Friday, March 12, 2021

Lisa Fipps

Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, award-winning former journalist, current director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She’s working on her next novel and several others. Fipps currently lives in Indiana and lived in Texas.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title of my middle-grade novel in verse, Starfish, doesn’t take readers into the story; it piques their curiosity, makes them wonder what it’s about. The title coupled with the gorgeous cover illustration (I absolutely love it) of a girl in a swimming pool lets them know the book is not about the star-shaped sea creature. It’s about a girl. And then they wonder what a girl has in common with a starfish. A good title gets your attention and starts making you think about what’s inside the book. Gets you to read that first page. I used to be a journalist, a writer and an editor. I have lots of practice when it comes to summarizing a story in a catchy or interesting way. One of my favorite headlines, which helped me win a headline portfolio award and made the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, was “Court Upholds Butt Search for Crack.” I usually know from the get-go what a title will be. Just as a journalist can suggest a headline but the copydesk has the final say because of the font size needed based on page placement, an author can suggest a title, but the final decision is left up to the publisher. Fortunately, my editor loved it as well. Readers say once they’ve read Starfish, it’s the perfect title.

What's in a name?

The name of the protagonist in Starfish is Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery-Hofstein. She’s from a mixed-faith family. She’s Christian and Jewish. Eliana is a Hebrew name, meaning God has answered. I chose that name because Ellie’s crying out in so many ways. She’s crying out for people to stop being mean to her. For the pain to stop. Readers can see she’s metaphorically out in the ocean, nearly drowning in the sea of the emotions that comes with relentless bullying: pain, anger, shame, fear, internalized self-hatred, etc. The reader sees her flailing, barely keeping her head above water. But as the author, I knew all of that was all just external conflict. Writers know the real conflict that a protagonist is struggling with and must overcome is internal. Ellie’s actually crying out because there’s a far deeper, darker ocean she’s nearly drowning in; inside she knows she has intrinsic value and worth and yet the world keeps telling her she doesn’t have it – until and unless she loses weight. She cried out. God answered. Character names are important. They can give you insight into their heritage, personality, and more. Some writers are great with coming up with creative, playful names. That’s not me. I lean toward deeper meanings. I like that added layer of depth.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I wrote Starfish because it was the book I needed when I was a kid. From as far back as I can remember, I was always reading, writing, drawing, and listening to music. I always wanted to write books. So teenage Lisa wouldn’t be surprised I wrote a book. She wouldn’t even be surprised I wrote this book. She’d be surprised how honest I was with myself and the readers. Because of various traumatic childhood experiences, Little Lisa/Teenage Lisa were very guarded. And she’d be proud of me for doing the emotional work of facing all that happened to me and doing the writing work of getting it on paper, published, and into people’s hands.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I don’t find it hard to write the beginning of a book or the end. Middles are the hard part. I always know where I want to start and end. Getting from that beginning to that end without getting bogged down in the process – what a lot of industry experts call the mushy middle – is the hard part. When revising, I, like most writers, used to always start on page 1. But then I attended a workshop with Stephen Roxburgh, former senior vice president and publisher of Books for Young Readers at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He gave me some sage advice: Don’t always start on page one; change it up. Today, I might start revising on page 77. Tomorrow on page 29. The next day on page 150. I just randomly scroll down to a page and start from there. The reason why most authors’ work is so good at the beginning but then you get bored by page 100 is because they tend to start every revision on page 1. The beginnings are polished to diamond status Endings are a close second because writers want that final moment to be memorable. Middles are the key. Master your middles.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Not everything that happens to Ellie happened to me as a kid, but a version of everything that happens to Ellie happened to me. So, I very much see a lot of me in Ellie. Personality-wise, Ellie and I rely on humor a lot, we’re both empaths, and we both hate injustice. There’s a lot of Dr. Wood in me as well. I’m always trying to figure out why people do and say things, and why I do and say things. What people say and do – what I say and do – doesn’t matter to me as much as the why. Knowing the why gives you the key to understanding others and yourself. Then you can better communicate with others. And you can change or accept yourself – or both, whatever is needed – to be who you’re meant to be, who you want to be. I’m deeply introspective. Can you tell?

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Art and music influence my writing because they inspire me. When I’m developing a character, I figure out what music they’d listen to and then play it while I write. On my website, you’ll find the songs I listened to when writing Starfish. The main one was "Brave" by Sara Bareilles.
You can be the outcast
or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love,
or you can start speaking up.
Nothing's gonna hurt you the way that words do
when they settle 'neath your skin. …
Say what you wanna say
and let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.
The lyrics get me. Get Ellie. Watching the video is even better because the people literally starfish. Symbols also influence and inspire my writing. For example, next to my desk I have a hibiscus carving hanging above framed quotes about writing. The hibiscus is a symbol of the Rose of Sharon tree I use to sit under while I wrote and drew as a child. One of the quotes is “Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say” by Mitch Albom. Most everything in my home is a symbol of something. Reminders.
Visit Lisa Fipps's website.

My Book, The Movie: Starfish.

The Page 69 Test: Starfish.

--Marshal Zeringue