August 04, 2009

Chatting with Lisa Ann Sandell

I'm so excited to present Lisa Ann Sandell, a super-sweet and artsy author whose latest book is so heartfelt and poetic that it spurred blog review after blog review in the weeks before and after the book's release. She's so down-to-earth and creative and is the author of the verse novels The Weight of the Sky, Song of the Sparrow, and her latest project (in prose), A Map of the Known World.

I asked her a handful of questions, and her answers are just so lovely (and I have to admit, I was waiting on those answers very eagerly). Lisa is so humble and that shines through in her responses. It's a fascinating (and fabulous) interview, and it's one of those things that you have to sit down and savor -- and enjoy. So here she is.

1. What made you decide to write A Map of the Known World as prose (rather than as a verse novel)?
When I set out to write A Map of the Known World, I knew I wanted to try writing in prose. I just wanted to experiment, to play, to try something different. And as I wrote, the prose (as opposed to verse) felt more natural for this story.

2. What's your thought process for writing a novel? How much of the story do you plan?
I am an outliner. I outline as much of the story at the start as I can. Sometimes I’ll outline the whole thing, knowing that much of the story is likely to change as I write. With A Map of the Known World, I pretty much outlined up until the dance. And I knew that I wanted to end with the art show. The middle bits changed and grew as I went and as I got to know Cora and the other characters better.

3. What was your reaction to finding out that Map was featured in "Seventeen"?
I was gobsmacked, shocked, thrilled, super excited and amazed! I thought it was the coolest thing, since I used to read and subscribe to Seventeen, to actually see one of my books featured in it.

4. Your covers are beautifully simple. How much input do you have in the process of creating a cover, and how did the cover of A Map of the Known World come to be?
I have to say, the covers for each of my books are gorgeous. I had nothing to do with any of them, and can only express gratitude for the brilliance of the art directors and editors who worked on the books. A Map of the Known World has an interesting story—the art director, Elizabeth B. Parisi, knew of an artist Leo Sewell ( who sculpts with found objects. She had seen one of his pieces, a giant red apple (, and used that as the basis for the heart that’s featured on the cover. She got permission from Leo to have a photograph of it repainted in the shape of a heart by the artist Tim O’Brien, and I think this image suits the book so perfectly and so beautifully. I love it.

5. Has the response to your books been what you expected?
I feel really lucky, because I think my books have been well-received overall, and I hear from my readers. I get emails and letters, and nothing makes me feel as good as hearing from the people who read my books, connect to the stories and characters and want to share that experience with me. It is one of the most amazing sensations I imagine life can offer.

6. What's the worst part of writing?
The worst part of writing is the sitting at the desk, alone, and just doing it. It’s really hard, at least for me, to sit my butt down in the chair and get started. I love coming up with excuses not to write—I have to do research, I have to clean the apartment, I have to alphabetize all of my books by author, then again by title, I have to walk my dog…you get the picture.

7. From where do you pull inspiration? How do you come up with the ideas for new books?
The inspiration for each of my books has come from a different source. My first novel, The Weight of the Sky, was the most autobiographical. I was had spent time in Israel during and after college, and those experiences had such a deep impact on me, I had to write about them to really understand and process what had happened to me. Sarah’s story is not mine, but there are great similarities. Song of the Sparrow came about because I’ve always had a deep fascination with the stories of Camelot and King Arthur, and one day, when I was studying in London, I ducked into the Tate Gallery to escape a cold, dreary rain. As I was wandering the halls of the museum, I turned a corner and happened upon this startling, stunning painting of the Lady of Shalott (by John William Waterhouse, 1888). She was so beautiful and tragic looking, and I knew she had a very sad story. So, I wanted to try to retell this part of the Arthurian legend from Elaine’s (the Lady of Shalott) own perspective. It’s hard for me to really pinpoint one source of inspiration for A Map of the Known World. Cora’s story just sort of came to me. I think a lot of it had to do with my grandparents’ passing away and my own sculpting work. My art had helped me deal with their deaths, and it was such an important part of their lives, as well as my own, so I wanted to explore and honor that.

Thank you so much, Lisa!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have that Lady of Shalott painting! I'm looking at it right now!