A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with writer/actress/director/producer Laura Cayouette

Bio: Best known as Leonardo DiCaprio’s sister in Quentin Tarantino’s  Django Unchained, Laura has acted in over 60 movies and TV shows including Now You See Me, True Detective and Friends. She’s currently recurring on Oprah Winfrey and Ava Duverney’s Queen Sugar. 

Laura is also the author of 8 books including Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career with a foreword by Richard Dreyfuss and endorsements from Kevin Costner, Lou Diamond Phillips, Reginald Hudlin and more.

Writing Unblocked: How I Went From Writing 1 Book In 20 years To 5 Books in 4 Years helps writers of all skill levels tell their stories and create their projects. The accompanying 6-video Creating Characters course is designed to help writers develop individualized characters that come to life. 

Her 5-book Charlotte Reade mystery series is a love letter to the people and culture of New Orleans starting in 2009 as the Saints are headed to the Super Bowl. 

An award-winning filmmaker who’s produced a feature film with Quentin Tarantino, Laura is currently working on a documentary about overtourism and the French Quarter – finding a balance.

Cayouette earned her Master’s Degree in creative writing and English literature at the University of South Alabama where she was presented the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award. She’s taught both English and acting/directing at various universities. 

A member of the Pussyfooters dance krewe, you can find her parading in Mardi Gras and working with local non-profits.

Links after interview:

Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most now and currently? 

Laura: I remember loving to write in grade school. I created my first book with covers made of construction paper and tied together with red yarn bows. I drew a pyramid on the front cover and entitled it something about Egypt. It was a homework assignment in 4th or 5th grade and I remember loving to research Egyptian history and mythology. 

Back then, I loved The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, and the Nancy Drew series. In high school, I fell in love with the Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, sci-fi-ish author Ray Bradbury, and a lifelong favorite – William Faulkner. By college, I favored southern writers like Faulkner, Walker Percy, Carson McCullers, William Styron, Tennessee Williams, and I’ll include Ann Tyler since Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line. In graduate school, I discovered Toni Morrison and she and Faulkner remain some of my biggest literary influences. 

Now, I’m influenced by more forms of storytelling, especially films. I’ve tried to bring some of the aspects of filmic storytelling into my writing – a focus on capturing a visual expression of a moment, a reliance on good dialogue to reveal character and move the story along, playing with juxtapositions, soundtracks and other editing elements, and an attempt to bring characters in my head to life in the way actors do. 

In that way, I’m most influenced by Richard Dreyfuss, Kevin Costner and Quentin Tarantino – all of whom appreciated and invested in my storytelling. 

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer? 

Laura: I was 11 years old when my parents split. It was 1975 and many of the other families in our suburban neighborhood were also divorcing. My mother moved us into a 200-year-old farmhouse with several of the broken bits of those families and we formed a collective, a commune. I knew at the time that I was living a truly unique experience set against the backdrop of the Bicentennial – and I was certain that it was my purpose in life to be the one to tell the story of Lemonade Farm. 

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career? 

Laura: Richard Dreyfuss, Kevin Costner and Quentin Tarantino all contributed a lot, as did author, Tom Franklin, my uncle Gerald, my mother, and several of my friends. 

If I had to choose one, I guess I’d have to say Richard Dreyfuss. He sponsored me to attend Writer’s Bootcamp screenwriting programs for over two years. He commissioned me to write a script for him. He wrote the foreword to my acting book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career. He even got me a laptop. And when I wanted to shoot eight minutes of a script I was looking to direct, the Oscar-winner played one of the leads for free. 

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work? 

Laura: Lemonade Farm is set in Maryland, where I mostly grew up. In the 18 years I lived in Los Angeles, I wrote screenplays set in L.A., Maryland, the desert, coastal towns, my family’s home of Louisiana, and more. In 2009, I moved to New Orleans and my 5-book mystery series is set there. If you’ve ever spent any time immersed in the local culture of New Orleans, you know the city is a full-on character in the story. 

I’ve traveled the world since I was two and that has certainly affected my perspective, but I usually set my stories in the U.S. 

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you? 

Laura: That’s a truly tough one. I find great meaning in being able to pay forward my experiences, especially when it helps someone. In that way, my acting book has been truly meaningful. I get a lot of feedback about helping someone get work or make informed career decisions. 

I’m starting to get great feedback about helping people be able to write their stories with me new e-book, Writing Unblocked: How I Went From Writing 1 Book In 20 years To 5 Books in 4 Years. One client who’d always had ideas but no idea what to do with them said that now he can tell his stories forever and he couldn’t express how much it meant to him. I live for that kind of feedback.

All of that said, I think the project I’m working on now might be my most meaningful and creative in the truest sense of those sentiments. I wrote a screenplay, The Source, years ago about the children of Eden – two immortals and two reincarnates. It’s the furthest from writing my own experiences that I’ve ever gone – way outside of my sweet spot of “writing what you know.” I researched for eight months before writing a word. 

After finishing Lemonade Farm, I decided I’d eventually turn The Source screenplay into a short book series – two or three books long. Writing the mystery series gave me the confidence to finally take on the short fantasy series of The Source. I’m excited to break The Source out of the tyranny of the 2-hour-max storyline. I can finally write whatever I want – dive into character development, dwell on backstories, and include details I had to cut for time. I feel so energized just thinking about getting back into research and brainstorming – especially all the Egyptian stuff. I’m hoping to jump in before the end of the year. 

Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax? 

Laura: Puzzles. Big time. I usually do at least one 1000-piece every weekend. 

Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing? 

Laura: From my own writing? I don’t even begin to know how to answer that. But it’s probably something in Lemonade Farm. I spent a lot of time wordsmith-ing that one.

Q8:What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration? 

Laura: I used to be a D.J. so music has always been fairly important to me. Lemonade Farm has a soundtrack. So do the mysteries. Those each have a playlist on YouTube. Pinterest pages too. I like to share all of my senses with my readers, immerse them in my mindset and the world of the story. Even as an actor, I often have a theme song for the characters I play. 

I like a lot of genres, but when I was working on the mystery series, I had a lot of fun finding the perfect New Orleanian music for each book. Book three, The Missing Ingredient,  also had a movie they were filming in the book. The soundtrack for the movie in the book was mostly 70’s funk – that’s definitely a favorite for me.

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote? 

Laura: Definitely the e-book, Writing Unblocked: How I Went From Writing 1 Book In 20 years To 5 Books in 4 Years. I took everything I learned from getting my master’s in creative writing and everything I learned from my nearly 30 years as an actor/writer/director/producer and created a faster, easier way to write that can even be fun. It makes me so happy to be sharing my methods and help people past whatever’s hindering their writing process.

I also created a 6-video course, Creating Characters, that helps writers create textured, individualized characters – no matter their writing skill level.

Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey?

Laura: Too many to mention. I will say that The Source started out differently than anything else I’ve ever written. In L.A., I used to crochet and craft every Sunday with my best friend from high school, Angela. Since we first met decades ago, we’ve always made each other better as artists and craftsmen. 

One weekend, I decided to see if the same would be true of writing a screenplay. It was a long shot since Angela’s not a writer of any kind, so I decided we’d start by naming all the things people love in movies. By the end of that day, we had an outline for what would become The Source

I’d research all week then present my findings every Sunday to help us brainstorm story ideas. Sometimes we’d get so excited to share our ideas that I’d have to write notes as we were talking so I could listen to her without forgetting what I had wanted to say. 

One Sunday, we both got so hyped up about a vision we’d had that week that we decided to stop talking and draw what we wanted to share so we wouldn’t forget. She started telling me about her vision and showed me her drawing. I turned mine around so she could see that we’d both drawn the same unusual vision. It was one of those moments where we felt like we were being guided by the muse and it felt both spooky and incredible.  

Links:

Website: https://lauracayouette.com

Twitter: @KnowSmallParts

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauracayouettepublic

Amazon Author’s Page

Writing Unblocked E-Book

https://lauracayouette.samcart.com/products/writing-unblocked

Creating Characters Video Course

https://lauracayouette.samcart.com/products/creating-characters-copy

Blog: https://latonola.wordpress.com

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/latonolawordpress

Pinterest

Website: https://lauracayouette.com

Twitter: @KnowSmallParts

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauracayouettepublic

Amazon Author’s Page

Writing Unblocked E-Book:

https://lauracayouette.samcart.com/products/writing-unblocked

Creating Characters Video Course:

https://lauracayouette.samcart.com/products/creating-characters-copy

Blog: https://latonola.wordpress.com

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/latonolawordpress

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/latonola/

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Michelle Marie Jacquot (Poet, Actress, singer/songwriter)

Processed with VSCO with b4 preset

with Michelle Marie Jacquot:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Michelle: I’ve been writing ever since I can remember— I have no memory of a moment when I distinctly started “doing” it. It’s just an instinct, or even a compulsion, I’ve always had. My first influences were all songwriters. I always paid close attention to lyrics. I was a dancer from age 3 to 14, we were always told to get into the emotion of the song, the story. I think that might be how I became so interested in storytelling, and I’m sure in large part why I became a writer. So many songs and artists stick with me from that time. Anything Imogen Heap or Tori Amos, Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega, Red Football by Sinéad O’Connor, Mad World by Gary Jules. Unfortunately I don’t have a very good memory of when I was younger, but one of the most vivid flashbacks I have is from a dance class. Our instructor turned off all the lights, had us lay on the ground in the dark, and told us to close our eyes. She played “Let It Be” by The Beatles. It was the first time I had ever heard that song, and possibly ever The Beatles (consciously, at least). That moment changed my life.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Michelle: I don’t know if influence is the right word, but I’m really into Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the moment. Joan Didion is my favorite writer. As for poets, Charles Bukowski might be that. There have been certain poems from him that I’ve found in the exact moments when I’ve needed them. Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Mary Oliver. All of the Beats. I would say the way people live their lives inspires and influences me more than their work, at times.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art?

Michelle: I grew up in Southern California— Temecula, but I spent a lot of time all over. I was always going to concerts and running away to LA, San Diego, Orange County. Where and how I grew up influenced my work more than I ever realized it did until recently. There’s a very California way of living or thinking that I didn’t know I had— kind of like how your house has a certain smell, but only other people can smell it. You don’t even know it exists until you leave and come back. I found out that way of living existed when I discovered Joan Didion. Every lived experience or thought she had, I took in as my own. As if we shared the same childhood, down to the street signs. Somehow she knew it was specific all along, but I didn’t until her work told me it was. Something about growing up in a desert cultivates a toughness, but equally, a need for freedom. I actually went back a few weeks ago, I was walking outside for about 30 seconds, it was 100 degrees. I thought to myself, “no wonder I am the way I am, having to learn to grow up in the middle of this and survive it, and no wonder I had to get out as soon as I could.” I drove three hours to get there, I left almost immediately.

Q4: Have any travels away from home influence your work?

Michelle: Travels have been the most influential force on my work by a long shot, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from anything I’ve released yet. None of it has outwardly been about travel, I suppose that’s been my little secret until now. That’s actually what many of my future skeletons of books are all based around. I have lots of upcoming travels and I’m excited to see where they’ll take the work and where everything will land. I think it’s better not to plan, to leave room for life to happen, to be surprised. You’ll suffocate the ideas and kill them before they even get off the ground if you don’t. Ideas come to you, you don’t chase them down and tell them what to be, they tell you— the good ones, at least. They say you have to live in order to write, I think that’s true. Half of my writing experience means not writing at all, filling the well, followed by obsessively doing only that. I do write most and am constantly inspired when I’m traveling though, to the point where it’s almost annoying. It’s like I can’t sit down and enjoy one meal without having to pull out a pen. I’ve actually found myself recently making an effort to write less, not treating every thought as life or death to get down. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. You might lose some really important ideas that way, and come to terms with never getting them back. But at what point does that obsession to note everything become worth not being able to enjoy your dinner? I don’t know. I suppose it’s about choosing which one is more worth it at whatever point in your life you’re at in that moment. But anyway— travel. When I was 20, after half-quitting music school, I didn’t go to a proper college, I went to London instead, and Europe. I quit my job and just left. That trip and everything that followed was what made me rearrange my life and start taking writing seriously (but wasn’t aware of it at the time).

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?

Michelle: No. I think being an artist is just a way of being, not a title someone can give you. You either are or you aren’t, it’s not a job description. I didn’t even know I was a poet by the time I put my first poetry book out. I probably never even said the word out loud until the following year. It was all an accident, something I never even thought of or gave names to.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Michelle: I laughed out loud at the word “relax.” I enjoy lots of things, I don’t know if I can ever relax. I really love stand-up comedy, maybe that’s because it forces you to relax. You can’t laugh and be (too) stressed out at the same time. I wrote a few scripts last year in lockdown, that was fun, but also doesn’t fall into the category of “not writing.” I really can’t seem to stop, in whatever form it takes. I love film, reading. Reading is another thing that forces your own inner monologue to shut off, you don’t have a choice but to listen to someone else’s for a while— next to comedy, it might be the only break I get from that, and I don’t take it for granted. I just realized none of these are considered activities, and I’ve described them all as “forced.” Like I said, I’m a really relaxed person. I’ve been living in the mountains for the last six months, and that’s been a beautiful break. I’ve always enjoyed going on long walks, I make sure to do that every day and have for years now. Let’s pretend walking and sitting on the porch are activities. I actually relax most when I’m doing absolutely nothing. I’m anti-activities.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Michelle:

I just released my second poetry book, a chapbook called DETERIORATE. It’s all about my disdain for the digital age— contemplating how our modern world has changed humanity, changed how we produce art, how we live. Mostly for worse, but my hope is that we might be able to change that if we’d all just look up and turn off (or on, rather). It’s available wherever you get books. 

https://www.michellemariejacquot.com/poetry

https://amzn.to/3iuX1PL

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Michelle: I can’t pick a favorite. I’m one of those weird people that really likes their own work and listens to/reads it. I have a whole album of songs I haven’t recorded yet— I’m really proud of all those lyrics. I worked for so long to become the songwriter I wanted to be, and I finally started to get there right before the world shut down. I’ve yet to start again, we’ll see what happens with that.

The first good song I wrote (after six or seven years of trying) has a chorus that ends with this lyric— “I spend all my time stuck in a car in the past, you’ll forget about me and I’ll drive me mad.”

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Michelle: Honestly, it’s been a very solitary journey for me. I was about to say I wish I could say otherwise, but I suppose I don’t. I enjoy being and working alone. I’ve always helped myself in writing, if anything I’ve looked to other artists that came before me and found their help along the way through their work and lives, and through other moments of inspiration from the greater world. Paying close attention has helped me most.

Also from Michelle:

Death of a Good Girl