Today we welcome Lisa Lowell as we travel to rural Silverton, Oregon USA to uncover how a pre-electric typewriter, Powell’s Bookstore, sign language, the dragon of Hindu legend, and elements of magic work together to create Lisa’s current and past experiences. Put on your dancing shoes, let’s dance our way through this one …
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I have been writing since I was six because my grandmother had this fascinating pre-electric typewriter and I would tangle up the arms just playing on it. I grew up in a family of artists, and rather than compete with them, words became the paint across my pages. I grew up in rural southern Oregon, amid rivers, forest and waterfalls.
It was idyllic and yet I couldn’t wait to get out and see the world. I got scholarships on the basis of my writing and went to university as far away from Oregon as I could get. I traveled to Europe and spent a few years teaching there, as well as doing student teaching in Washington DC, but I always came back to Oregon.
I married a wonderful man I met at church, and we adopted three children. They’re grown now and since my husband has Parkinson’s, I need to do something close to home, so I revived the writing. We still live in rural Silverton, Oregon, but a lot closer to Powell’s Bookstore (google it), which is still idyllic.
In which genre do you write?
I dabble in sci-fi and historical fiction, but most of my present work is pure high fantasy. I need to be able to have some element of magic in whatever I write.
How many published books do you have?
At present, two of my Wise Ones series have been published, but by the time this interview goes to press, my third book, Life Giver will be out (June 9). All nine of the books in the series have been accepted for publication and they’re all written. I just have to tighten up the prose and get my cover artist (sister Paula) to do each cover. That usually takes a year. I also have one book I self-published on Kindle, back before I had a publisher. It’s called Prince of Samaria, and is an historical fiction set in ancient Babylon and Egypt.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
I was writing before I actually knew what that meant, but by the time I was in my teens, I felt that call because of all the wonderful books I was reading. I wasn’t in direct competition with my very talented siblings, and writing isn’t an ‘observable’ art, so no one was judging me at home. I used my own illustrations to help with concepts, setting and characterization. Andre’ Norton, Patricia A. McKillip, David Brin and Anne McCaffrey influenced much of my desire to write fantasy and science fiction. They got me through those gloomy teen years where I set down my roots as a writer.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I dance while I’m revising and editing. Sometimes I’ll have my headphones on and the music just begs me to dance to the writing. Because I know sign language (deafness runs in the family and I’m going deaf) I add sign to my dance and I’m also telling the story I write in signs.
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
My avatar is the dragon of Hindu legend, Tiamat. She is a three headed destroyer and a character I integrated into one of my Wise Ones stories, I liked her so much. She represents me because she has three personalities, like me. Wild, outgoing artist, cool and logical thinker, calm and gentle mother.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
My ideal writing space is a mess. It’s got a plate of carrots and hummus on one side, a glass of water, headphones and post-its festooning all the flat surfaces. The headphones aren’t in use because everyone that will normally be all loud in the house, aren’t home right now. My ‘writing playlist’ is coming from the speakers, (which is saying something because iTunes never works well for me). I can look out the window and see the gardens and directly across from me is the wall with my sister’s painting. I have chocolate kisses squirreled away in the shelf behind me, and the biggest adjustable leather chair to sit in. My mouse and big 17” screen and keyboard are actually clean.
What are you currently reading?
At present, I’m reading the final revisions of my editor on Life Giver, which published on June 9. Before that I was doing my annual reading of Battlefield Earth, and at school I’m reading Outsiders to my class of English 7th graders.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I’m a workaholic, so I never relax. I play piano, sing, dance, draw, and clean my house when I’m upset. When I must, I grade poorly written essays by 13 year-olds and do some cooking. I rarely pursue my hobbies which include gardening, going for long walks, dabbling in genealogy and teaching sign language.
If you could have a fantasy tea date with an author or famous person from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
A fantasy tea would have a crowd, I’m afraid. I would want to invite Isaac Newton and Einstein for intellect, Tolkien and JK Rowling for creativity, Leonardo DaVinci, Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi for culture and maybe my mom, just to keep me from being nervous.
I would not have much to ask because with that for a crowd it would be very entertaining just to listen to them talk to each other. I might introduce everyone and then ask one open ended question like, ‘What are you doing right now, creatively?’ I figure that would get the ball rolling and I could listen in and just enjoy the conversation. I’m an introvert and would bask in their ideas.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself through writing?
I’ve learned that I’m not a weirdo, at least in the writing community. All the writers I’ve met have strange ideas and odd habits. They’ve all come into their art in ways that are driven and almost manic. They too have grown more confident and improved their skill without having to be embarrassed by their gifts. I’m not alone in seeing the flaws in my writing and never being satisfied, no matter how many times you revise and edit. I’m grateful for the endless ideas others share and how it stimulates ideas of my own. I’ve learned that I love being a writer, instead of being ashamed of it.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done to help create a scene or plot?
I once asked a friend if I could make a noose and pretend to hang her. It was research for book #2 of Wise Ones and I was afraid that if I googled it, I’d see the real thing and the therapists would be sent to me, putting me on suicide watch.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?
My journal is more of impressions I get when I read scriptures. I used to keep a journal, back when I was a teen, but I cringe now at how selfish and self-centered I sound, so I don’t bother reading it. When I was in fugue states, I was depressed and wrote my stories, not journaling. The two are almost opposites. A journal is for when you have nothing to write.
What is the most inspiring thing that has ever happened to you?
I did my student teaching in Washington DC, three thousand miles from home. While I was there in the parking lot of my apartment building, I ran into an old friend from Göteborg, Sweden. She too was there to study and we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in years. It was as if God wanted us to meet up and remind ourselves of our friendship.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? What do you do to prepare yourself?
I listen to Sia’s Elastic Heart and spend quite a bit of time praying. For me, public speaking is teaching mode, and I’ll have to be flexible (Elastic Heart) and inspired (praying) in order to not sound like a teacher. Outside of teacher mode, I get so nervous my hands shake and I cannot read what I’m looking at, so that’s where prayer comes into it.
What do you miss about being a kid?
I miss the days when I could go out into the fields behind my house, climb a tree or lay down in the tall grass and read or draw or daydream. My mother would stick her head out to call us in for dinner, shouting because she figured we were nowhere near, but I would pop up in the grass just feet from the door and smile at her.
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
I would love to join Calvin and Hobbes on his adventures. He had the intellect of Oppenheimer and the whimsy of a child. What a fun combination. I hope I keep that myself.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
For me, I would want to be Mohan, the dragon. First of all, his innocence and curiosity would appeal to me. I would go see how things had changed in the Land, and then I would fly up and have a chat with Owailion. Why was he being such a doofus? He needs to change his attitude and come rejoin the world. Besides, he needs to explain what was written on those runestones.
What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?
The last movie I watched was Aquaman (I don’t get out much) and I went to that only because my husband insisted. It was his thing, not mine. I don’t like movies much because they don’t have closed captioning and so I cannot follow them very well. I’ll wait until it comes out on Hulu, and only if it is a movie of a book I’ve read.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
I’d say, “How do you do? Come in!” He would say, “I am in need of magical help because obviously some wicked witch has cursed me. No one wears sombreros any more.” Magic, I can do.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
I believe God has a hand in all things. He lets us fight our own battles and do our own thing, but He needs us to be in the right place at the right time to help answer prayers.
I remember a story of a man who took his two sons hiking on a ridiculously long hike up a mountain. One of his sons got stung by something and was going into anaphylactic shock, but it was nine miles back down the trail and he had to carry his boy. His other son had to carry the packs and it was too dark by the time they were coming back down. The younger son, who was about six, led the way and insisted they needed to take a right turn, not the left down the trail. The father was too busy praying that his son would live to get off the mountain to argue. Then he heard the cries of someone else on the mountain and they stumbled into three little girls who had wandered off from their camp to gather wild flowers and were now lost. The father then had five children to get off the mountain. In the end, he managed to get them all down and to the medics, but when he collapsed at home he heard a voice. “I could not answer your prayers. I needed you to answer theirs.” That’s why his son was stung. That’s why he was led on the wrong path. God was using him as an instrument to help others.
We cannot always understand why things are happening, but we need to have faith that it is for a reason. Witness the meeting in Washington DC with my old friend Karin.
If you could ask your pet three questions, what would they be?
Why must you sit there, even though you know you’re not supposed to? What is so fascinating about that (garbage, crotch, pile of nasty). Where is my phone and why did you feel a need to chew on it?
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
I am not a procrastinator – which technically is the lack of a personality trait, but it is part of me. I get things done. I’m not weighed down with fear, indecision or reluctance. I barge in and get it done. In that way, I’m like Rashel, the female MC in my latest book. I admire it in her, but it gets her into trouble too, just like me.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
I’d love to go back to Washington DC once again and finish exploring. Do you know how many museums are involved in Smithsonian? I love to explore the memorials, museums and sites, not because I love politics. I love history and art. The city simply oozes with those things, and I love to learn. It’s like Disneyland for grownups. I couldn’t see it all in the four months I was there.
Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.
I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been on a solo date before. I went on a solo trip through Europe, which was great fun. I went through all the museums and small villages I could see on my Eurorail pass, and without the tourist guides. I distinctly remember sailing among the islands outside of Göteborg and wondering why it was July and the sun wasn’t setting. It could have been California, except it was so cold I had on a jacket.
I remember taking a camera and photographing Michaelangelo’s David’s hands. You could distinctly see the veins and those carefully manicured nails. I was there the year after the Wall fell in East Germany and I picked up a piece of rubble (I can only assume) from it, complete with vandalized paint. That’s the kind of date I’d like to take again. It took two months, so it might not feature as a date, but that’s what I’d like to do again.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
My most recent book is called Life Giver. It is book #3 of the Wise Ones series. In this book Yeolani, who is a reluctant, irreverent magician, learns from all the ways he can mess up, that he has something to give, despite himself.
One thing you should know is there are nine books in the series and they’re all written and accepted for publication. I wrote them backwards. The one that is now #9, Sea Queen, was the first because it started out as a simple story about how a girl became a queen and all the adventures that would take her through that transformation. When everyone read it, they enjoyed it but wanted to have the backstories of all the other characters. So each book in the Wise Ones focuses on one of the other magical people and how they came into their power.
Thank you Lisa for being a part of MTA. It was incredibly interesting to learn more about you, your history, and your writing life. Here’s to your continued success on this writing journey! –Camilla
Book Trailer for Life Giver
Where to Buy:
US Amazon: https://amzn.to/2ZgkeYQ
UK Amazon: https://amzn.to/2KG7GWG
Lisa Lowell’s Books on US Amazon: https://amzn.to/31ReqGS
Book Trailer for Talismans
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