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Meet Lauryn Peña

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lauryn Peña.

Hi Lauryn, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
During the Spring of 2020, while other people were learning how to bake bread. I was writing my debut novel Love and Mardi Gras. The story has been tucked away in my imagination for nearly ten years. I got the inspiration as I was drinking bloody marys tailgating with my family on the streets of New Orleans, waiting for a parade to arrive. I realized that everything I had heard about Mardi Gras was wrong and that I wanted to share the real Mardi Gras experience with the world. Aside from traveling, the best way I have been able to truly experience something new and foreign to me was by reading. I have my bachelor’s degree in English literature, and every literature major has a secret dream to write a novel. That’s when I started thinking about how to incorporate my experiences from Mardi Gras and New Orleans into a novel. So that’s how I spent my covid summer, I reminisced, I reviewed, and I wrote. When I realized I wanted to fully pursue this dream and goal, I reached out to a friend of mine who has published multiple books. She connected me to her publisher and now one year later, Love and Mardi Gras is available where all books are sold.

But my favorite part about writing Love and Mardi Gras is that it highlights the diversity within two great American cities, Los Angeles and New Orleans. The book also highlights the love and inclusivity we find when we step out of the ordinary its a heroes journey and a love story. Both New Orleans and Los Angeles are not easy places to live. Millions of people have come to Los Angeles to make it big and fulfill their dreams. The residents of both cities have a specific culture and swagger that only locals understand. Both New Orleans and Los Angeles are cities that are welcoming to the misfits and the outcasts. But it can be very isolating and difficult to find your place in the puzzle. Everyone that comes to either Los Angeles or New Orleans endures their own heroes journey, the two cities change you, ideally for the better.

Love and Mardi Gras is a love letter to self-growth, women empowerment, and travel. Los Angeles is in itself a character. It embodies an antagonist and personifies the heartbreak the main character wants to run away from. When the protagonist, Lisa Perez, visits a new city, New Orleans, she grows within herself. I enjoyed using the character type of a manic pixie dream guy as a catalyst to help the main character realize her self-esteem is not tied to a romantic relationship, but it exists within herself. Her surroundings help develop a relationship with who she is and mends her broken heart. Love and Mardi Gras is a heroes journey where the main character leaves Los Angeles in a hurry and disgust in everything it represents. However, she comes back after experiencing a whirlwind romance and a newfound love of New Orleans. She returns to Los Angeles as a newly empowered woman. She rises from the ashes and rebuilds herself like both cities do after their own natural disasters.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The road has not been smooth. I am not a native New Orleanian but I have spent lots of time visiting family who live there. I knew it was crucial to get it accurate and to remain honoring to the city and to the people who live there. It took a lot of research and questions to my friends and family to clarify certain traditions and colloquialisms. Publishing a book takes a long time. It’s borderline soul-crushing when your editor suggests to take out what you believe is a crucial portion of the story but it doesn’t actually fit. The writing process is very complex and I truly envy every writer who is able to find the parts of the story and have the words flow with ease. Also, the timing was not the best. I chose to pursue this journey during covid because it was the first time since I had the idea that I had zero distractions or social obligations in the way. However, without in person signings, it’s tough for a debut author to be noticed when bookstores are just trying to stay in business. Luckily my 9-5 job has remained steady and I was able to pursue this dream without too much risk or fear of financial failure. Luckily, I have been able to go to bookstores and Barnes and Noble locations throughout Southern California to sign copies and take pictures. Hopefully, when covid calms down I can do more book appearances…

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
The reception of the novel has been good. Especially from people who live in New Orleans and have experienced Mardi Gras. When readers tell me how happy they are that I get things about the city right or that they had similar experiences in New Orleans, it makes me feel relieved. A lot of readers identify with the heartbreak that Lisa goes through and that the book has helped them get over their past relationship traumas. I wrote the book specifically for everyone to identify with at least one of characters and the story. So if a character or story helps someone, then as a writer my goal is achieved. A lot of feedback I get has also been people who have never been to New Orleans but now want to go after reading Love and Mardi Gras. I included real-life places, restaurants and locations so I hope that if any readers who read the book do a New Orleans tour Love and Mardi Gras style, they can enjoy the food and story even more. But a lot of people have asked me for a sequel. In September 2021, I debuted Love and Mardi Gras at a bookstore in Salzburg, Austria. That trip helped give me some ideas for a sequel. But readers will have to wait and see what the sequel entails and where Lisa goes next.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
A lot of people who read this will probably think I am just an author. But I am also a trained tech professional and have been working in tech for over ten years. I could not get behind the baking bread trend but I did get into the NFT trend that sparked loudly in 2020 and 2021. I collaborated with a graphic artist to create an NFT version of the book. The cover is the digital art which is designed to resemble the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage posters that are highly coveted and collectible items. The person who purchases the NFT will also receive a signed hard copy of the book. The NFT is available on Opensea.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Photographer: Marvin Gordon @marviizee Direction: Vanessa Gordon @nessagordon30 Hair and Styling: Joe Espinoza @espinozapineapple Makeup: Jennifer Gomes Rep by: Hila Shmilovich- President Westside Talent Management Dress: The Vampires Wife Shoes: SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker

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