For the next 4 Fridays-- all through the month of March-- I am interviewing my friends "The Belles." That's what we call ourselves, at least. We are 5 writers who decided to launch a blog that talks about fiction, faith, food, family, and fun. That blog became www.southernbelleview.com and consists of Lisa Wingate, Rachel Hauck, Beth Webb Hart, Jenny B Jones and me. These ladies are talented writers and I wanted each of you to get a chance to connect with each of them.
Today you're meeting Lisa Wingate, a wonderful writer and a terrific person. I just know you're going to love her!
Lisa, when did you first realize 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.
Share a little about your publishing journey.
Some years later, I opened a desk drawer and unearthed a notebook of stories and life lessons my grandmother had shared with me shortly after my first son was born. The rediscovery of that notebook inspired a story I felt compelled to write. I composed the manuscript for my first mainstream novel, Tending Roses, found an agent, the agent sold the book, and the book was published in 2001 as a premier title in New American Library’s women’s fiction line. These days, I write inspirationals for Bethany House (a CBA publisher) and Penguin Putnam (an ABA publisher). Ten years ago, when Tending Roses came out, there was very little crossover between the two markets, and Christian publishing was largely focused on historical fiction. When Tending Roses came out with Penguin Putnam, bookstore managers sent comment cards saying they had customers looking for stories in which characters grew in faith, and in which content wasn’t graphic. It turns out that those bookstore managers were right, because the market for inspirational fiction has grown and diversified in countless ways during the past ten years. Now it is possible to have the same novel selling in the general-market fiction section of bookstores, in Christian stores, and in big box stores like Wal-mart and Sam’s Club. I’m thrilled to see faith-based fiction out in front of the masses!
What book are you most proud of right now?
Because of the connection to my grandmother, Tending Roses will always be my sentimental favorite. That story has traveled the world, been reprinted eighteen times to date, has been used to teach adults to read in various library programs, has been used in university courses on aging, and was selected to promote women’s literacy in India. Recently, I heard from a group of women in Israel who were reading and circulating the book. It’s amazing and humbling to see something you wrote, sitting at home with your computer, travel at the speed of light and reach people who live different lives in different places. It makes you realize that we are more similar than we sometimes think.
What about being a "Belle" is most fun for you?
Well, first of all, it has just been fun that so many people have welcomed Southern BelleView into the cyber world. One of the most fun things about being a Belle is the sense of community on our porch. Writing is a solitary occupation, and while solitude can be beneficial, it can also be depressing. I love waking up in the morning and checking our cyber-porch to see what the belle-of-the-day has written and who else has dropped by. A couple reader friends of mine have a quiet contest going to see who can get there in the morning and comment first. It’s fun to check in each day and see who won. It’s like sitting down for coffee, long distance. Friends and readers come by regularly to comment, or send me Facebook messages about the blog, and we all get to know a bit more about each other. I’m fortunate to share space with such great bunch of inspiring, fun ladies who have that typical Southern warmth, but also like to share a few laughs along the way.
Share a writing tip that you've stumbled upon in your years as a writer.
First, finish a novel. It’s almost impossible to sell a partial if you’re unpublished, and even if you are published, you’re asking an editor to take a much bigger risk by buying a novel without being able to read it all. Polish it and send the manuscript out, because as much as we’d like them to, editors won’t come looking in our desk drawers. 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 as 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.
What's next for you?
A sweet sixteen, that’s what! July will mark the release of my sixteenth novel, Dandelion Summer, a book I really can’t wait to share. The story features an unlikely friendship between a grumpy old man and a desperate teenage girl who are drawn together as they try to solve the mysteries of a hidden family past. Their search takes them on a journey of discovery through historic towns of the old south and into nostalgic recollections of America’s space race during the 1960’s. For me, this story 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 my wonderful reader-friend, Ed Stevens, who helped design America’s first moon lander, Surveyor, while working for Howard Hughes.
One of the best things about creating fictional people and sending them into the world has been that they come back home again, trailing real people behind them. I met Ed when he read one of my books and sent a very nice note about it. I learned that he had a fascinating history, and his story eventually became part of the next book. I’ve been blessed to meet so many incredible new friends and learn about their lives, and everything I write these days seems to be a combination of fact and fiction.
Ok guys don't forget to join us every day over at Southern Belle View. One of our favorite features is the serial story we are writing once a month. We've got a fun setting-- the town of Whirlaway Island, SC-- and even "funner" characters-- Libby and Dan and Max and Nina and LauraLee... and you can't forget Hank! If you love romance and intrigue and good ole southern charm, don't miss our monthly visit to Whirlaway at www.southernbelleview.com (To catch up simply click on the link in the sidebar at the blog and you will be able to read past installments.)