The lovely and very talented Lissa Bryan took time out to answer some questions for the Hive this week, and to be our first featured author.
Lissa Bryan is an astronaut, renowned Kabuki actress, Olympic pole vault gold medalist, Iron Chef champion, and scientist who recently discovered the cure for athlete's foot ... though only in her head. Real life isn't so interesting, which is why she spends most of her time writing.
Her first novel, Ghostwriter, is available through The Writer's Coffee Shop (which is the least expensive option), Amazon, iTunes, and Kobo. Her second novel, The End of All Things, was released on January 24, 2013, and is available through TWCS, Amazon, and iTunes. She also has a short story in the Romantic Interludes anthology, available from TWCS, Amazon and iTunes. Her third novel, Under These Restless Skies, is scheduled for release in spring of 2014
- Where are you from?
I’m from Ohio.
- How long have you been writing?
I’ve always “written” books in my head, but I only started actually writing them down in October of 2011. I never thought people would be interested in my stories, but it felt good to finally “release” some of them out into the world.
I started writing in fanfiction. I was so timid with those first few stories! Now, I’m so very glad I began writing there. Nowhere else is there a community so warmly supportive of new writers, so generous with encouragement. It’s such a fragile time, when a writer finally finds the courage to put their work out there. I’ll always be grateful to the fanfiction community for the way they supported me and helped me on my journey.
- What book(s) have you published so far?
My first novel was a paranormal romance called Ghostwriter. It’s the story of a lonely woman who discovers her new home on an isolated island is haunted by the ghost of her favourite author. She unravels the mystery of what happened to him when she finds a trunk of letters… and she also finds herself falling in love.
My second novel was a post-apocalyptic romance, if there is such a category. It’s titled The End of All Things. A young woman, one of the few survivors of a pandemic virus, is coaxed out of her hiding place by an ex-soldier, who convinces her to travel with him. It’s a dangerous journey across a nation laid to waste by the epidemic, but it’s also a journey into love.
I also have a short story in the Romantic Interludes anthology. It’s called “The Golden Arrow and the Butterfly” a modern retelling of the Cupid and Psyche story.
- What are your current projects and can you tell us a little about them?
I’m finishing up a book about the court of Henry VIII. It’s a historical novel with a touch of the paranormal. It should be released in the spring of 2014. I’m also stating to write the sequel to The End of All Things.
- What inspired you to write your first book?
Ghostwriter began to form in my mind when I read an article about the farmers who live around the area where the WWI Battle of Verdun was fought. Every year, they dig up thousands of unexploded bombs when they plow their fields, and at the rate they’re finding them, they’ll still be digging them up 900 years from now.
The numbers the article used were just unbelievable, and so I went looking for further information to see if it was true. It was; if anything, it was actually worse than the original article had stated. I started reading more about the battle, and I was absolutely horrified by it. I had known that it was awful, but I had no idea just how truly terrible it was. Some of the pictures I saw, and the letters I read, haunt me still.
In the midst of my research, I found that a surprising number of writers had gone to serve as ambulance crews before the United States even entered the war. Hemmingway, E.E. Cummings, Somerset Maugham, Gertrude Stein… All of them drove ambulances at one point. And all of them may have suffered from what they experienced during that terrible war. Gertrude Stein called it “The Lost Generation.”
A story began to form in my mind of an idealistic young writer who went to help save lives and came back scarred from the horrors he had witnessed, but he was coming home to people who really didn’t understand the invisible wounds left by that kind of experience.
WWI is sort of a “forgotten war.” I wanted to honor those brave men and women by telling the story of the American Field Service in my novel. Sadly, there’s no monument to them, but hopefully, some people who read this book will remember their service.
- How long did it take you to publish it, after you started trying?
I had “written” it in my mind years ago, one of those novels I tucked away on a mental shelf, never imagining anyone else would read them.
In February of 2012, a publisher contacted me. They had seen my fanfiction stories and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing an original novel. Talk about a shock! I thought the only way people were published was to send out reams of manuscripts and face rejection over and over. Since I’m not bold enough to do that, I never expected my original stories to see the light of day.
They asked me if I had any ideas for original novels, so I gave them the plots of a few of the books from my mental shelf. Ghostwriter was the one they chose to be my first novel.
- How much of the book is realistic?
I try to make the factual issues in my novels as realistic as possible. The historical details in Ghostwriter are as accurate as an amateur could make them. I relied on biographies of members of the ambulance crews, letters, photographs, and the scant government records from the time that survive. (Many of the European records were destroyed during WWII.)
For The End of All Things, I researched it extensively, knowing that most people wouldn’t notice those tiny details, but it was important to me to get it right. I used Google Maps to plot their journey. Because of their Streetview option, I was able to “walk” alongside my characters and describe what they would see. I even made sure to research the topography, so I’d know if they were walking uphill or downhill. I needed to know various bits of information like how cell phone towers are powered, food preservation, vaccines, caring for horses…
The sequel to that one is going to be worse. I need to know all sorts of survivalist details, and things like how to make gunpowder. I’m sure I’ve probably already ended up on some sort of watch list!
For the historical novel I’m finishing up, it was a lot of research into historical fact, as well as the way people lived in that era. As an example, if I was writing a dinner scene, I didn’t want to include a food they didn’t eat at the time. It was gruelling, but it’s something that I tend to notice in novels when the author gets it wrong, so I wanted to make sure I was as correct as I could be.
- Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not directly, no, though I suppose every author can’t help but stir bits and pieces of their experiences and people they know into their stories.
- What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
It’s so hard to choose, because I feel like I’m the product of every writer I’ve ever experienced. Both good and bad, they’ve all taught me something about how to weave a story, or shown me how powerful words can be if they’re given the proper setting.
Emily Bronte showed me how you can write a poem in a sentence. It’s a skill I’ve never mastered, but I’ve learned from it.
The early works of Stephen King showed me how you can create a character that breathes in just a few sentences. It’s a skill I’m trying to learn.
Margaret George showed me how to make a historical character into a real person, to make them come alive on the page.
But most of all, the fanfiction community taught me something very important: A writer only begins a story. It comes alive within the reader, and no two readers ever experience it in the same way. It’s colored by their perceptions and experiences in ways the writer never imagined. In that sense, the story belongs to the reader. They’re not really your characters any more, once they live in someone else’s mind.
- If you had to choose, which author/writer would you consider a mentor?
I feel like every author I’ve ever read is a mentor, because every one of them taught me something about the storytelling craft. But the author I feel most directly grateful to is Sylvain Reynard. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I read “Gabriel’s Inferno” back in September, 2011 and when I went to leave a review, I saw one that said it had once been Twilight fanfiction. I wondered what that was and started searching… So, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Sylvain Reynard changed my life. I sent him a Thank You note a few months ago. He responded very graciously.
- Who or what inspires you to keep writing?
It’s not really an inspiration. It’s more of a compulsion, an addiction. It’s like I’ve opened a floodgate and now I can’t close it. It’s going to pour out of me whether I like it or not, whether anyone reads it or not.
- What do you consider to be your best accomplishment so far?
My fanfiction story Written in the Stars remains my favourite of all I’ve written.
- If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I would have waited to start writing it until I was done with the editing process for the first novel. I learned so much from my editors. I could have saved myself a lot of work, saved myself from making some of the same mistakes.
- Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
My fondest wish is that one of my stories may whisk you away from everyday life for a few hours, to entertain you, or send you on a journey, to make you laugh or to make you cry. If I’ve managed to do that, I’ve fulfilled my purpose.
- Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Links for Lissa Bryan
Be sure to check out Lissa's amazing books!