Today I am thrilled to be hosting and interview with the lovely Lisa Wingate, author of The Prayer Box. While I normally stick to Young Adult books, this one has quite a lot of crossover power. It's a story about family, hope, & love in so many ways. I'll save the rest of my thoughts for my review that posts tomorrow. If you're interested in how to make your own prayer/gratitude box, be sure to check out Lisa's post on Southern Belleview Daily. For now, enjoy the interview!
Q&A WITH LISA WINGATE
You originally had the book set in Texas. What made you switch to the coastal setting?
My special reader-friend, Ed Stevens, visited the Outer Banks (his daughter Shannon has a beach house in Duck) after Hurricane Irene, and he asked me to set a book in the Outer Banks to draw attention to the destruction there and the
plight of residents—Irene was mostly thought of as a “nonevent” because it didn’t hit New York, etc. as was predicted. But the damage was very bad.
It’s a post-hurricane story, and we’ve had our share of hurricanes here in Texas. We lost our family beach houses (relatives on the coast) during Ike several years ago, so I understand the aftermath of having family treasures scattered to the tides and the feeling of losing a place you’ve loved and where you’ve made memories.
You researched the book from the Outer Banks?
Our trip was amazing. We canvassed the place. A reader friend–now–gal pal and my mother (my assistant) went with me. We photographed like crazy, talked to locals, found a location for the fictional village of Fairhope, and learned about what the people on Hatteras here going through. And that was pre–Hurricane Sandy. Now it’s even worse there. I do hope the book will bring attention/tourism/help, etc. to the Outer Banks, and Hatteras in particular. They are great people and it’s a beautiful place with rich history.
Your fans make big impacts on your writing—and your family. How did your aunt Sandy
contribute to The Prayer Box?
Aunt Sandy is my mom’s sister, and while she and my mom (who I based the character Sharon on) wish I would have made them a bit younger in the book, they are great inspirations. My aunt designed her character and the Seashell Shop and made beautiful sea glass necklaces, glass boxes, and hummingbird suncatchers that will be given away as reader prizes. She is an amazing glass artist.
What exactly are prayer—or gratitude—boxes?
You can create the boxes for your own life and as gifts for occasions. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, when a child graduates, to be able to give that child the box of hopes and prayers written during the first year of life? Or for a couple on their twenty-fifth anniversary to reopen the box from their first year of marriage? For years, I’ve given journals or prayer boxes to couples as wedding gifts and encouraged them to write down their hopes and gratitudes during their first year of life, then keep them. It’s a great exercise while they’re doing it and a precious keepsake for later. It’s also their story, preserved.
How do you write for both Christian and secular audiences?
I try to write books that can be shared between people who are in vastly different places in their faith and spiritual lives, and I see The Prayer Box as that type of book—appropriate for a Christian person to bring to a book club that is not specifically Christian, for instance.
What’s the overall message?
In this cyber age, it’s more important than ever to equip families with ideas for generating family table talk and storytelling. My first mainstream novel, Tending Roses, was inspired by stories shared by my grandmother. I’ve since watched that book travel around the world, and her stories—those simple remembrances from a farmwife’s life—have affected many lives. Our stories have amazing power and value, yet we’re in danger of losing that tradition of sharing our stories, particularly with the next generation.
What’s on your nightstand?
Endorsement books, usually! One of the best things about being an author is having the chance to read and discover new books before they travel out into the world. Aside from early read copies, there’s usually some research material on my nightstand. Currently I’m reading about the lost “little races” of the Appalachian Mountains, for the novel that will follow The Prayer Box. Also on the stack is a journal given to me by a reader, where I write down quotes and story ideas I don’t want to forget.
Tell us about the e-novella prequel to The Prayer Box you released in July.
Titled The Sea Glass Sisters, this is a story of the sisterhood in Sandy’s Seashell Shop, a prominent theme in The Prayer Box. In this prequel, Sandy’s sister, Sharon, and Sharon’s daughter Elizabeth travel to the Outer Banks determined to convince Sandy to move back to the family land in Michigan and give up Sandy’s Seashell Shop before the financial costs of hurricane repairs bankrupt Sandy. The three women end up riding out the second hurricane on the Outer Banks and form a life-changing sisterhood.
How did you write twenty books in twelve years with kids at home?
I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated college, married, and started a family. I wrote and sold various smaller projects in between naps, diapers, and playgroups.And when the boys were older, during soccer practices, in carpool lines, while helping with homework, and in all sorts of other situations.
People often ask me if I need quiet in order to write. With boys in the house, if I’d waited for quiet, the writing would never have happened. I learned to lose myself in a story amid the noise of life and I loved it that way.
I asked myself what makes a story last, what really makes a story worth telling and worth reading? I wanted to write books that meant something, that explore the human soul.
I came across a notebook in which I’d written some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d never known quite what to do with those stories, but I knew they were significant in my life. When I rediscovered the notebook, I had the idea of combining my grandmother’s real stories with a fictional family who is like and unlike my own family. That little germ of an idea became my first women’s fiction novel, Tending Roses.
Now that the boys are practically grown and the house is often quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.