An Interview with Laura Popp
Laura Popp is a University of Tulsa graduate with a B.A. in Film and Creative Writing She is a member of the Tulsa Nightwriters and OWFI, a world traveler, and a great friend. Please welcome Laura Popp.
Thanks, Bill! I’m excited to meet your readers.
Me, dressed as my character, Rena.
Help our audience get to know you by giving us an insight into Laura. What inspired your sojourns to Malawi, Japan, and India?
Well, it all started with a mission trip to Mexico. That journey taught me that most of the world lives very differently than we do in America, with a high level of poverty and without the freedom we enjoy. Yet the people had such strong faith in God and that He would provide for them. It sounds counter-intuitive, but that divine dependence was their greatest strength. I wanted to trust God like that. So I went to Malawi to make a documentary about various mission organizations, worked at a children’s home in India, and was a missionary in Japan for two years. My goal was and still is to spread the Good News of God’s saving and forever love through Jesus, wherever I go. I do that through serving the people I encounter. Even in Japan, such a rich and powerful country, there’s a lot of hopelessness. The suicide rate is double that of the United States. I had the unexpected privilege of being at just the right place when the tsunami hit, and by God’s grace was able to help a lot of people.
Cleaning up after the tsunami
I understand you made a YouTube film while in Malawi. Tell us about the motivation behind the film.
I was so moved by the need in Malawi, especially of the AIDs orphans, but I was also inspired by their love for each other and deep devotion to Jesus, despite having nothing. I wanted not only to share the needs of Malawians with those who can help, but also deliver their message of hope and joy to a broken and hurting world. It’s a two-way street. The last thing I wanted was for Americans to see Malawians as victims. They have a lot of problems, and they do need help, but they also have a lot to offer the rest of the world in terms of faith.
AIDs orphans at VacationBibleSchool in Malawi
So okay, you’re a filmmaker, an author, and a musician. Your creative mind seems to direct your life. What instrument do you play and are you teaching any of these arts to others?
I play a lot of unconventional instruments. One is the psaltery, favored by King David. That’s how the Psalms got their name. I play handbells, too, and just last weekend performed several pieces in a group at a Tulsa-area festival. Two other instruments I enjoy are the fife and Renaissance recorder. I wrote some music for Treasure Traitor. Here’s the theme song: (embed the music file I’m attaching)
As a matter of fact, in May-July of 2012, I was in India teaching at a children’s home. One of the things I taught was recorder, fife, and piano! I also go around to a lot of schools and guest-speak in creative writing and English classes. I’m only successful because of the great teachers I had, so I want to pay it forward.
Before publishing Treasure Traitor, you wrote a series of five novels, Immortals. Describe the world Laura Popp saw in her early years.
Wow, how long do I have? Ha, ha, well, since I was five-years-old I’ve had this universe and cosmic war between the telepathic Hierarchy and elemental Kingdom swirling through my head. The Kingdom started as the “Empire,” governed by the “super sisters,” (now the Lord and Ladies of Light) each with a different power. I envisioned hundreds of stories revolving around these planets and races (and I still do), every one of them connected.
The Immortals, started when I was fourteen, was my first attempt to turn my short stories and sketches into a novel series. The characters, four men and four women, were the last survivors of our neutral planet Earth, and traveled around as a space band keeping the memory of their beloved planet alive through rock ‘n roll music. They were always getting mixed up with conflicts between the Kingdom and Hierarchy and eventually became ambassadors. Suffice it to say, they were a bit hokey, and though I do plan to bring them back in some form eventually, I chucked that idea.
The Immortals, drawn by a friend, Michelle Davis in 9th grade
But there was one character in the series who stood out to me. She was in one scene. Just one. She sold a wedding ring to the main character so he could propose to a Hierarchy girl. This trader was really strange, with a patch over one eye and an ugly back bird on her shoulder. I started to wonder about her when suddenly she said, “The name’s Renagada, and this is my bird Acha. Have we got a story for you!” Voila, Treasure Traitor was born.
Treasure Traitor reminds me in some respects of Orson Scott Card’s style of plotting. Tell our readers about your interest in telepathy and the reason for naming your race of people “Terrians.” Also, explore how you weave Christian themes into your novel.
I love Orson Scott Card! He’s my favorite author, though he once said that mind powers are “cliché.” Hopefully I’ve found a unique take on telepathy. You see, when most people have telepathic bonds in books, it’s with another person or a “cool” animal, like a horse or a dragon. Something useful. That got me thinking. What if there was a society of people who used their telepathic bonds with animals in battle? But there’s this one girl who gets stuck with the most ugly, annoying, hated creature in the land. So, I decided, Rena has a vulture. Only she loves him despite what everyone else thinks, and that’s what makes her lovable.
As for the Terrians, each Kingdom race was named by the Keeper based on their power. For example, Pyrans can transfer their own heat energy, causing objects to catch fire. Glacians can do the opposite. Terrians can manipulate tectonic plates, causing earthquakes. (“Terra” means ‘earth’ in Latin.) These abilities are adaptations to their environments. Pyrans live in a very hot climate, Glacians in a very cold one, and the Terrians on a planet that is tectonically unstable. I used Greek and Latin roots because the Keeper of the Kingdom was given a classical education on 18th century Earth. But mostly, this just makes it easier for the reader to keep all the races, powers, and planets straight!
Speaking of Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite things about his writing is how he weaves in his faith. Most of his stories take places in the more or less real world, though, and his references are rather explicit. I wanted to do something semi-allegorical, along the lines of C.S. Lewis and Ted Decker. The words “Jesus” and “Christian” never in the Treasure Traitor books. Rather there’s an unseen ruler, King, who sometimes manifests himself as Prince and Presence. Rena slowly learns about King, his love, and his ultimate sacrifice for his people as she journeys through the Kingdom. Names are also very important to me. There’s meaning behind every character’s name. For example, Charis, which means “Grace” in Greek, teaches Rena about King’s love. In the second book, Salvador (Latin for “Savior,”) teaches her the true meaning of King’s sacrifice and how to live that out in her own life.
For a long time I struggled with whether to be a missionary or a writer. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve seen how my books are an integral part in my overall mission. That being said, Treasure Traitor isn’t “Christian fiction.” Believe me, I tried to sell it to the Christian publishers and they told me it wasn’t explicit enough. I’m just a follower of Jesus who happens to write.
Writing in India
I think Christian fiction is about values and morality, not explicitness. Seek out other publishers in the future. Where can our readers buy Treasure Traitor—online, in bookstores? And, what marketing are you doing yourself?
A few local bookstores in Oklahoma are carrying Treasure Traitor, and hopefully Mardel’s soon, but the easiest place it get it is on Amazon.com. Right now my publisher is running a special on the Kendal version, only $2.99! For marketing, besides social media, my website, weekly blog, and blog tours, I speak at a lot of high schools, clubs, and churches. I love to give presentations about Japan and other places I’ve visited. If you’d like to book me as a speaker, you can email me at laurapopp(at)ymail.com!
What’s next for Laura? Will you continue with Fantasy/Sci-fi, or branch out into other genres?
I’m currently working on the next two books in the Treasure Traitor series, An Honest Assassin and Reluctant Rebel. As I said before, there are a lot of other stories swirling through my brain about the same universe, and I want to write all of them eventually, including a graphic novel about Rena’s main nemesis. I’m about half-way through a nonfiction book about my adventures in Japan entitled Now What, God? culminating with the March 2011 tsunami.
Kyra, Rena’s arch enemy. Drawn by a friend, Vickie Todd, in 8th grade
Besides that, my dad and I just finished a picture book entitled, “Twas the Age of Augustus,” retelling the Christmas story from Roman eyes. Thomas Nelson is currently considering it. I’m also working on a historical fiction novel set in America during the Great Awakening. My editor told me it could even be called “experimental fiction.” It’s through the eyes of Lucy, a being of pure light forced to relocate from King’s Star before she becomes the evil Keeper of the Kingdom. So it’s connected to the Treasure Traitor story, but it’s a hodge-podge mix of about three different genres. It’s proving to be a challenge to write, but very fun!
Good luck in your future endeavors, Laura.
Thanks, Bill, it was great chatting with you! Readers can check out my website, ljpopp.wordpress.com to see pictures from my travels, contact me, and read the first chapter of Treasure Traitor free!