Wednesday, October 20, 2021

CHATTING WITH LISA WILLIAMS KLINE

Filled with dreams of publication, in the early 2000's I attended a writing session on historical fiction. The presenter, Lisa Williams Kline had recently won the NC Juvenile Literature Award for her historical novel, Eleanor Hill.  I soaked up her wisdom and made it my goal to write as well as she did so I could win that award myself one day. Clearly she set me on the right path because I actually did a few years later! I've been writing historical fiction ever since. 

Lisa, on the other hand, is a multi-genre writer - from historical, to poetry, to contemporary, to romance and to realistic fiction with one magical element. She also writes adult fiction.

Recently I read two of her contemporary middle grade stories - One Week of the Heart and One Week of You. I was intrigued and decided to ask a few questions!

Hi Lisa - I loved reading One Week of the Heart and One Week of You! Both were poignant and funny and written with a lively, authentically teen voice. And they made me wonder, how'd she do that? So here are some questions for you!

Which of these stories did you conceive of and write first and where did your idea come from?

I wrote One Week of You  first. The idea came from two real-life situations. The first was that both of my daughters had to carry “flour babies” as part of their 8th grade health curriculum. Both boys and girls had to carry five pound bags of flour for a week, ostensibly to show them the meaning of having to be responsible for a baby 24/7. I found this curriculum kind of funny, and I thought it would make a funny story to have my main character forgetting her flour baby all the time, ironically because of a romantic relationship she was considering. The second real-life event was when there were three bomb threats in one week at my younger daughter’s high school. It was, needless to say, a chaotic and scary and emotional week, and I wanted to write about it. I wondered, could I combine a humorous story line with a serious one? I decided to try that challenge, and One Week of You was the result.
After One Week of You came out, my publishers asked me if they could have more of Lizzy, the main character, which really made me feel good, of course! They wanted possibly a series, but said a novella would work also. And so I decided to write One Week of the Heart, a novella, which is actually a prequel to One Week of You. Getting back into Lizzy’s flaky character was a delight. 

Brilliant idea, Lisa - to take this school experience that students recognize and center a story around it. Did you know, at the outset, that the whole story would take place in one week? What challenges are involved in fully plotting a story that takes place in a week? 

I did know that the story would take place in one week, because the students had to carry the flour babies for a week, and the bomb threats also took place in one week. And, of course, many teen-age romances last about a week, haha! I like using compressed time periods for my novels. It can keep the tension high, your reader doesn’t have to wait months or years for a resolution, and you still have freedom to explore the past through flashbacks. 

I hear you on teen crushes lasting about a week! One Week of the Heart is actually a play on words since protagonist, Lizzy is attending a Med Camp where the focus is on the physical heart. But she’s a teen, so of course, the emotional aspect of the heart is big part pf the story. Care to share any inspirations for the friendship and romantic aspects of the story?

I love the intensity of summer camp. So much learning can be packed into that week, and also friendships can bloom and flame out in a few days. You can see a completely different side of your BFF. You can fall in love and pouf! never see the person again, all of which is great fodder for fiction. I have vivid memories of an arts camp I attended on the Wake Forest University campus (where my dad taught physics) when I was a teen. Typical teen, I didn’t even want to go – I wanted to hang out at the pool with my friends – but my parents made me go. During that week I made an animated film and it was one of the most intense and fun learning experiences I’ve ever had. I was drawing on those memories when I wrote One Week of the Heart

I always wanted to write funny and you do it so naturally. Got any tips for me and others who want to tickle the reader’s funny bone?

That’s a very nice compliment, thank you! I think the concept of the flour babies is inherently funny, so I had that going for me in this book. I found the irony of Lizzy repeatedly losing her flour baby because of her crush –the very thing the flour baby was supposed to be training her to guard against– to be funny. Also, Lizzy is a very flawed main character – she is forgetful, she is susceptible to flattery, she is overly competitive – and I think flawed characters can lend themselves well to comedy. Some things that I write just come out funny, and I have no idea how it works. I tried studying humor once – I read articles by really hilariously brilliant writers like Tobin Anderson – but found that being analytical about it didn’t work for me. When I try to make something funny it never seems to work. I’ve written several serious novels, but have seemed to have more luck with the ones that just turned out to be humorous. 

Ha! Yes, I've taken workshops on humor writing too and the techniques make perfect sense. But writing humor works best when it catches even me, by surprise. I love how a funny line can actually express pain that readers have felt in their own lives. In addition to sharing the teen experience and fun-filled plot lines was there anything else you wanted to convey in these and your other stories? 

Recently I was rereading the inspirational book on creativity, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and she said something like, “Please don’t tell me you want to help someone with your writing. Please just tell me you are doing it for yourself.” She did add that if by some accident, someone was helped by what she wrote, that was certainly icing on the cake, but that wasn’t her initial desire. Meanwhile, many people may argue that books by Elizabeth Gilbert have changed their lives! The truth is, I keep on writing because I can’t seem to stop myself – it’s my major way of processing life -- and I certainly hope that readers are enlightened or just simply entertained by what I write, but I honestly just try my best to tell a good story.

Oh and you do that so well, Lisa - across genres even, which impresses me even more since I'm a one trick pony! Thanks for giving me this glimpse into your writing life! 

Learn some fun tidbits about Lisa at her Website's About Page.

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