The Art & Craft of Writing!
Lisa authored Sisters in All Seasons, a five-volume young adult series, as well as Write Before Your Eyes, The Princesses of Atlantis (in its fourth reprinting), and Eleanor Hill, winner of the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Her stories for the young have appeared in Cricket, Cicada, Spider, and Odyssey magazines. She earned an MFA from Queens University and lives in Mooresville, NC with her veterinary husband.
Interviewer: When did you decide and what lead you to become a writer?
Lisa: As early as second grade, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wrote and illustrated a series of stories called “The Adventures of Little Horse and Little Lamb” on that wide-ruled paper we used then. The two characters were best friends, and walked around on their hind legs like people! In fifth grade, I started a novel about a boy and girl searching for penicillin for their brother who had strep throat. I had just read Tom Sawyer and I believe my characters spent a good deal of time in a cave. They also had to cross a mountain range. I abandoned the project when someone asked why they didn’t just go to the drug store to get the penicillin, thus revealing the gaping holes in my plot.
Interviewer: Did you also explore writing poetry or non-fiction?
Lisa: I have always had a penchant for making things up! In one of my writers’ groups there were a number of poets, so I learned a little about poetry and figurative language by listening to their comments, but I’ve never really written a poem. I wrote a non-fiction book about floods several years ago, and enjoyed doing the research quite a lot, but overall my interest is primarily fiction. That’s what I read, too.
Interviewer: Which type of fiction would you now consider to be your “passion”?
Lisa: My favorite books to read are literary and women’s fiction. When I write, the voice often comes out as a young person about 12 or 13. I’ve published mostly middle-grade novels, but have also published a collection of short stories for adults. I hope to write more of both.
Interviewer: If you also teach, does your writing interface with your teaching?
Lisa: I enjoy teaching creative writing a lot, and when I’m researching lectures for my students it refreshes my own knowledge of a topic. Some recent students wanted to know more about how to show a character’s emotions. I started looking through my resource materials and found a few articles and blog posts on objective correlative that defined it really well as symbol which represents a character’s emotions, and that reminded me to try to use it more in my own writing. So, yes, teaching does interface with my writing. There was a time in my life, though, when my teaching left me no mental energy for writing. So it’s a balance.
Interviewer: Is some, most, or all of your writing conceived through personal experience?
Lisa: Sometimes my writing is consciously conceived through personal experience, and sometimes it’s unconscious. For example, in my most recent book, Season of Change, I needed to have something pretty dramatic having to do with wildlife happen to one of my main characters. While I was working on the story my husband and I accidentally hit a deer while driving. My character had coincidentally just gotten her license, and I decided hitting a deer would be the perfect thing to happen to her. I found an example of an unconscious use of personal experience in my first book, Eleanor Hill, when I was recently rereading it to prepare for a book club. My main character had an aunt and uncle who fondly bickered and corrected each other. I realized, rereading the scene years later, I had been writing about my parents.
Interviewer: Do you consider commercial value when choosing subjects and characters for your stories or poems?
Lisa: I really don’t. I write about characters and themes that occupy my mind. You have to be somewhat obsessed with a story to be willing to write a whole novel about it and then go through multiple edits. I don’t think I could do that with a story I wasn’t truly interested in. I have often heard it said that trying to write for what’s “hot” can backfire because by the time your story gets through the pipeline – writing it, finding an agent, being acquired and edited – the trend will have passed and something new will be hot. I try to follow the wise advice to write from my heart.
Interviewer: I guess that means you won’t be writing about vampires. Do you have an agent, and if so, how did you find him/her?
Lisa: My agent is Caryn Wiseman at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I sent her a manuscript of historical fiction that I’d spent about two years writing and researching. She took me on based on that manuscript. It never sold, but the next one did.
Interviewer: In what ways does an agent improve your commercial success?
Lisa: Caryn has many more contacts in the publishing business than I do, and she has found homes for several of my manuscripts that I am sure I couldn’t have found on my own. I also feel that she was able to negotiate larger advances than I would have been able to negotiate.
Interviewer: Do you work only with a publisher? Or have you also self-published?
Lisa: I have not self-published. So far, I’ve worked with three publishers: Carus Publishing, Delacorte Press, and Zondervan. The process has changed over the years. With Carus, my editor sent the marked-up manuscript via snail mail, and we had at least four rounds of edits. With Delacorte, there were fewer rounds of edits, and we worked about half with hard copy and half with electronic files. With Zondervan, my editor and I worked exclusively with electronic files.
Interviewer: What is your favorite of all your works? Why?
Lisa: One writer I admire, Sharon Creech, said in an interview that having to choose a favorite among her works was like trying to choose a favorite child, and that comment resonated with me. My favorite is usually the one I’m working on!
Interviewer: Authors do sometimes speak of birthing their books. So perhaps they are extra children, each unique and not easily compared to one another. And so far, none of the authors I’ve interviewed have been able to choose a favorite book. If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
Lisa: The one thing that I would do over again would be to understand the importance of promotion earlier in my career. At first, I had bad stage fright and avoided making appearances. I’d also been brought up Southern, and was uncomfortable calling attention to myself or my achievements. Now I’m trying to get over those things, because having to promote is part of a writer’s job these days. There is no getting around it.
Interviewer: What or who has been the greatest influence in your writing?
Lisa: I can’t speak to influences, but I have wanted with all my heart to one day be able to make readers feel the way certain writers’ books have made me feel. Young people’s writers I love include E.B. White, Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Lois Lowry, Roald Dahl, and Sarah Dessen. Adult writers I deeply admire include Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett.
Interviewer: All high quality writers, and we want our young readers to emulate writers like them–and like you. Is there a particular humorous or touching story in your experience as a writer/artist that you can share with our readers?
Lisa: A writer friend recently told me that her 11-year-old daughter had read my Sisters in All Seasons series about five times. Another friend told me her daughter had reread Eleanor Hill more than once. Learning that my books had resonated with these girls touched me deeply.
Interviewer: What greater compliment can a writer want? We look forward to learning the tricks, promises, and problems of writing a series.
Washington Civic Center, Washington, NCSaturday, March 8, 2014 9:00 am – 6:00 pm