Out of Twenty: Lisa Van Allen, Author of The Wishing Thread, Answers Seven Questions

In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim  author and they choose their own interview VanAllenby  picking which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer. Lisa Van Allen’s novel, The Wishing Thread, tells the story of three estranged sisters who have mixed feelings and ideas about their witchcraft filled heritage, who come together in the aftermath of their aunt’s unexpected death. I really loved the history of Tarrytown that was intertwined through the novel of these sisters rekindling their relationships and healing old hurts after so many years.  Here is what Lisa had to say about reading, writing, and the characters she had the most fun writing.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

I’d love to! I’m Lisa Van Allen, author of The Wishing Thread. Funny enough–I think that to tell you what kind of books I write, I can turn it over to my main character, Aubrey Van Ripper. She’s a nerdy librarian in the charming suburban village of Tarrytown, New York (the birthplace of Irving’s Headless Horseman). She and I have a lot in common when it comes to books.

Here’s her line from The Wishing Thread: Oh, I read all kinds of books,” she’d told him. “But I guess I like the soft kind the best. The ones that, when you close them, leave your heart feeling like your stomach if you just ate a big meal.”

That’s not to say that I write books that are especially easy or cheek-puckering sweet. But I hope they’re warm, smart, entertaining, and they offer lots to think about or chat about with fellow book clubbers or knitters (I will be doing call- and Skype-ins for groups).

As for me, I live in northern New Jersey with my husband and our pet hedgehog, Cleopatra, who’s pretty much the cutest spikeball in the world. When I do get an inch of free time, I’m reading, knitting, volunteering, or hanging out with friends.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

A couple years ago I started keeping idea boxes. I’ll have a vague notion of a premise for a book, then will fill the box with things that seem to fit in some way into that premise. I like the idea of all these random things coming together and marinating for months or years and turning into a story.

The Wishing Thread box has pictures of the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, a ball of favorite yarn, a vintage knitting pattern from the 1970s that I keep meaning to get framed, a tiny hedgehog box, etc. I have to credit Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit for this technique.

I also make lists. Some are about toying with plot points (like, “ways to hide money”) and some are just plain generative (synonyms for blue). I think it’s important to keep my brain in a place where it’s generating new ideas all the time–even if I throw most of them away.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working your own book(s)?

Reading is what keeps me going. I love when I read a book that’s so great I get this sort of tight feeling in my chest that makes me want to jump out of my chair and cheer for the author–like, Look what you did! This is amazing! You’re a rock star! Those moments are inspirational for me because they challenge me to keep pushing harder, imagining more intensely, writing bigger, better stories.

theWishingthread12What were your experiences with reading when you were growing up? Was there a pivotal moment in discovering literature when you knew that you wanted to be a writer?

You know–when I look back, it’s less like I picked writing than writing picked me. I was born telling stories. Even before I could turn letters into words, I was making up stories during show-and-tell in kindergarten (later, I would learn this was apparently called lying, but at the time I thought I was just doing my job).

In middle and high school I wrote compulsively. People asked “Do you want to be a writer?” And I always said no. But I always kept writing, too. Writing books was absolutely what I’d always wanted to do. But it seemed so…unlikely. The idea of being a career writer was a dream that I didn’t dare let myself believe in, not even in college when a professor suggested, “This isn’t something I’d say lightly, but I think you should give it a try.”

So I was always writing and I was always a writer–whether I wanted to be or not. I think it just took a while to learn to believe in myself and find my voice.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

In The Wishing Thread, there are three sisters who haven’t seen one another in a very long time. Meggie is the youngest sister; she’s a feisty, rough-and-tumble roller derby girl who will do anything for her family–even if she doesn’t exactly go about it in the right way.

Bitty is the oldest; she’s got two wonderful children and a not-so-wonderful marriage. She likes to be in charge (but soon learns that she’s got to lean on her sisters sometimes).

Aubrey, as mentioned earlier, is a nerdy librarian; she’s pretty soft-spoken, sincere to a fault, and a little insecure when we first meet her–specifically about her role in the community as a knitter of “magic spells.” Of all three characters, I relate to her most. Her emotional journey is the spine of the book.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

Writing is so often a good excuse for researching (and a good excuse for procrastinating!).

In writing The Wishing Thread, I did a lot of research about the history of knitting. And I also did a LOT of research about the countless folk tales and ghost stories that have come out of the Hudson Valley–everything from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to the pirate treasure of Captain Kidd. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for a book than Tarrytown.

What’s next?

Thanks for asking! The best way for readers to know when a new book comes out is to sign up for my (confidential) mailing list on my website. I don’t bombard anybody with emails–it’s just a good way to keep in touch.

I’ll have another book out next year (2014). But I don’t know the title yet. Or the pub date. And the story is still under wraps. But I can tell you my idea box has fake red poison berries, many books on farm life and the Catskill Mountains, peacock feathers, an image of a garden maze, instructions for a leech barometer, and more.

Thanks so much for celebrating the release with me today! It’s been fun.

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