1. Tell us about your book, Row Away From the Rocks.
Row Away From the Rocks, a family drama, tells the story of Carrie Barnes, who is raised by her grandmother after the mysterious loss of her parents. Carrie puts her life on hold to care for her terminal grandmother. All of her reserves of love and compassion are tested as she cares for her feisty, strong-willed Gram, especially when she learns family secrets including the fact that Gram played a role in the death of her parents. Before Gram dies, Carrie is able to forgive her and find a sense of peace.
2. Share a little bit about how you came up with the idea for the main character.
My novel is a work of fiction, but is emotionally autobiographical. I cared for my mother when she was dying of lung cancer. So, much of my story relates to my own struggles. Using a fictional frame work, I chose to use, Carrie, a granddaughter as the main character, taking care of her dying grandmother. My mother lost her mother when she was an infant, so she is not only reflected in the role of the grandmother but also at times in the role of Carrie.
3. Can you tell us about what you’re working on now or what is coming next?
I am working on another family drama, Tessa and Claudine, a story about two sisters with opposite personalities who are locked in psychological triangle with a rudderless, alcoholic mother. The two girls face a terrible tragedy before they accept one another.
4. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
My writing usually starts with a strong feeling. I wrote Row Away From the Rocks because I was angry. While taking care of my mother, I was not offered any assistance from the medical community. They offered me hospice care 24 hours before she died, which really frustrated me. I had begged for help, and no one listened. Others caregivers have read my novel and have related to this situation. I hope my book will help improve the relationship between the medical field and caregivers. Doctors have recommended it as required reading for nursing and medical students.
I was inspired to write Tessa and Claudine after I lost my only sister in an automobile accident. In this case grief was the catalyst. Losing my sister made me realize the importance of bonding with siblings, even if major personality differences exist.
5. What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any habits or established routines that work best for you?
I usually work on my writing between eleven in the morning and two in the afternoon. I stop to take a couple of short breaks during that time. Many days, I do more writing later in the afternoon, depending on my schedule. The best advice I have for getting your writing done is to simply sit your butt down on the chair. That is the hardest part. Once I sit down — I don’t want to get up. I have to remind myself to go take a walk or do some stretching exercises – anything to give my mind a rest.
6. You recently published Echoes, a book of poetry that you co-wrote with your granddaughter, Rachel Nelson. Can you tell us how the idea for the book came to you and your granddaughter and share a little bit about how you wrote it?
Caitlyn, thanks for asking about Echoes. I was visiting Rachel at her home in the Minneapolis area and, after reading her writing notebook, was amazed at the quality of her work. I sensed that we had a strong connection. I asked 12-year old Rachel if she would like to collaborate on a book of poetry. She agreed. We spent the summer of 2009 bouncing poems back and forth between Minnesota and Georgia. I’d write a poem on a particular subject, Rachel responded to my poem and also sent me a new poem. I would respond to her poem and add a second poem. We did this for 50 poems. We had great fun and learned a lot about one another. The generational idea made the poetry book a unique concept. It is being used in classrooms as a teaching tool. Echoes is available at: www.amazon.com and www.Xlibris.com.
7. How do you promote your book? Any tips for other authors?
I speak at book clubs and all kinds of organizations. I had sharp looking business cards printed, using a great design with three colors, nice script, and plenty of information (address, e-mail, phone number, website). On the back side of the wine colored card, I have the name of my book, ROW AWAY FROM THE ROCKS, in bold print, a novel in nice script, and down at the bottom: Available for readings, book clubs, conferences, and the website address one more time. It is worth the money to have a nice looking card. And I carry them with me at all times. I advertise on my blog, which is on my website and on Facebook. I ask others to put my web address on their site. I go to book festivals, book stores, writer’s conferences, workshops and constantly look for stores that will carry my books.
8. I have to tell you, I love your blog. You’ve hit upon an amazing combination of personal stories, tips for writers, and inspiring articles about your writing life. I know from my own blog that I sometimes struggle to come up with things to write about. Do you have any advice for authors on starting and maintaining a blog?
Well, first of all, Caitlyn, thank you for the kind comments about my blog. Before starting my blog, I looked at other blogs, (I highly recommend this). The ones I liked were fun to read and had a variety of things to offer. So I followed those guidelines. As a writer, I wanted talk about writing to be my main emphasis, but I also wanted to share more of myself. I just happened to add a recipe one day. After getting fun comments, I started adding a recipe now and then. After I started a writing workshop, I started my writing tips. I sort of go with the flow. My advice is to go with your gut feeling. Be yourself. Get some kind of theme – It doesn’t have to be major, just something that interests you. I try to make sure I do it once a month or more. Check out my blog at: www.lisbeththom.com. This also connects to my website, actually a weblog.
9. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?
I credit a professor at a continuing education class that I took many years ago at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for getting me jump-started. He insisted that writers should write for publication so I started sending my essays, poetry, and short stories out. And soon they were getting published. I think writing for publication and constantly attending writing workshops has motivated me to keep writing. Writing is a huge part of my life. At this point, I need to write as much as I need to breathe.
10. What part of the craft of writing has improved since you wrote your first book?
I’m writing with more honesty, using more concrete detail, and paying more attention to revision, eliminating parts that do not move the story along. In my first book, I added a lot of unnecessary information. I worked closely with my editor at NewSouth Books in Montgomery, Alabama, and together we cut about 15,000 words from the novel.
11. You’ve lived in numerous places and also traveled quite a lot. Do you have a favorite travel destination or is there anywhere you would like to go but haven’t been able to get to yet?
Yes, I have traveled to many countries including Africa, China, South America, Tahiti, Turkey, Greece, England, Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Italy, Budapest, Amsterdam, Hungary, Slovakia, and New Zealand. So far, New Zealand is a favorite. It is such a beautiful place and has such friendly people. I want to return. I’d like to travel more in the United States and see the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and also many places in New England that I have not visited.
12. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” So true but I also believe every place has its own language that is beautiful in some way. Do you have a favorite saying/expression/colloquialism from you next of the woods?
Well, I grew up in Southern Illinois, in Vandalia, and I can still recognize the Midwestern twang spoken in that part of the country. Once I heard a man in a distant outpost, six miles from the entrance to Denali Park in Alaska speaking in that familiar twang. I stopped at his dinner table and asked where he was from. And sure enough, he grew up seven miles from my home town. We knew many of the same people. We talked a while, and his voice sounded like music to me.