Tuesday, June 14, 2005

My interview with Lisa Samson

I just had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favorite authors, the delightful Lisa Samson, for my radio show, "Weekend Rockford." Here are some excerpts from that interview.--CS

CINDY: A few years ago, I read a book that I really consider to be a breakthrough in Christian fiction. The characters were real, with real problems and real responses, but despite the lack of candy-coating, it had a humorous charm and hopeful grace that made me sorry to see the book end. That book was The Church Ladies, and the author was Lisa Samson. Lisa had written several books before The Church Ladies and has written several more afterward, and she has remained on the short list of my favorite authors. Most recently, Lisa has written Club Sandwich. And I'm delighted to have her as my guest today on Weekend Rockford. Lisa, welcome!

LISA: Oh, thanks for having me, Cindy, it's always a pleasure.

CINDY: Before we get into talking about Club Sandwich, tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing. I think you've told me before that you never had great dreams to be a writer?

LISA: No, no. Well first of all, I am married, I've been married for 17 years to Will, and we have three children; Ty, who is 15, Jake's 11, and Gwynnie is 8. And you know, that's my primary role in life: wife and mother. And I got into writing because I had read a book that I found interesting, and I said, "Oh, I think I'll just write a book," and I did.

And that ended up being "The Highlander and His Lady," which was published two years later. Which was, just such a NOT typical story, and obviously God just had something for me to do and was providing the way to do it, and so I'm very blessed to have had a path like that. But, no, I never really was the person who was writing stories since they were five, and keeping a diary, and all that--

CINDY: Like me! And I should hate you for that (laughing), because
you're like Lana Turner supposedly getting hired right off the soda shop stool...

LISA: (laughing) That's right, and you know, the thing about it is, I think God knows my weakness of my ego and my pride, and if He had given me an area that I really was self-invested in, I think I would have had a real problem doing it for Him. So He just gave me something out of the blue so that I couldn't give any credit to myself whatsoever (laughs.)

CINDY: Before you wrote "The Church Ladies," you were known mostly for your historical fiction. My daughter and I still both love the Shades of Eternity series. But church ladies marked a change for you in your focus and even in your style, didn't it?

LISA: Oh, absolutely.

how did that come about?

LISA: Well, that type of writing is really what really flows out me naturally. The other, just pretty basic storytelling, historical fiction. You know, I used to read historical fiction, and you know, I just didn't think think of anything else to write. I started getting into reading more women's fiction and contemporary fiction and so I started kind of trying my hand at that just on my own, and that just flowed out of me, that was my natural voice.

So, I finally said, "You know what? I just need to write the way God made me to write." And I think I learned a lot along the way, but this was really the way He had programmed me to do what He had called me to do, and so it's a much more natural voice for me.

And I just decided, you know, I'm not like making a million dollars a year doiing the historical, so
I might as well not make a million dollars doing the other (laughs). It wasn't very lucrative at that time, and,you know it still beats mcDonald's, but that's about it (laughs heartily). So at least I get some kind of satisfaction out of it.

CINDY: Your writing is full of so many observations about daily things,....I'll read something that you wrote and I'll think, "Yeah! I've thought that very same thing before." And I love some of the descriptives phrases that you use, like, "that's as wrong as low-rise jeans on Hillary Clinton" (LISA laughs) Things like that just make me laugh out loud. Are you constantly on the alert for these kinds of observations to use them in your writing?

LISA: You know what, I'm not. Usually they just pop out of me when I'm writing. Every once in a while some kind of metaphor or image will come to my mind about something and I'll jot it down. But I've gotta admit, I am terrible when it comes to jotting things down. I know writers should always do that, and I don't, and it's awful. I would probably be so much better if I was just disciplined in that area, but I'm not, so I just have to go with whatever hits me while I'm writing. It's TERRIBLE! (laughing).

CINDY: Well, it works--whatever you're doing, it works, and it just strikes a chord and relates very well with your reader. Let's talk about your latest book, Club Sandwich, from Waterbrook Press. Lisa, I'll admit I'm not done with the book yet...I am more than halfway through it, though, and so far I'm loving it. What is this book about?

LISA: This book is about Ivy Schneider, and she is a caregiver, and she's stuck between generations. She has an ailing mother as well as children that she's still busy raising--her youngest is around three in this book. And so,
it deals with the trials that you go through when you're stuck in this situation.

It was something I lived for four years with my own mother. And when I started to take care of her, she had just started to decline then, so it wasn't any real major caregiving at that point, only the tug, when you feel like you're just in a tug of war...my youngest was nine months old at the time, so it was quite a journey. And it was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my entire life.

And so, I wanted to write Club Sandwich, because I thought this was something I had lived through and I could address probably more authentically than anything else I had ever written. But I had to decide that I wanted to bleed across the page, and I did, a lot of experiences... while I changed them some what, were pretty much something I had gone through. I did try to change the siblings quite a bit from my own siblings, because I didn't want to lose my family (laughing)

CINDY: I figured that, because from reading your blog I know that you're crazy about your sisters.. And that's another thing that strikes a chord with me. My father just passed away a year ago, after a long illness in which he declined mentally, so much of what you write about in the book, I could really relate to.

How do you get the ideas for your characters, Lisa? I know that's often hard for a writer to explain...can you sort of clue us in on how that takes place?

LISA: Well, you know, different things for different books. Really, every once in a while a character will jump into my head fully developed. One character that did that was Poppy Frasier from The Church Ladies.and also
also Charmaine from Songbird, and she was in the Church Ladies as well...those two jumped into my head fully developed.

I usually get through about half of writing the book before I really know who my character is going to be. Ivy was very hard to define, for some reason, and I guess it was because she shared so many of my thoughts about such tender issues that I guess I was just kind of afraid to find out who she really was.

Another character that was very hard to define was Lark, who was in a book called "Women's Intuition." In fact, she changed completely from the first draft--when I went back, I changed her character completely from one character to another. She was this tiny, scared agoraphobic type person, and when she started out, she was this
heroically built, big, blustery jazz singer.

CINDY: WOW! (laughing)

LISA: It just wasn't working, so I had to go back and change it completely. I mean, you know, I just threw out the first out the first sixty pages of the novel I'm working on, and started fresh. So, you know, 'm not afraid to just go back and do major surgery.

CINDY: You know, these books--The Church Ladies, Women's Intuition, Tiger Lillie, and Club Sandwich---these are the kinds of books that you could hand to someone who doesn't know Christ and they could read the book and
totally enjoy it, but there still is that message in there of Christ. How important is it to you that your readers come away with an affirmation, or re-affirmation of faith in God?

LISA: You know, this answer's gonna surprise you...not very.

CINDY: Really?

LISA: Right. I think that what is going to happen in a heart is going to happen through the Holy Spirit. My books...I really am one of those crazy artists that are trying to tell an authentic story. And I believe truth is of God, and I just put the truth out there...and let God do the rest.

Y'know, because people are going to come to a story, and they are going to find what they want to in it, whether it's their affirmation in Christ--I can't make that happen for somebody. I can't prepare their heart, and I can't do any of that. All I can do is write the best story I can, with the elements that I feel like I know something about, that I can portray authentically, and hopefully have an element of faith in there, because that naturally flows from me...

CINDY: Exactly, yeah.

LISA: And if that touches the heart of the reader, then great. If it doesn't, then you know what? That's OK too... I jsut leave it up to Him, and I'm not trying to manipulate what I do to "sell Jesus" to anybody. I'm trying to do what God's created me to do, and let Him take the ball and run with it.

CINDY: And it's working, it's working very well.

You're living an adventure right now...you uprooted completely from Baltimore to Kentucky, and why is that?

LISA: Well, we decided it was just time to get busy (laughs). And God has really just been gracious in showing us that this was the move He had for our family. And what we've done, we've moved to urban Lexington, Kentucky, which, believe me, is not like moving to urban Baltimore or New York City. Y'know, this is a very gentle little town. But we moved to one of the less-developed sections, and we're just trying to see what it's like to live as Jesus here on the streets.

CINDY: That's awesome.

LISA: We moved in about two weeks ago, and we are with a group of committed believers, and we're living in intentional community, which means we've all moved to this area of the city to try and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in whatever way God brings the opportunities. And you know, we've only been here a couple of weeks, so I'll have to report to you and tell you what's going on with it.

If anyone wants to find out about this journey with our family, they can always go my website, which is www.lisasamson.com and click on "blog," and that will bring you to my writing blog, which is called "Author Intrusion," and on that blog you can find my family blog on this journey, and that's called "Streets with Dwellings," which is a reference to Isaiah 58, which God used to really call our family '

CINDY: Speaking of the future, what can we expect next from Lisa Samson?

LISA: Lisa Samson (laughing) is writing a book called "Travels with My Uncle." And this character you have seen before in The Church Ladies; her name was India, and she was a music minister at an Episcopal Church and she rode around in a lady-bug-painted VW beetle. She's the main character of this book, and she has been wounded by the church, and she is going to go cross country with her uncle on a trip, and he is dying of cancer, so it's sort of his last hurrah and her healing.

And so they meet a lot of crazy people, as you'd expect, along the way. And so, hopefully it's a story of healing, and what we can do when we allow the Holy Spirit to use us instead of closing all those bad things in a suitcase and taking them with us wherever we go (laughs).

CINDY: Lisa, bless you as you and your husband and your family as you minister...and just keep on writing those great books, we love 'em.

LISA: Thank you so much, Cindy.

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