Saturday, October 8, 2011
An Interview with Alice Wisler
A few might remember my stint at Christian Fandom as interview coordinator. I've adapted some of the questions I used there (a grateful nod to Greg Slade) for Alice Wisler, author of A Wedding Invitation. I'll be posting a review in a few days.
Alice, other interviews have covered your background and family life, but I can’t recall seeing any detailed mention of how you got started writing. Could you tell us about that?
I’ve been writing and saying that I was going to become an author since I was six. I used to write stories and give them to my first grade teacher. She had me read them to the other grades in our small international school in Kyoto, Japan.
In addition to my four novels with Bethany House—Rain Song, How Sweet It Is, Hatteras Girl, and A Wedding Invitation—I published two cookbooks in memory of children back in 1999 and 2003. My four-year-old son Daniel died in 1997 from cancer treatments and the cookbooks hold his recipes and those of other children.
The first time I was paid for a piece was in 1988 when I submitted a story to David C. Cook for their take-home paper for middle-schoolers called “Sprint”. I also sold a number of devotions.
Now I write for various bereavement magazines and websites. My grief-related articles are at a site called Open to Hope where I just became the new forum editor for the Death of a Child section for this much-needed website.
As far as which work that has been published is my favorite, I would have to say I’m excited about the novel I’m working on now that is set in the North Carolina mountains in a town I made up—Twin Branches.
Who are your influences as a writer, and why? What Christian book(s) (fiction or non-fiction) have had the greatest impact on your thought and writing? How about non-Christian?
To be honest, I’m inspired by the life and death of my son, Daniel. He was a delight and a brave one for all he went through with his cancer treatments. I miss him each day.
I enjoy reading Elizabeth Berg’s novels because she makes her characters come alive. And Rick Bragg, the wonderful Southern writer from Alabama, truly inspires me with his literary skills.
As for Christian writers, Henri Nouwen’s works speak to me. I like this quote by him, “What I am gradually discovering is that in the writing I come in touch with the Spirit of God within me and experience how I am led to new places.”
As a fellow mother who has suffered the loss of a child, I’ve been very interested in your “Writing the Heartache” endeavor. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Writing the Heartache is the name I give to the workshops I teach on grief-writing. I offer them online at my website: http://www.alicewisler.com/writing-the-heartache-workshops/ I also have all-day workshops (the next one is on 11/5 in Frankfort, KY) where those suffering from all kinds of losses join me to discover the benefits of writing. The holidays are approaching, and I was asked to present this workshop to help others in getting through a season that can be difficult.
I love it when a participant in one of my classes sees how therapeutic and healing writing from pain can be!
I see that you use a very gentle touch when dealing with grief issues in your own fiction. How has loss changed how you write, and do you have any particular philosophy about letting your own experience in this area seep into your stories?
I never want to bleed all over the pages. I want to get folks to be moved by the grief my characters face, and to weep with them, not feel that I’m trying to force them to be sympathetic.
I add grief and loss to all of my novels because death is part of life, whether we care to admit it or not. I do have one novel I’ve finished that deals with a mom who has lost her son. (My agent tells me publishers are looking at this manuscript; I’m hoping someone wants it because I think the message in it is important.) Anyway, as I wrote that novel, I had to make sure that the mother in it was not me. That was challenging.
What sorts of things stir the pot of creativity for you? Music, artwork, certain films, etc. And what do you do when you aren't writing?
Cooking! I just made a batch of Bailey House Lemon Cookies from my novel, Hatteras Girl, for a book release party tonight. Cooking inspires me. I like to make lots of Asian meals. Going out on our boat also gives me much creativity. And the ocean always lures me into wanting to create.
Do you have a favorite place for writing? Do you try to work each day until you're "done," or do you have certain hours, or daily word count goal?
I like our local library and go there to write. I also enjoy spending time with my lap top at coffee shops. For me, I’m motivated by a daily word count. I like to write at least 1,500 each day. 5,000 would be better, but I’m not that disciplined!
Do you tend more toward outlining, or do you work with just a general idea of where the story is going, and the characters just tend to take over on the details?
I prefer to outline. That keeps both me and my characters within boundaries. Of course, often one of my characters will want more of a role. That’s what happened to Monet, the three-year-old in Rain Song. She was only going to get a small part, but she demanded more.
What are you working on now, if you don’t mind sharing? What do you hope to be working on?
I’m writing a story about an Amish man who leaves his community and starts a new life in the mountains of North Carolina. He helps other Amish relocate and find jobs. I was inspired by a program I saw on TV about a person who has helped Amish ease into twenty-first century society.
The last question is this ... what 3 bits of advice would you give new (or not so new) writers?
Never give up! Yes, writing is hard, but you can do it! Make time for writing and value that time so that you can eventually complete a work you are proud of.
Thanks for the interview!
Thank you for taking the time, Alice!
Again, I'll be reviewing A Wedding Invitation in just a few days.