Today I am pleased to welcome award-winning author Lisa Kline, who will share some thoughts on her writing journey.
LP: I’m always interested to know when you first knew you were going to be a writer. And what were you writing when you felt like your career was really taking off?
LK: I wanted to be a writer even in elementary school. I wrote and illustrated a series of stories about Little Horse and Little Lamb, best friends, on that wide-lined paper we used in first and second grade. Later, in about fifth grade, I wrote the beginning of a novel about a brother and sister on a barefoot trek across the mountains of North Carolina in search of penicillin for a brother with strep throat. Someone asked why they didn’t just go to the drug store and I realized that my plot was ridiculous and stopped writing!
It’s funny, about a career “really taking off,” because a writer friend and I were talking at a recent SCBWI Conference, and we were saying that those who haven’t been published yet look at us and think, “Wow! They’ve really made it!” And those of us who are midlist authors look at the blockbuster authors and say “Wow! They’ve really made it!” And without a doubt the blockbuster authors have their own worries. I honestly have never felt like my career was “really taking off.” I’ve been thrilled to sell manuscripts, and pleased to receive good reviews, but I’ve always had my feet kept firmly on the ground by also having manuscripts that didn’t sell and sometimes receiving not-so-great reviews. I have four unpublished manuscripts stacked on the floor of my office! I don’t feel too bad about that because I was just listening to a podcast the other night where immensely popular YA author Sarah Dessen described the stack of unpublished manuscripts in her closet. And she still goes through tremendous self-doubt with every book, just like I do.
What Anne Lamott has said is true: the joy in writing is in the process itself, not in accolades or publication. And there is additional joy in the friendships of other writers.
LP: Your debut book, Eleanor Hill, won the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award. Tell us about that journey. What inspired the book? How long did it take to write? How did winning that award affect your writing going forward?
LK: At my grandmother’s funeral, my mother told me that she had been one of the first women in New Bern, North Carolina to learn to drive a car. This caught my imagination. Later, my mother gave me my grandmother’s letters and photos, saved over her entire lifetime, from the time she was about ten, in 1909, to her death in 1985. I didn’t do anything with them for many years, but later became fascinated by and immersed in the story told by those letters and photos, and decided to write a fictional version of her life as a young woman. I spent about three years researching and writing Eleanor Hill. I was shocked and thrilled to win the award and it certainly gave me confidence to continue. In a way, though, winning with my first book made me think that achieving success with writing was easier than it really is.
LP: You wrote two stand-alone books in between Eleanor Hill and your five part series, Sisters in All Seasons. Share some of the challenges of writing stand alone books versus a five-part series.
LK: I had always planned to write stand-alone books. I didn’t dream of a series. I liked the idea of a fresh new set of characters, new circumstances, new themes, with each book. With both Princesses of Atlantis and Write Before Your Eyes, I did have more time to develop characters and story. But in my series, I came to love my characters so much, and they were with me, two pages a day, then three pages a day, for over two years. I grew with them. It was an experience I would never trade.
LP: The writing life is a roller coaster at times. What have been the highest and the lowest points in your career so far?
LK: Wow, yes, my writing life has been a roller coaster. That’s a great question.
Low point: Once I received my MFA, though I’d learned so much about writing, I became paralyzed by the knowledge of how many immensely gifted people there were out there. I have always been a hard worker, well-aware of the limitations of my talent, but I became persuaded that hard work would no longer be enough. When I sold Write Before Your Eyes to Delacorte, I felt as though I’d been given a second chance, but then my editor passed on my next novel. After that, I sank into a depression. I took a teaching job and completely stopped writing for several years.
High point: I’ve had lots of high points. Early in my career, of course the high point was winning the N.C. Juvenile Literature Award. Later, another high point came with the sale of Write Before Your Eyes to Delacorte. Another after Summer of the Wolves came out and received an excellent review from Kirkus. And another came when I started receiving copies of the Sisters in All Seasons books every time they went into reprint, with a note of congratulations from Zondervan. Every time I received a reprint announcement, I had to pinch myself. It felt surreal.
LP: Do you have an agent, and either way, what do you feel are the pros and cons of having an agent in today’s children’s market?
LK: I do have an agent, Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She’s terrific. She’s in close touch with the marketplace, and I’m sure she’s been able to negotiate better terms for me than I could negotiate myself. She gives me excellent feedback on my manuscripts – and she doesn’t surgarcoat it, Sundance! I really depend on her.
LP: You’ve had three different publishers. Tell us how and why that came about.
LK: Talented writer friends of mine have editors who publish every book they write, but this hasn’t happened to me. Twice now, after publishing one or two of my books, a publishing company has decided to pass on my next. Each time, Caryn has found another home for the book. This business can be tough, and I feel truly grateful and lucky for the chances I’ve had.
LP: Thank you, Lisa, for giving us such insight into the writer’s life and for donating SEASON OF CHANGE. Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment to be eligible for this great giveaway! (And Lisa has let it be known that if you win the drawing and already have this one, she may be able to swap it out for one of her other books.)