Ready to face the week?
Of course you are!
But let’s put that off just a little bit longer.
Today I talk to Lisa Barker!
Writing since she was fifteen, Lisa Barker says: I like to write about relationships with realistic characters and situations because life happens. But, as messy as life gets, I like to see people overcome the odds, good win, and love prevail.
Her debut novel, INHERITANCE, brings two people together who do have rather complicated lives. It takes a lot to get from A to Z, but nothing is impossible with faith, hope and love. A graduate of San Francisco State University (many, many years ago), Lisa lives in California with her husband, her youngest son, and 13 cats. Her older children are never too far away. She has a multitude of granddogs, grandcats, and a grandrabbit. Family is everything to her.
❖ Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I listen to music. Any music with lyrics. When the emotion I am personally stuck with most at the time connects with the emotion or mood of a song, then a scene or a character and that character’s mood will emerge. I’ll be struck by an entire story. I will latch onto this character and song(s) and not let go until I have mined the soul of the character and thus the story. At least that is what I did when I wrote INHERITANCE.
But that doesn’t always work for me that way now. I find that I am more aware of what makes me tic than I was 25 years ago and I don’t write as blindly. I understand myself a lot more and, therefore, my characters which will hopefully cut back on the time I spend editing my work in progress. (INHERITANCE took 14 years of on and off editing.) Music still inspires me, but my mood is more even these days, until a bit of melancholy strikes and then I have the material for a good 100 word challenge for my blog.
❖ What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I am an all or nothing writer. I would love to have a writing schedule, but that is far easier said than done for me. When I write, I am glued to my computer until I am exhausted. It’s an obsession. I am absolutely compelled to write. But, again, that isn’t working for me like it did when I wrote INHERITANCE. Less melancholy equals less compulsive writing. I’m not sure what that means or what to do about it. Maybe I have matured enough as a person that my writing demands a bit more maturity or forethought instead of writing blindly like I have in the past. Yet, I write 100 word challenge stories or snapshots blindly. I don’t know why. I hang out online with a great writing group and they encourage good writing habits. I’m hoping it rubs off on me.
❖ When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my debut novel, INHERITANCE, in 1997 when I was 28 years old. I published it in 2011.
❖ What does your family think of your writing?
My father read my book (it is the first and only novel I have ever known him to read). One night when we were all sitting out in the yard at the picnic table just gabbing, the topic of my writing came up. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, with great emphasis, “You can write.” He has never said anything like that about anything I have done in my life. I was floored. I still am. It’s the best review I’ve ever gotten and I won’t forget the earnest look in his eyes or his words. Ever.
My mother won’t read anything I write in case it offends her. To be fair, she read the opening scene of the rough draft of my novel and put it down. The character she read, looking back on it, was influenced by her in that the character and my mother were about the same age and both had a drinking problem. I honestly never made the connection until a decade later. None of the characters in INHERITANCE are intentionally based on anyone I know–wholly or in part–or any experiences I have had consciously. In fact, the characters are all pieces of me. At the time, though, I only knew that I had to write this story, Joe’s story (the main character). It took me 14 years of editing because I had to mature enough to understand what I had written. By the time the book was published, that scene was long cut. It wasn’t necessary.
My sisters read my book. I don’t recall their thoughts on it, but I know they think I am a good writer.
My husband read my book long before it was ever published. He believes in my ability to write.
I would love for my daughters to read my book and hear their thoughts; they are more than old enough to read it now and I respect them as artists and writers, and as my contemporaries.
❖ Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Trust yourself. Write what you have to write. You might have an outline and notes, but allow your characters to come alive and speak for themselves. Listen. You will hear them and your fingers will be flying over the keyboard to keep up with them. Here’s an analogy. You are the writer and producer. You are the director. The characters are the actors. Let them act. A good director knows how to get out of the way and let the actors be. You will write gold if you do this.
❖ What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
When I was writing a parenting humor column, I went to the Erma Bombeck writer’s convention. It was thrilling! Dave Barry was the keynote speaker. Best weekend ever. It plunged me into the writing world. Just being around other writers on various rungs of the experience ladder began to sculpt my
self-identity as a writer. I began to believe in myself.
❖ Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It energizes me. Even though I will write until I am exhausted, that exhaustion is like what an athlete feels after a game. Exhausted, but energized. Writing is exhilarating for me. Even when I write things that hurt, connecting with the gut of the characters and the story is a thrill unlike any other.
❖ What are common traps for aspiring writers?
There are many, but the deadliest one is self-doubt. Don’t listen to any thoughts that say: “Who do you think you are? What authority do you have to say any of this? What makes you think anyone wants to read this?”
I listened to and succumbed to that gaping maw for too long when I was starting out. It’s a lie.
Follow your heart. Be kind to yourself. Belong to a group of writers. Get feedback from people who also write, especially if it’s the same genre you write.
❖ What is your writing Kryptonite?
My weakness as a writer is knowing exactly what I am writing and having the guts to do it. But I have been practicing with my 100 word challenges, so I think I am up for another battle with myself. Muses, bring it on!
❖ Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to be true to myself by being true to my characters. I know that what they have to say is what I have to say. Let them talk. Take dictation. Interview them. Sit with them. Allow them to take up
residence in your mind and heart and get to know them inside and out. They have a story to tell. When you write like that your story will be both original and what readers want to read.
❖ Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
I thought I was done with Joe’s story in INHERITANCE but he is taking over the second book, so apparently I’m not done with him. Book two will have a connection to book one, though I don’t think of it as a series.
❖ If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“You can write.”
❖ What does literary success look like to you?
Reaching one reader is literary success to me. Hearing that the story deeply affected them makes all the anguish of writing it worth it. Happily, I have reached more than one reader, so naturally literary success now is to reach as many readers as possible.
❖ What do you have coming next?
The current work in progress is called DELIVERANCE. It deals with the loss of a child, divorce, ACOA (adult child of alcoholics) issues, alcoholism, faith, loss of a parent, reunion of siblings, healing and moving forward. Deliverance focuses on Joe and his brother Daniel who are coming to terms with the fact that they are adult children of alcoholics.
Working summary: Daniel Taylor and his husband Ryan are called to help Daniel’s brother, Joe, face the grip of alcoholism after a separation from his wife, Wendy. But coming to his brother’s aid will plunge Daniel into the past where he also must face his own demons and perhaps the devil himself.
Two brothers team up to find deliverance from a childhood that still casts a long, dark shadow over their adult lives.
Depressing? No. Real? Yes. As with INHERITANCE, DELIVERANCE is complicated, but love prevails.
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
When did you first start writing?
When I was fifteen, I found one of my greatest loves in life: writing. Back then I wrote romances, but they always had very emotional characters, the kind that aren’t yet prepared for a long-lasting relationship. It wasn’t until I went through years of revising INHERITANCE that I grew and matured enough to realize the kind of transformation people with “messy” lives have to go through to be prepared for a long-lasting commitment.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I am comfortable writing, editing, and producing books myself. I like the control I have, though I have had a lot to learn in the process. So it’s taken me awhile to be on the brink of success, but the journey is worth it.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing has been the response I have gotten for INHERITANCE. I’ve connected with an audience that is affected by the story in a deep way. Hearing from them about their emotional response and the request for more, has been both shockingly surprising and touchingly profound. It is the greatest thrill for an author to have readers really understand what they intended when crafting the story. I still marvel at the response INHERITANCE gets. It has encouraged me to write again, after a ten year hiatus following my daughter’s death.
What is your writing process?
I listen to music and, when an emotion grips me, I write the characters and the story that I’m absolutely compelled to write. With TAKE A CHANCE (the working title of a new book) it’s been a bit of do-wop and Motown and SHE WILL BE LOVED by Maroon 5.
DELIVERANCE (the working title of a new book) is inspired by the music video TAKE ME TO CHURCH by Hozier.
With INHERITANCE I was heavily influenced by the Eagles and Dolby Gray’s DRIFT AWAY.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
2020 is kicking my can. Right now National Novel Writing Month, starting November 1, is my inspiration. I’m looking forward to getting to know my characters, Eloise and Jason, and seeing them through to their happy ending.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
It was about a rodeo clown and a young woman he saves that falls into the arena and in the direct path of a charging bull. Very lost and lonely people, which I can see now was inspired by clinical depression when I was a teen. It was a good story, but, alas, it is lost in the passage of time. No worries, I have new stories just waiting to see the light of day.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a close family filled with love. But there was alcoholism. Addiction defined my parents’ lives and mine. It’s the personality we shared. I also suffered from undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder, but seeking help was considered taboo.
So with that start in life, it’s no wonder why I create the characters that I do. It’s the inner me that tries to connect with the the outer world and the inner world of others.
It is an understatement to say that writing has been very cathartic for me.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I visit with my grown children, I photograph my cats for Instagram, I read, and I play Redecor. These things rejuvenate me and utilize my creativity in different ways that nurture my writing.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
INHERITANCE deals with addiction, domestic abuse, poverty, and alcoholism. Joe and Wendy come from childhoods that created “messy” (unhealthy) adult lives. They recognize love in each other, but they naturally have obstacles to overcome to find their happily ever after. People have requested further stories regarding these characters, but again I find myself needing to mature a bit before I have clarity of vision.
TAKE A CHANCE, the working title of the latest book I am writing, deals with mental health, divorce, and grief – definitely obstacles to overcome in order to find that happily ever after. But Eloise and Jason will find that they are stronger than they think they are.
DELIVERANCE, the working title of another book I am writing, deals with alcoholism and healing from family dysfunction as well as the things that test a strong committed relationship. Daniel and Ryan know they have what it takes for a lifelong marriage, but it will take everything they have to face Daniel’s demons.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords is allowing me to develop my own niche. One of my favorite prolific and successful Smashwords authors is Ruth Ann Nordin (https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ruthannnordin) who writes romance as well. She is my inspiration!