Interview With New York Times Bestselling Author Lisa McMann, Creator of the “Wake” Series
Kevin: Hi Lisa! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your incredible career, and your new book – “Gone.” When did you first realize that you wanted to become an author? Did you always have a passion for writing?
Lisa: Since about 4th grade, I remember writing a story called “Baby May’s Birthday.” It’s my first book that I ever remember writing. I wrote it for an assignment for school. My teacher picked my story out of the whole class, for a young author’s conference, and I got to go spend the day with authors at a local college. I remember thinking back then, “I want to be a writer.”
I had some cool other influences along the way. My High School teacher, Mr. Moulder, was always very supportive too. He sent in one of my poems one time to a contest without telling me, and it won an honorable mention. That gave me so much confidence. That he would take the extra time out of his day to do something like that, meant he really believed in me. I think that really gave me the confidence to keep writing.
K: What was the first novel that you wrote?
L: I actually wrote Wake in 2006, but that was not my first. I wrote two novels before “Wake,” and neither of those sold. But I wrote all three of them in 2006. Once I got started, I figured out how to do it… and when I got the idea for Wake, I wrote it really, really fast. I got it all down, and was like ‘this is the one I need to get published.’
K: Once you get started on something, you just keep going until it’s done?
L: Yeah, unless it’s really not going anywhere. You really have to have a clever idea. You don’t HAVE to, but it really helps. And if you don’t have a full arc of story, then it’s easy to quit on a book like that. Every novel I’ve started, I’ve actually finished. Not all of them have been good enough to be published though.
K: So you like to have that closure at least.
L: Yeah, I do it more for me. So I know what happens to the characters.
K: What prompted you to write the first book in your best selling series, “Wake?”
L: I had a dream actually, which is kind of ironic because it’s all about dreams. I had a dream that I was in my husband’s dream, watching what he was dreaming about. And I woke up after that dream, in the middle of the night and just wrote down that idea. I always keep a little notepad by my bed, in case I have a good dream that I want to write about. In the morning, when I looked at my notes that I had written in the night, it still sounded like a good idea. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it from that point on. I thought about it for a about a month before I started writing.
K: How did you choose to become an author professionally, and what prompted you to make that decision?
L: A few things actually happened. I didn’t write for about ten years, and I did other things. I was a bookstore manager; I was a realtor for seven years. Then I started writing, just in the evenings while I was a realtor. My kids were around seven and four, so they could handle being without me more in the evenings. And I found a website that was having a little writing contest, which was kind of cool. I had written a story many years before, but I decided to fix that up a little bit and enter it. I got some feedback, and it was very encouraging. I just started writing again, and I published about thirty short stories. And then in 2004, I entered a contest for a short story and it won $10,000 dollars – which was ridiculous, because you just can’t find contests like that. It was a one-time thing, and it was a world-wide contest. At the same time, we were moving from Michigan to Arizona, so I decided that it was my jumping off point. I had a little nest egg, and we decided when moving to Arizona to just live as modestly as we could and have me not go to work outside the home. I just stayed home, and tried to be a writer – which really was hard for the first year and a half or so. I put a lot of pressure on myself. But eventually, I started writing again and that’s when I started writing the novels.
K: What is your elevator pitch to describe the “Wake” series to someone who has never read the books before?
L: It’s about 17-year-old Janie, who gets sucked into other peoples’ dreams – plus there’s a hot guy.
K: After writing “Wake,” how hard was it to get the book published?
L: Not very long, actually. With the first manuscript that I tried to find an agent with, I had like seventy rejections. But in the meantime I had written “Wake,” and when I started sending it out, it took less than a week to get an agent. That was in October of 2006, and then the following January we sold it to Simon and Schuster for the first two books. Then we sold the third one a little bit later. So that went very fast, and I was very lucky. But I did have my share of rejection too, with the other manuscripts.
K: With the first manuscript that was rejected, did you send it in because it was finished? Or did you think that was going to be your big break?
L: I thought that was pretty good. And I still think that I’ll publish that one someday. It’s totally different though – it’s historical fiction. Right now I think my spot to be in is paranormal young adult, and I want to continue with that for a while. And eventually I’ll branch off a little bit. So I’m just kind of saving it, hoping that we can sell it someday.
K: “Wake” became a New York Times Bestseller. Do you remember the exact time and moment when that happened?
L: I do, I totally do! I got a phone call – I was in my house. And we lived in this tiny little house, where I worked in the living room in my little green chair. That was my office. And I got the phone call from my editor, and my agent was also on the line. She said, “you’re a New York Times Bestseller.” And I said, “shut up” about a million times! It was so awesome – I totally remember it. I don’t remember much else of the conversation, just that we had hit the list. It was quite amazing, and everybody was really happy. I remember hanging up, and not doing really anything except just sort of walking around the house by myself before I shared it with anybody. I called my husband first, but it took me about ten minutes just to let it sink in. And that was just one of the best moments of my entire life. It was very cool.
K: So by the time you came out with your second book, “Fade,” you already had a following. And that book was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 11 weeks. Did you expect that your following would grow to that level so quickly?
L: No, in fact I was really surprised! In fact, I started ‘bribing’ my readers – I said, ‘If we can stay on the list 5 weeks, I’ll adopt a poor, homeless kitten.’ So five weeks came and went, and we adopted a kitten. And then it just stayed. So that was pretty cool. I wasn’t expecting it to be on there that long. Then last week, we just hit the “Series New York Times Bestsellers List,” for Wake, Fade and Gone. They combined them, and then they compete against all of the other series – like Twilight, Harry Potter, The Magic Treehouse and all those big series. So that was very exciting. We hit at number 8, so I’m just shocked. And Heather Brewer from St. Louis hit the list at number five! That was her first time on the list, and she hit it really well. I’m so excited for her.
K: How do you find most people are hearing about your books?
L: Definitely internet. A lot of bloggers have picked up a copy and reviewed it, whether they got it from the Library or the publishers have sent them out… and a lot of them are teen bloggers. And they just sort of fell in love with it. Most of them. Some of them hate it, you know – which is to be expected, and totally fine. That’s the way we feel about anything. But they still talk about it, which gets the word out.
And I did a lot of stuff online too. I have always been really active online. I had a MySpace page, well before the book first came out. And I was making friends, and just being active. Then Facebook came next, and Twitter. I just like talking to the fans, and they like that. They’ll tell people, “Lisa McMann talked to me,” and that makes them feel really good. But then they spread the word too. So that’s word of mouth.
We’ve done some advertising too, and the bookstores have been very kind to us. They’ve got it out on their new bookshelves, and stuff like that. So it’s just been a big combination of things.
K: You just released the third, and final, book in the series – “Gone.” Did you always plan on the series being in three parts?
L: I knew there would be more than one, or I thought there would be. But when you sell a book, you sell one book. Then the publisher decides, when they are making an offer, if they want to say ‘well, let’s say two.’ But they want to see how it goes first, before committing to a whole long series. So I wasn’t really sure how many they were thinking. I was thinking probably three, maybe one more. But I didn’t see it as a long series. I didn’t want to turn it into, like, a Nancy Drew detective kind of series. Because really, the books are about Janie, and what happens to her with this paranormal activity that feels kind of like a curse. After they bought the first two books, my editor and I sat down and had a little talk about where we saw it going next. And I pitched an idea of what I thought would happen, and she really liked it. And she had some really great advice as well. We put that together, and we both felt very good about three being the end.
K: So… no chance for a fourth book? It’s over for real.
L: I’m really pretty sure it’s over. I have no plans for writing a fourth book.
K: You talked a little bit about what’s next already, but what exactly are you planning on at this time?
L: I really love the young adult market. The paranormal is really, really fun to write. My next book is called “Criers Cross,” and that’s going to be a standalone book. All new characters. New setting. No dreams, but a different, sort of creep, paranormal element to a real life situation. That’s kind of my thing I guess. Mostly everything is sort of normal, except for one little slightly weird thing. That’s about a very small school in a farming community in Montana, and a couple of the kids go missing. So, creepier than the ‘Wake’ trilogy, but not a lot. There’s also a nice little romance in that one too. Gotta have that.
K: Are you finished writing “Crier’s Cross” already?
L: I am finished with my first draft. I just got my edits back for the first round, and I’ll be working on that when I’m done with tour.
K: What advice do you have for young, aspiring authors?
L: There are two things that I like to tell people, and they are fairly elementary. But they really are important. The first thing is to read. Not just read books, and lots of them. But read your favorite book – the one you want to pick up, and read over and over again. Read it as if you’re a writer, not a reader. Go through and ask yourself as you are reading, ‘Why do I like reading this book? What’s compelling me to continue reading it? What about the characters do I love so much?’ And just take notes that way, and then try and mimic those things. If it’s the action that you love, write action. Write as much as you can, and keep having things happen in your own writing.
The other thing, besides reading a lot, is writing a lot. A lot of people say, ‘I want to write a novel,’ or people ask me a lot of time, ‘how do I get my book published?’ I’ll say, ‘what have you written?’ And they will say, ‘well… nothing yet.’ The thing is that you actually have to write it. I told myself for years that I want to write a novel. And I didn’t write it. But once I did, things started to happen. That’s a really important step, so start writing. And keep writing. The more you write, the better you get.
K: What are some of your personal favorite books, and how have they inspired you?
L: Well, I love Madeleine L’Engle. She’s been sort of inspiring, mostly because I met her when I was 19. She wrote “A Wrinkle in Time.” She just passed away a few years ago. She treated me like a real aspiring writer when I was 19; that was really special. That was a very important thing that she did, and she had no idea. We actually had dinner in a group, but I got to sit next to her and have a conversation. She asked me a lot about what kind of stuff I like to write, and she really treated me like her – like an author. That made a huge difference in my own writing life. Other authors, and other books: I loved “Little Women,” I loved “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I love those stories about poor kids who had a lot to overcome and really made something of themselves. I’m a huge, huge fan of Charlie – because he’s got these dire circumstances and his family suffers so much. That always made me as a reader feel like I wasn’t alone. Like there is somebody worse off than me, and I was going to be OK. So those are the kind of characters that really inspired me in my writing.
K: What other interests do you have beside from writing?
L: I love to cook. I like watching reality TV, like “Survivor.” I like to swim in the summer. I live in Arizona, so [February] is to cold to swim in right now.
K: Do you find yourself to be more of a TV or movie person?
L: Well, I would probably say slightly more TV. But I like movies too.
K: What do you usually think when you walk out of movies that were adapted from a novel?
L: I think that books are almost always better. But I do think that there have been some very good adaptations. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a wonderful movie. And more recently the Harry Potter movies – which I think are pretty good renditions of the story. Because the stories are so long, it’s hard to fit everything in there. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was a movie that came from a book, and I thought that was really good. So I’d like to see a “Wake” movie someday!
K: What do you think of the new electronic medium for books, like the Amazon Kindle and Sony reader?
L: I think they’re good. I have an e-reader myself, and I use it when I travel like I am now. But I would much rather read from a book. I don’t LOVE my e-reader, but it’s handy. I think they will continue to embrace hardbacks and paperbacks, and aesthetically I think books look nice. Better than e-readers stacked on your shelves. “Wake” and “Fade” are both available as e-books. “Gone” will be available in June.
K: What do you think of your entire experience, going from writing short stories to becoming a New York Times Bestselling Author?
L: It’ been pretty amazing, you know. It’s quite unbelievable. Sometimes I’ll just glance at the bookshelf that has my books on it. My husband has been wonderful about framing the New York Times lists, and I’ll just look at them and be like, ‘when did this happen? What happened here?’ You know, this is so strange. Because it all really just started a few years ago. It’s been a major change, but a good one. I’m thrilled, and I’ve got the best fans!