankets and/or friends. Host of the Library Laura Podcast.


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