Interviewing Fair Oaks resident Laura Torres is like speaking with three different women on varied career paths. She writes fiction for teen readers; she’s the best-selling author of numerous craft books; and she’s the founder of a new business called Whole Parties. Torres capitalized on her creativity and her life-long love of books to shape her career much like she’d shape a ball of clay into one of the beads or beasties she created for her first title, The Incredible Clay Book (Klutz, 1994).
As a child, Torres was painfully shy. She could read before kindergarten, but her teachers didn’t know until much later because she never participated in class. A third grade creative writing assignment turned out to be her first positive writing experience. She made up a story about the Oobla Goobla monster and read it out loud to the class—a terrifying proposition for a shy child. She had an epiphany when her classmates laughed and oohed and aahed in all the right places. Even though spontaneous conversation still paralyzed her, she knew she could communicate through writing!
At the age of fourteen, Torres took her first job in a library. Since then, every job in her life has involved books. “I love books,” says Torres. “I read as a kid to the exclusion of everything else.” After college she worked in a couple of small publishing houses marketing books, and occasionally reading the slush pile and composing rejection letters. Her favorite job, aside from freelancing, was editing for American Girl Magazine. “My market has always been eight to twelve year old girls,” says Torres. “I felt connected atAmerican Girl. . .I loved the feedback and the devoted fans and didn’t want to let them down.” Torres felt pushed to do her best work at the magazine, raising the bar for all of her future freelance projects.
Torres began writing for a living after her son was born prematurely. He needed a parent at home with him, and Torres’s then-husband was at the tail end of his Ph.D. program. She left her job at a publishing house and knew she had to make a go of writing. “I tried everything—adult fiction, children’s fiction, adult nonfiction, children’s nonfiction, short stories.” Torres stuck with children’s literature because as she says, “when I wrote that’s where my voice came out.” After achieving modest success with children’s magazines, Torres noticed a hole in the market place for children’s craft books. When The Incredible Clay Book took off, Torres developed a whole line of craft books. “I never figured craft books would be so successful,” she says.
Torres’s craft books have won multiple awards, including the National Parenting Publications Award and the Parents’ Choice Gold Award. Many of them have sold a million copies or more. Torres’s ideas come from looking at products kids buy in retail stores. Next, she takes found objects (things most of us consider junk) and recreates the product as an expression of herself. “I have a whole room full of odds and ends and bits and pieces,” she says. “It’s amazing what I carry around in my purse.” (At the time of this interview it was plastic aliens and scraps of cool fabric.) Torres admits to having a pack rat mentality, but she’s highly organized. One drawer in her office is labeled “sparkly stuff,” another “bits of fabric.”
During Torres’s book tour for Best Friends Forever (Workman, 2004) she demonstrated crafts at her book signings. The parents who attended picked up on the fact that Torres’s crafts could be used at birthday parties and slumber parties. Torres saw another hole in the market—many companies already provide birthday party decorations on a given theme, but they don’t give suggestions on how to keep the little darlings entertained.
Whole Parties (www.wholeparties.com) is her newest venture. Customers select a party theme and Torres delivers decorations, craft ideas and materials, and a party-planning guide. “These are tried and true crafts that I have tested on groups,” says Torres. “I know the instructions work. It’s a guaranteed success!”
Teen fiction is the third facet of Torres’s career. As a junior member of a writing group, she was inspired to write a novel when she heard everyone else’s lousy first drafts. “I figured I could do this, too, when I saw how much work went into it and that the story didn’t come out on the page the first try.” Amy in November Ever After faces an issue similar to one Torres herself faced as an adolescent. “She handled it better than I did,” says Torres. “I like her a lot!” Crossing Montana contains several of the same themes as Wallace Stegner’sCrossing to Safety. “[Stegner’s book] is my absolute favorite book, bar none,” she says, “and I feel Crossing Montana is the best thing I’ve ever written.”
Torres loves playing with words and choosing those that best fit what she’s trying to say. “Tight writing is my goal,” she says. Whether she’s composing craft instructions, novels, or party ideas, Torres says, “I’m a writer because whatever form it takes, I’m happy.”