Monday, October 29, 2012

Author Interview: Lisa Nowak

I love Halloween. Besides the chance to pretend to be someone (something) else for an evening, and indulging in all the candy I can eat (and then some), I love Halloween reading.
There is something about the return of Oregon's gray skies and cold drizzle that makes curling up with a creepy book feel like just the right thing to do.
On this Halloween week, I'm happy to interview Lisa Nowak, whose recent YA release, Dead Heat, is a perfect spooky read.

Alex is a machine whisperer. He can tell what’s wrong with a broken-down car with a touch. But his gift can’t save him from the brutality of his meth-addict father. For two years, Alex experienced kindness through Cole, his mentor. Now Cole’s dead, and the violence in Alex’s life is escalating.
When Cole reappears as a ghost, Alex clings to the tenuous link. Then he learns Cole might’ve sacrificed his chance to cross over. Jade, the first girl to look beyond Alex’s past, assures him Cole can reach the Other Side—if Alex escapes from his dad. But a previous terrifying attempt has convinced Alex it’s impossible. Unless he can find the courage to try, his friend may be earthbound forever.

 Hi Lisa. Congratulations on the release of Dead Heat. I saw on your blog that you are more proud of this than any other project. Can you tell us more about why that is?

I'm excited about this book for several reasons. For one thing, it deals with issues like child abuse and that controversial topic of what to do when you think reporting it might result in more harm to the child than letting it continue. I know this isn't a popular subject, but I think it's realistic. Secondly, Dead Heat features a protagonist with a learning disability, and the story is told in first person through his slang and limited vocabulary. This is just Alex's voice (imagine a modern day Huck Finn) and I didn't think much about it until my editor told me how glad she was to see someone up-ending the stereotype about kids like Alex.

Dead Heat is a bit of a departure from your other books. It's darker and has a distinct edge. How did this come about?

Dead Heat never would’ve come to be had it not been for an agent rejecting my book Driven because it “wasn’t edgy enough.” Teens, according to him, won’t buy a book unless it’s edgy. I reacted with an “I’ll show you edgy, buster,” and Dead Heat was born. I still think his opinion was bogus, but I owe him one for shoving me in a direction I never would’ve taken on my own.

Alex faces some very real struggles in his life, from dealing with a learning disability to suffering abuse from his meth-addicted father. Was is difficult for you to write about such heavy topics? 

Actually, it wasn't. I find it harder to read books like this than to write them. When I'm inside a character's head, I feel like I'm living his or her reality. And Alex doesn't feel sorry for himself. He doesn't know anything different from what he's always lived, so as bad as it might seem to you and me, to him it's just normal.

Most of your books have male protagonists. Can you offer any tips for getting inside a teenage boy's head? For getting his voice right?

Honestly, I have no clue how I'm able to write from a teenage boy's perspective. It might be because I grew up as a tomboy and always wanted to be climbing trees, building forts, and getting into pinecone fights. It might be because when I was racing stock cars, I hung out so much with guys that I became very familiar with their behavior. Actually, up until a few years ago, most of my closest friends were guys. I suppose the only tip I can offer is to watch boys and pay attention to how they speak and act. If you don't have access to real live boys, watch TV shows and movies about them. One thing to remember about guys is that they don't come right out and admit to their feelings the way girls do. You have to convey what they're feeling through behavior and subtext. Which is what makes it so fun to write from their perspective, and also what makes it so rewarding to the reader.

I attended your summer workshop on different publishing models, and learned quite a lot. Thanks. Any advice for someone just starting to consider their publishing options?

Definitely. Your choice of publishing route shouldn't be about what anyone else thinks or what's going on in the industry. It should be about your personal strengths and what you want out of your publishing career. The simplest way I can put it is, if you have the skills and temperament to run a small business, you'll probably do well self-publishing. Otherwise, you'll be happier pursuing a traditional route. But there are some in-between options. I wrote a guest post about it on Literary Rambles a few weeks ago that provides a checklist to help you decide which path is best for you: 

Literary Rambles: Lisa Nowak Guest Post

Thank you for that link, Lisa. (Readers, seriously - go check it out.)
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your writing process? What is a typical day like for you?

That depends on the season, since I'm a landscaper nine months out of the year. But to keep things simple, I'll describe a winter day when I'm a full-time writer. If I'm being smart, the first thing I do after I get up is write. If I'm being stupid, I answer my email. :P I have no problem with making myself sit at the computer, so I can spend 8-15 hours there, but it wouldn't necessarily be productive (even if I could avoid the email/social networking trap). My best writing time is between 7 a.m. and noon, and between 4 and 9 p.m. Every once in awhile I'll get a second wind late at night and stay up until 2:00, but that's unusual. I've found that if I try to write during my down times, I don't get much accomplished, so I try to plan my social networking, emailing, marketing, etc. during those times. I'm an outliner, and I also tend to edit as I write. I know a lot of people advise against the latter, but it works for me. I only manage 500-1200 words per day, but I turn out very clean, tight first drafts, so it all averages out. My best tool for first drafts is taking a walk. I can spend all day at the computer and not squeeze out 200 words, then after dinner I'll go out with my digital recorder in hand and dictate 500-1000 words in a two-mile walk. If I'm on a roll, I'll walk an additional 1-2 miles. Sometimes I think I should spend the entire day walking around with my digital recorder. The bonus would  be that my pants would fit better. :P

One last question: Do you believe in ghosts?

I don't know. I don't disbelieve, but I've never seen one. After writing Dead Heat, I hope they exist.

Find Dead Heat on Amazon, Smashwords, and Barns & Noble.

In addition to being a YA author, Lisa is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are.

Connect with her here:


  1. Lisa is a teen hidden in an adult body. She has the language and mannerisms down to a tee. I have read her books and look forward to this one.

  2. Such a fab interview! Can't wait to read the book!!!

  3. Dead Heat sounds terrific! Another winner Lisa!

  4. I've read this and loved the writing and the point of view. All the controversial issues were handled well but didn't take the forefront. The story was truly about Alex and his struggles with life.

  5. Lisa is a wealth of information and is generous with it. I enjoy her writing and think Dead Heat is a great story and exceedingly well written. Helen

  6. Thanks, everyone. Heidi, thank you for hosting me.

    1. Thank you! I loved hearing more about you and Dead Heat!

  7. Awesome, Lisa! What a great interview, and DEAD HEAT sounds fantastic. I love the idea of a Huck-Finnish narrator, and the fact that it explores tough topics. DH is definitely on my TBR pile--can't wait! :o) <3

  8. Great interview with Lisa. I've read Dead Heat and can heartily recommend it. Ms Nowak sucks you right into Alex's life and mind and you can hardly bear to stop reading until you've come to the end. Beautifully written and so visual that it can play out in your mind like a movie! Alice Lynn

  9. I have read Lisa's previous three books and can't wait to read this one. She tells a great, believable story and makes you really care about the characters.