Thursday, April 12, 2012

Author Interview With the Inspirational Lisa de Nikolits

We have been so fortunate to have some wonderful authors join us to discuss different genres and writing styles the last few weeks. Today is very special for me because I have a fellow Canadian author visiting us and she is so inspirational. Lisa de Nikolits is an incredibly eclectic author with a wide range of projects out there. She’s visiting us today to discuss her new book West of Wawa, as one of her stops on her Blog Tour through WOW-womenonwriting. But many other tidbits to share with us too so let’s get started!

Grab your cup of coffee (or whatever your drink of choice is) and enjoy your in-depth chat with Lisa.

CHYNNA: Lisa, I’m so happy you could join us here today. Welcome! Please introduce yourself to our readers.

LISA: Hello to everyone, I’m delighted to be here – thank you very much for having me! I’m originally from South Africa but I’ve lived in Canada since 2000. I came here after living in Australia for two years and I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay or continue a world trip and end up back in Australia, but then I fell in love with Canada. I live in the Beaches area in Toronto and I’m married to a wonderful man, a photographer, and we have the privilege of taking care of the hairiest cat in the world, Isabella Creamy Diva. Honestly, she sheds enough in a week to clothe two lamas. Apart from writing, I love guitar playing (I’m learning to play the classical guitar), knitting (I knit very long scarves and then sew them together to make blankets), I’m a total chocoholic and I love Tim Hortons’ coffee and grande lattes from Starbucks (such a guilty pleasure!). I very much enjoy the Canadian winters and am regretful that we had so little snow in Toronto this year. I also like to ride my bike and take photographs. I’m also a spiritual being in that I truly feel that our lives have a wonderful purpose and meaning and that we’re all connected in the spirit of love (even if it doesn’t feel like that sometimes, particularly on a grumpy Monday morning!)

CHYNNA: Oh my goodness! You are a true Canadian with your love of Tim Hortons and your love of winter! HA! Although I can’t share your sentiments about winter (I truly hate the cold) I completely agree with you that we are all connected. That’s beautiful. Have you always been a writer or did you, as many of us have, fall into it later on?

LISA: I’ve always been a writer. It was sort of a given in the family that I would write. I wrote and self-published a book in my early twenties, Single Girls Go Mad Sooner. At that time, self-publishing was pretty awful (that was in 1992). The book wasn’t edited properly or proofed and I’m glad to say that it isn’t possible for anyone to get hold of a copy! I’ve always written—novels, short stories and poems. There wasn’t much of a market in South Africa back in the 90’s and then, when I went to Australia and subsequently came here, my writing was put on hold for a while. My, it all started up again in earnest with West of Wawa (my current, and second novel.)

CHYNNA: Goodness! I didn’t even know they had the self-publishing services in the ‘90’s! How brave were you to get out there on your own! Now, as you mentioned, you are originally from South Africa. Have any of your projects been inspired from your earlier experiences there?

LISA: Hmm, good question! One of the novels that I’m currently working on with my publisher is a murder mystery that is set in Namibia and I do draw from my life in Africa for backstories and tone of voice. However, I went on a trip through Namibia and the skeleton of this book is largely based on that journey. Of course the story is entirely fictitious as are the characters (and most of them are Canadian, with only one South African). Neither The Hungry Mirror (my first novel) nor West of Wawa draw on my experiences in South Africa in anyway and another other project that I’m working on, A Glittering Chaos, features a German woman who goes to Las Vegas. So, generally speaking I’d say that my writing isn’t inspired by my earlier experiences there – well, not to this point anyway! Who knows what might pop up, needing to be written!

CHYNNA: I think that would be a great idea. You’ll have to keep us posted if that idea sneaks into a future project. Okay, you’re here today to chat with us about your wonderful new novel West of Wawa. I’d love for you to tell us a bit about this book and how it came to be.

LISA: Firstly, thank you very much for liking the book! West of Wawa is a gritty story about girl who backpacks across Canada, travelling by Greyhound. She learns a lot about herself, she makes a whole lot of mistakes but she also makes some good decisions and some stalwart friends. The novel is about enjoying adventure in life and how the choices that we make affect further choices down the line. A central theme is of finding happiness in our lives, even when it seems like things have gone horribly wrong in the most unfair of ways.

I did the journey across Canada myself (on a bus!) after I’d been here for a year and a half. I kept a travel journal but didn’t envisage that my jottings would ever come in handy for a novel. I started work on the novel itself after I was laid off from what I thought was going to be the job of my dreams. I was drowning my sorrows by shopping for vintage clothes in Kensington Market (an excellent thing to do – lose your job, head out and spend money!) in Toronto when I heard a couple of guys talking about their manuscripts and I thought to myself “hey, I used to write novels!” And I dashed home to start work immediately.

I did have a couple of first-draft novels under my belt. God’s Day Off was one, and I had another book which I later rewrote and became The Hungry Mirror. I had also written dozens of short stories but I hadn’t done anything with any of them.

So, there I was, sad and unemployed when I remembered how much I loved to write and I rushed back home and pounded out the first draft of West of Wawa. The book has changed entirely since that first draft, apart from the scenery descriptions which I kept. I am always trying to learn and grow with my writing so I had to get rid of the original plot and all the characters that came with it. And I am so glad I did! I love Benny and her crew!

CHYNNA: Me too. It’s always difficult when you have to scrap and start over. But what a great decision on your part to do just that! What I love about your characters is that they are unique but flawed—like most of us. What is your process for coming up with and connecting to your characters?

LISA: Characters are funny things! I truly believe that they exist out ‘there’ or maybe that’s actually ‘in here’. My process is very much one of if the ‘shoe fits’. It’s as if the story is the shoe and I wander around trying it out on different people and see who fits. But that said, I sometimes change the shoe, which means that the characters also have to change. I think the most important thing that I’ve learned about my characters is that I need to let a lot of them go. There are so many that I’ve loved but I had to let them go, and breaking up with one’s characters can be really heartbreaking. But if a character doesn’t add to a story then you have no choice but to audition for a new cast. And that’s what I do. I question, I prod, I probe, I test them in situations and I love it when they make mistakes! You are so right Chynna, mistakes are so very human – we barrel along and we try to do the best we can but we make mistakes and our lives are shaped, not by those mistakes but by how we deal with them. I love seeing how my characters deal with their mistakes.

CHYNNA: What a fantastic analogy. I just love your shoe theory. And it’s funny because I totally believe that we are shaped by how we face and deal with the hurdles we face in life. And our characters should reflect the same thing. You’ve certainly done a great job in West of Wawa. As you’ve already touched on, you have a tremendous amount of projects which are quite eclectic. Can you talk to us about the different areas you’ve dabbled in? Which is your favorite?

LISA: Yes, I do have a lot of eclectic projects, you’re very right! I am working on three novels right now, The Witchdoctor’s Bones (the murder mystery set in Namibia), A Glittering Chaos (the German woman who goes to Las Vegas and whose life changes irrevocably after that) and another book called Between The Cracks She Fell (about a young woman who loses her job and her boyfriend and her home and ends up living in an abandoned building). I’ve been working on The Witchdoctor’s Bones for nearly five years now and my publisher is very enthusiastic about it. I’ve been working on A Glittering Chaos since last October (that book just poured out of me! It was a very intense and rather weird experience.) I’ve been working on Between The Cracks She Fell for three years – that poor baby keeps getting left behind as other books have needed my attention.

 And I also published The Hungry Mirror in 2010 (a very dark book on eating disorders and body image, largely based on my experiences in the world of art directing fashion magazines) and of course, there’s West of Wawa.

I can’t see any linking themes to my writing because (as you noticed!), all the stories are very different to one another. However, each book does feature a strong heroine and (without giving any plot spoilers) I do like my ladies to prevail!

I love weirdness in life. I look for it and I beckon it to inspire me with characters that are different but real. I work very hard to make sure that my characters, while unusual, are believable. I like them to be entertaining and yet inspirational. Chatelaine called West of Wawa a book for any one whose ever had a moment of doubt and I loved that because that’s exactly what I wanted the book to be – a good story that inspires people to know that good can come of their lives even if they make mistakes along the way.

And which one is my favourite? Ah, I love them all equally!

CHYNNA: All of those projects sound amazing. You will definitely be making my ‘To Read’ pile much taller. HA! You know, I also love weirdness in life and bringing topics that I think should be talked about more into my stories. Bravo to you on being brave enough to touch on the things you do in your books and to have strong female protagonists. It’s so wonderful to see that. Now can you tell us about your writing regimen? How do you and your muse work together?

LISA: I love this question! Ah my dear sweet enthusiastic ever-present muse! She’s great, she’s constantly on the lookout for new ideas and she never sleeps which means sometimes I don’t either. She’s super vigilant and she picks up on the smallest of details and she questions me a lot:

Muse (while I am trying to sleep): Why did you have your character paint the house white?’
Me: I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention to her house colour. It’s just paint. It doesn’t really matter.
Muse: Of course it matters. It’s not an insignificant detail, it points to how she’s becoming empowered – so you can’t just let her paint her house white!
Me: Okay, you’re right. Can you remind me in the morning?
Muse: What am I? Your assistant? Get up and make a note now!

I work a full time job as an art director and so I have to be a very diligent time manager. As I mentioned, I’m also learning the classical guitar, my cat likes to be showered with affection and it’s nice to be able to hang out with my husband! So I have to manage my time very carefully. I try to work for an hour in the morning before work and then I try to work for two hours at night. I go full speed ahead on the weekends, getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday but I also factor in having a wonderful nap later.

It’s a juggling act for sure but writing is that important to me. And even when I’m busy with my other chores, my muse is gathering ideas and information. I can always rely on her to be chugging away in the background and then, when I sit down, I call upon her and say ‘okay, what’ve you got?’

CHYNNA: I love it! I think our musses would get along very well. And why is it that they feel the need to share ideas when we’re trying to sleep? I’m not sure mine ever rests. Where do you draw inspiration from?

LISA: Everywhere! I read a huge amount. And of course I don’t pull ideas from other people’s stories (that’d be the lowest of the low!) but I do try to imagine following the thread of how they created the story and their characters and I give myself mental exercises i.e. how did they do it? Can I find any clues that will help me understand what led to the character development in their works? I’m always studying other people’s writing and a large part of writing is the formation of ideas which fascinates me. And then, you can have a great idea but can you support it with the flesh and blood of a good story? There’s that to consider too. I think that creativity is like a muscle, the more you flex it, the stronger it gets. I am a little shame-faced to admit that no one’s safe around me! If someone tells me an anecdote or some little thing that happened to them, I instinctively consider how I could and would work it into a story. Every single action, thought and encounter is the potential seed for a story.

For example, the idea for A Glittering Chaos came from a recent trip that my husband and I took to Vegas. He came back from the pool and told me about a woman he had seen in the elevator. He’d been trying to tell her where the swimming towels were kept in the rooms (she was wrapped in a bath towel) and she kept pointing at herself and saying “German, German.” And the whole book sprang just from that. And I am talking about some weird things in this book—a vanished sister, incest, auto-erotic asphyxiation, psychics, cross-dressers, marriages, affairs. It’s hard to believe that all that came from one tiny encounter that my husband had in the elevator, but it did! And where all these characters came, I have no idea!

CHYNNA: Holy cow! That is incredible that you came up with all of that from one small encounter. That’s mind-blowing (and very intriguing, I have to say. You deal with some interesting topics there. LOL!) As someone with so much writing experience, I would love it if you could give our readers your top five suggestions to help writers/authors with their own writing.

LISA: 1. The first one is going to sound so easy but actually, it takes a fair amount of discipline: read your work aloud. You’ll be amazed by what you discover!

2. The second is read, read and never stop reading. Study what you read. Dissect what you read. Imagine yourself creating the characters that you are reading about. Imagine that they’re your characters and that you invented them and then figure out how you did that.

3. Write and don’t read too many style manuals or How-To books – just write! Write and then read your work aloud to yourself and you’ll improve in leaps and bounds.

4. Interact with other writers and find ways of doing this that works for you. For example, I’m no good at writing circles. I’m much too much of a loner. But I love workshops. I think they are such great fun and great for learning. I’m unafraid to read my work out loud to friends and strangers and I’m like a magpie—I pick up shiny new tips everywhere I go! I ask advice from mentors I admire. I’m careful to not make assumptions of anyone’s time but if some piece of advice is on offer, I always try it out. If it doesn’t work for me, then I leave it be. But I always try it. Also, go to book readings, book launches and the like – you pick up amazing tips.

5. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Write it down. Save it. Leave it. Go back to it. Rewrite it. If you hear a new idea or a new style, try it! And…. Write every day. Even if it’s just a note or a small paragraph. And remember, reading about writing isn’t the same as writing – it’s always more important to write!

(I think I squeezed more than my allotted five in there!)

CHYNNA: LOL! That’s okay…the more insight you have to share, the better. LOVE the magpie statement. Those are wonderful tips, thank you for sharing them. Do you have any appearances or other projects you’d like to share with us? Where can we find you out in the World Wide Web?

LISA: I am very easy to find and thank you for asking!
– My website is:
– You can find me on Facebook
Twitter (where I post a piece of writing every day that inspires me)
– I have a book trailer on YouTube.
– And a reading for West of Wawa:

CHYNNA: Thank you for sharing all of that. Well, I can’t believe it but I guess I’m going to have to let you go so you can make it to your next stop. One final question I love to ask all of our guests is what pearls of wisdom you’d like to share with us. I’d be curious, with all of your insight, what yours would be.

LISA: If something is important to you, then you must find a way to do that thing. If you want to write, then you must write. Even if your friends and family think its nothing but a pipe dream that will never see the light of day. Live your dream, even if the dishes go unwashed in the sink and you have dustbunnies the size of cats under your bed. Follow your dream even if you have to tell your friends that you can’t meet them for dinner and they say “oh come on, it’s just an hour…” and if you need to give up TV for a bit and have a sandwich for supper instead of a lovely substantial meal – well then, that’s what you must do!

Because if you don’t take responsibility for making your dreams come true, there’s a very good chance that they won’t. And, since life can be less than fair, there are dreams don’t come true no matter how hard you try but at least your authentic soul will go to sleep happy at night – even if it’s soon awakened by an insomniac muse!

LOL! We’ll send our muses out together so we can get a break, Lisa. I am so delighted to have had Lisa join us here today. What an amazing woman making important contributions to the publishing world. Be sure to visit her at the links above and add her book West of Wawa to your ‘To Read’ pile. You won’t be disappointed. Lisa, good luck to you (not that you’ll need it) and know you are welcome back here any time.

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