Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Interview with Lisa Dale Norton

Hello, fellow writers! For those of you waiting to hear about the pitch contest, I will be announcing more details next week. Announcing the agent? Hmm, maybe. You'll just have to keep checking to find out.

In the meantime, I've got an interview with a lovely writer. Let's meet Lisa Dale Norton.

Lisa is the author of the wildly popular memoir handbook Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir and the critically acclaimed memoir Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills both published by St. Martin’s Press. She teaches memoir writing through her website——and works internationally with clients completing book manuscripts. Lisa lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. USA.

Welcome to We Do Write, Lisa. Tell us, how long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing ever since I was a little kid. I adored writing letters and wrote to everyone, long missives filled with events and thoughts and feelings. Little did I know then that I was a narrative nonfiction writer in training.

For years, early in my apprenticeship as a writer, I discounted this practice and passion for writing, thinking that “writing” was only the crafting of stories with characters and scenes, dialogue and adventure across exotic landscapes. And it’s true, that is writing—a form of it. What I came to realize over time was that my passion for writing letters, for the articulation of ideas and experiences embedded in those letters was an equally valid form of writing. That’s when my career as a writer really began moving forward—when I accorded importance to that which I naturally did, and did well.

What is the hardest part about writing memoirs, and what is the easiest?

The hardest part about writing memoir is figuring out what part of my life I want to write about, and how best to structure that portion of experience, given what it is I am trying to say. That sounds circular, I imagine, but it’s a key point.

Because memoir is not autobiography—it is not a written record of one’s whole life—the writer must select the elements of memory that when separated out compose some thoughtful whole unto themselves, that tell a story with meaning, that entertain and engage, and complete some arc of experience. That dance between memory and imposing structure on remembered events, trying to sculpt a larger point for a reader is both the most fascinating, and the hardest part of writing memoir.

For me, the easiest part of writing memoir—if there is such a thing—is the crafting of individual sentences once the larger story is blocked in and quite solid. It’s the fine work of considering each word, the imagery, the rhythm of sentences, and the perfecting of it all, sentence by sentence. That is work many people loathe, but I love it, and for me it is fun, and relatively easy.

What top three tips about writing memoirs can you share with writers?

  1. Select some portion that is worthy of exploration. Avoid the pitfall of trying to write about your whole life (and that of your forbears).
  2. Craft a voice that captures readers. Learn the power of language itself to shape that voice.
  3. Tell your truth. In other words: Be authentic. Anything less will produce a mediocre product.

What are you working on now?

A new work of literary nonfiction that combines two narrative lines—a journey my parents took in Europe right after the end of World War II, and a love affair in my life with a man who lives in Europe.

I am fascinated with the fact that stories shape people’s lives. That sounds like a simple sentence, but truly “getting” the insight that stories—the narratives that occupy our minds and guide our choices—shape our day-to-day realities is anything but simple. The narrator of my new work is opening to that dawning awareness.

Let’s get to know you on a deeper level. What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?

Peace. Quiet. Beauty. Birds help, and the capacity to make a stiff cup of tea.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

To be a seer—to see events that are coming.

Quick writing test! Use the following words in a sentence: discombobulated, safety harness, and inch worm.

Edward, the inch worm, felt discombobulated because the safety harness the townsfolk had given him to aid with his trek up the sheer stone face of the looming, ice-capped peak that threw its grim shadow across the town was too big for his mid-section, and he was fighting now—despite his methodical movement, which always calmed him—a creeping notion of panic.

Wow! What a sentence! Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Let's hear your shout outs.

My thanks always go to the same crowd of people who love me and are always there for me: Gene Dieken, Georganne O’Connor, Karli June Hansen, Kathy Hansen Archibald, Alexia LaFortune.

And finally, where can people find you and your books online?

People can find me at my website: They can e-mail me there:

Shimmering Images: A Handy Little Guide to Writing Memoir is available from your favorite bookseller—your independent bookstore,, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or from St. Martin’s Press, the publisher.

Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills can be purchased on line at, or by ordering from me at Hardcover and tradepaper copies are available.

Lisa, thank you so much for letting us get to know you and telling us about your books. Be sure to let us know when your next book is out!

1 comment:

CherylAnne Ham said...

What a great interview. I think it takes a truly brave soul to write memoir.