LISA WINGATE BIO: Lisa is an award-winning journalist, magazine columnist, popular inspirational speaker and a national bestselling author. Lisa is one of a select group of authors to find success in both the Christian and general markets in mainstream fiction. Her works have been featured by the National Reader's Club of America, AOL Book Picks, Women’s World Magazine, Family Circle Magazine, and have been short-listed for various awards, including the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Book of the Year Award, which her book Never Say Never won in 2011.

Lisa also spends time on the road as a motivational speaker. Via Internet, she shares with readers as far away as India, where her book, Tending Roses, has been used to promote women's literacy, and as close to home as Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the county library system has used Tending Roses to help volunteers teach adults to read.

Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa for the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life.

Blogging Mondays at:
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What have been the benefits to you in having relationships with reading groups?

I’ve enjoyed building relationships with many reading groups, and each of those connections has been a special blessing. In the ten years since my first book, Tending Roses, came out, I’ve even become an “honorary member” of a few clubs, meeting with them each year, as new books have been released. It’s a joy to see how those groups have grown and changed over time. Amazing connections form between people as they talk about stories. Friendships deepen, life happens, birthdays are celebrated, members join, members move away, members pass away and join the circles of book angels in heaven. It’s such a special blessing to spend time within those tight-knit groups, seeing firsthand how story bonds people together.

Where would you like to see your relationship with reading groups grow? How do you think your goals can be met?

I enjoy phone chatting with groups, and I’d love to do even more of that. It’s not always possible to meet with every group in person because of distance, and phone-in visits are a great substitute. Some days, I can be in Nevada for lunch and in Florida for dinner, via phone or Skype, and talk with readers who come from all sorts of different backgrounds.

Do you have a set size a reading group has to be before you'll talk to them on the phone or in person? What do you feel most comfortable doing?

For phone-in visits, I typically talk to groups of any size, as scheduling allows. In-person visits that require travel vary, depending on the distance and time commitment involved. In general, this is true for speaking engagements of any kind. If it’s local, I may drop by a meeting of fifteen to twenty people or so. When travel is involved for a book group meeting or a speaking event, we generally ask that the hosting group gather around fifty people or more. Having an author visit is sometimes a good excuse for the club to invite friends or potential new members.

Which type of book club meeting do you prefer? Why?

 I really do enjoy both kinds of book club meetings. I guess if I had to pick one or the other, I’d say that in-person meetings are the most fun. Over the years, I’ve traveled to some wonderful locations for speaking engagements and book discussions, and been blessed to sit in on discussion nights filled with laughter, tears, amazing personal stories, and wonderful conversations that went late into the night.

What have you learned about your book and yourself from book club meetings?

Never Say Never won the 2011
 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol award
I’ve learned that, as much fun as living in a story really is while you’re writing it, the story really isn’t complete until someone reads that story. Stories begin with the writer, but they take flight with the reader. I’ve learned how much writers really need readers and how much the reader’s interaction with the story causes that story to grow in new directions. Sitting in on book club discussions, you can’t help but realize that, as twelve different readers combine their own experiences with a story, it becomes twelve different stories. I love the stories that come back to me when one of the books travels out into the world.

Did you learn more about your characters than what you had originally intended? If so what?

I’ve learned that characters aren’t really just characters. For any imaginary life you can create, there’s someone out there who has lived it, at least in part. By extension, when we’re discussing stories, we’re not just discussing stories—we’re sharing bits of ourselves and our own lives. We’re rolling out our own issues, examining them, and gaining the perspectives of others in the group. Sometimes that’s easier to do, in the context of discussing a character in a book than it is in discussing our struggles in real life. I think this is one of God’s most beautiful ways of using characters. They really do walk us through an experience and show us what life looks like on the other side.

Have you been surprised by readers’ reactions to one of your books? Characters? If so, which ones?

Many times! I’m always surprised and humbled by readers’ reactions to the characters and their stories. I’ve been amazed at how invested readers have become in various characters. After my first book came out, readers emailed me for years asking what happened to the little girl in the book, Dell. Because of those letters, Dell became a background character in several more books, growing up little by little, until she could have a coming-of-age story of her own. After her coming-of-age story, people wanted to know if she would get married, and if she would have children, and so on. By the time it was all over, Dell was fully raised, and she had become the daughter I never had. I’m a boys-only mom, so for me, that was kind of a thrill.

I’ve also been surprised and blessed by readers’ reactions to the older characters in many of the books, like the spunky senior ladies in the Daily, Texas series, and Grandma Rose in Tending Roses. I love when people write to me and say, “That reminds me of my grandmother.” or “That made me realize that I need to write down my grandmother’s stories.” It means so much when readers send emails that say things like, “Thank you for helping me to see the fleeting of time, missed moments, and opportunities wasted. I pass a picture of my daughter, many line my hallways, wishing I had not felt the need to clean, when we could have played more, or squandered her in front of a television so I could rest. I have all the time in the world to rest now and I don't want it. So, now I do as your characters do; I pass my wisdom on to young girls I meet in book chatrooms who are young, frazzled mothers. I encourage them to rock the baby in their arms for that extra hour........dust waits; time does not.”

When you realize that you books are having an impact in the real world, that God has used one of your stories to change the life of someone you’ve never met, you can’t help but be awed by the marvelous attention to detail in every little life.

Has your book club experience - getting feed back from reading groups - helped you in writing future books? If so, how has it helped you?

Very much so! Not only is it valuable to know what readers enjoyed about one of my books, it’s helpful to know about other books the club has read and enjoyed. I find some of my favorite reads that way, and I learn more about what makes a book suitable for group reading and discussion. Ultimately, the stories that invite and foster discussion are the ones that live long lives in the reading world.

These days, many of my story ideas are inspired by readers and reading groups, as well. Often when I’m talking to readers, someone will ask about a character and want to know “What happened next?” Those “What if…” questions set my mind to wondering, especially when someone asks about a minor character in one of the books. Before I know it, I’m stepping into another story, and the process starts all over again.

What would you like to see in reading groups that you haven’t experienced yet?
benefit booksigning for the Gospel Cafe in Waco TX
That’s a tough question! I’m not sure there’s anything I would add to the reading groups I’ve visited. I’ve been blessed to sit in on all sorts of reading groups, from clubs that were formed in homeless shelters, to clubs for at-risk teens, to city-wide reading clubs who had their final meeting at an elaborate banquet. Each of those meetings was amazing in its own way. I guess if it were possible to bring dozens of readers’ groups together in one place and have a read-a-palooza, that would be wonderful!

What was your most memorable reading group experience? What made it so fun?

One of my favorite reading group experiences began when I received an email inviting me to be the speaker at the inaugural meeting of the McGregor Tiara Literary Society, ten years ago. I replied to the email that I would be delighted to come, and received a return mail giving me the time and place, and asking a simple, but slightly odd question—Will you be bringing your own tiara, or will you need a loaner?

Tiara Society founder's Day Float at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend book festival

I opted for my own tiara, because I was a little worried about what the loaner might be like. Arriving at the meeting of the Tiara Literary Society, I was greeted by a couple dozen lovely ladies in tiaras, and I was honored to participate in the founding of the club, including the election of various princesses required to keep such an organization running smoothly—including the Princess of Email, and the Princess of the Potluck list, and the election of the Queen Mum, the eldest member of the group, Miss Frances, who’d taught piano in town as long as anyone could remember.

My tiara and I actually became repeat attendees at the McGregor Tiara Literary Society, and I was even given the honor of being their celebrity rider on a float at Founder’s Day. I wasn’t informed ahead of time that I would be wearing an antique pink prom dress and singing Zippety-do-dah, but it was all worth it, because we helped to raise money for a new bulldog statue for the school AND gave the red-hat society’s float a run for their money!

Why write Christian Fiction? What is the draw for you?

Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend bookfest, 2012.

I’ve always written stories about spiritual journey. When I started writing mainstream fiction, the dividing line between ABA and CBA fiction was more defined than it is now. In 2001, when my first book was released by Penguin Putnam, faith-based stories in ABA fiction were a rarity, which made it an exciting, and sometimes challenging, place to be. Over the years, the markets have changed, and when I was given the opportunity write for Bethany House as well as Penguin Putnam, I jumped at the chance. My greatest desire as a writer is to create books that have the potential to bring Christian and secular readers together and generate discussion. I strive to create stories that will appeal to veteran Christian readers, but have the potential to bring in readers who have never tried Christian fiction, as well.

I believe that the written word, above all other media, has the ability to let us live into the mind, and body, and soul of another person. Story transports us—allows us to see through another’s eyes, think another’s thoughts, experience the world through the glass of another’s experiences. When we know how it feels to live within the mind, and heart, and body of someone else, we realize that everyone hurts, everyone struggles, everyone breaks down and gets up, then tries to put the pieces back together. We’re all products of our own experiences. When we feel the suffering and the triumphs of others, we’re better able to look at each other with the sense of grace God intends.

What do you hope readers take away from your new book?

Booklist called Blue Moon Bay "A warm and expressive modern twist on the parable of the Prodigal Son, or, in this case, Prodigal Daughter." That's a pretty good nutshell for this story (I just found out that the book got a starred review from Booklist, by the way. If you heard squealing from Central Texas last week, that was me).

When Heather Hampton’s family falls into conflict over the sale of the family land, she is forced to return to the family funeral home in tiny Moses Lake, Texas to sort things out and deal with the unresolved wounds of her past. There, she meets a local guy, finds herself embroiled in a family mystery, and reconnects with the plain faith of her family’s Mennonite neighbors.

The last place Heather ever wanted to find herself turns out to be the place where she might reconnect with her family and find out where she’s meant to be. In addressing the ongoing mystery and working toward the sale of the land, she learns what we all have to learn in life—that we can’t hold back our love until people fit our pre-defined parameters. We can either love people the way they are or not love them at all. That is especially true among families. I hope that Blue Moon Bay will be a healing story for some families, and for others that it will strengthen the bonds that are already there.

On a larger scale, with every book, I hope to change people, to lift them up, to leave readers better off than I found them. I never want a reader to leave one of my stories feeling down, depressed, or hopeless. I want readers to leave with a sense of God’s grace. For me, if a story doesn’t bolster faith and create hope, it hasn’t done its job.

Every once in a while, I’ll hear from a reader who says, “Your stories make me want to be a better person.” That’s my goal in writing a story—to reinforce the belief that it is possible to reject the bad and cling to the good, that good is ultimately stronger. It’s not just my goal for the reader, it’s my goal for myself as a writer. Every story is an opportunity to grow and refocus the spirit, and show God working in both worlds—the one we imagine within a book, and the one we live in beyond the pages.

Here's a link to the video, a link to a "How to" blog post I did about how to do your own book club premier, and I'll attach a photo of all of us during the premier night:

The video:

Blog post about how to do your own book club premier:

Picture of the group that met that night
THANKS SO MUCH LISA!! It's great to get to know you better and hear your hearts cry. Love your passion for Christian fiction and book clubs. Also enjoyed video of your book club experience. Exciting!

Thanks for taking the time to share and thank you for all the fun pictures. I'm excited about the book events you have coming up in the next few months listings of Lisa's schedule and other book events are at The Book Club Network.

If anyone is interested you can go to The Book Club Network and see Lisa and other book events listed on the front page.

BETHANY HOUSE  will be giving away 10 copies of her New Book BLUE MOON BAY. Contest starts Feb 23rd and will end the 25th at TBCN

 I'm SO EXCITED about Lisa's New Book, the 10 book giveaway, and Book Clubs. I'm doing the Snoopy dance. Good thing you all can't see me!! Grin!

Until Next time!

Nora St.Laurent
The Book Club Network


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