For a long time, Laurie Elizabeth Flynn told very few people what she spent her mornings, evenings and weekends doing.
“I was a secret writer,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t think it was practical or a life path I could actually choose. I didn’t know what people would say and I didn’t want anyone to quash my passion for it. Then, once I got my book deal, I just announced, ‘So, I wrote a book and it’s getting published.’”
Her debut novel, Firsts, released in January, has been described by reviewers as “brave,” “gutsy” and “powerful.” Geared to a young-adult audience, Firsts tells the story of 17-year-old Mercedes Ayres, who is trying to cope with a past traumatic incident in her life by offering secret sex lessons to male classmates who promise to use what they learn from her to give their girlfriends the perfect ‘first time’ experience she didn’t have herself.
“I wrote a heroine not everyone is going to like,” Flynn said. “Some people are even going to hate her. I remember a few times thinking maybe I should have written something a little tamer, but I’m proud of it and I’m happy with how it turned out. The doubts went away once I saw people felt as passionately about the story as I did. For the most part, the feedback has been pretty great so far.”
Despite what some might consider controversial subject matter, Flynn believes the key messages in the story are important, especially for people in high school: don’t judge others because you don’t always know their stories, and don’t let others make decisions for you about what you do with your body.
“My favourite thing as an author is having teenagers who’ve read the book tell me it’s had an impact on them. I’ve had a lot of readers reach out to me to say the book helped them realize something about themselves or made them feel better about a real-life situation. It can be scary to know your book is out there in the world. But it’s awesome to know your book is out there and it might be helping people feel less alone. That’s amazing.”
Seeing her first novel published has been many years in the making, despite a number of years in which she didn’t really take her writing seriously, Flynn said. “I remember being back in Grade Four and writing little stories. When the other kids were bored I would keep writing page after page,” she said. “My teacher was so supportive and enthusiastic. I actually thanked her in my acknowledgments for Firsts. Her encouragement really meant a lot to me.”
She has always felt writing was “like a second pulse,” but wasn’t always sure where it would lead her. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English Language & Literature from Western in 2010, the London, Ont., native tried modeling and then journalism school at Sheridan College, where she quickly discovered news writing was not for her.
“I don’t have any regrets,” she said. “I learned a lot by going to journalism school. It helped my writing, gave me some great life experiences and led me to admit to myself that I really wanted to write fiction. Now, I get to do what I love. I think everything happens for a reason. This all happened the way it was supposed to and I’m grateful.”
Her experiences dealing with criticism as a model also served her well in handling the rejections she faced navigating the publishing process, said Flynn, who wrote two novels prior to Firsts that were never released.
“You need to have thick skin. There were many times that were sad and heartbreaking when I wanted to give up. I wondered, ‘Why am I putting myself through this?’ But, even though there were a lot of lows during the process, I’m relieved about how things turned out. Those earlier books weren’t ready and weren’t good enough. Sometimes, when you’re in the situation you want things to work out one way, but when you look back on it, it’s really better they turned out the way they did.”
The whole experience – from finding an agent to seeing her first book for sale in a bookstore – has all been surreal, said Flynn, who also works full-time in communications for TD Canada Trust. She has a few projects in the works she’s focused on and has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I want to keep writing and keep putting books out there,” she said. “I feel very lucky I get to do this because it’s something I love – even on those trying days. Sometimes I can’t believe I get to do this. My dream hasn’t changed really. Now, it’s just to keep doing it. When I don’t write for few days now, I’m grumpy. I need to write to be happy.”