Interview: Lisa Ann Sandell
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Emergency by Paramore
To date, Lisa Ann Sandell has seen two of her verse novels published: The Weight of the Sky and Song of the Sparrow. Though they take place in different locations and time periods, both stories follow the journeys of the protagonists, strong young women whose physical journeys lead to other types of journeys - emotional, spiritual. Her first prose novel, A Map of the Known World, will be released next April. As the title implies, that too takes its leading character on a memorable trip.
I've traveled very little, but books have allowed me to travel to and from all kinds of places. The Weight of the Sky came backstage with me back in June, while Sparrow accompanied me on a bus ride earlier this year. I recommended Weight to a friend after she returned from her own trip to Israel with a happy heart. While discussing the Lady of Shalott scene from the Anne of Green Gables movie with other friends, I told them about Sparrow. Lisa has been around the world. One conversation with her and you can tell she has a great respect for the places she's visited. Take a trip with us now on the Winter Blog Blast Tour.
The Weight of the Sky was partially inspired a trip you took to Israel as a college student. While writing the book, what weighed heaviest on your heart or mind?
When I finally sat down to write this book, so much had changed for me in terms of the way I thought about Israel since I'd traveled there the first time. After college, I moved back to Israel and worked, and in living there as an adult, many of my ideals and beliefs changed—matured, I like to think. So, it was challenging for me to remember the breathless, wide-eyed infatuation for the land and the incredible sense of belonging I felt when I first visited as a teenager.
Also, I very much wanted to keep politics out of the story; I was really concerned about this and tried to keep it in mind as I portrayed a certain kind of daily Israeli life -- an outsider's daily life.
You've traveled all over the world. What are some of your favorite places? Where do you hope to go next?
Ooh, some of my favorite places? The list is long, and I could go on and on, but I'll try to keep it short here. I think my favorite place is southern Spain—Sevilla if I have to name a specific spot. But I also love the Isle of Skye in Scotland, which I visited when I was nineteen. I traveled there by myself, and I spent three days in relative silence. I only spoke to people to arrange for my room in a hostel, to order food at a local café, and to rent a bicycle. It was so moody and beautiful up there; I got lots of writing and thinking done. Also, I love Mongolia—the terrain is rugged and vast and wild, and when I was there, cheesy as this sounds, I felt like my spirit just opened up.
Next on my list is India. I'm dying to go there.
Your second verse novel, Song of the Sparrow, was inspired by the Arthurian tale of the Lady of Shalott. Had you a longtime fondness for the legend, or did something else prompt you to retell this tale?
I've always loved the stories of King Arthur, ever since I was a little The notion of Camelot and all that Arthur stood for represent the very best of humanity and what we can achieve. It's a very inspiring and alluring mythology.
Telling the story of the Lady of Shalott came to me, because I've always been haunted by that 1888 painting by John William Waterhouse of the Lady, dressed in a flowing white dress, sitting upright in her boat, with this awful, stricken look on her face, as she knows she's on the brink of death. It's awful and stunning, and the first time I saw this painting, I couldn't look away. She's stayed with me. And I always wanted to retell an Arthurian story from a girl's perspective; it's the women in these legends who pretty much get the shaft. They're either helpless and weak or evil and manipulative, for the most part. So, to take this story of a girl who falls in love with Lancelot only to die of a broken heart and turn it on its head and to re-imagine their whole world was great fun.
Rather than being a damsel in distress, Elaine was brave, fiery, and strong, and she soared. What do you think modern girls can learn from her story?
I hope that modern girls take away the fact that we women have as much value as men, and that a girl can be as strong, as smart, as courageous as any man. And when we get into relationships, it should be because the other person recognizes these qualities and appreciates them. I hate the idea of girls being scared to show off their wit and strength.
Do you prefer to write stories set in contemporary days or historical times?
I like both: I love doing research and creating settings and characters based on the past, and so writing historical fiction is very enjoyable for me. But I also love to explore our time, this day and age and to plumb the world and the lifetime I recognize for truths and stories.
Why verse novels? Is it simply your favored writing style?
The Weight of the Sky began as a series of poems that I wrote immediately upon returning from my first trip to Israel, and Song of the Sparrow . . . I don't know - I hadn't intended to write this one in verse at the outset. But Elaine's voice came to me in the verse that became the book's prologue. And once I had that, I knew this was how I'd write her story. My newest book, A Map of the Known World (which is coming out in April) however, is not in verse. So that was an exciting change-up for me. All of this said, whether I write in verse or prose depends on the project.
Would you ever release a book of poetry?
I don't know if I have the nerve. And, besides, I haven't been writing too much poetry lately. Too busy trying to keep up with my deadlines! Still, I'm not ruling it out... maybe somewhere down the line.
You contributed the short story See Me to the anthology 21 Proms. Have you written other short stories? Would you ever revisit those characters for another short short or full-length novel?
I have written other short stories, but none that I've ever tried to publish. It's not my favorite form. I prefer long form writing, novels. I'm not sure I'd revisit the characters from "See Me" either. I'm not adverse to it, but usually, when I begin a project, it starts with a particular character in a particular situation, so I hadn't thought about starting over with these characters afresh. Interesting . . .
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
In no particular order . . .
1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
3. The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen
4. Atonement by Ian McEwan
5. Blubber by Judy Blume
6. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
7. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
8. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
9. Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Visit Lisa's website and blog.
Read my favorite passage from The Weight of the Sky.
Read one of my favorite passages from Song of the Sparrow. (I have many favorite scenes and lines from that title.)
Curious about verse novels? I have an entire booklist dedicated to them.
Today's WBBT schedule:
Mayra Lazara Dole at Chasing Ray
Francis O'Roark Dowell at Fuse #8
J. Patrick Lewis at Writing and Ruminating
Wendy Mass at HipWriterMama
Lisa Ann Sandell at Bildungsroman
Caroline Hickey and Sara Lewis Holmes at MotherReader
A.S. King at Bookshelves of Doom
Emily Wing Smith at Interactive Reader