We had the good fortune of connecting with Laine Cunningham and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Laine, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Authors–and sculptors and painters and publishers–know that their lives are defined by the risks involved in pursuing a career in the arts. And I do mean their entire lives. To gain skill in a particular area, and to continue building those skills outside an academic setting, requires that every day be built around finding time and creating the level of mental clarity that supports learning, thinking, and doing. We’ve all heard about those old-school folks who, back in the 1950s and 1960s, shut themselves in their rooms and didn’t participate in the life of the household. Often they expected their spouse to take care of the things that keep a family on track. Hopefully we don’t see too much of that happening these days.
But that old-school setup does demonstrate a real truth for authors and artists: you have to remain single-mindedly focused on your creative work. You have to make sacrifices in terms of money, time, and attention. Every sacrifice made involves some type of risk.
One of the riskiest moves I ever made was connected to my life as an author. I attended a residency program, a month-long period of time spent in a house set aside by a rural community’s art program, to work on my first novel. The wide-open land, fields of sunflowers that turned every hour to follow the sun, and the isolation moved me so deeply I cried when I took the shuttle to the airport.
I’d been wanting to leave Sacramento, California for a while, but hadn’t been able to pull together any kind of opportunity to make that happen. When I got back from the residency, I knew that I couldn’t wait for a safe constellation to line up. I gave away everything I owned, gave notice at my part-time job, and drove back to the same town where the residency took place. I had around $200 in credit available on a card. The only reason I had any cash was because a work friend, who was also a playwright, gave me $40 on my last day at work.
The next several years were incredibly difficult financially. Can I mention that there was more than a little culture shock, as well? 😉 No one wants to make that level of sacrifice. But it was absolutely the right move, and I would do it again. Yes, I would do it again.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Building a life as a fiction author, like building a life when you work in other artforms, is tough. In addition to the usual challenges faced by people who are pursuing skills in a specific area, authors often have to explain their obsession to others. They have to lay out why they are working so hard in a field where money is poor (at best), support evaporates outside of academia, and whatever you achieve has to be built nearly on your own. If anyone out there is on their own path, know that persistence is key. During the thirty years I’ve dedicated to writing, I’ve met a number of people who quit. Some left their art behind for months or years; others quit for a decade or more. Nearly all of them returned at some point, and all of those individuals regretted having left for any period of time. They missed it too much. They gave up a part of themselves for too long.
So, never quit. Move forward a little every day, or just do something every week. You will see progress over time. You will level up all on your own. By making this promise to yourself, you will succeed.
And you can do it without a degree.
Ever since I left that cushy corporate job and started writing, I’ve participated in many areas of the arts. I’ve been a judge for national contest, state arts councils, and international magazines. I’ve helped small presses bring the works of their authors to the market. And I’ve seen how a lack of opportunity threatens to silence voices that deserve to be heard.
To that end, in 2019, I launched Sunspot Literary Journal. It’s an international magazine of art and literature that publishes everything from micropoetry to novella-length fiction and nonfiction. Last year, the magazine published a play called “a mascu-poem” written by Malick Ceesay. Around that time, I saw the opera based on Charles M Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. The visceral response I had to Ceesay’s work equaled what I felt while watching “Fire.” It was an honor to publish Ceesay’s work, as well as the works of other individuals that the world needs to hear.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The answer might surprise you. I will say, though, that this was not my idea. When a friend and fellow artist stayed with me, she wanted to go to Waffle House. She’s originally from France, and although she’d lived in several countries before then, she had heard about diners in general and Waffle House in particular. We went in the middle of the day and ordered breakfast. We sat at the counter so she could watch the meal being cooked on the griddle. When the waitress discovered how special the visit was, she brought over a paper crown. My friend ate her first biscuit with the crown perched on her head. She talks about that visit to this day.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Because I’m a self-taught outsider, with no MFA or work experience inside a heritage publishing house, the support I’ve received has been generously provided by other authors, regional and state arts councils, and literary programs like workshops and residencies. Among the most important are Lynn Cullen, whose encouragement early in my career as a novelist made me cry; Marina Merli, the amazing coordinator of Arte Studio Ginestrelle in Assisi, Italy, whose heart is a roaring bonfire that still gives me warmth today; Maaza Mengiste, whose leadership of the SLS Tbilisi workshop and whose participation in the Georgian cultural programs grounded my approach to writing and life; Terese Svoboda, for her unflinching truth-telling; and Joshua Mensch, because his no-bull feedback during the Prague Summer Program was precisely what I needed to level up. These opportunities would not have been available without the grants, scholarships, and fellowships from regional, state, national, and international arts programs. I am grateful for every moment.

Website: https://sunspotlit.com/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lainecunningham/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AuthorLaine

Image Credits
Cover design 2019, 2020, 2021: Angel Leya Cover image 2021: “Blind” by Taylor Moon Cover image 2020: “Gaslighting” by Johnson Bowles Cover image 2019: “Priorities” by Kit Alloway

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutAtlanta is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.