An Interview with Lissa Staley
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
Technically I was the paid staff on this project. How awesome is my job? Working with writers in our community is one of my favorite things. I love bringing solitary writers together to learn from each other, giving people opportunities to shine, and creating something tangible to showcase their talents and efforts.
What do you like about the premise and characters of this year’s Community Novel Project Speak Easy?
Taking Aimee’s idea and working it through the first several chapters gave us a strong premise, but we knew that the real plot would develop in the middle chapters. It’s hard to let go and give each writer space to create their own vision to advance the story. But it’s worth it!
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
I panicked, trying to decide whether Julia was really dead, and what to do next. Paul had tied up most of the loose ends in Chapter 19 so that I could write a satisfying ending. And then he left me with a possibly dead main character! After several attempts to write a deathbed scene with Julia and Ronni and Pete talking, I decided that Julia has actually died in Chapter 19, and I focused on dealing with the consequences of that situation.
Any memorable stories to share about your writing experience?
When it came time to write, I struggled to immerse myself in the story, with the distractions of life and work and family. I had to intentionally create time and space to write, at the expense of everything else. I was reminded how crucial it is that efforts like NaNoWriMo or Community Novel Project give writers the purpose and the deadline to devote some of their precious time to writing. As I tried to wrap up the whole novel in Chapter 20, I asked everyone who had contributed to writing or editing for their ideas on a satisfying ending, including my Nana, Zennie Herring. The Epilogue in particular became a multi-author work, with Miranda contributing the perfect closing paragraphs to our novel.
What have you learned about writing fiction from participating in this project?
Whether it is a single-author work or a community novel, each chapter has a specific function in the broader story. While I am not usually big on outlining in advance, I acknowledge that sticking to a broad plot outline like the one we used in this project will help me to better structure my own novels in the future. Serving as project manager has given me invaluable experience on the interactions between writers and editors and publishers. Each has their role to play, and I hope that the library can continue to help writers find resources and connections to support their own projects.
What is your writing background? What do you usually write? How was this project different?
I’ve been writing first drafts of novels for Nanowrimo each November since 2003, but for me the joy is in the creating and I rarely reread and never revise what I’ve written. Each November, I try to write something new and different. I always want to experiment with a new genre or technique. And then I end up writing a romance. The editing and publishing aspects of this project are the most challenging for me, and I was grateful for those who collaborated on editing.
Lissa Staley served as the Project Manager for SpeakEasy, while everyone else did the hard work. She has written ten different first drafts as part of National Novel Writing Month, every November since 2003. The Community Novel Project is the most stressful and wonderful thing she has ever done, outside of parenting. In addition to serving as the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Topeka, she also works as a Book Evangelist and Librarian at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.