Q&A with Lisa Ann Gallagher
Before I was an accountant with a little blog, I was a news reporter/anchor for three years in The Black Hills of South Dakota. It’s there that I first met Lisa Ann Gallagher, interviewing her first as source for a local company that contracted women in every profession. As a young journalist, I found Lisa so intriguing; she grew up in Detroit, Michigan, was a female lead-singer in the punk rock scene, and a seasoned author.
Her first novel, thriller ‘Flower of Fire,’ was published October of 2010. Since then, she’s released a collection of poems, a memoir, and her latest book, ‘The Gatherers’ that follows the Ashner family.
Now, I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to interview Lisa yet again, this time about ‘The Gatherers.’
Welcome! For those who are unfamiliar with you as an author, tell us about yourself.
LAG: My name is Lisa Ann Gallagher and I've been my dream to be a published author since I was nine years old. For many years, while I had lots of story ideas, I really struggled to find the motivation to develop a regular writing habit. I was fortunate to find the first in a series of tools to kick-start my motivation and my writing career 12 years ago, and it's been gangbusters ever since. 'The Gatherers' is my fourth published work since 2010. I now make my home in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
You were born in Detroit, the setting for The Gatherers. What is it about the city that gives you so much inspiration?
LAG: I spent most of my life in Detroit until age 23 . I was fortunate to grow up during a time where the city of Detroit was thriving - economically and culturally. Detroit also thrives on local entrepenuerism and ideas. Even the biggest industries (the car business, pizza, mortgages) are those businesses that started right there. Detroit citizens really are invested in their community. You know your neighbors and in true Midwestern fashion, you're not afraid to roll up your sleeves and help one another out when it is needed. Detroit is truly a hard-working and very ethical place, although it isn't painted as such in most media. But Detroit has a dark side as well. When I was growing up (in the 1970’s) there was a serial killer targeting children my age, and it had a profound effect upon those who came of age in that era. We know that there are mysteries, and conspiracies, and that not everyone can be trusted. Detroit also a long history of affiliation with organized crime - dating even before Prohibition, which plays a key role in the story of 'The Gatherers'. There were always movers and shakers in Motown who weren't exactly law-abiding.
You kick off The Gatherers by giving sisters Iva and Lina quite the plot for a difficult relationship. How did you decide how their relationship would be through the book after that?
LAG: I began writing this story more than 20 years ago after the death of my maternal grandparents. I had a sense of who these sisters came from, but I didn't yet have a lot of ideas about the two women until I really sat down and began working on this book (in 2012). I am one of three girls (the eldest) and there are some subtle reflections in particularly the character of Iva toward my sisters. But in many ways I actually felt like Lina and Iva were the two sides of me - Lina being the eldest and most thoughtful, Iva being the wildest and most impulsive. The circumstances that begin the story are entirely fictional but I find that once I created the 'framework' around the story, it was easy to just free-form and let the characters develop. Especially when you have a character like Michael Ashner, their grandfather, who is so powerful and memorable. Anyone attached to this man was going to develop naturally on the page since he would have had such an influential role in their lives.
Throughout the novel, you use Jewish terms and provide definitions for the reader. Why did you feel it was important to provide definitions rather than leaving it to the reader to investigate?
LAG: That was another factor that I didn't plan in advance. As the great-granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, I easily slip into Yiddish vernacular like 'chutzpah' and 'meshugennah' etc. Once I was well into the writing process, I realized that I was creating something that perhaps more people than just my family and closest friends might read. When you grow up in a place like Detroit, you are surrounded by a proverbial melting pot, and it's common to hear words and phrases from many different languages and dialects. But now that I live in South Dakota which is less diverse ethnically, I'm aware that I'm sometimes asked to clarify my language to others and so, as an author, I have become more aware that not everyone has the vocabulary I do. Additionally, I think it's important to emphasize that while Iva and Lina are very modern women, they were influenced greatly by their grandfather and grandmother, who were both immigrants to this country. Iva and Lina therefore maintain the old languages without really thinking about it.
Michael Ashner's has quite the story! Is he based off of someone in your life? If no, how did you create his character?
LAG: Yes - he is based very closely on two people in my life. When I was a teenager I found clippings of newspaper articles hidden in my basement. They were obituaries of a man who died of natural causes in 1972 and who, according to the articles, had led a very colorful life and was connected to the Detroit mob. I had no idea who this person was - I later asked my mother, who explained that this was her maternal uncle. Max Stern was my grandmother's older brother and he had been involved with organized crime since the days of Prohibition. Since he was no longer alive, I had to piece together the story of who he was and what he (allegedly) had done by talking with family members. Essentially, what happened was that I romanticized the story of Big Maxie Stern, and then as I grew older and more mature, I began to wonder - what if I HAD known him? What if someone like that had been influential in my life? What if someone who did bad things, was a good person in your life, someone beloved? Since I didn't know Maxie personally, I could really only rely upon the facts of his life to form the character of Michael Ashner. But somewhere along the line I infused some of the personality of my grandfather onto Michael. That's why he's so loving, and sentimental, and funny in his own peculiar way.
Along with Ashner's story, the reader learns many details of Detroit's colorful history. Why write a novel with historical elements?
LAG: I live very much in both the past and the present. Both are inextricably linked and powerfully relevant. This story really brought my own ancestral history to the forefront, in ways that I'm still processing. I've come to believe that we are each the manifestation of our ancestors' wildest dreams. This is particularly true for women, as no woman has ever had the rights and freedom and power as the current generation does. I truly believe that we have powerful lessons to learn from our own histories, our family's history and even the history of the places where we live and love and work. I remain fascinated by Detroit's history and although I did not intend to create a history lesson, I ultimately couldn't extricate my characters from the place where they lived. Plus, because Michael Ashner was such a powerful and well-connected figure, some of the history does specifically connect to him.
The Gatherers weaves so many character's stories into one. What was your writing process like in order for them to flow on the page?
LAG: I have a unique and specific writing process. I begin each of my novels with a write-a-thon which allows me to create a 50,000 word count story during one month's time. The trick to doing so is that you don't write in sequence, and you don't edit as you write. You just sit down each day and crank out 1600-1700 words - whatever inspires you. That means that once you finish, you have simply a lot of raw material - stuff that might make it into the story, and some stuff that needs to be cut or changed. This is what I did in fall of 2012 when I began actively writing 'The Gatherers'. At the end of that month and completion of more than 50,000 words, I began the real work of writing. That involves first determining key scenes and characters. I ultimately realized that I had 18 scenes that took place during the 'present' of the story along with a good deal of back story and character history. While the back stories were engrossing and fascinating, I knew that I had to construct a meaningful narrative with the three main characters (Iva, Lina and Michael aka Poppy) that was independent of their histories. So I took those 18 scenes and created an appropriate timeline. I then rewrote those scenes, which allowed me to more fully flesh out each of the characters. I then was able to review all of the backstories and additional narrative, and find places to fill them. There was, of course, still editing and cutting but probably less than if I had simply sat down and tried to craft a story around all those histories and memories, amusing and thoughtful though they area.
Not many authors provide a satisfying Epilogue. Why did you feel it was important to tie up loose ends?
LAG: I was about 75% of the way through the writing process when I had a pretty big AHA moment. As a woman with no children, I realized that my story essentially ends when I do. And because my personal story is so reflective of those who came before me and influenced me, it was a very sobering experience. I literally began crying, sitting at my computer, that day when I realized that my writing is really the only full legacy I will leave behind. I have nieces and nephews who I'm sure will remember me fondly but it's not the same thing as creating another generation. At that point, I was doing a read through of my story and I literally said the words out loud "I'm creating the story of the end of a family" and from there, I wrote the epilogue. I don't know where I had planned to leave the story before that epiphany, but I've had several readers tell me how moved they were by that part of the book. It validates, for me, that the characters of Iva and Lina were just as powerful and memorable as the character of Poppy. I knew Poppy was a larger-than-life figure that anyone would remember long after they read 'The Gatherers', but Iva and Lina are (again) the two sides of me. I have left something behind.
Tell us about Evergreen Script Services.
LAG: As a self-published author, I rely upon social media to market my works and to connect with beta readers, proofers and editors, and potential agents. After a few years, friends began to notice my efforts - some of whom own businesses. They began to ask me for advice on using social media to promote their businesses. I began doing some consulting and a little freelance writing, and incorporated Evergreen Script Services in late 2015. My business has grown considerably and organically, to also include email marketing and other content services. Plus, I offer professional development workshops and coaching based on Narrative or Storytelling - how do we create a brand story that connects to our past accomplishments and those clients/customers who are most likely to support our efforts? People can learn more by visiting evergreenscriptservices.com.
Finally, do you have any rituals in your writing process?
LAG: Haha dozens! The greatest lesson I learned in recent years as an author (based on the years before when I couldn't seem to finish a story) was that you don't 'jump ship' when it comes to writing. Finish your story. Harness the other ideas that come along, but finish what you're writing before you move on to the next story. I have a loose-leaf notebook that I keep in my nightstand drawer, with tabbed sections. Each section is a particular story idea. I often get my ideas late at night while I'm laying down and reading, so if something comes to me I just grab the notebook, scribble it down, but I don't let it distract me from my current story project. This past year, after publishing 'The Gatherers' I got a bit tied up with other professional projects, but I already have a 50,000 word count manuscript ready to jump back into. That book is about the remnants of a doomsday cult - a far different story than 'The Gatherers'!
A huge THANK YOU to Lisa for agreeing to be featured on the blog and for putting all my questions of ‘The Gatherers’ to rest. You can follow Lisa on Goodreads and on Instagram @lisa_gallagram.