Almost every day, two women sit in the same booth of the same Panera restaurant doing the same thing—typing away on their laptops.
The Panera in Edgewater is often an unofficial office for people who telecommute or work from home, but for Lea Nolan and Laura Kaye, the local bakery and coffee shop is where they delve into worlds filled with vampires, magicians and star-crossed lovers.
Years ago, both women were settled into “normal” jobs—Nolan, a research analyst from Edgewater, and Kaye, a college professor from Annapolis. But after the two read the Twilight saga, their lives changed. Now almost every day, Kaye and Nolan sit across from each other in Panera writing their own novels, ranging from teen fantasy to adult-themed paranormal romance.
“I never thought I’d be in a coffee shop every day,” said Nolan, who spent 15 years working in Washington, DC.
Between the two of them, the local authors have been published numerous times through several publishers including Harlequin, Entangled and others. Kaye has had her work published nine times and recently agreed to a four-book deal with HarperCollins. Nolan, too, has been published and her newest book, Conjure, will be released on Oct. 23.
For Kaye, the "strange road" that led her to writing began with something called online fan fiction—tangential storytelling based on books, movies or stories developed by other authors.
Kaye said she felt “a real sense of loss” after she finished reading the Twilight series, So to satisfy her interest, she began writing a spin-off story based on the Twilight universe. Under the name Laura A. Cullen—similar to Twilight’s Edward Cullen—Kaye wrote a 28-chapter, online novel called The List. It’s currently one of the highest rated and most read Twilight fan fictions of all time.
“[The List] got a lot of boom chick-a-wow-wow,” Kaye said with a smile, referring to the titillating style she injected into her fan fiction novel.
After Kaye “awakened” her passion for storytelling and Nolan also discovered that she could write stories for a living, the two began meeting more than a year ago and working individually. Nolan left her job as a research analyst and admitted that the money isn't as good, but expressed her gratitude that she can turn at least turn words into dollar bills.
Kaye, whose four-book deal with HarperCollins could earn her six figures, still teaches courses at a nearby university.
“I spent seven years and tens of thousands of dollars to get a masters degree and pursue a Ph. D., I never intended on doing anything else. But where I liked [teaching], and I was good at it—I love [writing] and I think I’m really good at this. This is where my heart is,” Kaye said.
“I loved what I did. For a long time, it defined me. I was so passionate about it,” Nolan said. “I never thought I’d be in a coffee shop every day.”
Both women are married with children, but it’s the character development required when writing in-depth novels that has them admitting to being “slightly crazy.”
“We’re grown ups with imaginary friends,” Kaye said.
As the novelists develop characters for their published works, both women admitted to hearing voices from those characters long after the books have been completed. Developing personalities for a story sometimes means changing your own personality too, Nolan said.
To complete Conjure, her biggest project to date, Nolan said she immersed herself in music she wouldn't listen to otherwise.
“I actually listened to ‘steam punk,’” Nolan said, referring to music that’s a mix between folk-rock and industrial-dance.
The novelists agreed that being "a little crazy" is an essential part of their creative process when writing stories worth reading.
In the next two weeks, both Kaye and Nolan have new books coming out. On Oct. 23, Nolan releases the first of The Hoodoo Apprentice series called Conjure, and said she's making a special appearance at the Edgewater library on Oct. 18 to promote it. Just a few days later, Kaye releases her latest work called One Night with a Hero.
“Being published is a professional validation of your work,” Kaye said. “It’s really significant.”
After opening themselves to a world of fantasy, both women said they focus most of their time on the journey of writing, and deeply connecting with those who read their books.
“If somebody picks up one of my books and feels even a glimmer of hope or a glimmer of happiness from whatever troubles they have in their life, I mean, I’ve done my job. And that feels like a huge contribution to me,” Kaye said.