Writing is a passion. Publishing is a business.


Interview with Lisa Papademetriou

Lisa was born August 25, 1971 in Houston, Texas. After graduating from Vassar College, she lived in Guatemala City, Guatemala, where she taught English in a bilingual school. When she came back to the United States, she moved to New York City, where she worked a series of editorial jobs at various publishers, including Scholastic, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers, Disney Press, and what is now Alloy. She then decided that I wanted to be a big-shot businesswoman and enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business, but after a year, she decided that big-shotting wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, so she left to write full-time.

What are you reading right now?

EVERYTHING! I’m an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and I have to read approximately a book a day. Right now, I’m studying verse novels. I recently read LOCOMOTION, EXPOSED, and MAKE LEMONADE—all of which are fantastic. Also A STEP FROM HEAVEN, which is utterly beautiful. Drop everything and read it right away!

What first sparked your interest in writing?

Reading. I remember reading THE CHRONICLES OF NARIA and thinking, Someone—a writer—wrote this. I want to do that when I grow up.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

What I love most about writing is the dreaming/ reading/ thinking part. I love imagining characters and how they feel and their thoughts. What I hate is getting reviewed. When you spend years working on something, to have someone dismiss it with a sentence is extremely painful. And even when people like your book, being reviewed has an unpleasant beauty-pageant feeling to it. It turns the book into a thing to be evaluated, rather than a work of art to be pondered.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

First I need an idea. I never know when it will pop up, but when it does, I never bother to write it down, because if it’s good, it will hang around and try to meet other good ideas. Next comes general staring out a window, followed by reading a few books that I can reasonably claim as “research.” Then, hopefully, a second idea will show up. You really need two ideas for any book—one for a character, one for an incident or conflict or ending. Okay, once I have my two ideas, I try to rub them together. Then I stare out the window some more, maybe go for a walk, maybe chat about the idea with someone. If other people are interested, I know it has potential, so I’ll start working on an outline. For me, an outline is a scene-by-scene breakdown of everything that happens in the novel. It is, frankly, easier to muck about rearranging things and changing them in an outline than it is after a draft. Then I start the long slog through the first draft. Then I revise. Then I revise again. Repeat until done!

What are your passions?

Social justice, writing, reading, dogs, my darling daughter, my sweet husband, the Oxford comma, and Martha Stewart Living magazine (embarrassing, but true).

What inspires you?

What inspires me are fans. They write me E-mails, and sometimes they tell me that they bought the book with their own money. When I think about that—about a reader choosing to spend her money on my books instead of someone else’s, or something else that she might want—I know I have to work as hard as I can to make sure she cares about the characters and enjoys the book.

Why fantasy?
I love fantasy. LOVE! It’s the oldest genre (think mythology), and I think a lot of people sort of have it in their DNA, as I do. Unfortunately for me, I don’t really pick and choose the stories I write—they just come to me in pieces, and I start putting them together, and I get interested in them and then I can’t stop. I also write humorous tween books (which I also love to write) that sell really well, and my editors, of course, always want more of that. But…oh, well. I also write fantasy. I can’t help it!

>Why young adult?

I don’t really believe that “young adult” is a writing genre. It’s more of a marketing genre. If your book is about young characters, it’s now published as young adult. If GREAT EXPECTATIONS, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or—arguably—WUTHERING HEIGHTS published today, the editors and marketers would want them in the YA section. Well, after that ramble, I guess the real answer is, “I dunno. That’s just my brain!”

How was SIREN’S STORM born?

SIREN’S STORM jumps right into the story with a peculiar car collision and a tragic backstory. Did the book always begin there or did it take numerous drafts to find the right starting point?

This is an excellent question, because it gets at something that is always a challenge for writers (and by writers, I mean “me”)—finding a good opening. The way I work is different from most writers, in that I am a hard-core outliner. Still, I often find that the opening scene I had planned in the outline just isn’t compelling once it’s written. So I try not to worry about the first scene until the second draft. I’ll just write a junk opening and then go back and find a better scene after the whole novel is done. That said, SIREN’S STORM is one case in which I saw the opening right away and very clearly, and I still think it’s one of the best scenes in the book.

Obviously, you didn’t create the concepts of sirens or Furies, but in what ways did you take literary license and tweak these beings for your own world?

I went back to the original ODYSSEY and was shocked to discover that a Siren wasn’t a mermaid at all—it was a creature with the body of a fierce bird and the face of a woman. Over time, others changed them to be half-woman, half-fish. Every author tweaks these creations, I guess. For the Sirens, I wanted to get at their backstory, to think about how it might be that some people could think they were birds, some fish. I created a tale-within-a-tale about their evolution. As for the Furies, their history is extremely vague and even conflicting. I tried to simply take the nugget of the idea there and then re-create the Fury out of whole cloth. I combined it with the mythical Phoenix, which rises from the ashes, and discovered a creature I really found intriguing. Like I said above, the fun is in turning the puzzle pieces around and seeing how they might fit.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

As a former editor and present author, I have TOO MUCH advice! The two most important things I would say are: do not give up and remember that rejection of your work/suggestions for ways to improve it are just part of the process. Every step leads forward.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I believe in talent, but more than that, I believe in hard work. In ten years, I hope to be a much better writer than I am now. That’s the other thing that inspires me—the belief that I can be better.