Laurell was born in Heber Springs, Arkansas but grew up in Sims, Ind. A hamlet with a population of 100. Laurell's mother was killed in a car crash in 1969. Laurell's mother Suzie Kline and her grandmother had been the other's strength with Mrs. Gentry the one who kept the household together. Her mother's death, her grandmother's role in raising her and growing up with no male in the home are "the three things that made who I am," she says. Though she still believes she would have grown up to be a writer regardless.