Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Author Interview: Lisa Patton

In case my review yesterday didn't get you excited for Lisa Patton's debut novel Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter, I hope this conversation with her will! Lisa is a born and bred Southerner. She grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and attended the University of Alabama [as a fellow Tennessean, I guess I can forgive her for this brief stint of loyalty to a rivalrous SEC school]. She has since found her way back to Tennessee and currently resides in Franklin, a small town just outside Nashville, where she works as the Special Events Director at the historic Carnton Plantation [one of the stops on my and my mom's frequent historic Nashville self-tours]. Lisa and I are practically neighbors, which made me VERY excited to speak with her. 

Please join me in welcoming Lisa to the book world!

What inspired you to turn your story into a fiction novel?

I didn’t really turn my story into a novel. I was inspired by my own escapades as a southern innkeeper, but the story itself is fiction.

I hope I'm not making a major assumption, but I'm guessing that you were the inspiration for the character of Leelee. How did it feel to write a character that [seems to be!] based on yourself? Did you ever find it difficult to separate your own personality from the fictional character?

Good question and a fair assumption at least at first glance. The whole experience of inn-keeping from a southerner’s perspective is rich for storytelling. The dichotomies between the two regions are quite colorful. When my time in Vermont had run its course and I was safely back on Southern soil, I knew I had a story to tell. There was so much about Vermont that I loved but I also knew that I was better off in the South. It’s too cold for me in Vermont! But I digress. Leelee Satterfield does have a couple of the same experiences that I had, yet she is a different person than me. One of the most important things I found about creating Leelee was that she needed to have a wide character arc. She starts out as na├»ve and somewhat spoiled but by the end of the book, she turns into a steel magnolia. I think whenever a first-time author writes in first person about someone with a similar background to that author - and especially the same gender - it can be hard to separate the two personalities.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I came up with the idea and title fourteen years ago, but the actual writing took me about three years. That’s because it went in and out of my drawer for nearly a decade until I developed the confidence to actually finish it. Plus, as a single mother of two very active little boys I could only write in my spare time, which was pretty much non-existent!

This is your debut novel - were there any surprises in the process of getting a book from a new author published?

Oh my goodness, yes! Although I have to say I had read millions of books on the subject of publishing so I was well familiar with the odds. The biggest surprise was when my agent called me about the sale. She caught me totally off-guard. I had planned a trip to New York with two of my best girlfriends (a significant birthday celebration for all of us) and I had planned to have lunch with Holly. Truth be told I was scared she might be discouraged because the book hadn’t sold, so I wanted to meet her in person. (Heaven forbid she might drop me.) When I heard her voice on the phone I told her that I was just getting ready to call her. She asked why, and I reminded her about our lunch. She told me that she was about to make that trip to New York so much better. We had a sale!! When I learned that Thomas Dunne also wanted a sequel I was flabbergasted. That was my biggest surprise.

What did you find to be the hardest part of writing a novel?

The first draft – bar none. Oops that’s not true, it’s the alone part. I’m a classic extravert and I found it hard to be by myself while I was writing. Finally, I started going to the library to finish the book so I’d at least have people all around me.

I believe you're working on a sequel to Whistlin' Dixie...are you finding any major differences between writing the second book than writing the first?

Well the first major difference is that I actually kinda/sorta know what I’m doing this time around. Plus I have more confidence knowing it’s going to be published.

What has been the most enjoyable part of this new profession?

I have joy in knowing that I have shown my two sons, now 19 and 21, that hard work and dedication really do bring about success – in whatever form that may be. They were only five and seven when I first dreamed about this project and I’m happy that I have been able to show them an example of tenacity - especially since I’m a single mom.

What's currently on your 'to read' list?

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I loved it.

I just had a chance to speak to author Jill McCorkle, another Southerner, and I asked her this question. Since you're also a fellow Southerner, I have to ask: What is your favorite eccentricity of the South?

Hhmmm. That’s a good one. My favorite eccentricity would probably be the large number of meat and threes that we have here in the South, and the fact that no meal would ever be served from one of those restaurants without a delicious piece of cornbread to go along with it. Ohh, I just thought of one more. I love it that Southern children everywhere still say “Yes ma’am and “Yes sir.” I think that’s very respectful.

And to include those about the Mason-Dixon line, what's your favorite eccentricity of the North?

This one’s easy. The most peculiar thing to me about the North is the fact that you can’t bury people in the winter. That’s how I start my book by saying, “No one ever told me you can’t bury somebody up North in the wintertime.” As a Southerner, it never once crossed my mind that the ground up North froze in the first place and that it would keep people from having a winter funeral.

You have ties to rivalrous SEC schools. Where do your loyalties lie on Gameday? Go Vols or Roll Tide?

My blood is a deep crimson.

And a few from the Proust Questionnarie: What is your most treasured possession?

My grandmother’s antique diamond ring. I wear it on my right hand and every time I look at it I think of her. She was born in 1882 and was a lovely Southern belle.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Without a doubt my answer to that one is singing. I’m so jealous of anyone with a gorgeous voice. Come to think of it, that’s one nice thing about alone time. You can sing your heart out and no one can hear you, no matter how bad you might sound.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Raising my sons to be kind-hearted, tender men who love God and their mama!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Keep in mind, I’m a hopeless romantic. My idea of perfect happiness would be to live in an antebellum house with a wonderful guy who has a killer sense of humor and loves me and loves my sons. There would be a beautiful view of the Southern sky out my back porch where I could watch the sun rise and set and have my animals around me all the time. We would eat Alaskan King Crab Legs and home-grown tomatoes and caramel cake and dance to 70’s music under the stars. Travelling to fun places with my friends and family would be nice. Like Hawaii, Italy, the Caribbean, and off-the-beaten-path little hideaways right here in the States.

Visit Lisa's website at www.lisapatton.com. Thank you, Lisa!


Amy Reads Good Books said...

Great interview! I think I'll have to add this novel to my pile of books to read!

Salvatore said...

Yes, great interview. It's quite impressive that she found time to write while raising kids. That couldn't have been easy at all.