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Kansas City native prepares to publish her first novel

Escaping the Tiger, by Laura Manivong

Kansas City has never been lacking for talent, and a new name is about to be added to that list. Escaping the Tiger, the first novel by local author Laura Manivong is about to hit the shelves of local bookstores. Manivong is preparing for the March 9 launch, but took time to talk to about her writing.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?

I grew up on the Missouri side going through the Grandview School District, graduated with a degree in electronic media from Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield, and spent a couple years doing non-career related exploring. That included a stint as a camp counselor for 10-12 year-old children from under-privileged families outside New York City, and a summer as a volunteer for the National Park Service at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona. Then it was time for a real job, and I started my career in TV as a writer/producer when I was 24.

What types of writing do you do?

For the 9 to 5 job, I’m a senior writer/producer in the creative services department at FOX 4 TV. That means I meet with advertisers who need commercials produced and take care of that, as well as produce promotional spots for the station.

But for my creative writing, it’s fiction for middle schoolers and teens. That’s the audience I love, as younger readers are still formulating their views of the world, trying to process the confusion that almost always comes during that bridge between youth and adulthood. And reading about difficult situations before one is faced with them live and in person is invaluable to young minds. Reading fiction is practice for real life, an opportunity to watch from a safe distance while other people deal with difficult situations, make mistakes, and try to clean up the mess.

What's the best thing about writing?

To me, writing is freedom. I can create any situation, any relationship, any setting to my liking. I can develop characters who get themselves in heaps of trouble but who also overcome unimaginable hardships. And when readers connect and share with you that your words had an impact, the benefits are priceless.

Is there a specific time of day you like to write?

Because I work full time and have a family, I don’t have much leeway on when I can write. It’s after the kids go to bed and some on weekends. I wrote the majority of Escaping the Tiger between the hours of 10pm and 2am. That’s why it took ten years to see the light of day!

What's the most interesting book you've ever read?

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I kind of fell into TV writing. In college, I was past due in declaring a major, and since I loved photography, I gravitated toward video production. Several writing classes were associated with that, and professors took a liking to what I put on paper, even though I thought I was just completing assignments. It wasn’t until I was about 30 years old, when I woke up with a rather surreal poem in my head, that I realized I wanted to write fiction. I enrolled in a creative writing class soon thereafter and finally listened to all the people who told me I needed to write my husband’s story.  Escaping the Tiger is loosely based on his experiences as a refugee from Laos.

Favorite authors?

You trying to get me in trouble? I do talk a lot about the work of John Green, Kristin Cashore, Shannon Hale, Linda Sue Park, and Elizabeth C. Bunce, who I am blessed to have as a critique partner. If it weren’t for her, I probably would not have delved into reading much fantasy, and now I’m on a kick to write it.

What are you currently reading?

Fire, the companion novel to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

Definitely. It always starts with procrastination.

Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

Hmm, writers block is just another way of saying writing is hard, so I don’t take much stock in the term. Writing means commitment. There aren’t any shortcuts, and sometimes being stuck is part of the process. Go swing in a hammock, watch a watermelon-spitting contest, fry an egg on the sidewalk, but don’t sit and fret at the keyboard (even though I do). Writing is about living and observing and taking notice. That’s pretty hard to do when your rear’s glued to a chair.

What's the measure of a successful writer?

For me, it’s an internal barometer. No one is watching over my shoulder as I write. No one’s cracking a whip. And writing for young readers is certainly not about money, J.K Rowling aside, or benefits, or vacation time. Writing is about learning. Learning about human nature, learning to build relationships and overcome obstacles. So if someone connects with my writing, whether it’s a published novel or a Facebook update, I’ll call that a good day.

Where can we learn more about you?

I’ll be appearing at the Asian Heritage Festival at the Blue Valley library on May 1st, and you can visit my website at to read about the 2nd most embarrassing moment of my life, and what kind of poisonous spider I once kept as a pet.

Aimed at upper elementary and middle school readers, Escaping the Tiger is based on her husband's experiences. Manivong tells the story of Vonlai Sirivong and his family, from their escape from their native Laos, through Thai refugee camps and their eventual settlement in the United States. The book will be available at local bookstores, including Reading Reptile in Brookside, beginning March 9.

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