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This blog was featured on 10/23/2019
An Exclusive Interview with Lisa Tognola
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
October 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
October 2019

Last month, Lisa Tognola released her novel As Long As It's Perfect and She Writes got the chance to sit down and talk with her about her routine, her new release and her journey as a writer. 

Share your writing routine.

When I was writing my novel As Long As It’s Perfect, I was so excited to write that I would actually rise at 4 or 5 am and jump out of bed to transpose my thoughts to page. At the time I wrote my book I was a stay-at-home mom, and I did much of my writing in my minivan while parked outside my children’s karate classes, piano lessons and girl scout meetings. I live in New Jersey, and in the winter, I wore a ski jacket and wool hat and turned on the car heater at twenty-minute intervals, blasting it just long enough to thaw my fingertips. In the summertime, I parked in the shade and sweated a lot. I don’t write outlines but I keep pads of paper all over my house and in my car and constantly jot down ideas as they pop into my head. Even when jogging or showering, I’m never far from my notebooks. I have some pretty soggy notes to prove it! I When I write essays, I have a bad habit of needing to nail down the first sentence before I can continue with the piece. It’s one of the downsides of OCD. The upside is that I’m persistent.

What’s the first/worst job you ever had?

The worst job I ever head was also the best job I ever had.  It was the worst job because it was a news reporting assignment about a tragic incident that occurred in my hometown, and it was the best job because it was a career break for me. In 2009, a pastor was murdered down the street from my house and I happened to drive right by the scene of the crime on my way home. I contacted the editor of our local newspaper and asked if I could write the story. He said it’s yours if you can hand it in by midnight. I interviewed some local residents, frantically wrote the story, and turned it in at the eleventh hour. I broke the story that made headline news the next day.  It was bittersweet because the events were sad and tragic and scandalous, but covering the story meant that my piece got picked up by Reuters and I got hired by the newspaper. 

Describe your writing style in three words.

Casual. Conversational. Concise.  

What is the first thing you can remember writing?

I remember my first assignment as a news reporter for my the UCSB Daily Nexus, my college newspaper in Santa Barbara, California. It was 1987, and I wrote about sushi’s foray onto campus. The article stands out in my mind because sushi at the dining commons was such a revolutionary idea at the time, and now it is pretty much ubiquitous around the world!

When did you start to feel like a writer?

The day I saw my byline for the first time alongside a photo of myself, I felt like a real writer. I was a stay-at-home-mom when I first started working as a freelance reporter for a local online news site, and when I saw my name in print above my article it didn’t matter to me that I was paying a babysitter more than I was earning. I felt proud and legitimized and it felt good to feel relevant for the first time in a long time.

Was there something about the publishing experience that surprised you?

I was surprised by how widely I’ve connected with readers and how meaningful that has been for me. I sent my book to reviewers all over the country, from Allison in Horseshoe Bend Arkansas to Rosemary in Akien, South Carolina. In the envelope I included a personalized note thanking them in advance for reading and reviewing my book. Allison wrote me back to tell me how much my book resonated with her and how she, like my character Janie, grew up in a Jewish home, attended religious school, had a grandma named Rose and built a custom home. I loved how she connected with my story and took the time to share a part of her life with me. Rosemary’s story is a more serious one and one that I found deeply touching. She told me that she has cancer and that reading my book helped distract her from the physical and emotional hardship of treatment. The idea that my book can serve as a positive distraction from someone’s pain and stress is staggering to me and brings me tremendous joy.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Be passionate. You will eat, breathe and dream your book for a long time, so make sure your project is one that matters to you. Your passion will help energize you and motivate you to keep going when you feel discouraged and want to quit, and trust me, those times will come.  Be patient. An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I took a writing class and we were only allowed to submit ten pages a week so I wrote a good chunk of my book ten pages at a time. So many years passed that by the time I published my book, I’d changed my title four times. Treat writing like a job, because it is one. That means making sacrifices and prioritizing writing over other activities, even chores that you think “must” get done. Your dishes may sit in the sink longer than you’d like and you may not get as much sleep as you’d like and you may not wash your hair as often as you like, but something has to give.

What do you do to help develop your craft?

I’ve taken many writing classes over the years that have taught me the craft of storytelling. I’ve learned not only from my teacher but also from my classmates by reading and analyzing their work and listening to their critiques. I’ve belonged to the same book club for over twelve years and those friends have provided emotional support for me that helps fuel my writing. Being in a book club also forces me to read outside my comfort zone, which helps broaden my mind and my writing. Our last book club pick was Red Notice, by Bill Browder, a memoir about high finance, and it was far outside my usual genre of women’s fiction. Even though it was a book I normally wouldn’t have picked up, I ended up enjoying it more than I expected to and learned something about Russian history and investment banking in the process.  I’m currently reading Light and Dark: An anthology on writing. I find that what inspires other authors is often other authors.

Why is it important for women to share their stories?

It’s important that women share their stories because doing so helps us understand our thoughts and feelings about the people and the world around us. My book is a social commentary on our image-conscious society. You’re not your yearly bonus, you’re not the house you live in, you’re not the lot size you live on. Who and what are we? And how do we fill the huge void that can gnaw at us every day? My book explores themes that I think a lot of women can relate to—longing, desire, and image—how we appear in the world and how we want things because we want to feel good enough. I grew up in a high achieving household with parents who had high expectations—values associated in part with my Jewish upbringing—something I touch upon in my book. I’ve spent my life worried about what people think of me and built my house partly because I wanted to show the world that I’m okay. This book is about my character Janie’s struggle with who she is in the world and how she appears in the world versus how she is really and whether there is a reconciliation with these things.  When is it okay to stop trying to create a certain image? When can I just be who I am?

What’s your favorite way to support other women writers?

She Writes Press has given women a tremendous gift by providing a platform where we can connect—whether on social media or in person at conferences and festivals. I enjoy supporting other women writers by buying their books and also by sharing resources. I went for a walk last week with a local SWP author and it was fun to “talk shop,” share our hopes and fears and brainstorm about how we might collaborate together someday.

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