Laura Churchill Duke
Two Crows Sorrow is my first novel. I am a journalist with Saltwire Network base, writing lifestyle articles for Atlantic Canada. I can also be heard as the Kentville community contact on CBC Radio, Information Morning. When not writing, I am a team member with Your Last Resort as a professional organizer, helping people to clear the clutter, making positive changes in their lives. I live in Kentville with my husband, David (a history professor at Acadia University), two sons (Daniel & Thomas) and 5 rescue pets. I love to travel and hike and am always up for an adventure!
What is your writing process like?
I write using cue cards and online timers. Before beginning, I wrote each event on a cue card. Through my research, I knew all the pieces that had happened, but needed to decide what order to tell them in. So, I arranged all the cue cards in order, and sat down writing card by card. When I write, I set my online timer, usually for 30 minutes. As a freelance writer who works from home, it is easy to get distracted, either by an incoming email or Facebook notification. I turned off all my social media, and often the phone, and did a dedicated half hour, every day. I have a wonderful friend who checked in with me almost every day to make sure I was doing my scheduled time!
What was your favourite part of working on Two Crows Sorrow?
I love immersing myself in a world in a different time frame. I spent hours going down rabbit holes, and learning as much as I could – from anything like swearing in the 1900s to what type of underwear they would have worn. I also loved getting to interview people.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
There is never a good time to start writing. There will never be a perfect moment or a time when you are not too busy. Make writing a priority, and even if you set the timer for just 30 minutes a day, it is better than nothing. Once you start, you will become so invested, you may reset the timer several times!
Why do you love Horn of the Lamb by Robert Sedlack?
This is definitely one of my favourite books. It’s a great Canadian story about real Canadian people. I love books that make me think about the characters long after you close the book.
In what ways do you think your journalism background influenced Two Crows Sorrow? How did you organize all of your research for the novel?
I say that writing Two Crows Sorrow was the culmination of everything I had studied and learned thus far in life – all the pieces coming together. My undergrad degree is in psychology. While writing my thesis I had to a lot of research, and constantly wrote papers combining all the research into one cohesive article. Then, through my Public Relations diploma, we learned how to write press releases, and worked on interviewing people to get information to relay a message. In writing the book, there was a vast amount of research to do. I spent hours at the Acadia archives on microfilm reading old newspapers, as well as anything I could find in the Acadia archives. Everything I found went on a cue card to set the scene. I kept a large word document about each of the characters in the book, with bullet points with anything I could find about them, and links to any genealogy sites I found for them. Being able to interview people was also very helpful. I reached out to so many people to ask questions: how long does it take for a house to burn down and how hot will the ashes be afterwards? How long does it take for a cow to digest its meal? How do bodies burn? What did lawyers wear? I constantly asked questions. While writing the novel, I was often oscillating between that and writing newspaper articles. It was very hard at first to flip between the two styles: one which uses no adjectives and short sentences to a more descriptive style. I had to rewrite many paragraphs many times as they sounded too much like a newspaper article. My early readers were a great help when it came to this. I have done all my own marketing and publicity for my book. Having a degree in public relations has been a great asset, as well as having contacts in the media, from working in journalism. I was able to call upon connections to get the message about the book out. Also working in the journalism is great for the editing process. Some early editors didn’t want to offend me by making suggestions of changes. I had to remind them that everything I write always goes through a newspaper editor, every day of my life. I can handle it!
What was your timeline like from start to finish?
I started researching the story in 2016 and began writing a few months later. Our family lived in Wales for 6 months in 2017, and I wasn’t working at the time, so I spent free time writing the manuscript. It went through several friends before I sent it to the NS Writers’ Federation for their competition. I was runner up in the Creative Non Fiction category. This took almost a year to find the results, during which time it couldn’t be sent to publishers.
I then spent another year waiting, and thinking about publishing, and finally dusted it off.
I sent it to Moosehouse Publications in Annapolis Royal, who responded in about 30 minutes, wanting to publish! This was August 2019, and we hit the shelves in October 2019. It has been a whirlwind since then! So, start to finish took almost 4 years!
Was there anything you specifically omitted?
Through my research process I did talk to some community members and family members about any stories, but purposely did not use any stories or information that was not in public record, or I found in other documents. Anyone could have found the same information and written the same story.
What are you hoping that local readers will take away from the story?
Theresa’s story is one of family loyalty, it’s about defending your family, and it is also about domestic violence and women’s rights. I want people to know that these issues are just as prevalent today as they were in 1904. They are still important to talk about and think about how far we’ve come, and how much further we still need to go.
Which character do you most relate to?
What is something that has surprised you about the fiction industry?
It surprised me how long it does take to get a book published, and all the steps involved. I learned a lot about how to get books online for places like Amazon and Indigo, and the whole printing process. Many would also be surprised to learn how little an author actually makes per book!
Are there any books, podcasts, or vlogs that you would recommend to someone hoping to get started as a writer?
Try to talk to other writers, as well. Christy Ann Conlin was a great mentor to me, giving me lots of writing suggestions and strategies. It was just great to talk with someone who had also been in the trenches!
Are you working on another book with a forensic team?
Definitely don’t have any team, but lots of great supporters! I am always interested in true crime, especially historic local ones, and am always on the lookout for another one that piques my interest just as much as Theresa’s story did. It’s definitely my goal to write another book someday!
Interviewed by Hope Latta
The Canadian Writers’ Exhibition
Showcasing Canadian writers from coast to coast