An Interview With Author Laura Davis-Chanin
A Note By Lee Sobel: I've known Laura since we were kids. Her teenage new wave band, The Student Teachers, changed my life. She was the drummer in what their singer David Scharff has referred to as a "Blondie Baby Band." Well, Blondie, was my favorite band at age 16 so of course I was smitten with the teenage Student
Teachers. I started following them all over NYC to see their gigs and I was quite impressed by their meteoric rise and then very sad when their band came to an end when most of the band was heading off to college. I lost touch with Laura for decades and I was always super curious about her personal story - how she went from female teen drummer (those were pretty rare in those days) in a cool band to dating the keyboard player from Blondie and hanging out with David Bowie to leaving her band and being diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis. Laura and I somehow found each other again when she was writing a novel and I recommended that she show it to my father, a literary agent. This was before I started my own agency but once I did, I kept saying to her, "Your story is incredibly dramatic and would make a great book." Not only did she write that book and not only did I sell it to a publisher, but she's since co-written with Michael Alago his memoirs entitled "I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music. Signing Metallica. Beating Death" and Laura is now working on a third book with Liz Lamere, a biography of artist/musician Alan Vega.
Bio written by Laura: Got my BA in writing from NYU, Law Degree from CUNY Law. Had 2 kids. Had my own law practice then quit to focus on writing and family. Started graduate work in philosophy at Univ. of Edinburgh when my first book was published so left philosophy (in body not spirit). Diagnosed with MS in 1980 and dance to good jazz whenever I get the chance.
How many books have you written that were published and how did you become a published author?
I’ve written two that were published (so far!)---The Girl in the Back: A Female Drummer’s Life with Bowie, Blondie and the ‘70s Rock Scene and I Am Michael Alago: Breathing Music, Signing Metallica, Beating Death, co-written with Michael Alago. I’m currently in the middle of my third book, Radical Dreams: The Life of Alan Vega. It’s a biography of the front man for the band Suicide and I’m writing it with his wife, Liz Lamere. It’s going to be so cool, and you will all be quite amazed to learn what a unique human being Alan was.
I became a published author when David Bowie died. When I woke up that morning and looked at the news that he had died, my heart sank—as it did for everyone. I was surprised at my upset because I hadn’t spoken to David nor been in rock n roll for years. But I realized I needed to write about what Bowie did for me on a personal level. I wrote an essay, and it was published online, and I got a call from Lee, and he suggested I write a book about that time in my life and how Bowie helped me when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. So, I did. Thankfully, Lee was able to get the book published—hence The Girl in the Back. It won an ASCAP for excellence in writing and was named one of Billboard’s top ten books on music in 2018.
So that’s how I got started…and I am nowhere near finished.
Without burning any bridges, what are some of the best and worst experiences you've had with the book publishing business?
There aren’t that many bridges to burn (not yet)—I’ve had a generally very good experience with the publishers I’ve dealt with. I really enjoyed working with Backbeat Books who published my first book—a truly innovative and committed group of people headed by John Cerullo—who I still work with. Yet, I’ve noticed a significant change in the business in
the last few years which has resulted in authors getting less advances and I’m not sure why. But the whole world is going through economic stress right now, so that may be it.
What makes a good literary agent and what do you expect them to do for you?
A good literary agent sells your book. Period.
A good literary agent also supports your writing and works with you to help make it radiate.
But a good literary agent also has enough personal literary understanding to respect the kind of writing you’re doing even if they don’t completely agree with certain choices. The point is for the agent to support the writer and back them up no matter what—because the agent brought them in for what they thought was excellent writing in the first place.
Where do you see the book publishing business going in the future? Will there still be bookstores? Will people buy less and less physical books?
I think book publishing has a great future. But like the
movie/television business, it is changing its internal structure. A lot has to be reconfigured to make these businesses restructure, survive and profit—but it will happen. People love to read.
And I disagree with the proposition that reading an e-book gives the reader a less fulfilling and illuminating experience than a physical book. The point is the words, not what’s holding them.
I see e-books becoming more of the standard. I’ve seen e-books going for similar prices as printed books so I don’t see an income strain from e-books. In fact, the income may even profit more with less physical use of printing presses and paper, which cost.
And a more important benefit—more eBooks saves more trees. That’s really important right now.
If you could change anything about the book business, what would it be?
More money from e-Book sales for authors. E-Books cost so little to create. I would also have the publishing companies invest more in marketing for the author. My God, we’re at a point where the author is expected to market and publicize their book. This is crazy! I don’t have the time, resources or expertise to do that.
I’m busy writing!
If you could impart any wisdom to would-be authors about getting their first book published, what would you tell them to try to help them?
First—write, write, write, and read, read, read.
I know people say—write in a way that will sell to a mass audience. No, no. Be honest, genuine and true to the story you’re writing, and you will get published. Writing in a manufactured way just to achieve the end of getting published is a real tip off. Publishers see that and will reject you.
For your first book, I would have a complete draft finished before approaching a publishing company. I think they prefer that too. It gives them a much better idea of the type of writer you are.
(c) 2022, Lee Sobel
Laura Davis-Chanin (second from left) when she was the drummer in the New York City teenage new wave band The Student Teachers in the late 1970s - read about it in her first book, The Girl In the Back: A Female Drummer's Life with Bowie, Blondie, and the '70s Rock Scene, pubished by Backbeat Books in 2018.