Readers, when I first heard of Lisa Wingate, and that she was a fellow Texas author, I decided to read something of hers. Of course, I was in the middle of several deadlines at the time. Finally, I read a book of hers and loved it. Then I saw that she had written a book titled Never Say Never. Since I've also had a novel titled Never Say Never, I had to read that one, too. Since then I've read a number of Lisa Wingate novels. When I received my advance copy of The Prayer Box, it went to the top of my reading pile.
I believe this is the best book Lisa has written. The story has a lot of raw emotions that drew me deep inside the characters. The interesting concept of a story within a story took me to different times and places, but always returned to the Outer Banks. The characters wouldn't let me go after the book was finished, so soon I downloaded the Kindle book The Sea Glass Sisters. Both of these books are wonderful. You really won't want to miss either one of them.
Welcome, Lisa. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for almost as long as I can remember. A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, put that idea into my head when she found me writing a story during indoor recess one day and told me I was a wonderful writer. When we moved away from the school, she wrote on my report card that she expected to see my name in a magazine one day. It’s funny how you have little defining moments in your life, but that was one of mine. I never forgot that my first grade teacher believed I could be a writer.
I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated from college, married, and started a family. I knew I wanted to write novels, books that meant something, that explore relationships and the human soul.
How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
It takes about two or three months for me to complete a rough draft. I’ll usually spend about a month on the second pass. Then it takes a couple weeks for the beta readers to make it through the draft, editing, and commenting. Cleaning up the rough draft may take from one to three weeks and then it’s ready for the editor. Usually the whole writing process takes about six months, although I might have been thinking through the story for months or even years in advance. Some stories are like Jiffy Pop and some stories are like a slow-boiling pot of gumbo. I never know, but the actual writing is always an adventure of discovery.
How do you come up with themes for your stories?
I keep a tablet by my bed for middle of the night story inspirations. And, these days, my iPhone is always handy to take a note for me. Siri and I have become close friends. I do a great deal of work by dictation.
There are so many more ideas in my “scrap drawer” than I will ever have time to write. Some languish, waiting for the right time, and some keep nagging me until I decide to pull them out and work on them. And sometimes, right when it’s time to start a new book, a moment of serendipity happens. Such was the case with The Prayer Box.
The book came to be by accident, if you believe in accidents. I glanced across the room, saw the small prayer box that had been given to me as a gift, and a story began to spin through my mind. What if that box contained many prayers accumulated over time? What if there were dozens of boxes? What if they contained the prayers of a lifetime? What could more fully tell the truth about a person than words written to God in solitude? That question was the genesis of The Prayer Box. For me, so many stories begin with one great question and the process of seeking an answer.
Do you have a schedule of when you write?
Not so much a schedule as a goal. I write ten pages a day. I stick to my writing schedule unless I’m volunteering or off speaking somewhere. Typically, I start around eight in the morning and there is hope that I can finish mid-afternoon and move on to Facebooking, TV, phone calls, exercising, hobbies, and so forth. But, if there are many interruptions, I may be working late at night to meet the goal.
How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
There was a time when I’d write on my laptop while my oldest played with his toys. Friends would ask, “How can you get all this writing done with having a little one?” I’d say things like, “Well, you put out toys and teach him to entertain himself while you’re working.” That was a naïve oversimplification of incredible magnitude, and I’d eat those words with son number two. There was no writing while he was awake – he liked people waaaay better than he liked toys. I’d write when he went down for a nap and as soon as he was in bed at night … and not much in between.
After the boys grew a bit, I wrote amid the chaos of a busy family. With kids and husband in and out constantly, phone calls, and activities, I stole bits of time here and there, and even in the car, waiting in the carpool line or on the way to someplace.
Now that the boys are grown and the house is often quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.
What elements do you think make a great story line?
I think every story must seek to look at the larger questions of life. Why am I here? What matters? What am I meant to do with my life? To some degree, every story is about a character answering these questions.
In terms of structure, I am a very organic sort of writer, but I do work within a standard Three Act Structure. Understanding classic story structure gives me just enough bones on which to hang the meat of the story. It’s not too restrictive or prescriptive, but it helps me to make sure I end up with a story that works.
What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
Finishing that first book is the hardest thing for most people, and that was definitely a difficulty for me. I think the hardest thing at this point is really just time management. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with everything else that’s happening and not give adequate time to the writing itself.
How many books have you written so far? Do you have a favorite?
Since the publication of my first novel, Tending Roses, there have been twenty little book babies over the course of a dozen years. It’s hard to believe how quickly that time has flown by!
My sentimental favorite will probably always be Tending Roses, a novel that includes my real life grandmother’s stories. In the book, Grandma Rose leaves her life-lesson stories in a notebook for Kate to find. In reality, my grandmother told me the stories when she visited after the birth of my first son, her first great-grandson. Her words helped me to sort out the things that really matter in a life, when you’re looking back at it. She is, in some ways, the inspiration for the older characters in my books. I like to combine generations. Older folks have much to teach us, but we don't always value that like we should in our culture.
Do you have a favorite character?
Aside from Grandma Rose, maybe my second favorite character is probably J.Norman from Dandelion Summer. He was spunky, and fun, and inspired by a special reader friend of mine. My books are more often considered women’s fiction, but I get letters from male readers. Several years ago, I received an e-mail from Ed Stevens. He was a retired engineer and said he would be happy to assist with technical projects to help spread word of my books on the Internet. As we worked on creating YouTube channels and speeding up my hamster-wheel Internet service, he shared some of his work history as well as his thoughts on fatherhood and the significant moments in life. He had amazing stories to tell.
J. Norman’s history as a character mirrors that of my friend, Ed, who worked with the Howard Hughes team that designed
’s first moon lander,
Surveyor 1. The name America
is borrowed from my grandfather and J. Norm’s feisty personal is truly my own
As much as I love Grandma Rose and J. Norm, I’d also have to say that one of my new favorite characters is Sandy of Sandy’s Seashell Shop in The Prayer Box and The Sea Glass Sisters. She’s spunky, too, but
is a pure force of nature. She and her shop play a significant role in both
stories, and who wouldn’t love to own a shop by the sea? Sandy
Where do you write?
That has changed a lot over the years. I’ve always favored a laptop so I wasn’t tied to the desk. For many years I wrote in the middle hectic family activity. The boys have memories of saying, “Mom, Mom ... Mom!” to bring me out of my imaginary world and into their world. In recent years, I often grab my first cup of coffee and return to bed, prop up the laptop and write those first few pages right there, sometimes listening to the repertoire of the mockingbird in the crepe myrtle. Later in the day, I might be on the porch, enjoying the breeze and watching the hummingbirds come and go. In reality, when my mind is in a story, I can write anytime, anywhere, and with any amount of chaos around me. I even write on my iPhone via dictation while I’m working out. Sometimes when I’m “stuck” it helps if I get up and do something physically active. I love the portability that dictation allows.
When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
When I started with Penguin (around 2000), there weren’t nearly as many publishing options. Very few people self -published then and there was no e-publishing. It’s amazing how much the world has changed. Basically, the path I took at the time was the one everyone took. I found an agent, the agent submitted the book around, and we sold a two-book deal to Penguin.
Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
Have I ever! My mother reads everything first and some of my beta readers are family. Relatives far and near send me comments about the books or talk about them when we get together. Some are more intimately involved. Aunt Sandy (of
Sandy’s Seashell Shop in
The Sea Glass Sisters and The
Prayer Box) is my mom’s sister, and while she and my mom (who is in the story) wish
I had made them a bit younger in the books, they were great character inspirations.
My aunt designed her character and everything about the Seashell Shop she owns
in the book. It was fun, working together to create Sharon ’s Seashell Shop. The Prayer Box became a
“girlfriend project” of sorts, with little contributions from many family
members and friends. Sandy
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
Walk by the creek, watch the birds, bake bread, Facebook, make prayer boxes and other crafts, talk to gal pals on the phone, hang out with family, gather at the holidays, just have a cookout for no good reason, travel, meet readers at speaking events, teach Sunday School to teens… And read! With my writing schedule and reading books to endorse and keeping up on my author friends’ books, I always have a To-Be-Read stack and never enough time to do all the reading I want to do.
What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
Set a goal and stick to it. Commit to a certain number of pages or words each day or each week. Keep yourself in the chair until you reach your goal. If you reach a sticking point, just put words on the paper and come back to them later. It’s easier to make something out of something than something out of nothing. You can always come back and edit, and it’s easier to relax and do that once you have an entire rough draft on paper.
Finish and edit the manuscript. Have several people read it, and not just cheerleaders. Ask some hard questions of them. What did they like or dislike about the main characters. Were the secondary characters believable? What part of the story seemed the best? What parts bogged them down or was difficult to understand?
Rewrite, perfect, make sure it is your best work. Then send it off, go to a conference, and pitch it to editors and agents. No one will come looking in your desk drawer or on your computer hard drive. You have to put it out there to sell it. Don’t take a singular rejection, or a comment from one editor or agent too seriously, unless there’s a deal on the line. Editors and agents are individuals, and they have their own opinions. If you start seeing a consensus of opinions on some issue, consider revising your work.
What is your favorite book? Favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
In terms of classics, I love Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, and anything by Twain. I’m a huge fan of Will Rogers wit and wisdom because it still applies today. In terms of contemporary stories, there are so many authors who inspire me, I couldn’t even begin to choose.
Where did you get the idea for The Prayer Box?
The idea for The Prayer Box came as I was sketching out some short novel pitches at a publisher’s request. I literally looked across the room, and saw a prayer box that had been given to me at a speaking event, and thought, What if the prayers of a person's entire lifetime were recorded in prayer boxes? What would you learn about that person if you opened those boxes, and how might it change you?
From idea to final revision, how long did it take to write?
The writing and revision of The Prayer Box took about six months, although the back and fourth with various publishers was longer than that. There was a great deal of interest in the concept, both on the
and CBA sides of the
I had originally set the book on the
coast. I knew it would be a story about a life in ruins being slowly
resurrected through the discovery of prayer boxes left behind by the owner of a
house. I knew the story would be set in a small seaside community that was
struggling to recover from a hurricane, and that the main character would be an
outsider who comes there seeking refuge. I knew that there would be connections
between the life of the woman who created the prayer boxes and filled them with
letters, and the life of the woman who finds the boxes. Texas
What I didn’t know was that a longtime reader-friend of mine, Ed Stevens (whose personal history inspired my earlier novel, Dandelion Summer), would suggest that the Outer Banks of North Carolina needed some attention after hurricane Irene, and that I should set a book there. At first I just filed the information away with my “someday” ideas, but Ed was determined. Not too long after that, he offered my research crew and me a stay in his daughter’s beach house there, which was all the convincing I needed. Setting The Prayer Box in the Outer Banks did add some time to the writing, but also added a wonderful new dimension to the book. The Outer Banks became a character in itself. It’s an area rife with history and legend and that played an important part in the story.
Are you working on anything now?I’m actually working on the follow-up to The Prayer Box, which will be released in September 2014. The story is set in
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing this book with us.
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The Prayer Box - Christianbook.com
The Prayer Box - Kindle
The Prayer Box: A Novel - Audio
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