Mazzuca Toops, Laura 1955–

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Mazzuca Toops, Laura 1955–

PERSONAL:

Born March 6, 1955, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Victor (a factory worker) and Emily (a factory worker) Mazzuca; married John W. Toops (a writer), September 24, 1989; children: Emily Dorothy, Douglas Walker. Ethnicity: "Italian." Education: Columbia College, Chicago, IL, B.A., 1986. Religion: Roman Catholic.

ADDRESSES:

Home—LaGrange, IL. Office—NAII Headquarters, 2600 River Rd., Des Plaines, IL 60018. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer. Crain Communications, Chicago, IL, assistant editor, 1987-92; NAII, Des Plaines, IL, senior public affairs specialist, 1998—. Columbia College, journalism teacher; also worked as a journalist, reporter, and five years as a film critic for a Chicago monthly entertainment magazine.

MEMBER:

National Writers Union.

WRITINGS:

The Best Guide to Women's Health, Renaissance Books (Los Angeles, CA), 1998.

A Native's Guide to Chicago's Western Suburbs, Lake Claremont Press (Chicago, IL), 1999.

Slapstick (historical novel), LTD Books, 2000.

The Latham Loop (prequel to Slapstick), Amber Quill Press, 2003.

Hudson Lake, Twilight Times Books (Kingsport, TN), 2006.

Other novels include Jimmy Row and Process of Elimination. Film critic, Illinois Entertainer, 1986-91. Contributor of articles and fiction to periodicals, including Chicago Reader, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Sun-Times.

SIDELIGHTS:

In her first novel, Slapstick, Chicago writer Laura Mazzuca Toops introduces readers to Harold Gilvert, the world's most popular film comedian. It's 1927, and Harold has a million-dollar career, his own studio, and a beautiful wife and two children. While his life may appear perfect on the surface, Harold has problems: his wife is an alcoholic, his children are estranged, and sound movies threaten to bury his silent-film studio. Harold is also having an affair and is haunted by a death from the past. The only reason that Harold doesn't have a breakdown is his love of making comedies, many of which reflect the fears in Harold's own life. "Toops shows her talent by creating a story with a well-paced script and witty dialogue," wrote Elena Channing on the BookPage Web site. "She pulls you into the narrative with her fully drawn, well-researched characters, points of view and atmosphere."

The author's next novel, The Latham Loop, is a prequel to Slapstick and nominally the first book in the proposed "Harold Gilbert" trilogy. The year is 1912, and Harold arrives in Los Angeles seeking to start his career as a comic in the budding film industry. He soon meets Max Randolph, a delivery boy and extra who wants to make dramatic movies like D.W. Griffith. Together, Harold and Max begin a film company that gains success thanks to Harold's comedic talent. Max, however, is looking to consolidate his power over the film company, leading to a confrontation with Harold when naïve young Ella Davies joins the company. "Author Laura Toops takes readers on an unforgettable journey to the not-so distant past to the birth of Hollywood and moving pictures," wrote Sharyn McGinty on the Web site In the Library Reviews.

The author leaves Harold behind for her next novel, Hudson Lake. The story takes place in the summer of 1926 at a rural Indiana dance hall called the Blue Lantern, where Midwesterners come to hear the club's legendary jazz band, which includes Bix Beiderbecke, already a renowned young cornet player. Beiderbecke takes center place in the novel, which includes a romance with the fiery redhead Joy that is jeopardized when young Indiana University student Harriet Braun comes to the resort for the summer. The resort is also the visiting place of bootleggers and even the Ku Klux Klan. Bill Ott, writing in Booklist, noted the author's "ability to capture the intoxicating mix of energy and danger that defined the early days of jazz."

Mazzuco-Toops told CA: "I've been writing since I was able to hold a crayon. I completed my first (really horrible) novel at age fourteen, and wrote stories, songs, and poetry my entire life. However, publishing credits didn't come until I was in my thirties, after I went back to school and got my journalism degree. Later in college, some old-time newsmen and editors at Columbia College took me under their wings and helped me learn how to get the basics straight. Fiction was always my first love, but I enjoy reporting and factual writing as well.

"I think you really have to fall in love with your characters before there's any life to a story. I find myself obsessed even with my most heinous villains. Once you're behind their eyes and can look at the world from their perspective, your story comes to life. Put a bunch of these well-realized characters together, and things start to happen—quite often, things that you didn't have in mind when you were plotting the story.

"I've always loved losing myself in another era, whether it's ancient Egypt, the Civil War, or World War II. For some reason, stories to me are always more interesting when they're set in another time. I read a lot of nonfiction and, in my readings, frequently come across real-life characters whom I find especially compelling. It's great fun to build a story around these people.

"I've always been fascinated with silent movies and the people who made them. It amazes me that people who were such big international stars in the 1920s are virtually unheard-of today. The character of Slapstick's main protagonist, Harold Gilbert, is an amalgam of many of the era's biggest stars, many of whom came from dirtpoor, almost Dickensian childhoods and came up through the ranks of vaudeville. These people were very creative, but they also worked and played very hard. They had egos, but most of them were down-to-earth, regular guys.

"What happens to this sort of people after they hit it big? What motivates them, and what happens when the world they know best begins to change? Most importantly, what happens when these people are no longer able to express themselves creatively? This is a theme that comes up a lot in my writing, and one that I never get tired of looking at. It's a recurrent theme in my second novel, Jimmy Row, a coming-of-age novel set in the 1970s, and in Process of Elimination, which explores the psyche of Reinhard Heydrich, an enigmatic character who many believed would succeed Hitler during World War II.

"I like to compare writing to creating an old-time radio show, in which the producer provided the listener with a few sound effects and some verbal suggestions. The listener's own imagination fleshed out the rest. Similarly, for a writer, a few well-chosen words can do the same thing. I think that's why the movie versions of well-loved books never quite measure up to how you've pictured them in your mind.

"My all-time favorite novel is Studs Lonigan by Chicago writer James T. Farrell—not just because it's set in Chicago in the 1920s, but because it puts you completely into the mind of the protagonist. You become a part of his life, from boyhood to his premature death, and you get to see where human choices can go horribly wrong. Another influence is James M. Cain, who wrote mysteries with a combination of elegance, decadence, and detail that I envy very much.

"My friends and family always encouraged my writing. As a teenager, I remember reading bad poetry to my mother after she came home from working the second shift in a factory. When I was younger, I used to write stories with all my friends as characters. They couldn't wait to hear the next installment. That's what writing is all about.

"My advice to writers is: read, read, and read some more, of whatever turns you on. Don't worry about being derivative. After all, there is nothing new under the sun. Write about what interests you. Create your own world, and go live in it. Forget about the so-called rules and regulations of writing. For every so-called expert who tells you not to write too much internal monologue, or to eliminate flashbacks, there's a published writer who is brilliantly breaking all the rules. Taking such expert advice too much to heart only produces creative constipation. There's a time and a place for rules, and that's when you're editing your masterpiece. Don't think about the rules when you are writing your first draft; it will only inhibit you."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 15, 2006, Bill Ott, review of Hudson Lake, p. 38.

ONLINE

BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (June 28, 2008), Elena Channing, review of Slapstick.

In the Library Reviews,http://www.inthelibraryreviews.net/ (July 17, 2003), Sharyn McGinty, review of The Latham Loop.

Laura Mazzuca Toops Home Page,http://www.lauratoops.com (June 28, 2008).