Interview with Author Laurie Lisa

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I was born in Shelbyville, Illinois, and raised in Assumption and Percy, Illinois. So, you can say I grew up in rural towns in Southern Illinois, where coal mining and farming predominate.  

My twin sister, Lisa, and I went to the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.  At the beginning of my sophomore year, my sister introduced me to Steve Lisa at a fraternity after-hours party, and three years later, he and I got married when we graduated in 1981.  So, I had grown up being mistakenly called “Lisa” because of my identical twin, and to this day, people still can’t figure out that “Lisa” is my last name.  People still call me Lisa! 

I obtained my B.S. in English Education from Illinois.  Steve and I headed off to Arizona State University, where he entered law school and I started my master’s program.  I earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English (20th-century American literature) from ASU.  We then moved back to Chicago where Steve started his law career and our children were born.  I taught literature and composition at ASU and the University of Illinois (Circle).  

Steve and I live in Paradise Valley and Flagstaff, Arizona.  We usually spend our summers in Flagstaff and the rest of the year in Phoenix.  We also love traveling, especially to Italy (we have dual citizenship).


2) How did you get into writing?

It’s always been the one thing I really wanted to do. I remember when I was 12-13 years old and cleared some room for a small desk in the laundry room of our house in Percy, Illinois.  My wonderfully supportive Dad, Joe, let me use his old Royal typewriter in my little make-shift office.  I remember this because one key–I think it was the “j”–would stick.  I decided that summer that I would write some short stories.  One of the stories was about going to camp, and I recall part of it included a girl who got poison ivy.  I had this whole story typed up and I was so proud of it.  My Mom (Patricia) and Dad showed all their friends because they thought it was pretty good writing.  At that point, I knew what I wanted to be. By the way, my fondness for the old typewriter is reflected on my website and social sites.

I continued after that to write short stories and poetry. In high school, my twin sister Lisa and I were co-editors of our senior yearbook.  I came up with the idea that Lisa and I would write a poem for each month of the school year.  Lisa wrote a few, but I wrote most of them.  When we graduated from high school, Mom and Dad gave us a brand new Corona typewriter as a present, and I have always been fond of that. During my high school and college days, I focused mostly on short stories and poetry. 

I have always wanted to obtain a Ph.D. in literature. I studied all forms of writing, but focused in grad school on 20th Century Literature. I knew that I wanted to write novels, but with three small children, it was hard to devote the time to a single work.  I published some academic books, short stories, and poems, and also edited others’ works.  Finally, after much time spent in Academia and raising our children, I returned to my passion for writing fiction. I write in the genre of contemporary upmarket women’s fiction and typically complete one novel each year. 

3) What inspired you to write The Wine Club and Across the Street?

I try to do something different with each book. All of my novels are very different in terms of plot, writing technique, and characters. I really do not care for “recipe” or “formula” writing. That said, I strive for each book to be literary in writing technique, but entertaining — with vivid scene and character description.    

For The Wine Club, I got it into my head that I wanted to write a story about some kind of con.  Steve and I had recently rewatched The Sting, the classic movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and that might have planted a seed.  I also decided that the con should be carried out by women protagonists.  It seemed to me that women, unless they were professional grifters, would only pull a con if they were very desperate for money. Then I came across an episode of American Greed about a wine store somewhere in California that sold wine that it didn’t actually have. All these pieces, women + wine + desperation + con, resulted in The Wine Club.

For Across the Street, as I said above, I am an identical twin. My sister Lisa and I were extremely close for as long as I can remember.  We did everything together, and there was nothing one would not for the other.  Across the Street was my earliest novel, and at the time, I lived in Arizona and Lisa lived in Illinois. I decided to create a fictional story that tested the boundaries of love and devotion between twins. The idea came to me that one twin would move across the street from the other and ask her to be a surrogate for her baby.  That was the basis for Across the Street. Thankfully, Lisa and I never had to test those boundaries, but it was fun to write a fictional story that did.

4) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The Wine Club and Across the Street are not remotely similar.  The women in The Wine Club are desperate suburban housewives that break bad with a wine club con, filling expensive bottles with cheap wine. As the con works and the money flows, their greed takes over.  Each of them makes increasingly bad–indeed horrible–choices. They are definitely not likable characters.  

In contrast, Across the Street is an emotionally gripping story. I wanted my readers to like the characters as they battle through the personal and family conflicts that result from one twin agreeing to serve as a surrogate for the other.  For the husbands and teenage children, each with their own problems, the complications are significant. I have been told that even men who read the book have shed a tear or two.  I won’t spoil either novel with anything more.

5) What drew you into this particular genre?

That is not an easy question. First, you can read a lot of articles and not everyone agrees on the definitions of the genres. Second, throughout my time in Academia, I studied all forms of writing and most of the “masters” and established writers. I found myself somewhat aligned with literary fiction and similar commercial fiction. Third, I really don’t believe I fit into any one particular genre, and I am not sure I want to be pigeon-holed into one. 

Each of my books is character-driven, complex, and very different in plot.  I don’t write series, and I don’t write in one category (e.g., romance, beach, crime, friendship, etc.). My goal is to write literary fiction that is entertaining, has characters that the reader will relate to, is realistic with great dialogue, and includes some suspense and humor (often dark). My books tend to be on the long side; so if a reader is looking for a short, quick read that is plot-driven, they won’t necessarily like my books. While my books were written to appeal primarily to women, a lot of men have read them and left me great compliments, which means a lot to me. 

In the end, if I had to pick a genre, it would be somewhere between literary fiction and women’s upmarket fiction. My target audience is the upmarket women’s book club.  

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them, and why?

Well, to begin with, all three of the main characters in The Wine Club–Reggie, Audrey, and Cynthia–need a good talking to!  By the end of the novel, all three are like desperate housewives on steroids.  However, they all fascinated me, with their conflicting motivations and choices.  I would like to sit down with them all at the same time.  We could gather on the barstools around Cynthia’s kitchen island and have a glass of wine (of dubious quality).  And then I would ask:  Did you really think you could get away with it? 

In Across the Street, Alex comes across as the “nicer” twin, and she’s certainly the more selfless as she reluctantly agrees to carry her sister’s baby.  However, I think I would prefer to sit down and have a chat with Sam.  She is so focused on and driven by the idea of having a baby that she can’t see how her plan affects everyone else once the wheels are set in motion.  However, by the end of the novel, Sam seems to have gotten what she wants.  So, my first question to Sam would be:  Did you finally find the serenity you were desperately looking for?  (And I’m pretty sure Sam’s answer would be no.)

However, with both of these books, I really missed all my characters after I finished writing.  I truly let my characters drive the plot, and I’m often surprised where they end up leading me.  While I like finishing each novel, I always miss their voices and discovering what they’ll do next.

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I really can’t say. I have never been a social media person, other than to see the occasional posts from our children.  I was “told,” in no uncertain terms, that I need to use social media to help sell my books, so I do.  I frankly think that Facebook is the most helpful in developing readership.  I find that LinkedIn is primarily people “connecting” with one another, but I’m not sure if many of the authors who “connect” on LinkedIn are eagerly buying each others’ books. I also don’t see a lot of “activity” that helps grow readers on Twitter, in part because I think it’s hard to interest readers in a book in 150 characters or less. My posts on Instagram seem to get more attention than do my Facebook posts, but again, I’m sure how many of those “likes” result in a purchase.  Frankly, I think that Amazon Advertising and Bookbub provide the most direct assistance in developing readership, but they are both expensive.  

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Keep reading authors you like, keep writing, and don’t give up.  

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I now have eight completed novels.  My most recent book, Queen of Hearts, is actually a composite novel made up of 13 connected short stories.  We’re considering releasing the short stories one at a time, almost like the old dime novels.  My other five completed novels are being released a few months apart over the next year or so.  I will shortly be starting my next novel, with the goal to complete one novel a year until I just can’t do it anymore.  I can’t imagine not writing, though, so as long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll be sitting in front of my computer!  


About the Author

Laurie was born and raised in small towns in Southern Illinois. She obtained her B.S. in English Education from the University of Illinois, where she also met and then married her husband Steve. Laurie earned both a M.A. and a Ph.D. in English, 20th-century American Literature, from Arizona State University, where she also taught literature and composition. In addition to her eight novels, Laurie has published two academic books, several short stories and poems, and edited other’s works. After much time spent in Academia and raising her three children (Anthony, Michelle, and Caitlin), Laurie returned to her passion for writing fiction. She is a prolific writer and typically completes one novel each year. Laurie resides with her husband, Steve, in Paradise Valley and Flagstaff, Arizona.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Author Laurie Lisa

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