Join me for a discussion with award winner (and superhero!) Lisa McCombs.
Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?
I have always been a writer and can prove that by the five unfinished Harlequin-type romance manuscripts in my closet. The YA genre really speaks to me, though, now more than ever. After teaching teens for years, I retired two years ago and miss my young people. By writing about them, they are still in my life and because of my past relationships with them, I feel that I know what they want/need to read.
Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.
Bombs Bursting in Air was published in the fall of 2016 after winning first place in novel length fiction at the West Virginia Writer’s conference. To this day I have no idea how this story evolved so effortlessly, but I finished a completed first draft in less than two months. My goal is to create a young adult Christian series set in the same (imaginary) town of Ellison. All stand-alone novels are told in first person but will alternate between female and male perspective and will share references to characters and events in previous stories.
In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?
My main writing genre is young adult primarily due to the fact that I taught teenagers for 33 years and have a strong relationship with that age group. As a language arts teacher I had the opportunity to share my love for books with many reluctant readers who taught me how to write for them.
Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.
I have kept a journal since diaries were the rage so my collection of ideas is never ending. When I latch on to a writing topic I am totally consumed and find myself looking at the world through my character’s eyes. The first thing I do is something Cheryl Ware (a successful WV children’s author) presented at a state conference years ago and which I continue to use in my own presentations. First I name my main character and assign the following attributes to that character: physical description, age and gender, at least one bad habit and/or fear, and an interest. I develop a setting to include geographic location, physical format, era, and time of year. Next I make a list of possible conflicts faced by the main character as well as a complementary list of possible resolutions. Then I do a timed free write similar to what is done during NaNoWriMo (November is National Novel Writing Month and is an awesome way to jump start a writing project.) I am lucky to have several people in my life who usually agree to peruse my writing project(s) after I clean it up enough to share.
Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?
This is difficult because once I start writing about a character I pretty much become that character. I really relate strongly to Abby in my first YA novel by that same name. She attends the same schools as I and her life reflects a lot of my young years. Right now Lilah Rose is my favorite character. Probably because she is my newest character and we spend a great deal of time together.
What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?
Ironically, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001 and began a fourteen year quest to learn as much as possible about this disease. Since I never thought to be in the position of living with an incurable situation, I would never have thought to become as invested as I am in what I refer to as an alphabet disease: MS, MD, ASL. The more I read about my condition the more fascinated I became. I kept a journal of my daily life with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. When a dear friend actually died with complications due to MS, I realized that I needed to share my knowledge with other folks suffering from the MonSter. This resulted in the publication of I Have MS. What’s Your Super Power?: A Common Sense Guide to Living With MS in 2016. As an advocate of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, I continue my research daily.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?
Proofread, proofread, and proofread. Ask someone you trust to look at your work and proofread again.
Do you have a proofreading strategy that you’ve honed over the years to catch most mistakes?
I always read my work out loud to myself. I have done this for years, even back in undergrad school. Drove my roommates crazy. Fortunately I have a couple of people I can trust to read over my work and be honest in their critique. Proofreading is monotonous, yes, but obviously necessary. After I have edited my own work several times and a second/third party have done their part, I read it again. Then…I put it down for a few days before reading it again.
[back to things you’ve learned – JDB]
Learn as much as you can about self-promoting. I am NOT a business person but writing is a business so this is an evil necessity in publishing. Even Stephen King self-promotes.
Okay, these are TWO things I have learned the hard way, but they are so, so important.
Promoting often seems like the hardest part of being a writer (the actual writing is easy by comparison) – have you learned any particularly effective way to promote yourself and your work?
You are absolutely correct in stating that the actual writing is the easy part. I am not and never have been a sales person. I don’t even like to shop! Retail is not my specialty in any form. The best promotion tip I can give is be relentless in sharing your work, but do not threaten your self-respect in doing so. Reading a chapter or favorite passage from your work when in a public setting is the most effective promo I have found of late. Know your audience and cater toward their needs.
If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?
I would start my own writing retreat in the hills of Randolph County, West Virginia. I already have the location selected (It is for sale right now!).This would be a year round sanctuary for artists (writers, musicians, painters) seeking an inspirational setting for creating. I would hold writing camps and instructional opportunities for writers in the provided cabins. And, of course, I would reside there as well.
What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?
There are so many gifted hidden secrets in my little state of West by God Virginia. I am constantly discovering new writing talent. Danielle DeVoris probably my current interest. She lives and writes (long-handed!) in Morgantown. I love her character (defrocked -priest – turned exorcist) Jimmy Holiday.
I recently read Summer Haze by Michael J. Tucker and became totally infatuated with his story-telling prowess. Tucker is not from WV, but his story is definitely Appalachian. He isn’t really a new author, but new to me.
I could never recommend a favorite book, though. My favorite book is usually the last one I read. Fortunately I work closely with a West Virginia publishing house (Headline Books), so I get to rub elbows with many fantastic state authors.
What do you think you’re next project will be?
Right now I am working on what will be the third novel in my YA Christian series. This is kind of out of order, but the second book told in the male perspective is a very rough draft on hold because I have fallen in love with my new character, Lilah Rose, and cannot seem to get back in the head of that last character right now. But, he’s still there…and actually has been for years. I just want to get him right, so he is marinating for a while.
Did you envisage Lilah Rose as a major character when you created her? Or did she develop into one as she went along (to the point of taking over your next project)?
Lilah Rose has been the main character in my current project from the beginning, but as the story develops so does one other character. I like to bounce secondary characters off of the main one, experimenting with their dynamics, kind of testing their relationship. My plan is to develop my latest YA novel, Bombs Bursting in Air into a series of stand-alone installments that encompass an entire community. The characters will change, but they will also have a bond with familiar characters from other novels. For instance, Sacred Sanctuary (aka the Church of Go) has a HUGE role in all the books as the focal point of the town of Ellison. All of my characters attend the same schools and know the same town landmarks. The novels will alternate between female and male perspective in an attempt to attract all young readers, regardless of gender. (This means Lilah Rose is not the next book in the series. I am just stuck on her right now.)
Visit Lisa online at https://lisa-mccombs.blogspot.com/