My guest interview today is with another woman who inspires me: author Lisa Turner, an indomitable personality and new talent whose soulful mystery, A LITTLE DEATH IN DIXIE, released June of 2010 by Bell Bridge Books, impressed me as powerfully as the author herself.
Here’s a nice quote on this debut novel:
“Memphis, the Mississippi River, and the underbelly of human nature they’re all exposed in the dark brew of this fast-paced Southern Gothic suspense. Page-turning and atmospheric, this tightly-plotted novel turns the screws and sends readers racing to its surprise conclusion.” ~Michael Finger, Senior Editor, Memphis Magazine
Born in Memphis, Lisa Turner spent her childhood either on the back of a horse or reading fiction. At times she did them simultaneously. Flannery O’Connor and James Lee Burke were her literary heroes long before she knew the term “Southern Gothic.”
From the experience of managing her family’s interior design firm, she earned a PhD in the peculiarities of human nature . . . talk about Southern Gothic!
More recently, she and her husband bought a home in Nova Scotia, where the landscape changed from cotton fields to lobster boats. She currently shuttles between the Deep South of her childhood and the wildly beautiful coast of Nova Scotia.
I know you’ll enjoy getting to know her through these thoughtful and provocative responses and I’m so thankful she took the time to share today.
Q. What are your favorite characteristics in a person?
A. Dependability, humility, and a touch of fire. Melded, those qualities produce a person of honor without arrogance, and yet with a spark that drives them to accomplish great things.
I enjoy watching Charlie Rose interview the “brightest and best” in science, film, politics, architecture, literature—every field imaginable. Charlie regularly asks the question, “How did you achieve this breakthrough; how did you create this masterpiece?” The really great ones look a little puzzled. They answer, “I just worked hard.”
Q. What are your least favorite characteristics?
A. That would be “envy,” defined as the unhappy feeling of wanting someone else’s success or possessions for oneself.
What motivates envy? What does one person’s achievement have to do with another person’s success or lack of it? Of course, I’m not referring to a hungry person watching someone else eat a quarter-pound cheeseburger. That kind of imbalance and lack of opportunity starts wars.
Pursue your passion to the best of your ability and pay no attention to what someone else has on their plate.
Q. As a child, did you dream of becoming a writer?
A. Reading was a big part of my childhood, and I enjoyed writing, but I never said to myself, “One day I’ll be a writer.”
However, I was always fascinated by words. Even as a child, combinations of words were like music for me. I still overwrite sentences because I’m hunting for the music. The next day I’ll have to rewrite the whole thing, because I’ve missed the point. A scene has to be more about the story and the character’s voice and emotion than the lyricism of the words.
Q. Who/what influenced your dreams?
A. I love, love, love old movies. They’ve influenced every area of my life. The best of them provide great storytelling, dialogue, wonderful sets, and costume design. When I write a scene, I like to use strong visual details along with a lot of texture. If I can infuse a bit of Southern culture into the mix, I’m happy.
I’m also influenced by writers who open with killer first paragraphs. After a couple of pages, you can tell if they have the talent and the authority to build on their beginning. Any writer who starts strong and is able to carry that momentum through to the end is impressive. No one knows what an accomplishment that is until they try it.
Q. What is your greatest fear about writing?
A. That’s easy. I’m afraid I’ll write something trite or obvious without realizing it. It helps to have astute critics and great editors looking over your shoulder. But it’s important to choose those readers carefully. Be sure they don’t have a hidden emotional agenda, like envy, that would lead to distorted advice. Fortunately, I’ve had supportive people helping me all the way.
Q. If you could give a bit of sage advice to novice writers, what would it be?
A. Read everything. Stay current with your genre. Talk to other writers. Study the craft by reading books about writing and attend professional conferences. Mastering the basic tenets of storytelling will save you the misery of wondering why your beloved manuscript, after hundreds of hours of hard work, just doesn’t cut it.
Pay attention to the details of life and make notes. Be aware of the subtext that goes on in everyday conversation. Hunt for fresh story ideas until one grabs your imagination and you can’t stop thinking about its possibilities.
I have a note card in the bookcase to the left of my desk. It says: “Never, never, never give up.” Do that, do the work and you’ll have a manuscript that will make you proud.