Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Interview - Laura Vanderkam

I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Vanderkam, who recently published a book on the lives of the players from a fictional high school basketball team, "The Cortlandt Boys
(  Here are her answers:

1. What gave you the idea to write about a high school basketball team from the past?
The seed of the idea came from something that happened. When I was a freshman in high school in South Bend, Indiana, our boys basketball team won the state championship. It was such a huge deal for everyone. This is the land of Hoosiers, after all! I moved away shortly thereafter, and ten years later my mom sent me an article the local paper did on what the players had done with their lives. A few had actually played in the NBA. It was a good team! Other boys, though, led more quiet existences. That got me wondering: what is life like when the biggest thing to happen to you happens when you are 17? The characters are nothing like anyone I went to school with, the rest of the plot is made up, and a small town in the Poconos is not much like the post-industrial Midwest. But that’s where the idea came from. 

2.  I thought it was interesting to get the viewpoints of females who were not part of the team.   How difficult was it to write about a boys team from a female POV?
As a woman, it’s probably easier for me to write from a female POV than from a male POV. The challenge for me was making the boys on the team seem believable, to have them behave as boys would behave. I try to study human nature as much as I can. I pay particular attention to people who react differently than I would. I’m raising three sons now (in addition to a daughter) so I’m starting to get a sense of the ways boys interact. 

3.  Tell us about your basketball experiences, whether as a player or as a fan.   Do you have any favorite current players or teams?  Do you prefer a level of the game (High School, College, NBA) over others?
I played basketball in a community program for one season when I was in sixth grade. I wasn’t any good at it. I managed to go the whole season without scoring a point. That said, I picked up the terms and the general sense of how it felt to move a ball around a court. I watched many of the games during that championship season back in Indiana as well, and saw how precocious athletes played. These days, I go to the occasional Sixers game in Philadelphia, though of late that’s generally been a depressing proposition. At least I try to get myself good seats.

4.  Will you be writing any other sports-based stories in the future?

I’m a runner, and I’m drawn to the idea of writing about a character who runs. The challenge is making running exciting from a plot perspective. A long run is a good way to clear my head and come up with ideas, but it probably doesn’t make for an exciting scene for anyone else! Perhaps I’ll create a character who’s a track coach, since a competition would have more zing to it. 

5.   Feel free to add anything else here that you wish.
I’ve built my writing career doing non-fiction, so writing a novel was something new for me. I learned a lot in the process. The biggest take-away is that truth is no excuse in fiction. In non-fiction, if something really happened, it really happened, and you can write about those details without giving it another thought. The fact that something happened doesn’t matter in fiction; the universe you create needs to make sense on its own.

Laura Vanderkam

Author, I Know How She Does It (2015), 168 Hours, and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast -- a paperback compilation of the bestselling ebook series, all from Portfolio/Penguin. Please visit

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