Lia Mack is dropping by the storage room this morning for a chat. I recently read her new book, Waiting For Paint To Dry and found it a thoughtful exploration of how one young woman can recover from her painful past. Those of you who’ve read my How To Climb The Eiffel Tower would see many parallels between Lia’s Matty character and my Lara. I hope you enjoy getting to know Lia as much as I have.
Interview with Lia Mack
Q: Where were you born? Are you the kind of person who likes to move around a lot, or do you prefer to live in one place?
Thank you for not asking, “Where are you from?” I’m a military brat – go Air Force! – so answering where are you from is not we like to explain. Unless, of course, it’s a fellow military brat. If that’s the case, let’s swap stories!
I was born in Wichita, Kansas, although I don’t remember anything about it as I was two when we left. We went on to Detroit, Michigan from there, and I enjoyed living close to my extended family until we moved when I was age 8. From there, it was onto Austin, Texas. Talk about a wake-up call in the insect department. Scorpions, anyone? At the end of 5th grade we moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. And I fell in love. Mountains. Skiing. Hiking. Basically all outdoor activities in the most beautiful place on Earth. After 7th grade I was okay leaving (with plans on returning) because my father received orders for Italy! We have family in Italy, so it was a wonderful experience. Then, for my final 2 years of high school, we moved to Maryland. Besides a short hiatus living in southern California, that’s where I am today. Baltimore, Maryland.
Let me say it took 20 long years to get used to being in one location. But I’ve grown to love Maryland. Only, as I stated before, I can’t wait to get back to Colorado. Or California. Either would be fine with me. I can’t seem to be ‘happy’ in one spot for long. I guess every military brat feels the same.
Q: What sparked your interest in writing? How long have you been writing?
I hate it when writers answer this question this way, but I’m going to do it. I’ve always written. I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing. Except, I didn’t know it was something to write the way I did, or come up with stories and settings and characters the way I did. I thought everyone wrote that way.
It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I realized I had something special when it came to writing. I had this great creative writing teacher that year. She had us do visualizations and freewriting and whatnot. Totally didn’t follow the curriculum. Loved it.
One day, our assignment was to, “Open a new notebook and write a short story….Go!” That was it. I remember becoming so consumed with the task that I didn’t come up for air until I heard her say, “And, stop! Turn them in.” Only, when I saw the papers being sent up from my classmates behind me, I noticed something. All their writings were short. Five pages here, 10 pages there. And they all had the same element: THE END. Mine didn’t have THE END anywhere. And it wasn’t short at all! Instead of writing a short story I had ravenously written the first two chapters of a novel!
Needless to say, I felt I failed the class. But the following day, when the teacher read my piece, classmates who regularly slept through class were 100% absorbed into the story. When she reached the end of the second chapter and said, “That’s it”, the class exploded. “What do you mean that’s it!!!” They were so intrigued by the story and the character that, even at the end of the school year they were still asking me, “What happens next?!” To this day, I have no clue where the story came from. It just ‘appeared’ the moment she said GO.
That’s when I knew. I had to write.
Q: Your novel, Waiting for Paint to Dry, describes your main character’s very personal journey. What do you hope readers will take away from the story?
That, no matter how much of a mess your life is in or you personally are in, you can find your way out of the dark and into the light. You can and will find peace. You can and will find fulfillment. No one is permanently broken, no matter that quite a few of us feel that way at some times in our lives. Things happen. Shit happens. But how you respond to it will define you. So make sure you take charge of how you react to life.
You can build your life the way you want, peace, love, light and all.
Q: How long did it take you to finish the book? How many drafts did you write before you were satisfied?
They say it takes 5-10 years to write and publish your first novel. With Waiting for Paint to Dry, I was right on track. Started writing this back when my son was 9 months old. He’s 11 years old now.
How many drafts? 200? 300? I lost count of how many drafts/revisions this book went through. It was a few years long process to go from final manuscript to publishable manuscript. Why? It’s not because I can’t write. I can write your pants off – and some of my characters can attest to that (wink, wink)… No, it took me so long because I wasn’t being honest with myself. I wasn’t pushing my emotional boundaries enough to reach the type of goal I wanted for this book.
Instead of digging deep, I spent years toying with a version that was only surface skimming. My early readers hated it. I hated it. I just didn’t know what to do, and I was afraid to go any deeper. Truth hurts.
But then I read Stephen King’s On Writing and it changed me. Told me to tell the truth and that’s all it took.
This is not a church, this is not political. This is writing. Tell the truth.
Very freeing words.
Once I resolved to be honest – no matter what – the raw emotion of my character came out in such a way that I was moving my own self to tears and laughter. THAT is writing from your guts. I will never go back.
Q: How would you describe your path toward publication?
A bit mangled, but hey… what good is ever easy?
I sent out the usual hundreds of query letters and got back the usual hundreds of rejections like anybody. Then one day, my #1 pick literary agent from New York asked for a partial. Then a full. Then my #2 pick asked for a full. It was exciting times! I kept sending out queries because I had yet to hear the yes I needed for publication. Of course my queries from that point included the little full manuscript with___ blurb that gives your query letter that little bit of pop!
Then it happened. My #1 agent said yes. YES! She hated first person, present tense, but my writing pulled her in so fully that she didn’t realize it was 1st person, present POV until she was on the last chapter. She read it in a weekend. She loved it. Loved it! And was taking it to the big guns for approval to move forward. Best. Phone. Call. Ever.
Then bad news.
They liked it too, but it wasn’t commercial enough. Too many ‘experimental’ elements, could I kill off the first 5 chapters? And this certain character? And maybe just start at chapter 10 so it’s ACTION, ACTION, ACTION from beginning to end? High concept (even for women’s fiction). That’s what they wanted. So naturally, I rewrote the manuscript to suit their needs. It was NY! I was sure this was my ticket to success as a published author.
Then I got another yes in the mail. This one from a small traditional press out of Arkansas – Pen L Publishing. They loved it in its original form and wanted to publish. But I was certain they’d like the NY version instead. More commercial, right? Well, Pen L hated it. Their words? The manuscript has lost its soul.
That was pretty deep. And gave me pause. Lost its soul?? I had to read the two versions back to back to see what they meant. And sure enough, the NY version was commercial, but it lacked soul, purpose. Namely THE PURPOSE in which I had written it. But I had a possible NY yes… Did I want to sacrifice my goal, my purpose – to help inspire and empower sexual abuse survivors – just to jump start my writing career by going the NY publishing route? I was green, so I supposed it was the only way to go.
So I thought it over, with both contracts in hand, for a good solid month. The best contract for my career? Or the best contract for this book. Because the next book would be way different. Much more commercial.
But this book?
In the end, I had to keep my story’s soul intact. I had written the story with a purpose. And that purpose helped me transform a mediocre, surface skimming storyline into something that could actually help someone out of the darkness and into the light. Out of their head and into their life. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do just that. So I went with Pen L Publishing. Haven’t looked back.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Just write! Writing is the EASY PART. And yes, that’s supposed to scare the shit out of you. Publishing is the blood of the blood, sweat and tears it takes to get a book from inspiration to publication.
So, stop crying about how hard it is to write, you have no time, bla, bla, bla…
Writing, my friend, is the easy part.
Q: Name a few authors who have inspired you and describe why.
#1, Angela Shelton. Her whole mantra of ‘finding your sword of trauma’ and ‘using it for good’ is the whole reason I started writing this book in the first place. She inspires so many people to lead joyful, meaningful lives – no matter what they’ve been through. I love her. She’s my super hero!
#2, Elizabeth Guilbert. Anyone who writes about French kissing a banana tree in the middle of the night after dance meditating on a rooftop to find themselves is key in my book. Plus I like how she infuses spirituality (not religion) into her writing in a way that is approachable and useful.
#3, Barbara Delinsky. She’s been my favorite writer for a while. And she’s been responding to my writerly question laden emails for years. It’s so nice to have a report with a fellow author. Especially such a high profile one as Delinsky. I hope to one day have as many novels under my belt as she.
Q: What are you currently writing?
Unlike Waiting for Paint to Dry, which is a story about a woman escaping Baltimore’s humid summer heat, I’m now writing a novel that is solely based in Baltimore. In the fall though. I haven’t gotten the title down yet, but it would make the NY agents happy. ACTION, ACTION, ACTION. And it’s not exactly the emotional journey of a woman, but then again it is. So it might still be construed as women’s fiction. The main character is male. And he’s stuck between two worlds.
That’s all you’ll get from me! ☺
Q: Coffee, tea, or hard liquor? (or all three?)
Coffee? Only when I’m in Italy. For some reason it just tastes better there and it’s the only place on Earth that I’ve found where I can find a good cappuccino at all hours of the day. Autostrada cappuccino is the best!
Tea? Absolutely every day of the year. I love tea. A good green tea with honey and lemon? Yum!
And hard liquor? Tequila all the way, baby ☺
Q: What books are you currently reading or on your to-be-read list?
I always like to start off the writing process of my next book by diving into others. So on my list (in addition to the research reading I’m doing) is:
Q: And now for the bonus fluff question: If you could be a character in your one of your favorite novels, which character would you be and why?
It would have to be Alice in Alice in Wonderland. You mean to say I can eat a little cake and shrink? Drink a little drink and grow? Have wild adventures and then get to wield a sword to kill off a dangerous dragon?
I’ll take that any day ☺
A Bit More About The Book
For the past decade, Matty Bell has lived safe in a self-made monochromatic life of work-eat-sleep-survive. Living vicariously through her best friend Claire’s perfect life wasn’t the plan, nor her ideal. However, Matty learned long ago that it’s easier to run and hide from life than to deal with the pain of the post-traumatic stress she’s suffered from since being raped at sixteen.
Yet on the night of her thirtieth birthday, a freak accident shows Matty a truth: run from something long enough and it will consume you. She must find a way back to her life, a life full of passion in which she can follow her dreams and is not afraid to love. When Claire announces her family is moving, she asks Matty to come too. Having grown up Navy, Matty’s no stranger to picking up and starting over.
However, moving half-way around the world to play nanny to Claire’s children doesn’t sound like the new beginning Matty yearns for. Nor does she want to leave without first confronting her fears and coming full-healing-circle. She can’t let another decade slip by before she’s able to trust again.