It's such a pleasure to have my friend and fellow-author visit this week! Read on to find out more about Lisa and her writing journey!
How long have you known that you were a writer? Did you receive a clear “call?” Or have you just loved writing all your life?
It all started with my seventh grade English teacher, Miss Lee, who introduced me to creative writing and figurative language. She had a reputation for being pretty tough, but I found her to be very encouraging. When we had to write a term paper on a career in eighth grade, I picked magazine journalism.
Then, on the other end of the spectrum, I had a professor in college who told me that my poetry sounded like a Hallmark card -- and I don’t think that was intended as a compliment! Admittedly, I had done the project at the last minute, but I haven’t written poetry since. It’s amazing how we carry our complimenters and detractors with us for years when it comes to something as personal as writing.
What is the genre you write in? Would you explain what it is?
I write in several genre, and I write both fiction and non-fiction. My novel, Casting the First Stone is contemporary women’s Christian fiction, but it’s a little edgier than much of what’s in that market. I consider it women’s fiction because the protagonists are female and the stories are relationship-driven. It focuses more on people than plot twists.
I’ve also written a middle grade novel, which is gathering dust in a drawer. I consider the audience for that book to be upper elementary-aged students -- somewhere between 4th grade and 6th grade, or roughly between the ages of 9 & 11. In fact, when I was working on it, I read it to some of my fifth grade students.
My other two books, Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce are in the educational market -- I wrote them when I was working as a school counselor, and their intended audience is other counselors and adults who care about kids. My 2014 project is finishing a book on organization that I began when I was still working as a counselor and finding it a home!
Oh, and I also blog and write articles (non-fiction)...when I can fit them in between book projects!
How do you spend your writing days? Do you set goals to reach a certain number of words per day? Can you give us a general idea of how long it takes you to write a novel?
Because I also teach, I divide my time between class preparation and writing. I’ve only been an adjunct professor for one semester, so the preparation for my college course is still pretty intense, and when classes are in session, I spend at least half of my weekdays teaching, planning or grading. As for the adult education classes, I’ve been teaching them long enough that I’ve figured out how to work that preparation in and still find time to write. And, since those classes focus primarily on writing and organization, preparing for them benefits my writing as well. Between semesters and during the summer, I’m better able to devote larger blocks of time to writing, but I don’t really set word count goals. I try to break whatever project I’m working on into chunks and decide which chunk it’s reasonable to expect to manage that day.
How long it takes to write a novel depends on the novel, and I don’t really keep track of how long each one takes. Finishing the first draft is just the beginning, and I also tend to work on multiple projects simultaneously.
That said, I wrote my middle grade novel pretty quickly (under a year), but it’s still sitting in a drawer :-) Casting The First Stone is actually the second novel I wrote, and though it seemed long after writing a middle grade novel, we had trouble finding a home for it because many publishers found it to be too short for the market. The next novel I wrote (same genre and audience) ended up being too long, so trimming it will be part of my revision process. I’m like the Goldilocks of novel writing!
What is the spiritual message in your latest book? What can readers expect to get from reading it?
I actually answered this question last because I had the most difficulty with it. I could ramble on about themes for pages, but distilling this message was tough for me. Then it came to me. It’s the same thing I struggle with regularly -- let go and let God. One character struggles to discover how to do that (or if she even wants to) when she feels betrayed by the faith of her upbringing, while another is trying mightily to do it when it looks as though something she has always wanted is out of reach. Other characters in this book have lots of ideas about God and faith -- some good, and some misguided -- but the concept of faith touches nearly every character in this book in some way.
You recently had another book published. Would you take this time to describe it to us? How and where can readers buy your books?
It’s been a decade between books, mostly because I switched from non-fiction to fiction. The books I wrote ten (or more) years ago are the ones in the educational market. Acting Assertively went out of print, and was redone as an ebook through Marco Products, the original publisher, and Diverse Divorce can still be purchased through Marco.
Casting the First Stone releases January 27 and is available through Amazon.
Where do you get ideas? Character names? Do you find your characters similar to you in any way?
My educational books were fully inspired by my students, their struggles and the classroom guidance lessons and small groups I put together for them. Those interactions gave me the ideas that sparked the books, but no story is about any one student (despite the fact that many asked to be put in my book!) Like a writer who reads a story in the newspaper and thinks, “what if?” I looked at the developmental themes and issues my students faced and asked the same questions.
Casting the First Stone was indirectly inspired by a character in my middle grade novel. I had written that book (All I Want for Christmas is My Old Life Back) from the point-of-view of the preteen whose father remarries. I’d been reading Emily Giffin (women’s fiction) and Lisa Yee (juvenile), along with a couple of Christian fiction books that pushed the envelope a bit, and the “what ifs” started. “What if” I wrote about this topic (divorce) for adults in the Christian market? I didn’t want to use the mother in All I Want for Christmas is My Old Life Back, but she became the starting point for Marita in Casting the First Stone.
Do you ever feel like giving up? Most people don’t understand the stress, the work, and the joy of being a writer. How tenuous becoming a writer is. Do you care to share how it feels, what discouraging/encouraging times you’ve gone through? Who’s inspired you the most?
I rarely feel like giving up, but that’s because I don’t just write. Creating, planning and teaching lessons is both a parallel pursuit and one that counterbalances the hyperfocus of writing a book. I can escape to it when the going gets tough in my writing world, and can escape from it when I’m immersed in a writing project.
In addition, I’ve blessed with an incredible support system. In addition to my family and friends -- especially my colleagues in education with whom I’d worked for so many years. The latter group just assumed that I’d start my writing career in earnest when I retired, and that gives me an injection of confidence during the times I need it the most.
Also, over the years, I’ve developed a network of writer friends, and we prop each other up when that becomes necessary. I absolutely adore Facebook from that perspective -- without it, I would not have “met” so many of the writers I “talk” to at least once a week! Many of us have never met in person, but have lengthy chats via email and messages on Facebook, ranging from sharing resources to helping each other out to talking about our trials and our blessings. I am blessed to have an incredible support system, and constantly amazed by how generous the writing community is when it comes to sharing knowledge and offering support.
Would you explain how you “chose” (or was chosen) a publisher? Do you just go “inny, minny, miny, moe?” Grin. Now, that you’re published, can you sit back and relax from the success you’ve experienced?
At the time this book was sold, I was represented by an agent, so she found the publisher for me. Because Casting the First Stone is not only a little edgy for Christian fiction, but also, as I said before, short for this genre, we had difficulty placing it. I was happy to end up at a small publisher where I got to keep some elements of control over my writing. When it comes to my books, I like getting my hands dirty, and although it’s a challenge to keep up with everything at times, I like that I can directly impact the success of my book both on my own and through the publisher.
Do you mind telling us some of your likes and dislikes? Hobbies, interests? Where would you like to travel if you could? Etc.
I grew up about an hour from the beach, but it wasn’t until I became an old married lady that I grew to love it. We lucked into a condo rental in a beach development that has come to feel like our home away from home. The condos all have screened-in porches, and I think that screened-in porch might just be my favorite place in the world. It’s definitely one of my favorite places to write.
I love to read, though I don’t ever seem to have time to read all the books that interest me, and I love to learn. Teaching at the college level has sparked a thirst for knowledge that I haven’t had since I was pregnant. I think there’s a connection, though -- I’m teaching a class on child development, which absolutely fascinates me. The strides we are making in understanding the human brain are just astounding.
I love teaching, too. In the first year after I retired, I did a lot of teaching in adult education programs and it’s so rewarding. The people who take the classes are there because they want to be there, and they’re generally well-informed, respectful audiences. It’s also so much fun to see someone take steps toward a goal, whether it’s organization or time management or writing a story, and it’s refreshing to see adults who have dreams and are willing to work to realize them.
I wish I were as interested in keeping my body active as I am in keeping my mind active. I hate to exercise, and most of the foods I most enjoy aren’t good for me. Iced chai tea lattes from Starbucks are my daily writing lubricant, and I eat chocolate in some form on every day that ends in ‘y’.
Lol. You're my kind of friend. Would you give us your blog or webpage so everyone can check it out? Anything else you’d like to share? Promotional information?
My blog is actually more up-to-date than my website. If you go to www.L2Hess.blogspot.com and click on the Media Room tab, you can link to all of my books and my most active social media sites. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed creating all the promotional pieces that go with writing a book. While there are plenty of technological tools I’ve yet to explore, I’ve had a lot of fun expanding my blog, figuring out Pinterest and Twitter and creating my author page on Facebook.
Lisa's Facebook Book Launch party: https://www.facebook.com/events/246072105553345/ begins on January 27! Join in.
For more information about Lisa, check out her website (www.L2Hess.com) or read her blog at www.L2Hess.blogspot.com. Lisa is also a community blogger for her local public radio and television station, WITF. This blog, Six Children and No Theories, can be found at www.witf.org/six-children-no-theories.