Award-winning novelist, Lisa Wingate, steadily produces quality reads and has established a massive fan base that crosses into both the ABA and CBA markets. Recently, she discussed her writing life with me, sharing inside information about how she manages to do it all. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
JC: Lisa, you’ve established yourself as a well-respected author who steadily produces quality work. Dandelion Summer, which was released in July, is your sixteenth book and has garnered extensive praise.
I admit, I couldn’t put the book down, and I am announcing, This girl can write! But have you ever felt pigeonholed when people place your book within the Romance genre or the Christian/Inspirational or Women’s Fiction genre, and do you find that people sometimes underestimate the skills of such authors?
LW: I first published in the ABA market with NAL Penguin Putnam, and more recently in CBA with Bethany House Publishers. At times, I have felt pigeonholed by descriptors such as inspirational, women’s fiction, and romance. When I first queried Tending Roses, I received some nice compliments on refusal letters because publishers liked the book but felt they didn’t have the right marketing program for something this “inspirational.” Fortunately, NAL’s Accent line took it on and it has enjoyed over 10 years of success.
It’s always hard when a book crosses genre lines and the markets don’t quite know where to put it, but oftentimes those are the books that break out and do very well. Over time, many ABA publishers have developed inspirational lines, catalog space and marketing plans, and today the inspirational market and secular market are much more intertwined than they used to be. I think the secret to making inspirational fiction work in a larger market lies in making the Christian message organic to the story.
JC: Your career as an author started when you decided to share your grandmother’s life lessons with a worldwide audience. Now that debut novel, Tending Roses, is in its fifteenth printing from Penguin Putnam and you’re still telling stories to readers across the globe.
Share with readers a bit about that journey as a writer. What has been the most positive aspect of life as an author? And have you been disappointed by any particular hurdles within the publishing industry?
LW: I feel very fortunate to be able to spend my days doing the thing I’ve been dreaming of since the first grade. It’s a special thing when you’re able to realize a dream that seems to have been born into your DNA.
Overall, my experiences with the publishers have been pretty smooth. I think, like so many people, I didn’t have a realistic picture of the book business when I sold my first book. I had no idea how much marketing authors are required to do these days. Publishing budgets are limited, and unless you’re lucky enough to land a big six-figure deal, you’ll need to find ways to connect to readers and get your book out there in front of media outlets. That was perhaps the biggest surprise or disappointment for me. The world doesn’t just flock to your door because you’ve written a book. You have to let the world know it’s there.
JC: Like most women, you are not only a successful writer. You also are a mother, a wife, a farmer, a volunteer, and an inspirational speaker….just to list a few of your daily responsibilities. What advice do you have for women who, like you, are juggling a few too many balls at a time? How do you maintain a healthy balance?
LW: 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 Yahtzee, and evenings spent lying side by side in bed reading a story before lights out.
I manage it all by setting goals and sticking to them. Generally, I try to write ten double-spaced pages per day, which allows me to finish a draft in two or three months, depending on how much I’m gone traveling and speaking. After the first draft is finished, I’ll usually spend a month or so rereading and revising before the book moves on to the editor’s desk.
Mostly, I get the writing done while my guys are at school and work, but I have learned to live with dropping everything to take left-behind football cleats to school or volunteer at the book sale. Even if it means burning the midnight oil, family time comes first.
JC: Do your sons read your books? What do they think of having a mother who is a famous author?
LW: These days my teen and twenty-one-year old would rather be reading car magazines or articles about where to find the fattest bass. They are proud of the fact that I write books, and often travel with me to various book talks. If we happen to pass a good fishing hole on the way home, so much the better!
I cherish the memory of the day the first print copies of Good Hope Road arrived at my house. It was only my third book to be published, and the first time both boys were old enough to actually read one of my books. Three copies came, and they each asked me if they could have one.
I remember the two of them sitting on either side of me on the sofa, my 11 year old reading and turning pages fairly quickly, and my 7 year old quietly sounding out words and moving more slowly. That was the ultimate family reading moment.
JC: Which of your 16 books do you consider to be your favorite?
LW: Tending Roses will always be my sentimental favorite because it has my grandmother’s stories and Grandma Rose has her personality, although she would deny that. My grandmother was a quirky, stubborn, smart, strong woman, who wasn’t above stirring up some trouble around town and a few family wrangles.
In the book, Grandma Rose leaves stories in a notebook for her granddaughter to find and read. In reality, my grandmother told me these stories when she visited after the birth of my first son, her first great grandchild. I was a young mother wrestling with the issue of whether I should return to my technical writing career, or stay home and enjoy this tiny baby. Grandma thought I needed some life lessons, and her stories, told in quiet moments with that child nestled on her chest, were life changing for me.
A couple of years later after my second son was born, I came across the notebook where I had written down her stories. I had the idea of putting them into a novel with a fictional family (my family will have you know that we aren’t nearly as neurotic as the family in the book) and Tending Roses was born!
JC: In Dandelion Summer, I felt powerfully connected to your characters and I didn’t want the book to end. How did you create such a believable cast and were they based on people in your real life? Tell us a bit about your work with youth.
LW: For years, Sam and I have taught Sunday School to high school seniors. Being the biggest church in town and having an active youth program, we gather kids from the community who come to socialize, feel safe, and be accepted. We’ve had many teens over the years who seemed somewhat adrift, with not much family support. They are in my thoughts a lot.
Epie, in Dandelion Summer, is kind of a collage of these teens. Like so many young girls, she is on the verge of making some bad decisions to gain the attention and approval of a men. She needs someone to show her how to live, how to believe in herself. J. Norman comes into her life quite by accident, but he becomes the mentor she needs.
JC: Dandelion Summer also discusses the inspirational space race era. How did you decide to write about this fascinating topic and what are a few interesting facts you learned during your research?
LW: For me, Dandelion Summer was a joy to write, as the original Apollo moon shots are some of my oldest memories, and the history of Norman’s character in the novel mirrors the real-life adventures of a wonderful reader-friend, Ed Stevens, who helped design America’s first moon lander, Surveyor, while working for Howard Hughes.
Ed wrote to me some years ago after reading one of my earlier novels and explained that he was retired, loved computer projects and would like to help in any way he could to get the news about me and about my books out via Internet. I took him up on that (how could I be so lucky?) and I can’t tell you the number of technical issues he has guided me through.
During all those shared struggles, Ed shared some memories of his career and his life. I found myself printing his notes so I could keep them, and finally, I decided to put his memories into a book. He became the background for J. Norm’s career. The research was minimal, and each time I needed something about the space career, Ed knew just where to go. Ed is responsible for providing all these wonderful articles and web links (be sure you watch the control room video!):
Actual 1966 audio/video of the control room during Surveyor landing:
Surveyor 1 Soft Landing on the moon approximately 2 minute video:
Surveyor history and photos:
Surveyor 1 pictures and details: http://www.thelivingmoon.com/43ancients/02files/Surveyor_01.html
Launch pads 36 A & 36 B where the Surveyor Spacecraft were launched: http://spaceflightnow.com/atlas/ac167/040831pad36a.html
JC: Do you “write to learn” as many authors do, choosing challenging topics so that you can learn about them as you write, or do you purposely choose topics that you are already familiar with in hopes of “writing to teach” your readers what you know?
LW: I write to learn, and each character teaches me lessons. Life is filled with characters. Some characters, like Grandma Rose in Tending Roses, and J. Norman Alvord in Dandelion Summer, come from people I know and love. Some may be inspired by a person I’ve only heard about on the news or brushed by in a store somewhere.
The more paths you walk in life, the more you realize that everyone has a story and that story made them what they are. Part of writing is looking at the people around you and guessing at what that story may be. That’s when the let’s pretend begins. What if…I put that character in this situation? What would happen? And so the story begins… and I stay tuned (and write) to hear … the rest of the story.
JC: What can Lisa Wingate fans look forward to in the future?
LW: Blue Moon Bay comes out in February from Bethany House. Edits are complete, and we are planning several book club activities and promotions. BMB is the second in the Moses Lake books. The story has a mystery, a romance and lots of southern flavor. Here is a little preview:
For Seattle architect Heather Hampton, a trip back to tiny Moses Lake, Texas is hardly in the plan. But when her chance to achieve Project Manager status hinges on the sale of the family farmland to giant Proxica Foods, Heather finds herself headed to the last place she ever wanted to go. If Heather has her way, she’ll be in and out of Texas in a day–with the real estate contracts properly signed.
But the currents of Moses Lake take visitors on unexpected journeys. Heather’s visit soon morphs into Valentine’s week in the rambling family funeral home, with a family steeped in secrets, and the local banker, Blaine Underhill, who seems intent on stalling Heather’s project. As secrets are held and revealed, Heather can’t help but wonder if the handsome banker, and the family she has come to know again, are crooks or crusaders. Somehow she must find out the truth before she loses everything she has worked for and everything she’s found on the shores of Moses Lake.
The third Moses Lake book, Firefly Island is still in the making, and we’ll be having a Join the Cast contest. One reader, bookclub, or bookseller will win the chance to join the cast of Moses Lake by naming a character, club, or store in Firefly Island and be a part of the story line. Readers can learn more about that on my website and read the first chapter of Blue Moon Bay at www.Lisawingate.com/jointhecast
I’m also involved in a fun blogsite, where we talk about Southern food, faith, fiction, and fun – sort of a Southern girls’ version of the View. As we speak, SouthernBelleView.com is about to turn one year old, and it has been a fantastic year!
JC: Thanks for taking your time to share your work with us today. I’m excited to share this beautiful novel and hope new readers will give this story a chance. I have no doubt if they do, they’ll become Lisa Wingate fans for life. I sure have.
LW: Thank you, Julie. I appreciate your featuring me on your blog. Best wishes to you!
Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of mainstream fiction novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses. Her books have been featured selections for Doubleday and Literary Guild book clubs, selected for The Reader’s Club of America, and have garnered LORIES Best Fiction and Reader’s Choice Awards, and been nominated for the ACFW Book of the Year Award. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa loves sharing with readers via Facebook, Youtube, and her website. More information about Lisa’s novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com