Jan 4, 2017

Author Interview with Lisa T. Cresswell

Name: Lisa T. Cresswell, no pen-name
Born In: North Carolina
Lives In: Idaho
Pets: 2 cats and 2 dogs and about a dozen llamas
Indie or Traditional: Several indie, one traditional

How and when did you start writing?

I started writing in elementary school, probably as an assignment at first, but then I wrote plays and we performed them at school. Looking back on it now, I was a pretty sassy little fifth grader. I wrote a play titled “The Queen of the Nile” about Cleopatra. The script has been lost to time, but I’d love to see it again. 

I bet it was great to see something you wrote brought to life! 

Who is your support system? Who is always there cheering you and your books on? 

This one is tough. I think I am my own support system. I’ve never had a close writer friend that helps and encourages me. My mom has always been my biggest supporter, but isn't that true of almost everyone? But she's not a writer, so she doesn't really "get" the amount of work writing a book takes. Other writers are supportive, but they're also very busy doing their own work. I think my biggest incentive is the feedback I get from readers and bloggers. I'm doing a blog tour this month for a new book that's all author/blogger friends I've met online. I'm a big fan of the Twitter writer community. I've met some great writers there.

Twitter has been great for many writers, if not for connecting with fans then definitely for finding other writers to converse with.

What genres do you like to write in? Are they a hybrid of genres, multiple genres, or a new genre (such as New Adult)?

I always write middle grade or young adult. I love fantasy and paranormal, so I often write in those genres, but I occasionally write YA contemporary too.

I think ever since J.K Rowling's "Harry Potter" series appealed to both young and old readers, the YA genre has been booming. More adults are getting into them. 

What genre do you like to read? 

Honestly, I like to read fantasy the most. I’ll read most anything, even non-fiction, but I love being transported to different worlds more than anything.

Yes, fantasy novels are a great escape from daily life. I don't want to spend all day working hard and then go home and read a book about someone working hard, but that's just me! 

What authors or books have influenced your writing the most?

I have a funny story about that. Stephanie Meyer actually inspired me, not because I thought "Twilight" was fabulous, but because I thought “If she can get this published, then I can do it too.” There’s no accounting for taste. There are lots of writers I admire. Neil Gaiman fascinates me. I love J.K. Rowling's storytelling, but her constant use of adverbs sometimes bugs me. (I'm always noticing when published authors break these so-called sacred rules of publishing and it drives me up a wall. Not that they've broken a rule, but that they get to do it and a newbie can't. The hypocrisy annoys me.) I read "All the Light You Cannot See" by Anthony Dorr last year and thought it was absolutely beautiful. And heartbreaking. "If You Want to Write" by Ueland has literally been my lifeline at some points when I've been discouraged. It's not a new book. She wrote it in the 1930s. If you look at my Goodreads quotes, you'll see several from Ueland. I would say she's been the most influential to me.

Did you have a mentor to help guide you through the process of writing and publishing a book?

No, instead I had a series of terrible English teachers that discouraged me at every step. For many years, I gave up writing fiction I was so discouraged. But I started again around 2008 and I really haven’t stopped since. Regarding starting again in 2008, I think it was maybe I'd reached a level of maturity that made me less concerned about what others thought. I still yearned for praise and I still suffered disappointment. I remember deciding I was going to work at it and give it my best shot. I took a correspondence course from the Institute of Children's Literature and actually finished it. I entered the first chapter in a Young Adult discovery contest and won third place. That's what got me to finish my book Hush Puppy and encouraged me I could actually write well.

I've never heard of an English teacher discouraging a student from pursuing a career in literature! That's terrible. My own in high school was extremely encouraging, especially the teacher who ran the school newspaper I wrote for. I think teachers should get more actively involved in showing kids how to pursue an artistic career because it is such a hard field to break into.

Why did you choose the publishing path you’re on?  

I’m not sure I chose the path or if the path simply presented itself. I’ve always tried querying and finding an agent without luck. I still try it now and then. Twice, I’ve accepted offers from a couple of small presses to publish my work. Unfortunately, small presses have few resources and are often not much better than self-publishing nowadays. Some of my books never had any “takers” and I was unwilling to stick them in the drawer, so I self-published them. Back in the 1990’s, self-publishing was considered the kiss of death. No one would want you after that they said, but they were wrong.

I really love how the publishing industry has changed in this way. My first novel was accepted by a small publishing company in Tennessee. It was a one woman company and she wanted to change so much that it interfered with the integrity of the story. The covers designed would have mislead the readers to what the content was. In the end, we split ammicably due to these disagreements, and that's when I realized I love my books too much to not control every aspect of their design. I think self-publishing can appeal to a lot of writers for these reasons.

If you could go back and change anything about your writing career path, what would it be? What would you do differently?

I wouldn’t let those freaking English teachers kill my creativity. I wasted a lot of time because of that.

How do you advertise your books? What is your favorite way? What advertising that you use gives you the most bang for your buck?

I live in a rural area with limited bookstores. I’ve done book signings, but they don’t seem all that helpful. Mainly, I blog and promote on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not sure I know what the biggest bang for the buck is, but I’ve tried them all! 

It's a trial and error process. I publish through Amazon mostly and I use their marketing site. It has been the "most bang for my buck" so far. I like that you can see how much you spend and how much you've made from spending that. Helps to keep a writer on track so they can see what works and what doesn't.

Describe your writing space and routine.

My writing space is wherever I can grab a minute to jot a few pages down in my notebook. I’ve always written first drafts longhand. Sometimes I wish I didn’t, but writing on a computer just doesn’t feel right at the first draft stage. Typing it up is my second draft. I print it out and edit as many times as necessary. I don’t typically hire an editor, but I probably should. I do try to get a beta reader to take a look and give me some feedback. If I lived in a bigger city, I’d join a critique group, but I’m just too far away from other young adult writers and I’ve never been able to find an online critique group. So I do the best I can. I have attended plenty of writer’s workshops and courses over the years, many of which had critique opportunities. I’m always working on improving. I count myself very lucky to have an internet friend who can make my book covers for bargain-basement prices. If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay for a professional cover artist because I believe covers are very important. A poor cover makes your book look unappealing just as an awesome cover can draw readers in. Everyone judges a book by its cover. 

I hear writing longhand is great for your creativity!

If you have family and/or a day job, how do you fit writing into that without getting burnt out?

I have both! I don’t get burned out because writing is my de-stressor. Sometimes stress at work makes me feel less enthusiastic about writing or less inspired. The muse will usually come back if I give it time.

Do you do any other literary work aside from writing books?

I do blog, but I have precious little free time given my role as kid-chauffeur for much else besides writing. I was in an author group that shared a blog and promoted the members for a couple of years, but it recently disbanded. I enjoyed it though.

Age old advice has always been to write what you know. How do you incorporate that into your books?

I think maybe it should be “write what you’ve felt” because we’ve all felt the basics: fear, anger, hope, love, distrust, happiness, sadness. I’ve always tried to write diverse characters, some of whom are from different races than myself. Instead of focusing on the stereotypical differences, I focus on the sameness - the feeling we’ve all felt. That’s universal. 

That's a really great answer, and one I don't get very often. Most authors like to focus on the differences, how they can make their character stand out from any other character ever written.

Short Reads are exploding on Amazon right now. Do you think that is a good track for books to be headed or do you prefer a traditional full-length novel? How many pages on average are your books?

I would like to think there’s room for all sorts of stories, both short and long. I tend to write very sparingly and sometimes end up with shorter length books. I’m not one to pad a story just to make it longer. If it only takes 50,000 words to tell a story, then that’s all it needs. Of course, there’s always readers disappointed by that. Some people like really long books. Me, I can’t think of any book I’ve ever read and thought “that was too short”. I’m not picky!

In the past, publishing houses handled a lot of the marketing of a book, but it seems to land on the author more now. We have to interact with readers and the public more than ever, where before a writer could be a total recluse and be successful. Do you like this aspect of being an author? Do you see yourself more as an introvert or an extrovert?

I think I’m an introvert who is fine with talking to people. I’ve gone to book fairs in my region to meet readers and been rather disappointed with the lack of turn out. Some days it seems like readers are a dying breed.

I don't know if it's that they're a dying breed or everyone is moving toward digital interactions now. People don't want to go out to book fairs anymore when they can tweet with their favorite author during a Q&A. Book signings aren't as big when everyone buys an eBook instead of a paperback, which makes sense. We all have to change with the times. 

Where do you see yourself in ten years with your career? 

Still writing. I don’t think I’ll ever give it up. But I think I’ve given up hope of a traditional writing career with an agent and a big five publisher.

Was being an author ever intended to be your full-time job, or did you start it more as a hobby and for side cash? 

I never imagined I could be a full-time writer. For probably 95% of writers, there’s little to no money in it. But that’s fine. I certainly don’t do it for the money. I would have quit long ago if it was about money for me, but I’ll be honest, quitting the day job to be a full-time writer sounds awfully good to me.

What are your biggest frustrations with being an author? How do you overcome them (or are you struggling to overcome some right now?)

I dunno. Being an indie author, it can be frustrating trying to reach your target audience. I’m a writer, not a marketer, you know? There are so many books in the world and so many other competing technologies, book marketing can feel like trying to speak to someone in a room filled with thousands of talking people. 

I can agree with that! I've been thinking about going back to school to get a BA in Marketing just so I can learn more on what works and what doesn't from professionals with campaigns that have been tested. And English degree is great for a writer, but not necessary. Sometimes I feel I paid the University to recommend good books to read so I could write a graded review on them.

Has a book ever changed your life or the way you view the world? What book and how did it do this?

My favorite book is called “If you want to write” by Brenda Ueland. I’ve read it many times and it always makes me feel better when I’m down about my writing. It’s a beautiful book every artist should read. 

I am definitely going to check that out! Thank you Lisa T. Cresswell for taking the time to interview with FLOURISH & BLOG! We've really enjoyed getting to know you and I know our readers have too. And don't forget to check out her latest release:

Seventeen-year-old Jamil Ramos grew up on Alabama’s Gulf Coast believing his mom, Loretta, was his only living relative. She put a trumpet in his hands as a toddler and sparked his love of jazz. But when Loretta drops a bomb on Jamil from her deathbed- she’s not his mama and his daddy is still alive, living in Charleston, S.C. – his world is turned upside down. Now, with the only mama he’s ever known gone and the Loyola University trumpet audition less than a week away, Jamil has trouble feeling his music. When his band teacher tells him to get it together, Jamil decides to hitchhike to South Carolina over to find his father and get his questions answered. All he has is a name –Leon Ramos.

If you would like to know more about Lisa T. Cresswell, connect with her on social media today!

Author Website: www.lisatcresswell.com