Welcome to Author Spotlight! Each week will feature a different author. We’ll get the scoop behind their writing life and dish a little. The authors will also be giving away a copy of their latest book. FUN.
The winner from last week’s Author Spotlight with Richard Marby is Fenny! Please email my assistant Christen with your mailing address. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This week please welcome Lisa Wingate in the spotlight! To win a copy her book Firefly Island (Bethany House Publishing), leave a comment on this post!
Share a little bit about yourself. Married with kids? Empty nester? Do you work full-time and write when you can squeeze it in?
In addition to being a writer, I’m a ranch wife, small-town girl, and mother of two — ordered girls, got boys, learned that boys can be delightful. I started writing when my boys were little, and my first attempt at a women’s fiction novel was inspired by a visit from my grandmother when my first son was born. These days, that baby boy is almost ready to graduate from college, and this year his younger brother will graduate from high school. So… like it or not, we’re practically empty nesters. That’s an adjustment I’m still working on!
Other than walking around with my head in a story, I’ve always enjoyed living in the country, spending time with family, skiing although I’m afraid of heights and a big chicken, so the family leaves me behind and ski instructors point me out as an example of how to slowly make it down a mountain. I love people-watching, as most writers do. I also love teaching Sunday school to high school seniors. Their faith is fresh and growing, and so are their insights into the nature of God. They are at a seeking stage in life, and that causes me to seek also.
And share something about your writing. What’s your genre(s), your areas of interest…
I’ve been writing all my life – a special first grade teacher told me I would be a writer, and I guess you believe what your first grade teacher affirms. My first mainstream novel, Tending Roses, was published in 2001 in the general market by Penguin Putnam. At the time, there was a strong division between general market books and Christian books, and Tending Roses was one of the first novels to fall in that middle ground. Since then, I’ve been blessed to write eighteen novels for both general market and Christian publishers. I love having books shelved in places where people who have never tried a faith-based novel might give one a try.
How did you get started writing? Did you have a dream of being a published author?
My first grade teacher really did make a writer out of me. I think I honed those skills playing let’s pretend in the backyard with friends during childhood. These days, writing is still like a game of let’s pretend for me. I never know what will happen at the end of a book when I begin the story. It’s a journey.
Other than dreaming of being a writer growing up, I dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast or winning the National Finals Rodeo. Those dreams were thwarted by an inability to do a backflip on the balance beam and parents who wouldn’t finance a rodeo career, but one out of three isn’t bad.
After you started writing seriously–how long was it before you were published?
Selling Tending Roses took a little over a year — roughly four months of searching for the right agent, and then about seven or eight months of shopping the book around to publishers. Because it fell somewhere between Christian and mainstream publishing, which were very separate back in the day, that was an interesting process, involving many rewrites and much discussion with several publishers. Eventually, we ended up selling the book to Penguin.
Aside from a cup of good, strong coffee, what helps you get all of your “brain cylinders” firing so you can write well? Do you have any favorite places and routines when you write? How many hours a day do you spend writing?
My daily writer nectar is chai tea in a hand-thrown mug sent to me by Elizabeth Weiler, a sweet friend I met after she put one of my books, in her book about book clubs. Chai tea with a little whipped cream on top (the chocolate variety in this photo) is one of those little bribes I offer myself when a nap or Dr. Phil tempts me in the afternoons.
My mother makes her own chai tea mix, so it’s low fat and optional sugar or sweetener. If you’d like the recipe, you can find it here.
What has been the biggest help to you in the journey to publication? Writers’ conferences? Writing groups? Your mom as your first draft reader?
Definitely my mom as my first draft reader and the help of writing friends. My mother is my assistant (officially) and helps with many aspects of the publishing process. Aside from that, there’s no substitute for connecting with other writers, through conferences and loops. Writing can be a lonely business, and a listening ear, as well as a sharp second eye on those plot lines can help tremendously!
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be? (Explain your answer)
Yes and no. I think, even from an early age, I understood the difficulty of putting an entire story together, of writing an entire book, from once upon a time, to the end. Like a lot of people, though, I think I had a very Hollywood image of life as a writer. The only real writer I ever met as a child was Wilson Rawls. He was speaking at our school because the movie, Where the Red Fern Grows, was being filmed nearby. I don’t think I ever understood that the writing business is more tough days in an office by yourself than it is booksignings and movie deals. That’s a lesson I think each writer has to learn for himself or herself.
What are your biggest distractions?
Everything that isn’t actually writing. But as far as biggest distractions, I have two little words for you: social media. I’m a people person… and… well… there are people there. Oh boy!
What was one of the best moments in your career and what was one of the worst?
I can think of two “best” moments. One came just last year at the American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference. They’d announced early in the evening that, for the first time ever, a book had won its category with perfect scores from all five judges. I never dreamed it would be my book. When they announced that it was Dandelion Summer… I can’t even really describe how surreal that moment was, or how grateful and humbled I felt. To have that vote of confidence from other writers was incredible.
A second (and much quieter) moment that comes to mind was the moment that three early copies of my second book, Good Hope Road arrived in the mail. My boys were little then, and had just come home from school. Since there were three copies, we each took one. I remember the two of them sitting on the sofa on either side of me, reading the book. That was a very sweet moment!
A specific “worst” moment doesn’t come to mind, but it would probably involve the ups and downs of getting published in the first place.
What do you least like about being a writer? Most like?
Most: When one of my stories has a meaningful effect in the life of another person.
Least: When one of my story-babies doesn’t get a warm reception. Yes, negative reviews are part of the business, and the story everyone adores hasn’t been written yet, but still, it’s like having someone criticize one of your children. You love it. You and God made it. And you believe that God meant it to be. When someone offers harsh words, that cute little Taylor Swift song always comes to mind, “why you got to be so mean?” Of course, the reality is, there will always be people who love a book and people who don’t. You just hope the majority of people fall in the first category ;o)
What is the role and importance of an agent?
My belief is that if you’re writing fiction and planning to go the traditional publishing route, you probably need an agent. A few fiction writers manage to get a publishing house to read their work through a personal contact or by making a pitch at a writers’ conference, but if you’re not in that category, then your path probably begins with a careful agent hunt. When you’re considering agents, it is important to look at what sort of help you need and how the agent typically works. Some agents are more hands-on with editing, promotional advice, and so forth. It’s important to know what level and type of management works for you, and to discuss this ahead with the agent. It’s also a good idea to talk with other authors who are already represented by the agent. How does the relationship work? Are they satisfied? Will that type of relationship work for you? Author-agent working arrangements vary widely.
What advice would you give to new writers?
First, remember that everyone starts out as a yet-to-be-published author. I know it sounds elementary, but don’t attempt to set out into the publishing world until you’re fully ready. In other words, begin by finishing a novel. It’s almost impossible to sell a partial manuscript or idea if you’re unpublished. Polish it and send it out, because as much as we’d like them to, editors won’t come looking in your desk drawer. Yes, showing your work to the world involves some risk. Don’t let rejections wash you up on the beach and keep you there. While you’re waiting for news, write another book. If the first one sells, you’ll be set for a two-book deal. If the first one doesn’t sell, you have eggs in another basket.
Don’t take a critique too seriously if you hear it from one person. Editors, agents, friends, and readers are individuals. What works for one may not work for another. If you receive the same comment from multiple sources, consider revising your manuscript before you send it elsewhere. Be tenacious, be as thick-skinned as possible, keep writing while you wait for news.
If there is a particular area of your writing that seems to be holding you back (action scenes, dialog, description, characterization, etc) devote extensive study to this area. Seek out conference sessions and online workshops devoted to the topic. Study other authors’ techniques in this area. Don’t just read and admire—dissect, break down, make notes, keep a scrapbook of examples and notes-to-self. Read these notes-to-self when you’re stuck/struggling/editing something that isn’t working.
Watch for overbalance of narrative in your writing. Nothing slows down the pace of a story like huge patches of narrative. Narrative produces pages with big, blocky paragraphs that read slowly, and that tend to “tell” rather than “show”. When possible, work story elements into dialog, action, reaction, and short thought sequences, rather than using narrative. For example, rather than describing the main street of your town, have your character walk down Main, greet a neighbor or two, and reflect on a few random childhood memories of people/places. Be careful that you don’t slide down the slippery slope of having characters engage in meaningless chatter designed only to dump information to the reader, but always seek opportunities to work details in naturally during character interactions. Remember that body language speaks volumes, too.
Lastly, never marry yourself to one project. Keep creating new material—that’s where the joy is, and if you keep the joy of this business, you keep the magic of it. If you have a God-given desire to write and a story to tell, then don’t let anything hold you back.
Pretend I’m a customer at a bookstore looking for a good book. Give me a one or two sentence promo to convince me to buy your book.
I think I’d use the “official” tweet line for Firefly Island: “Have you read Firefly Island? One reviewer said, “This book is a kidnapper! My family didn’t see me for two days!”
What’s on the book horizon for you?
I actually have two books on the horizon after Firefly Island — one coming in September 2013, and the next Moses Lake book, coming in February 2014. I’m really excited about both. It has been a busy, but fun, writing year!
Last question, how can readers find you and your books?
I love connecting with readers and other writers, and story-people of all types, so I’m everywhere. On any given day, you can find me dawdling at these places:
Thank you for sharing your writing life with my bleaders! (blog + readers = bleaders)