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.
FIND HER HERE:
eBook: Available on Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/77379
Print edition: Available on Amazon https://amzn.to/3Lcl2GP
BONUS EXCERPT! From INHERITANCE
He cupped her chin with his hand and caressed her cheek. He hushed her softly. “I’ve been thinking the same thing about myself. What have I done to deserve someone like you?” His dark eyes remained steady on hers through their tears. “I never had a chance to hide anything from you, Wendy. You found me out from the beginning and you made up your mind about me anyway.”
She nodded. “That’s why the doctor will think I’m sick.”
He shook his head slowly. “No. You didn’t judge me.”
“But I did, Joe. I was very angry when I found you. I have little sympathy for anyone who would do that to himself.”
“But you helped me.”
“You’re a human being. I had to help you.”
“Why do you want me, Wendy?”
A tear rolled down her cheek and wet his thumb. “There’s more to you than drinking, Joe. I can see that. There’s a whole wonderful person in there that I’m attracted to. But that night all I could see was hurt. You were hurting on that kitchen floor, and hurting in bed with that fever. You were hurting when your sister accused you. I wanted to help you.”
“You did help me.” He made her look at him by lifting her chin.
She closed her eyes because the truth hurt too much. “I wanted to help Nana, too, but she wouldn’t let me,” she whispered. “Nothing I did made her happy. Everything could have been done just a little better. Staying only reminded her of Trish and that made her miserable and leaving would have only caused her to become more ill. If she had lived twenty more years I would have stayed with her, hating her and myself and always trying to make her happy.”
“Wendy, look at me.” She opened her eyes. “I’m not your grandmother.”
“But you’re an alcoholic.” The desire to convict herself overwhelmed her. She looked at Joe, desperately. “I killed her. I know it sounds stupid, and I know I didn’t really kill her, not physically, not with my hands, but I wanted her dead. I wished it.” There, she’d finally confessed it. “I killed her, Joe, and I don’t want to end up wishing you dead, too.”
He held her. “You didn’t kill her, Wendy. You were dealing with an on-going tough situation the best way you could.”
“Was that what it was like for you, Joe? Did you ever wish your father dead?”
His throat went dry. “I must have wanted it on some level.” He would have torn his father apart if he could’ve gotten the car door open that night.
“Do you ever feel guilty about it?”
Joe sighed. When in his life had he not felt responsible? He’d tried to make himself perfect, a saint, but even that couldn’t change things. Worse, the saints were more human than he, they felt things like real remorse, or joy and love. He felt nothing, save guilt, so he gave up the idea of a religious vocation. He turned his back on heaven and pursued hell—all this, his interior drama.
“Wendy, I’m not your grandmother.” He made her look at him. “I don’t expect you to make my life any better.” He smiled. “That’s just a natural consequence of our friendship.”
She stared at him. “What do you expect?”
How many times had he wondered about his father’s expectations? “I don’t expect anything but honesty, Wendy. Keep being honest with me. If we can settle these issues and you find out that we really are good for each other, will you marry me?” The words came so naturally, so easily, as if he were meant to speak them at that very moment since the beginning of time. To hell with convention, he waited on the brink for her answer. He wanted this friendship to grow and last forever.
She closed her eyes and more tears slipped down her face. She whispered, “It’s a dream to me.”
He hugged her, tightly. “It won’t be, Wendy,” he said, and lifted her chin to study her silent features then bent his head and kissed her lips softly. She spoke his name against them, wound her arms around his neck and returned the sweet gesture, but the kiss quickly turned urgent and they were both overcome by an unexpected desire of a depth they hadn’t anticipated. He couldn’t deny her and his chest swelled, his mind muddied as if drugged, this first experience of Wendy more potent than any past dalliance and he cupped her chin to kiss her fully. He could have fallen back against the bar, cradling her with him. That wild current that tugged at him could have pulled him under. His instincts begged him to yield to it knowing that if he persisted she might not refuse him. I could carry her up to the office.
He tore his mouth away pressing his cheek to hers, breathing deeply to quiet his disturbed body and only aroused himself more with each ragged breath. She kissed his ear and the warmth of her breath took him down again into that hot circular whirlpool of sensation. He raised his chin to disengage himself and closed his eyes when she kissed his throat, bargaining now with himself, promising that he would end the contact in just a few moments...
She locked her arms around him and pressed her body fully against his and he thought his solar plexus was a ball of fire. He shook from the heat and force of it.
“Wendy.” He held her by her shoulders and tried to ease her away. “Sweetheart...”
She resisted him and he had to struggle with himself as well. He couldn’t push her away. He didn’t want to and she wouldn’t let him, so he pulled her to him, tightly, and held her so her arms were pinned between them. He held her head against his chest where she could hear his heart beating. He held her until he could think again and then he held her a little while longer just to be sure.
He stroked her hair. She said, very softly, “How come you’re so damned honorable with me?”
He laughed quietly and closed his eyes, kissing the top of her head, and breathing her scent deeply. “Because I want much more than just your body, Wendy,” he said, a revelation to himself as much as it was to her. And then he lifted her chin and smiled at her. “Because we’re friends and much more than that.”