Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Q&A with Lisa Riley Emig - Writer & NaNoWriMo Winner

Lisa Riley Emig describes herself as a “wife, mother, writer, editor, fundraiser, decrepit athlete, occasional thorn in side, embarrassment, attention challenged.” A 2010 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) winner, Lisa is completing her first novel. I first “met” Lisa as a fellow book reviewer over at The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, where she wowed us all with her wonderful writing and great sense of humor; she is currently a review contributor to LitStack. Needless to say, I am a huge fan. It is a great pleasure to welcome her back to the blog today!

Lisa, one of the things I love best about you and your writing is your fantastic and offbeat sense of humor. When I think back, I can pinpoint almost exactly the influences on my own sense of humor - who and/or what influenced, inspired or informed yours?

When you have an offbeat sense of humor, you always run the risk of being misunderstood or perhaps even committed, so your words are greatly appreciated. I watched a lot of British comedy when I was growing up, so I think probably John Cleese and Michael Palin had the most influence on my sense of humor. Honestly, anyone who can use the word ‘comestible’ in a sentence about cheese scores very high marks on my list of ‘funny.’ Neil Simon has also been a steady influence - I especially love The Odd Couple and Plaza Suite – brilliant.  

During the month of November, thousands of writers all over the world sit down at their computers, typewriters and notebooks with the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in that 30 day period. You participated last year and were one of the writers who met that goal - congratulations! What first inspired you to participate?

My oldest child had gone off to college, leaving me with a small amount of extra free time, so rather than picking up another book to read, I thought it might be good to actually try and write one myself. I was on Tumblr last summer and a couple of people were talking about entering NaNoWriMo. Not knowing what it was and too shy to ask, I googled it and once I’d made my way to their website, I was hooked.

NaNoWriMo asks you to start “from scratch”, although you are allowed to have an outline going in. How much of the story had already been percolating in your head when you began writing on November 1st? Did you know where you wanted your novel to go, or did it emerge as you wrote?

When I began writing on November 1st, I didn’t really have much of an outline, only a nice relationship with my characters - I was confident that we all understood each other. The problem was that I had literally an entire town full of characters. Some of them never even spoke - they were just there - hanging out, drinking coffee I guess. The story line evolved as I wrote, often scattering in different directions and heading off into subjects that I didn’t really know much about. In addition to too many characters, I had created so many subplots that I found myself faced with something that resembled a Gordian knot, and no knife to cut it with. I ended up cutting most of the characters out and concentrated on about 5 principals. From there, I took each character alone and created their arc. Then I’d start blending their actions together, matching up their actions and reactions until the storyline began to appear and make sense. Not the best way to go about writing a novel, but I managed.

What was the NaNoWriMo month like for you? What surprised you about the experience? How did it impact your daily life- job, family etc? 

It was a great month which I thoroughly enjoyed. I think what surprised me the most about the experience was how little stress it created for me. In fact, I think if anything, it made me happier to be engaged in something that I enjoyed so much – I had an excuse to write.

I ended up taking off one day each week in November to use for the heavy writing. I’m very fortunate to have a job that ends at 3 pm each day, so I was able to write on weekday afternoons while my daughter did her homework, and then I’d also squeeze chunks of writing time in on the weekends. All in all, it really didn’t have much of an impact on my family or my job. Well, that’s not entirely true - the dog and I became close. He’d sleep in the basket of dirty laundry while I’d type away on the keyboard, both us exuding contentment.

How did the emphasis on word count influence your writing style, process, and writing habits in the short and long term?

The word count was very helpful, because it gave me daily goals. I knew going in that I was going to need to write approximately 1,600 words a day. Some days I’d write more, other days less. I boldly signed up for a 5,000 word challenge for the first day, which was great because it provided me with some slack for later on if I needed it.

My writing style was definitely affected by the word count – it disappeared completely. When you’re under the gun to produce words, any style you thought you had goes right out the window. I found myself focused on getting as much out and onto the page as I could without stopping to choose my words, etc. One of the nice things about NaNo is that you can go back afterward and make it pretty.

What would you say to writers who were considering participating for the first time?

If there is anyone reading this who is considering participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time, my advice is to jump right in. I can’t think of any other writing endeavor that provides you with more support and encouragement. There are forums for every genre, which allow you to communicate with other NaNo participants. I had a question regarding legal representation for one of my characters. I posted the question in the forums and the next morning I had five responses from lawyers who happened to be participating. There are groups in every region who meet weekly to write together or to just drink coffee and commiserate. Participants are invited to join as many groups as they like, or none at all. Utilize the buddy system that they offer as well. I had three writing buddies who were fantastic. One was a teenager in Australia who was writing fantasy. Every day we’d check on each other’s word count, and comment on our progress. It was a great experience and I hope to participate in it every year.    

What happened after the month was over? What stage of writing/editing/publishing is your book in now?

Once the competition had ended, I put the book down until January. Having taken a break, I went back and re-read it, and started the major editing portion. When I felt as though there was enough of a storyline to follow, I had two friends read it for their input. I’ve been working on it ever since and after writing countless outlines, have finally produced one that I feel confident in using as a road map – I’m serious (God help me!)  The word count is up to 65,000 and I’d like to write another 15,000 in the next month. Then I’ll go in search of reading volunteers; probably make a few more adjustments and then hopefully shop it around to the publishing houses.

Please tell us a little about the novel (and would you be willing to share a favorite passage?)

The novel is a satire about the ridiculous lengths that parents will go to – including murder, in order to get their children into a prestigious university, and the social ramifications of raising a child who not only fails to live up to those standards, but self destructs in spectacular fashion - literally.

Susan Stewart was among those overly pious parishioners entering the coffee shop. She quickly determined that the length of the line was far too long for her to waste time waiting in, and so quietly made her way over to the display of coffee mugs. From there she carefully slid over to the barista counter where a group of people were waiting for their orders to be filled.
She smiled at the others milling about and then approached the barista behind the counter. 
"Excuse me, I’m just waiting for a tall black coffee, I don’t understand what’s taking so long." She looked questioningly at the barista behind the counter, who had his hands full with a pitcher of steamed milk. He looked up in time to see Susan’s eyebrow beginning to rise and sensing a tornado in the making, quickly put down the pitcher, grabbed a cup, poured the coffee and placed it on the counter in front of Susan and her slowly descending eyebrow.
"Tall coffee, black - sorry for the wait."
Susan stuffed a $5 dollar bill into the tip jar, grabbed her coffee from the counter and headed out the door, oblivious to the disdainful looks of her fellow customers – many of whom had witnessed this little charade before.
Finally, I have to ask…. whose side are you most often a thorn in, and whom have you embarrassed recently ;D?

Ha! Well I always suspect that I’m a thorn in the side of just about everyone who has to deal with me, from my family to my co-workers (I pray daily for all of them, so I figure that helps).

Last night I embarrassed my daughter – I think the reason was something like - I exist?

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You can find Lisa over at her blog, at LitStack, and on twitter. She is also the author of this wonderful essay about Frances badger's mom in our Mother's Day series here on Books, Personally. Check out the NaNoWriMo website for more information about participating this year. Last but not least, here is the infamous Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch. Enjoy! 


  1. Hi, Lisa. Fun interview. Good luck with the book.

  2. Nice interview. I think moms embarrass their kids at some point in their life, it's just the circle of life.

    Nice excerpt from your book, really enjoyed it.

  3. Thanks guys for your kind words and encouragement - It goes a long way in pushing me forward!

  4. Lisa, thanks again for being such an amazing guest! So great to have you here. Jan & Lena, thanks so much for coming over to check out the interview :D

  5. Great interview!The book sounds like a lot of fun :-)


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