LISA WINGATE INTERVIEW PART TWO
How did you develop the initial story idea/plot line for this book?
The story is a combination of folk legend, historical fact, and wild flight of fancy. I like to think of it as part historical, part contemporary, part romance, part adventure, and part drama. The idea began spinning itself in my head after a chance encounter with a roadside monument. I'd tell you about the monument, but… well… that would spoil the story. Suffice to say that it commemorates a sad and much-debated chapter of Civil War history in Texas. Many people outside Texas aren't even aware that the state was part of the Confederacy, or that the issue was hotly debated among Texans as the conflict heated up to the east.
I have always been a lover of history, and having grown up in the era of sweeping western movies, I'm especially fond of the history of the American frontier. I'm a sucker for roadside monuments, Small-town museums, the foundations of old homesteads, historical markers, and old graveyards. Standing over the time-worn headstones of child graves – sometimes several in the same family -- I've often felt the connection to the human side of the past, to the mothers of those children, whose grief at times must have been overwhelming. It's impossible not to wonder, from the safer vantage point of a modern life, if I could have endured what those pioneer women endured? If I were in the shoes of my ancestors, would I have the metal to survive?
What do you hope readers take away from your Wildwood Creek?
I hope readers take away the message that God’s plans are so much larger than we can imagine, and because of this, it’s important to be open minded and open hearted about the people who surround us. God does some of His most important journeys -- the historical and the contemporary -- physically mirror one another, so that both characters journey to Wildwood, and finally arrive there at the same point in the story. Both are lulled by its beauty initially, both are caught in its dangers eventually. Syncing the two stories was a challenge.
Did you encounter any interesting challenges while writing/researching for this book? Please explain if so.
There were two special challenges in writing Wildwood Creek. The first was definitely the research. Because there is an ongoing modern story interlaced with an ongoing historical story, both contemporary and historical research were required. Putting the novel together necessitated everything from learning about how frontier reenactment docudramas -- like the PBS Frontier House series -- might be filmed and staffed, to learning what the actual frontier life of the young Irish schoolteacher, Bonnie Rose, might have been like during the Civil War era in Texas. A fair bit of study on available means of transportation, clothing, cooking methods, and Texas politics of the time period was also necessary. I'm not complaining, mind you. I found more fascinating facts about skirmishes, Civil War espionage, riverboats, Irish immigrants, and general frontier life than I could possibly use. So often while I was writing of Allie's life on the reenactment set, or Bonnie's life in the town of Wildwood, I lost myself in their lives. The best stories are the ones that completely transport you to another whose grief at times must have been overwhelming. It's impossible not to wonder, from the safer vantage point of a modern life, if I could have endured what those pioneer women endured? If I were in the shoes of my ancestors, would I have the metal to survive?
That sense of wondering is part of Wildwood Creek. A 150 year old mystery lies hidden beneath Moses Lake in the story. Though the locals have long shared tall tales and legends of Wildwood, a town in which the citizenry suddenly vanished near the beginning of the war, no one knows what really happened. But as Allie accepts a position among the cast of a docudrama set to reenact the last days of Wildwood, a summer drought (yes, we had one of those in real life as I was writing the book) is closing in and the secrets of Wildwood are about to rise to the surface.
Did the book involve special research? Please explain if so.
Because the book is set on a lake, I was forced to take my lawn chair and my inner tube and suffer through numerous days of sitting by the water, watching flocks of egrets fly over and letting the wind blow through my hair. It was tough duty, but I am hopelessly devoted to my art and willing to endure whatever it takes to get the setting, and the culture surrounding it, exactly right. It’s a lot to ask of a writer, but I’ll put in my time, no matter how long I have to listen to the waves gently lapping at the shore and watch happy families coming and going from the picnic grounds. Did I mention that I’m hopelessly devoted to my art?
Who have been your favorite authors and how have they influenced you?
In terms of classics, I have so many favorites. I love the rhythm of the prose and the wisdom of Eudora Welty and Zora Neal Hurston. I love the sense of place and the intermingling of both the humorous and the profound that is so present in Mark Twain's works. What I have learned, sitting at the knee of these and other timeless writers, is exactly this – the stories that drive deepest into us are those that tell us things we already knew, that crystallize truths we’ve felt but not yet framed into words in our own minds. When a story pulls something from within the reader, it is a kidnapping, in a way. A piece of personal truth is forever tied to that story. I think that's what we all want as writers. It’s what we seek to create on the deepest levels beyond just entertainment. The best stories both draw on life experience and expand it to deliver meaning.
How do you find the time to write in the middle of life's challenges?
Honestly, this seems to be more of a challenge now than it was when I started. That’s counter intuitive, because when I started writing full time, I had small children at home, so I was juggling my writing schedule around diapers, naptimes, and school activities. The reality is, though, that the writing business has grown more complex and time consuming over the years.
Twelve years ago, when my first novel came out, keeping in touch with readers entailed answering daily email or letters, and speaking at banquets or book events from time to time. Now, there's Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and the list goes on and on. There are writers’ loops to follow, promotional groups to participate in, and a wide, wide world of people to keep in contact with. It's easy to spend literally hours tied up with these things and never find writing time. Meeting deadlines is a matter of a scheduling for yourself, either in terms of a daily word count, or in terms of keeping certain writing hours each day. It’s difficult, though, when there’s an actual person on the other end of the cyber communication, awaiting your response. I think these days the struggle most writers face is the challenge of balancing writing time and marketing time.
I think that maintaining sanity and staying focused in a world filled with sound bytes, distractions, and demands is a challenge. There’s a silent intimation that if we can’t do everything, be everything, and have everything all at once, we’re somehow failing. For me, the key to not driving myself crazy is in facing the fact that I’m just me. I’m not Wonder Woman, and that’s okay. I try to remind myself of the things that really matter and to stay focused on what will be significant in a year, five years, ten years, and so on. So many of the issues that eat up our time and our writing lives really don’t matter beyond tomorrow, when you get right down to it.
Almost every author puts a little of themselves into their stories—what did you put of yourself into this one? (personality traits, life events/jobs, settings, characters based on people you know, likes/dislikes, etc.)
There’s a bit of me in the setting, of course. I love Texas. I love its history of an independent past. I love that many small towns still claim an ethnic affiliation to various countries in Europe. I also love the fact that Texans are famous for their bold hearts, brash personalities, and tall tales. Storytellers abound here and the legend of Wildwood is the sort of story you might hear being passed around. There is also, undoubtedly, a bit of my own hidden dream in Allie's opportunity to join the historical reenactment -- to go back in time. The idea fascinates me. I think I'd love to do it, but the reality probably is that after a few days without air conditioning, a microwave, and hot showers, I'd be ready to go home again.
As always, some members of the Wingate family might claim to recognize themselves among the citizens of Wildwood. I would offer the disclaimer that any resemblances are completely unintentional, but that would be a bald-faced lie. When you come from a family of great storytellers and colorful characters, there’s nothing to do but make use of what you've got.
Thanks Lisa for stopping by and sharing yourself and your book tour journey with us. I'm THRILLED that Bethany House is giving away 10 copies of your book Wildwood Creek. It's always a pleasure to hear from you.
|Catching up with Lisa Wingate at a book event|
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