One of the perks of being part of the STEAM Team Books group is that I’m getting to discover lots of exciting new books and series. In the case of The Summer of L.U.C.K trilogy, I’m kind of a latecomer, but always time to catch up! I also caught up with author Laura Stegman to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on book three, THE CHAMBERED NAUTILUS (Young Dragons Press, April 30, 2024), of your fun series! What inspired you to write this book and trilogy?

Laura: Thank you! I’ve loved middle grade fiction ever since I was a kid, which is why I write books in that genre. Summer of L.U.C.K., Ready or Not, and The Chambered Nautilus are each about self-acceptance, perseverance, dealing with life’s unfairness, and the power of friendship, themes which inspired me as a young reader. I hope that kids reading my trilogy will learn, as I did, that whatever troubles they’re experiencing, other kids have those troubles too, that they’re not alone, and that help is possible.

     

 

Me: Did you already have ideas about how book 3 would go while working on book 1? What were some surprises in planning and writing a trilogy?

Laura: I’ll start with an overview of the trilogy, which takes place at a summer camp over three years. In Summer of L.U.C.K., we meet Darby, Justin, and Naz as they find self-acceptance with the help of a ghost, Leroy Usher, who haunts a magical carnival. The kids have more magical adventures in the sequel, but Ready or Not sees Mr. Usher helping Justin, who faces a tricky choice: stand up to bigotry or let fear hold him back. In The Chambered Nautilus, Darby, Naz, and Justin are drawing apart. But when the popular new Chambered Nautilus ride goes awry and Mr. Usher issues a desperate plea, they reunite. Ultimately, they must rely on each other to figure out how to get Mr. Usher back to rest before he’s trapped forever. If they can’t, they risk expulsion from camp and threaten the beloved carnival’s very existence.

 

I wrote Summer of L.U.C.K. with a clear vision of its story about three kids yearning to find their voices. By the time it was published, I had a three-book contract, but as a pantser, I didn’t have a roadmap for where the next two would go. Fortunately, when the time came to write Ready or Not, current events inspired a story that I hoped would help kids do the right thing when everything was wrong.

For The Chambered Nautilus, I’d come up with a general idea of what wrapping up the series would look like. But getting there? All I had was a blank page. There were, however, two surprises in store for me.

In Summer of L.U.C.K., Mr. Usher’s magical carnival featured seven doorways to magical adventures. I’d used three. One of the unused doors was called the Chambered Nautilus, which was a “tip of the hat” to my favorite childhood middle grade book. It’s called The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton, and it has a chambered nautilus-related scene. Ever since I read it, I’ve been fascinated by chambered nautiluses, whose shells are divided into a series of winding chambers. So I got the idea to create a carnival attraction modeled on these intriguing sea creatures. Then, when something goes wrong at the carnival, Mr. Usher reaches out. He’d helped Darby, Justin, and Naz work through their problems twice already. In The Chambered Nautilus, I decided to explore what would happen if he was the one who needed their help.

 

If being able to use the chambered nautilus reference from book one was the first surprise, the second came from book two, which concluded with Darby, Justin, and Naz losing their ability to hear each other’s thoughts. In book three, I used the loss of that magic – bestowed originally by Mr. Usher – as the reason the carnival rides malfunction. It’s hard to believe I didn’t plan to tie these things together, but it’s true. That’s why I love writing so much!

Me: You sprinkle in some 19th century literary references: Usher (Poe?) and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Who are some of your literary influences?

Laura: Great question, but the Usher reference has nothing to do with Poe’s Mr. Usher. I came up with his name because L.U.C.K. stands for Leroy Usher and his title, Carnival King. I wish I had a more exotic explanation, but it’s simply that I needed a last name that began with a U. As for Holmes, that was another “tip of the hat” to The Diamond in the Window, which quoted Holmes’ “The Chambered Nautilus” poem. In explaining the sea creature’s chambers, my book quoted its famous “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul” line too.

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Laura: When I was growing up, writing a novel wasn’t my life’s ambition. I was determined to be an actress. Instead, life sent me in a completely different direction, and for many years I’ve owned a successful public relations firm. Publicity work sharpened my storytelling skills, which  led to some free-lance feature story writing assignments. And one day, I began writing a middle grade fantasy, which eventually became Summer of L.U.C.K. Although I let go of my acting ambitions a long time ago, I’ve found being a middle grade author to be the role of a lifetime!

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Laura: Aside from promoting The Chambered Nautilus, I’m looking forward to the Tantor Audio release of the trilogy, which begins July 30 with Summer of L.U.C.K., followed by the other two in September and October. I’m deep in revisions for my fourth book, a contemporary middle grade novel about a lonely, self-conscious twelve-year-old who flourishes in an acting class until her binge eating jeopardizes all her progress. This story of healing, self-acceptance, and hope is especially dear to my heart, and I hope it eventually finds a home.

Me: I look forward to reading it! Much success to you books and thank you so much for chatting.

To learn more, please go to Laura Stegman, Author

author photo by Daniel Reichert Photography

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