Laura Ezell’s A Record of Our Debts

Laura Ezell
Laura Ezell

When Laura Ezell received a call from Michael Czyzniejewski, the editor of Moon City Review, that her collection of short stories and poems, A Record of Our Debts, had won the Short Fiction Award, she was “over the moon.” The prize included publication and $1000. Ezell will perform a reading of her work at Missouri State University, home of MCP.

A Record of Our Debts focuses on a few relatively isolated and fatalistic characters. The book began as her master’s thesis at The University of Alabama and has undergone many transformations since. Ezell says that she struggled with the arrangement until she finally decided to trust her intuition: “I put [the stories and poems] in order according to my gut, without overthinking it. Pretty immediately, I knew that this was the right arrangement, and that’s the version that I submitted to MCP.” Ezell says she gained inspiration for her writing by reading Ursule Molinaro’s Thirteen Stories, which Sandy Huss recommended to her during her first fiction workshop at UA. Ezell reveals that “Molinaro’s stories took risks that I had no idea writers were allowed to take. It seemed to me like she was writing what the story sounded like in her head. That approach was liberating, and it really changed the way that I wrote.”

Ezell became a mother this year as well. The birth of her daughter has affected her writing process quite a lot. “Having a baby pretty much obliterates your writing routines for a little while,” Ezell says. With such a busy life, working full time and being a mom, writing usually takes a back seat. “My daughter is six months old now, and I’m just now starting to get my bearings back,” Ezell relates.  Ezell explains that having a baby meant she had to cut back on pursuits she was not passionate about, admitting, “I’m having to make some difficult choices about how I spend my time.”

Being a mother has also affected the way Ezell views her stories: “Sad things are much sadder now, because I see the world as a place where my daughter now exists—it’s like the stakes are higher.” Many of her characters in A Record of Our Debts meet unhappy ends, and Ezell asserts she reacts differently when rereading her earlier work: “Wow, that was really harsh! Did it have to end that badly?” Although Ezell would not rewrite her stories to match her new perspective, she does recognize that she would write those narratives differently now.

Ezell also recently moved from Tuscaloosa to Cookeville, Tennessee and has changed careers. Although she previously worked in a school library, she now serves as a Scholarship Manager at Tennessee Technical University. She admits that both moves constituted “a big change, but I was ready for it.” Ezell says her life is much quieter in Cookville. Her new career offers a welcome change to year ’round schedule, and she also loves working at Tennessee Technical University “Sometimes I do wish I still got a long summer break,” she admits. “I think it’s a ‘grass is greener’ thing. However, I actually get moody when I don’t have enough structure.”

Ezell says the career change has not affected her writing. Working with children as a librarian added more fantastical elements to her work along with more young and adolescent characters. For example, her new novel is about a girl of unusual parentage whose father is a king and whose mother is a mermaid. Ezell says her story deals with “the idea of parentage and legacy, of inheriting stories that burden and shape us.” These themes seem to come from her time as a school librarian for grades K-8. However, Ezell said that she couldn’t attribute the entire idea for her story to her time spent with younger readers.  The novel, she says, contains elements of young adult fiction, but she hopes her narrative will speak to adult readers as well: “I hope that it’s something adults will want to read.” Ezell thinks that the fantastical element in her novel imbues her work with more meaning than is possible from a purely realist approach to fiction. “I’m very interested in lore, and in the different levels of truth in the stories we tell ourselves and each other,” she concludes. Hopefully, readers of The Scarlet Newsletter seeking to plumb these depths of human experience will look for Ezell’s collections and novels at their nearest library or bookstore.