Monday, March 15, 2010
There’s a bit of me in each of my characters, but in general my characters are composites of people I’ve met. Though the names have been changed to protect reputations, and details have been altered to make everyone younger and better looking, most of the characters in Never Say Never were created from bits and pieces of real-life characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting around town and in my travels. One of the most wonderful things about writing a story set close to home is that almost anything can serve as research. I find my characters at the gas station, the local movie theater, the feed store, football games on Friday night, and church potlucks on Sunday afternoon. Basically, no good joke goes unrecorded, and no one is safe. Writers are the people sitting at the ballpark with one eye on the game and one ear in the stands. You never know when the next great idea will land in your lap, or when the next potential character will stroll by on the way to the concession stand.
Some members of the Wingate family might also claim to recognize themselves among the citizens of Daily, Texas. I would offer the disclaimer that any resemblances are completely unintentional, but that would be a bald-faced lie. When you come from a family of great storytellers and colorful characters, there’s nothing to do but make use of what you’ve got.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
You mean that I’d admit to in public? Since we’re talking about books… riding on a Founder’s Day parade float in McGregor, Texas, while wearing an antique prom dress, sporting a tiara, and singing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" comes to mind. Not only are the ladies of the McGregor Tiara Literary Society a fun-loving group of readers, they’re nothing if not quirky. When I agreed to be the speaker at their inaugural meeting (they were reading my first book, Tending Roses, at the time) they emailed the response, “Wonderful! Will you be bringing your own tiara, or will you need a loaner?” Upon arriving at their meeting in my tiara, I not only gave my first ever tiara book talk, but also participated in the election of various princesses, such as the Princess of Email and the Princess of the Potluck List. Shortly afterward, I was invited to ride on the Tiara Club float in the upcoming Founder’s Day Parade. Of course, with the Tiaras, there’s always more to an event than meets the eye. It was only after I’d agreed that they responded with, “We’re so excited! Would you like to come to McGregor to try on prom dresses, or should we bring them to you?”
Sounds like a wonderful time. I'd have loved it. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember. My older brother was a good writer, and when you’re the youngest in the family, you want to do what the older kids do. When he won a school award for his poem, “The Bee Went Under the Sea,” I was so impressed by his literary brilliance (and the blue ribbon) that I immediately went to my bedroom and created my first book, The Story of a Dog Named Frisky. The Frisky story was the start of many partially-completed writing projects.
A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, put the idea if being a real writer into my head. She found me writing a story one day at indoor recess, and she took the time to stop and read it. When she was finished, she tapped the pages on the desk to straighten them, looked at me over the top and said, “You are a wonderful writer!” That was a defining moment for me. In my mind, I was a writer. When your first grade teacher tells you that you can do something, you believe it.
Growing up, I often wrote in response to things I felt were wrong in the world. I wanted to create something that would cause people to stop and think, to treat each other and the world around them with greater kindness and grace. Those desires eventually led me to write my first mainstream novel, Tending Roses, which was published in 2001.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I read as often and as much as I can, which varies depending on writing schedules and family activities. These days, I often have the pleasure of reading books by authors I’ve met at book events. Reading a story by someone I’ve actually met is special, because there’s a dimension beyond just the printed page. I can look through what’s written and see bits of the writer.
I read in all genres. I love any book that whisks me up, takes me on a journey, and leaves me with the sense that the character’s heart, soul, and life have been changed for the better.
In terms of classics, I love anything by Twain, because the writing is real and timeless. Reading Twain makes you realize that, when you take away the modern trappings, people really haven’t changed all that much. There’s a little Huck Finn in all of us. I enjoy the writings of Will Rogers for the same reason. Rogers’ humor is dead-on today, just as it was when he penned it. I’ve loved sharing C.S. Lewis with my sons as they’ve grown up, as well. Gift From the Sea is another tiny, but favorite classic.
In terms of modern writers, I enjoy reading anything by Debbie Macomber, Luanne Rice, Adriana Trigiani, and others. Most recently, I’ve loved Janice Hanna Thompson’s Fools Rush In and Judy Christie’s Gone to Green. I enjoy any story that explores life in a positive way and ends with the belief that all things are possible.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I write for both Penguin Putnam (New American Library) and Bethany House, typically one book per year for each publisher. Never Say Never is my thirteenth release for these two companies. In order, the books are:
TENDING ROSES SERIES
Good Hope Road
The Language of Sycamores
Drenched in Light
A Thousand Voices
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY SERIES
Lone Star Cafe
Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner
DAILY TEXAS SERIES
Talk of the Town
Word Gets Around
Never Say Never
BLUE SKY HILL SERIES
A Month of Summer
The Summer Kitchen
Beyond Summer (July 2010)
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
When I find it, I’ll let you know! Seriously, though, I think maintaining sanity and staying focused in a world filled with sound bytes, distractions, and demands is a challenge. There’s a silent intimation that if we can’t do everything, be everything, and have everything all at once, we’re somehow failing in life. For me, the key to not driving myself crazy is in facing the fact that I’m just me. I’m not Wonder Woman, and that’s okay. I try to remind myself of the things that really matter and to stay focused on what that will be significant in a year, five years, ten years, and so on. So many of the modern pastimes and issues that eat up our time and cause worry really don’t matter beyond tomorrow, when you get right down to it.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
As much as I love writing and speaking, my greatest accomplishment in life is my family. I’m the mom of two awesome farm boys who are now rushing toward adulthood much faster than I’d thought possible. Life with boys has been a nonstop adventure filled with tree forts, sand pile cities, and unexpected pets captured in unlikely locations. The more years go by, the more I realize that the most precious memories are the ordinary ones of picnic lunches at the creek out back, rainy afternoons playing cutthroat Yhatzee, and evenings spent lying side by side in bed reading a story before lights out. I think recognizing those moments as they’re happening and treasuring them up has been and continues to be my greatest accomplishment.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A horse, definitely. I was a horse-crazy girl growing up, which is probably why I live on a ranch today. As kids, we spent hours on horseback, exploring creeks and woods, and old homesteads left to go to seed. I loved exploring crumbling barns and old home foundations, and imagining the people who built them. Some of my earliest stories were created while playing “let’s pretend” on the back of a horse.
What is your favorite food?
Dessert—any kind. I’m perfectly happy to skip the meal and move straight to the sweets. Life is short, after all!
I so agree. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
My greatest roadblock was, and still is what I lovingly call the dreaded HOBBICs (not to be confused with Hobbits). Honestly, the toughest part of writing for me is just getting to the point of Hands On Keyboard and Backside In Chair. Once I’m finally there and into the story, hours can pass and I barely notice. Unfortunately, on the way to the chair and the keyboard, I can find a million distractions—the dog looks hungry…the laundry hamper is full…there’s a pretty bird outside and I should take a picture…it’s three o’clock and Dr. Phil must be missing me…who’s on Facebook and what are they talking about? You name it, I can become distracted by it. For me, overcoming the HOBBICs is about giving myself a page quota each day and sticking to it. The sooner I start and the harder I work, the sooner I have my pages all nicely tucked into the manuscript. For a writer, there’s no better feeling than that!
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
First, finish a novel. It’s almost impossible to sell a partial 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. 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 editor/agent, unless there’s an imminent contract involved. Editors and agents, just like the rest of us, 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 a thick-skinned as possible, keep writing while you wait for news. Never stop creating new material—that’s where the joy is, and if you keep the joy of this business, you keep the magic of it.
Tell us about the featured book?
Some book ideas you search for, and some just blow in on the wind, as did the idea for Never Say Never. During the past several years, we in Central Texas have been the recipients of massive influxes of evacuees during hurricane evacuations. These costal exoduses of people, pets, and belongings are frightening, frustrating, challenging, and at times oddly wonderful. When so many are on the road seeking shelter, the worst, but also the best qualities of humanity come to the surface. We’ve enjoyed amazing moments of friendship, family reunions, and chances to share a food and space with strangers from other places. We’ve traded stories and recipes, laughter and tears.
One thing we’ve learned about hurricanes, living here, is that the paths are never predictable. Storms waver, hesitate, speed up, slow down, and sometimes change course unexpectedly. Evacuations can change and develop quickly. What better way for the three old girlfriends from Daily, Texas, to break out of a rut, than for a trip to the coast to land them smack in the middle of a sudden and chaotic hurricane evacuation?
Having watched our little town mobilize to take in hurricane evacuees several times now, I’ve been reminded that sometimes the worst things that can happen bring out the best in people. Given the opportunity and faced with the need, regular people can rise to the occasion in amazing ways, as do the citizens of Daily in the book.
Please give us the first page of the book.
You’d imagine, livin’ high and dry in the middle of Texas, with the jackrabbits and the prickly pears, you wouldn’t close your eyes at night and feel the water. In this country, people think of water like the narrow string that runs over the rocks in Caney Creek, or drifts long, and slow, and lazy down the Brazos or the Guadalupe. But when I close my eyes, I feel the kind of water that surrounds you and seeps into your mind and soul, until you breathe in and out with the tides.
Where, in heaven’s name, would a person get a dream like that in Daily, Texas, where the caliche-rock ground’s so hard the county’s got no need to pave roads—they just clear a trail and let folks drive on it. It’ll harden up quick enough and stay that way three quarters of the year while the farmers and the ranchers watch the sky and hope for rain. Life here hasn’t got much to do with water, except in the waiting for it. But every night when I close my eyes, I feel a tide, rockin’ back and forth under my body. I been feeling it for sixty-nine and a half years now, long as I can remember. I never did anything about it, nor told anybody. They’d think I was nutty as a bullbat, and when you’re a businesswoman in a small town, well, you got to protect your reputation. That goes double, if you’re the hairdresser, and a redhead. We all know what kind of reputation hairdressers and redheads got.
All that’s even more important for someone whose people, historically speaking, ain’t from Daily. In a little town, even if you been there all your life, you’re not native unless you can trace your roots back generations. There’s still folks that’ll point out (in a backhanded way mostly, because they’re all gonna need a haircut sooner or later) that I’m only a Daily girl by half, on my father’s side. On the other side, there’s a bit of scandal the biddies still cluck about.
My daddy was what you’d call a prodigal. After leaving behind his fine, upstandin’ family and a half-dozen broken-hearted girls of marriageable age in Daily, he wandered the world for so long everyone thought he’d either landed in jail or got hisself killed in a barroom fight. Then one day, he showed up at my grandparents’ hotel building on Main Street, as mysterious as he left. He wasn’t alone, either. He was driving a 1937 Chevy folks thought he must of got in a bank robbery, and he had a girl in the passenger seat. When she stepped out, my Grandma Eldridge fainted right there on the spot. The girl was pregnant, and she was Cajun, and a Catholic. She was thumbin’ a rosary ninety-to-nothin’.
It’s hard to say which one of them three things Grandma Eldridge fainted over, but it took her two full weeks to get over the shock and humiliation, and welcome my mama into the family.
I love it. How can readers find you on the Internet?
Never Say Never hit the shelves February 1, and then the next book out will be Beyond Summer in July 2010. For more information about the books or me, stop by my e-home away from home, http://www.lisawingate.com/ . I’m also on Facebook and Youtube, of course. Isn’t everybody? By signing up for the newsletter on http://www.lisawingate.com/ , you can enter a monthly drawing for a free autographed book and receive occasional notes about upcoming happenings, new books, speeches and appearances, and anything else that’s newsworthy in Daily, Texas, or in the real world. I love sharing my cyber-porches with friends who also know the joy of living within a story, then sending it out into the world.
Lisa, thank you for spending this time with us. I loved it. We can do this again with different questions when Beyond Summer comes out, if you want to.
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