Laura McHale Holland is a writer whose work is vivid, poetic and emotionally charged. Her aim as an artist is to create fine fiction and creative nonfiction that enlivens, engages and empowers people in unexpected ways. An avid fan of live storytelling, Laura also enjoys freeing stories from the printed (or digital) page. She has told stories at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, the Lake Tahoe Storytelling Festival, Gather the Women North Bay, Gaia’s Garden, the Empire Club, the San Anselmo Inn, and at campgrounds, museums, classrooms and private parties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Laura’s first book, a childhood memoir titled Reversible Skirt, won a silver medal in the 2011 Readers Favorite book awards. With a rare vulnerability, it recounts from a child’s point of view what it was like to grow up in the aftermath of a young mother’s suicide with a father who never acknowledged the tragedy had occurred and remarried in haste to a woman who was extremely abusive to her stepchildren.
Laura’s second book, a collection of flash fiction titled The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song, is edgy, thought provoking and surprising. Laura loves the flash fiction form, which requires that a writer create a complete story with minimal words. This book won an honorable mention in the 2015 Readers Favorite book awards.
Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood is Laura’s latest book. It is an anthology for which she served as editor, publisher and contributing writer. What began as a small project born of local readings on the topic of sisterhood became a collection of memoirs, essays, poems and short stories by 76 writers representing every continent except Antarctica. This book won a gold medal in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Laura’s stories and articles have appeared in such publications as NorthBay biz magazine, Wisdom Has a Voice, My Gutsy Story, Every Day Fiction, several Vintage Voices anthologies, the Noe Valley Voice and the original San Francisco Examiner. When she isn’t editing trade publication articles at her day-job, Laura is either walking her dogs, puttering in her garden, exploring the Sonoma County countryside, babysitting her granddaughter or working on an as-yet untitled sequel to Reversible Skirt. To receive the first four chapters of this work in progress and become more acquainted with Laura, please subscribe to Letters from Laura using the form provided on this page.
Laura's History: San Franicsco State
Another strong influence on my creative development was San Francisco State University. I was a student in what was then called The Center for Experimental and Interdisciplinary Art, where the emphasis was on developing and strengthening each student’s creative process wherever it might lead. Most of the works I did during that period combined music (which I had studied privately with composer Warner Jepson in San Francisco), spoken words and movement. While an undergraduate, I met the surrealist poet and playwright Nanos Valoritis, who was on the SF State Creative Writing faculty. After graduation, he encouraged me to enter the MFA program there, which I did (in playwriting), but stayed only for one semester. I was feeling stymied creatively and not fully committed to myself as an artist. Plus, I fell in love with a divorced dad with two sons (then six and 10 years old).
Family Life and Storytelling
I soon became a stepmom and mom (of a daughter), and, while some women can do it all, tending to family life and doing freelance business writing to contribute to our family’s income was quite enough for me for the time being. When my daughter was in kindergarden, however, I discovered the ancient art of storytelling. I enrolled in Dominican University’s Certificate in Storytelling program, where I met many mutitalented people, in particular, Ruth Stotter, who founded the program and remains a beloved mentor to this day. I took what I learned there and was able to do storytelling in the classroom throughout my daughter’s grammar school years. I then transitioned to doing storytelling professionally at Bay Area museums, campgrounds, classrooms and special events, and gradually returned to creative writing projects. I also wrote for the Noe Valley Voice, one of San Francisco’s finest neighborhood newspapers, and learned most of what I know about editing from the Voice‘s editor, Sally Smith. I also contributed occasional opinion pieces to the original San Francisco Examiner when Lynn Ludlow was the editor of the Op Ed page.
Now, my husband and I are empty nesters living in Sonoma County. I work full time editing for a trade magazine that covers the bankcard processing beat, and work on book projects on my own time. My aim in all of my creative work is to enliven, engage and empower people (including me).
I launched my award-winning memoir, Reversible Skirt, in March 2011, and published the flash fiction collection, The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song, in November 2012. I’m also founder of indie publishing company Wordforest; a dreamer; sister; caretaker for two goofy, pint-sized dogs; and an overall happy, but always stressed woman who thinks way too much about what she weighs.
Following are five authors whose work influenced me on the long road to writing my memoir, Reversible Skirt:
Sandra Cisneros: Her semiautobiographical novel The House on Mango Street, written in vignettes, affected my emotions more deeply than a traditional narrative with a regular plot line would have. The rhythm of the language, the snapshots of life on Mango Street really seemed to capture the heart of the main character, Esperanza. I like the way Cisneros pushed boundaries in this book; it opened up possibilities for me.
Connie Mae Fowler: Her novel, Before Women Had Wings, is another semiautobiographical novel that captured my heart. There is something magical about a writer who can capture horrendous abuse while also pointing readers the way out of it. If you had an abusive childhood, there is nothing quite like reading a book that captures some of what you experienced; it is a sort of coming home experience, a feeling that, yes, someone does understand. Fowler’s experiences were different than mine, but her writing is part of what made me feel like writing about my experiences could make a difference in other people’s lives.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Her memoir, The Woman Warrier, gives people a stunning view of what it was like to be raised by Chinese immigrant parents in the United States. Learning that non-Chinese people were viewed by Kingston’s family as ghosts was revelatory, an Aha moment when I saw just how it is possible for people to view you in a completely different light than you view yourself. I read this book decades ago and plan to re-read it soon. I’m interested in seeing what the woman warrior myth would mean to me today.
Nuala O’Faolain: While reading O’Faolain’s first memoir, Are You Somebody?, I found myself often thinking, I wish I’d written that. The details of her childhood were harsh, but that isn’t what stayed with me. It was more that I was charmed and impressed by her. The book doesn’t tie things up neatly for the reader, which I like.
Janet Frame: Frame’s book Owls Do Cry is one of my all-time favorite reads. It is original, poignant, moving. I feel she was masterful at using words to convey the interior of her life experiences in the world.