Morgen: Hello, Lisa. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Lisa: I live in Summit, NJ and began writing stories in third grade. My mother still has my first story. I wrote a play, The Purple Scarf, one summer and cast the neighborhood children. I, of course, played the princess. In high school, I edited the yearbook, then wrote for a student consumer magazine in college. I worked on a newspaper, then wrote freelance articles for various magazines and decided to become a teacher. While teaching middle schoolers English, I continued to write articles for professional journals, interviewed authors of children’s literature and reviewing books. This book, my first, sort of fell into my lap. I hadn’t planned on writing a book.
Morgen: It does sound like you were destined to write though. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Lisa: I mostly write non-fiction but have dabbled in children’s picture books.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Lisa: This is my first book. On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Lisa: Oh, tons!!! I spent years submitting children’s picture books. I spent at least a year submitting this manuscript to agents. While I had about 20 responses that expressed an interest, no one took on the project. You have to have a thick skin in this business.
Morgen: You do, absolutely. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Lisa: No. Vital? Not sure. There are so many options to self-publish. However I think if your work is published by a traditional house it gives you credibility.
Morgen: I do agree. I sent to about the same number you did and had “thanks but no” (pretty much) from all but one, and that one had warned on their site that they don’t always reply… which I think is mean but in the scheme of things I think I was pretty lucky. Then I decided to go the eBook route. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Lisa: I read paper. Old-fashioned I guess. But my book is available from Kindle.
Morgen: Not old-fashioned. Even those I’ve spoken to who read eBooks, still read paper… and will hopefully keep doing so. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Lisa: I’m trying to do quite a bit. It’s a job in itself. I’m on Facebook, Linked In, etc. I boldly ask other bloggers to review my book. I’ve also hired a book promoter on a very temporary basis. He has helped me get the book reviewed on Amazon and also a couple of radio interviews.
Morgen: I have a couple of blog tour companies who provide me with authors; it’s a great idea if you don’t know where to go. I’ve been building (and still am) a Reviews page which might be helpful. Do you have a favourite of your characters? If any of your stories were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Lisa: Funny. This is my first book and it’s about a real person and his beloved horse. I loved the interviewing process and seeing Miles’ horses. When I’ve talked about the book, many people respond saying they see it as a movie and put their favorite African American star atop the horse. I can’t even imagine this—right now, I just want to sell the book!
Morgen: 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / cover of your book? How important do you think they are?
Morgen: I agree. As you say, though, your book does what it says (I assume) on the ‘tin’… better than being cryptic. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Lisa: In addition to marketing, I’m trying to keep up with my blog, taking a memoir writing class on-line, and creating an educators’ guide to accompany the book.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day?
Lisa: I try to do something almost every day. Even if it’s answering comments on my blog, or writing comments on others. I can easily distract myself: email, facebook, eating, getting coffee. If I’m not into writing that day or moment, I stop.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Lisa: With this, since it’s non-fiction, it was quite “plotted”. I knew I wanted to tell the story chronologically.
Morgen: I don’t read much non-fiction but my mum is an avid auto/biography reader and they usually are chronological so it makes sense. Do you write any poetry?
Lisa: I wish I could write poetry. I write silly poems for my family’s birthdays or anniversaries.
Morgen: I say I “dabble” in it but humorous is my favourite. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Lisa: I edit constantly.
Morgen: How about research, do you have to do much?
Lisa: For this book, I read lots of books about various people in the history I covered. I loved it! Felt I was learning new information every day.
Morgen: Which presumably you were. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Lisa: This book began in 1st person but it wasn’t working well. I didn’t go on the journey and couldn’t capture Miles’ voice. Once I switched to 3rd person, the story flowed and I had more creative leeway to image scenes. I write my blog in 1st person with a few comments sometimes in 2nd.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Lisa: Of course!
Morgen: Oh dear. Most do, and I know I have, so I guess if you write a lot it’s inevitable. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Lisa: Sometimes I can go an entire day without talking to people. But I like that part too. I like that I have to be self-disciplined or nothing happens.
Morgen: Absolutely. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Lisa: Never, never, never quit.
Morgen: The saying goes that a successful writer is one who never gave up. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Lisa: Love these kind of questions.
Morgen: Thank you. 🙂
Lisa: Charlotte Bronte, Mary Oliver, William Shakespeare. I like to cook so would probably make fish as a main course, veg, salad, rice, and some decadent dessert.
Morgen: Yum. Is there a word or quote you like?
Lisa: Bruce Colville: “May you write with joy and courage and may your words dance across the page.” He said it in a speech at a conference. (I read it in a magazine.) I have this quote pinned to the wall above my desk.
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Lisa: Yoga, cycling, reading, family (3 grandkids), cooking, knitting.
Morgen: I’d say just having three grandchildren would keep you busy. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Lisa: C. Hope Clark www.chopeclark.com – she is the best resource for writers.
Morgen: Ooh, great, I’ll have to check her out and add her to my Links page, thank you. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Lisa: I’m just starting to get into some of this. I find it’s so easy to spend lots of time browsing, reading, responding. I’m on LinkedIn and a few groups there.
Morgen: I’m on over a dozen writing groups on LinkedIn and put an interview shout-out on all of them earlier this year and the response was phenomenal although Published Authors Network is the only one still active, although I’m now booking in April 2013 so just as well. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Morgen: Absolutely, I am (have?). 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Lisa: Thanks so much for this opportunity.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Lisa: How do you do all that you do for writers?
Morgen: That’s easy… I’m passionate about writing (although some, including my mother, would say obsessed!). 🙂 Thank you, Lisa, for chatting with me today.
I then invited Lisa to include an extract of her writing and this is from Chapter 1 Crossing the Mississippi River…
As the first 18-wheeler truck charged by without slowing and the bridge swayed underneath his horse, Miles questioned his common sense. He had never intended to put himself or his beloved horse, Sankofa, in danger.
To fulfill his commitment to travel the nation on horseback, he had to cross the Mississippi River. Separating east from west, it had served as a throughway in the flights for freedom from slavery and segregation. Determined to honor his forefathers, who had endured much more than heavy traffic, he steeled his nerves and reassured Sankofa, “Stay focused, boy, stay focused.”
Expecting that Sunday traffic would be lighter than during the week, Miles had started early, thinking he’d cross the Hernando Desoto Bridge from Tennessee to Arkansas without difficulty. When he saw how the behemoth vehicles clogged the six-lane, three-mile suspension bridge, he grasped the reins with both hands and used his weight and legs to keep the anxious Sankofa moving forward in a straight line.
Though Miles rode in the far right lane and his support driver crept slowly behind them, when a truck approached, Sankofa’s ears twitched nervously. The horse shifted to the right, hopped and did quarter turns so he could see the traffic behind him. Each turn brought horse and rider closer to the three-foot-high railing that presented the only barrier between them and the raging rapids about 100 feet below. Miles glanced down; the boats in the river looked like ants building a colony.
I then invited Lisa to include a synopsis of her book…
Miles J. Dean, a Newark, NJ schoolteacher, rode his stallion Sankofa from New York to California to celebrate the contributions African Americans made in the settling of the United States.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Dean first learned about cowboys from watching television. Like any boy at that time, he wanted to be like those heroes and pretended to be a cowboy, galloping through the streets on his bicycle, ambushing outlaws on street corners.
Although Hollywood helped keep his dream alive, the cowboys on TV didn’t look like Dean. At age 23, he saw Sidney Poitier play a cowboy in the 1972 film, “Buck and the Preacher,” and realized he too could be a cowboy. He deferred his teenage dream another 10 years before he could afford riding lessons and eventually bought his first horse.
His journey through 12 states brought him to historical monuments, where he paid homage to history’s forgotten heroes, including the black jockeys at Kentucky’s Churchill Downs and soldiers at Tennessee’s African American Civil War Cemetery. His ride through the harsh deserts of the Southwest and across California’s formidable Chocolate Mountains allowed him to re-enact the conditions and perils faced by early cowboys and marshals.
Lisa K. Winkler is a journalist and an educator. She wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine’s website. (April 24, 2009) . Two essays have been published in anthologies: “I’m Going to College- Not You!: Surviving the College Search with My Child.” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), and “Knit One, Purl Two: Life Lessons from Knitting” in Wisdom of our Mothers. (Familia Books, 2010). A newspaper reporter before becoming a teacher, she writes for professional journals and for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. Her interviews include authors, college presidents, scientists, and artists, among others, including Miles Dean in February 2009. She met Dean while serving as an educational consultant in Newark, NJ public schools and interviewed him for many months. She holds a BA from Vassar College and an MA in Urban Education from New Jersey City University.
Update December 2012: I’m delighted to report that since our interview, Lisa has edited and contributed to a new anthology, ‘Tangerine Tango Women Writers Share Slices of Life’, which is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on the main blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have this blog, https://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com, on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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