~ Interview by Melina Kantor
We’re very lucky to have the lovely and talented Lisa Dale visiting us today!
Her recently released novel, Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, was a Barnes and Noble Top Pick and BookPage Magazine’s Romance of the Month.
She’s here to share some of her thoughts on writing, her books, and what makes love stories important.
On your Web site, you explain that, “What I want from life is to tell romantic stories that challenge, inspire, astonish, and enchant.” What do you think makes love stories so important?
This is such a great question. I think LOVE is important. It’s healing and redeeming. It’s the very best we can do. I also believe that love is our highest calling and reason for being here on earth. A person could do much worse than spend her days contemplating love stories.
From a writer’s standpoint, part of what’s so great about love is that it isn’t always easy. My characters have to work hard before they learn what it really means to love. In Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier, Garret must learn to shuck old prejudices before he can find love. And Thea must learn who she truly is–whether the choices she made in life were in line with her true nature or if she just made them because they were comfortable, easy choices to make.
Love is what’s most important–and that’s what makes it so intense and sometimes challenging. I suspect that as long as I’ve got some love story at the center of a book, I’ll never run out of material.
In addition to writing, you have a love for acting. How are acting and writing similar?
I did think when I was younger that I’d wanted to act. But as it turns out, writing is like acting only better IMHO because you can do it in your PJs. Plus, when you’re writing, you’re not just one character–you’re every character and you’re the setting and you’re the story too. Someday, I might get into writing scripts–but right now I’m focusing on my novels.
Slow Dancing is set in a Newport, Rhode Island coffee shop. So of course, I spent some time in Newport–which is so so incredibly beautiful, friendly, and historic. Newport is so vibrant that I simply had to set a book there.
Each chapter of Slow Dancing is prefaced by a very short bit of coffee history or trivia. I read lots of books about coffee and tasted lots of coffee. Generally, only about two percent of my research ever ends up in a novel I’m writing–always the most interesting two percent. And coffee is fascinating–coffee is war, intrigue, religion, sex, love, adventure, etc. If you’re a curious person, you’ll love learning about coffee in Slow Dancing.
You’re known for writing strong protagonists who face serious issues. What is your process for creating characters? What types of challenges do you like to throw at them?
The first thing I have to learn about a character is what he/she loves. So, for example, in Slow Dancing, Thea loves coffee and loves her coffee shop. What kind of person loves those kinds of things? Certainly, someone who is sensual (who takes pleasure in taste, etc.). A coffee shop owner has to be practical and tough, but also personable enough to keep her staff happy. She also has to take pride in creating her shop as a place of community. Once I knew what Thea loved, she told me the rest about herself.
In what ways has your MFA in fiction helped you with your writing?
I got my MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson University, which has a wonderful low-residency program that will let you go to school in your PJs, even if you’re working full-time. The program focuses on literary fiction, which I’ve always loved. Certainly, getting my MFA gave me access to great mentors. I became a better writer. And such intense study really gave me the confidence I needed to put my books out there into the world.
How has being a member of RWA been valuable to you?
RWA is the reason I’m writing romance. I love the writers in my local chapters. Romance writers are as a whole kind, good-intentioned, and friendly people. And RWA has helped me in many, many ways.
Do you consider your books “chick lit?” Why or why not?
I tend to think that genre labels can be a bit artificial in some situations. Of course, part of the reason I say this is that my own books have been difficult to pigeonhole.
Are my books romance (they are very concerned with romance and also very romantic) or are they women’s fiction (they are also a bit challenging in terms of unusual plots and a strong narrative voices)? Part of me wishes there were no genres in bookstores and that all books were just mixed up into one big potpourri. I think many people would find themselves taking risks and reading outside of their genres that way.
What advice do you have for aspiring / as of yet unpublished authors?
This is the advice I usually give when I’m giving my “How To Get Published” talk.
1. Read. A lot. One book a month is not a nutritious diet for a serious writer. Real at least 3-5 books a month, and read them like a writer. Study them–even the ones you don’t like. Read many genres, read outside of your comfort zone.
2. Find professional mentors. I was lucky to have worked with the amazing literary agent Paige Wheeler in my mid-twenties, and then later I was fortunate to have had great mentors in my MFA program. I would caution against choosing a mentor that is not a proven professional, though. There’s a lot of bad advice out there!
Would you like to tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?
My next novel is called A Promise of Safekeeping and it comes out in January 2012. It’s about a woman, Lauren, who successfully prosecuted a man for murder–only to discover ten years later that he was innocent. Now, she wants to set things right. But she can’t get to the man she incarcerated without going through his friend, Will.
Will is an antiques dealer who has never been in a meaningful relationship. He’s got a secret that has kept him from connecting with women. Lauren might just be strong enough to handle it–but he doesn’t trust her. After all, she put his best friend in jail.
Thank you so much! 🙂
Thank you, Melina. This was fun!
Lisa Dale writes romantic stories for the head and heart. Translations of her books are forthcoming in Norway, Sweden, and Germany, and her third novel Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier is a top pick at both Barnes & Noble and BookPage magazine. A former assistant editor of The Literary Review and nominee for Best New American Voices and The Pushcart Prize, Lisa worked briefly at a Manhattan literary agency before earning her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in many literary journals and magazines, including Fourth Genre, Flyway, Southeast Review, The Writer Magazine, and more. More at www.LisaDaleBooks.com.