When you get back to blogging, and I know you will, I’m walking on cloud 9 because Dandelion Summer won the ACFW Carol award for Women’s Fiction. They made a big announcement to tell everyone that DS is the first book EVER to get a perfect score. All five judges gave it all 10 points. There is a picture on Southern Belle View today of us winners. Blessings during this difficult, but hopeful time!
Dandelion Summer, has been by far my most favorite book! Thank you for stopping by to read the interview. I cannot wait to the comments from this interview of Dandelion Summer. It is not one to be missed ~ have fun and be blessed. We might have to have a second question as I am reading it again more things pop out!
Thank you Lisa Wingate for letting me share my love of your books with my readers –
When did you first realize you were a writer?
I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember. My older brother was a good writer, and when you’re the youngest in the family, you want to do what the older kids do. When he won a school award for his poem, “The Bee Went Under the Sea,” I was so impressed by his literary brilliance (and the blue ribbon) that I immediately went to my bedroom and created my first book, The Story of a Dog Named Frisky. The Frisky story was the start of many partially-completed writing projects.
A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, put the idea of being a real writer into my head. She found me writing a story one day at indoor recess, and she took the time to stop and read it. When she was finished, she tapped the pages on the desk to straighten them, looked at me over the top and said, “You are a wonderful writer!” That was a defining moment for me. In my mind, I was a writer. When your first grade teacher tells you that you can do something, you believe it.
Then when she read the story to the students and they turned and asked me, “What happened next?” (after the boy went into the bear cave) I was hooked! I wrote sequels to the story for days and Mrs. Krackhardt read them to the class.
Growing up, I often wrote in response to things I felt were wrong in the world. I wanted to create something that would cause people to stop and think, to treat each other and the world around them with greater kindness and grace. Those desires eventually led me to write my first mainstream novel, Tending Roses, which was published in 2001.
Share a little about your publishing journey.
I had been doing technical writing and some magazine articles after graduating with a degree in technical writing. (Not that I liked technical writing all that well, but in my family, you majored in something that would qualify you for a day job!) One day when my boys were little, I opened a drawer and unearthed a notebook of stories and life lessons my grandmother had shared with me shortly after my first son was born. I had the idea of combining Grandma’s stories with a fictional family. In reality, like many writers, I was writing my own story, relaying how my grandmother’s wisdom had produced an epiphany for me, a lightbulb moment. After writing a few chapters, I asked my husband and my mother to read them, with the questions, ‘Should I continue? Would anyone want to read this?’
With their resounding encouragement, I composed the manuscript for my first mainstream novel, Tending Roses, found an agent, the agent sold the book, and the book was published in 2001 as a premier title in Penguin Putnam’s New American Library’s women’s fiction line. In recent years, I have been writing inspirationals for Bethany House (a CBA publisher) and Penguin Putnam (an ABA publisher). Eleven years ago, when Tending Roses came out, there was very little crossover between the two markets, and Christian publishing was largely focused on historical fiction. When Tending Roses came out with Penguin Putnam, bookstore managers sent comment cards saying they had customers looking for stories like this, in which characters grew in faith, and content wasn’t graphic. It turns out that those bookstore managers were right, because the market for inspirational fiction has grown and diversified in countless ways during the past ten years. Now it is possible to have the same novel selling in the general market fiction section of bookstores, in Christian stores, and in big box stores like Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. I’m thrilled to see faith-based fiction out in front of the masses!
Which of your books is your favorite?
Because of the connection to my grandmother, Tending Roses will always be my sentimental favorite. That story has traveled the world, been reprinted eighteen times to date, has been used to teach adults to read in various literacy programs, has been used in university courses on aging, and was selected to promote women’s literacy in India. Recently, I heard from a group of women in Israel who were reading and circulating the book. It’s amazing and humbling to see something you wrote, sitting at home with your computer, travel at the speed of light and reach people who live different lives in different places. It makes you realize that we are more similar than we sometimes think. Amazing also, that in this fast-changing market, the book has stayed in print all these years and is now in e-book also. Many of my fans tell me this is their very favorite of my books.
My mom, on the other hand, as soon as she read the first draft of Dandelion Summer, declared this my best work. She said DS as a movie just kept playing through her head and could take the place of her favorite, On Golden Pond. Later my sweet mother-in-law said nearly the same thing and fans have written to tell me how much the book resonated with them. It’s kind of like trying to pick your favorite child, but I think Tending Roses will remain ever in my heart as my sentimental favorite!
Will you share a writing tip that you’ve stumbled upon in your years as a writer?
First, finish the book. It’s almost impossible to sell a partial if you’re unpublished, and even if you are published, you’re asking an editor to take a much bigger risk by buying a novel without being able to read it all. Polish it, get an agent, especially if you are writing fiction, and send the manuscript out, because as much as we’d like them to, editors won’t come looking in our desk drawers. While you’re waiting for news, write another book. If the first one sells, you’ll be set for a two-book deal. That’s exactly what happened to me. I sat down and wrote a lighter novel, Texas Cooking while I was going through the process and months of finding an agent and submitting the book to several publishers. When Tending Roses sold, they snapped up both books into the contract. With new writers, editors worry whether an author can produce a second book within about a year and many can’t.
If the first book doesn’t sell, you have eggs in another basket. Your agent can shop your second book around and you may be on your way! Also, don’t take a critique too seriously if you hear it from one editor/agent, unless there’s an imminent contract involved. Editors and agents, just like the rest of us, are individuals. What works for one may not work for another. If you receive the same comment from multiple sources, consider revising your manuscript before you send it elsewhere. Be tenacious, be as thick-skinned as possible, keep writing while you wait for news. Never stop creating new material—that’s where the joy is, and if you keep the joy of this business, you keep the magic of it.
Why did you write Dandelion Summer? What was your inspiration for this book?
The story features an unlikely friendship between a grumpy old man and a desperate teenage girl who are drawn together as they try to solve the mysteries of his hidden family past. Their search takes them on a journey of discovery through historic towns of the old south and into nostalgic recollections of America’s space race during the 1960’s.
For me, this story was a joy to write, as the original Apollo moon shots are some of my oldest memories, when I sat on my dad’s shoulders watching the TV and feeling his crew cut under my chin. The history of Norman’s career in the novel mirrors the real-life adventures of my wonderful reader-friend, Ed Stevens, who helped design America’s first moon lander, Surveyor, while working for Howard Hughes.
One of the best things about creating fictional people and sending them into the world has been that they come back home again, trailing real people behind them. I met Ed when he read Texas Cooking and sent a very nice note about it. I had to admire a guy who would pick up a book with a vivid pink cover (I once spotted my book from six stories up in a hotel atrium lobby.), read it, and write to the author.
Ed, is such an encourager. He explained that he was a retired engineer and loved to do projects on his computer. He offered to do anything he could to help me spread the news about my books and he has done so much of that, I can’t even count the ways at this point. During all the emails and calls about his projects for me, he would now and then write some memories of his career and travels, and of his daughter and his favorite old dog, Huckleberry. Eventually, I wanted to include much of this in a book, and Dandelion Summer was born. All fiction contains snippets of real life, of course, and I named my character after my grandfather, Norman, and gave him some of Grandpa’s feisty Irish personality. I’ve been blessed to meet so many incredible new friends and learn about their lives, and everything I write these days seems to be a combination of fact and fiction.
You mentioned that your mom says that Dandelion Summer is your best book yet. So, how does your mom influence or encourage you as an author? Mom always encouraged my writing, but both of my parents insisted I needed to prepare for a job that would feed me. So, I majored in Technical Writing and held a couple of different jobs doing that until I decided to be a stay-at-home mom and write for publication. That was after my epiphany moment, related in Tending Roses when Grandma Rose tells about lacking time for tending her roses when her children were small. With that one little story/lesson, my grandmother made it OK for me to ignore my tech writing career for a while and just enjoy raising being a mother and raising young children.
These days Mom is my first reader. She gets the drafts when I’ve only read back through them once, so she helps with everything from spelling to spotting plot holes, to characterization — just whatever she suggests, I consider. Maybe I make the changes and maybe not, but I think about it anyway.
After reading Dandelion Summer, she said, “This is your best book yet…even better than Tending Roses! I love Epie. She seems so real and I’m going to wonder what happens next with her. The scenes in the house were soooo funny in her voice. (What a voice, BTW. So teenage, so biracial, so tentative and at-risk, and such potential.) But, it’s J. Norm who stands out in my mind. He reminds me of my dad in personality and I love how you have given him such a grand career, but also the guilt about his “failure” at fatherhood. On Golden Pond just kept popping into my head.”
There was more, but can’t you just see me doing the Snoopy dance with ears flopping when I opened my email that morning? When I trimmed the book some on the second draft, she insisted I reinstate a scene or two that she really missed. I did.
Later my husband’s mom agreed that it is my best book. Some fans have written that also, but others are still holding Tending Roses as their favorite. I love to hear from those who have read both. Maybe I should put out a poll :o)
Mom and I don’t always agree, of course. When I sent her a draft of the first few chapters of The Language of Sycamores she wrote back a scathing, “WHY are you writing about Karen (the somewhat detached sister from Tending Roses). I don’t even LIKE Karen.” I went on to write Karen’s story because, as I often tell audiences, ‘Sometimes when you don’t like a person it’s because you don’t really know where they’re coming from.’ Karen wasn’t living a very genuine life, fixated on her career and lacking personal, meaningful relationships. A sudden crisis at her workplace threw her into tailspin where she had to step back and look at her life. When the book was finished, Mom was happy with it.What else should we know about Dandelion Summer? It’s been amazing how popular Dandelion Summer is with book clubs. On my website (www.lisawingate.com) there is a book club pack of background information, pictures, videos, recipes, and decorating hints. There is even a video of my favorite local book club discussing Dandelion Summer with me!I love getting email from clubs who discussed the questions in the back of the book and watched the video of the father/daughter letter. That video has had over 100,000 hits on Youtube and other sites and by live audiences. Amazing! I’ve heard from teachers who show it to teenage boys who think that if they get a girl pregnant, no problem, the girl will take care of it all. I’ve heard from women who’ve shared it with their father, their sons who have recently become fathers, and friends everywhere. There are not many books out there about the father/daughter relationship and DS seems to strike a chord with many. J.Norm’s relationship with his daughter parallels the regrets many dads feel about not spending enough time with their children. And J.Norm’s friendship with Epie, depicts how so many girls and women are looking for love in all the wrong places because of lack of a good, strong father figure in their lives. Here is the link for the father/daughter letter video:Play “A Father’s Letter to His Daughter” for your book club, from this link: http://www.youtube.com/lisawingate#p/a/u/2/0p1p-0TQrmsAnd very nice working with you, Jennifer,
One day tells its tale to another and one night imparts knowledge to another, although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound has gone out into all the lands, and their message to the ends of the world. -- Psalm 19:2-4