In the FAQ section of your website you give advice to aspiring writers. You say that writing is hard and that there are a lot of disappointments. What was your personal experience when you started writing? Was it difficult for you to get published?
When I started writing during and after college in the early 1990s, I had high expectations. After the rejections started rolling in, I realized I didn’t quite have what it takes to be a writer. So I didn’t write anything for ten years. When I started writing the second time in 2002, I was more determined to succeed. I knew there would be rejection, and every time I received a rejection letter for my work, I allowed myself to feel bad about it…for five minutes. And then I sent my work to someone else. In 2006 I wrote my first novel. I received over 70 rejections from agents before I put it aside. But I kept writing through that process and had written another book. Unfortunately, that second book was…just…bad. I never sent it anywhere. It’s very hard to spend all that time writing something and then admitting to yourself that it’s not good enough. Luckily, while I was writing it, I got the idea for the third book. I wrote it feverishly in seven days, revised it over the next few months, and managed to get an agent right away—my dream agent. He sold it to Simon & Schuster, and that book was called WAKE, the first in a trilogy.
What drove you to start writing YA literature?
I don’t know. Looking back, much of my writing, including many, many short stories, included young people as the pivotal characters. It felt very natural for me to write about them. I never really thought about it – it just happened. I think the teen years are the most interesting of all age groups and offer a lot of potential for angst, drama, love, failure, and success.
You were introduced to us in Spain thanks to the WAKE trilogy. The protagonist, Janie, has the power to step into other people’s dreams. How did you come up with the idea of this power? Did you think about it as a curse, or as a gift?
I got the idea from a dream. I dreamed that I was inside my husband’s dream, watching what he was dreaming about. I woke up and wrote it down, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it—what would it be like for a person to go into others’ dreams? At first I thought it was a gift. When I thought about it further, I decided it would be a curse. But it could be a curse used for good.
Now a trickier question: if Janie could enter her creator’s dreams, what would she find?
A lot of strange things! Actually, some of my dreams are written into the WAKE trilogy. The dream Carrie has in WAKE was a recurring nightmare I had when I was a kid. The dreams written in the early chapters of GONE came from my psyche as well.
Later on came Cryer’s Cross, which made it quite clear that you are drawn to the thriller genre. How did you create Cryer's Cross, the village? What did you want to show with that kind of isolated and almost suffocating atmosphere?
I wanted a small, close community where everyone knows each other. I have a friend who grew up in a small farming community outside of Bozeman, Montana, and I remembered the way she described it. It was a perfect setting for the book, so I created a fictional name for the town. When things go wrong and people start making accusations among friends they’ve known all their lives, it really ramps up the emotion.
Your latest novel published in Spain is Dead To You. An unusual novel that tells a very powerful story. Where did the idea of a kidnapped boy coming back home years later come from?
Dead To You was inspired by a true story of a missing boy that I read about in The New Yorker magazine, called The Chameleon.
And after warning our readers that the next question contains spoilers of the novel… we cannot help but wonder: why did you choose to end the book that way? Did you know from the beginning this was the only way to end Ethan´s story or was it something that came to you as you were writing?
I knew pretty early on while writing the book that it would end that way. It was heartbreaking, and I don’t say that lightly. I even attempted to write a couple more chapters about what happened after, but they were unrealistic and they cheapened the story, so I threw them out. I think if readers really think the story through, and maybe re-read to see the clues throughout, they will agree that it’s the only way the story can and should end.
Recently we have come across the covers of Crash, Bang and Gasp (the Visions series). Simple yet stricking, these books (not yet translated into Spanish) have peaked our curiosity. What can you tell us about this new series?
The Visions trilogy is like the WAKE trilogy in that it’s paranormal (visions vs. dreams) and the main character has a secret that sometimes feels like a curse. Also, there’s a love story that develops throughout each trilogy. But the storylines are very different. In WAKE, Janie is an only child who lives with her alcoholic mother. In CRASH, Jules lives with her family above their Italian restaurant, and her best allies are her older brother Trey and younger sister Rowan (and together they are hilarious). I really wanted to write a series where siblings were friends, not enemies. I don’t think there are a lot of books out there like that.
You have written both in first and in third person, from girls and from boys’ points of view. Which one do you feel more comfortable using? Has it ever been hard for you to find the voice of one of your protagonists?
I like them all, and I like varying them—it keeps things interesting on my end. Finding my protagonist’s voice is probably one of the things that comes easiest to me in the writing process. If my main character is dull, I don’t want to write him/her. They must have something—a spark, or a personality, or a quirk—that keeps me constantly on the lookout for the next surprising thing they will do or say.
Having published a hefty number of novels, and with quite a few more in the works, how does Lisa McMann view the current YA landscape? What genre do you think will follow the vampire and dystopian trends?
I think the YA landscape is constantly evolving, and I wouldn’t dream of predicting where it’ll go next. The great thing is that there is much variety in YA. You can find romance, mystery, thrillers, science fiction, horror, fantasy, dystopian, paranormal, realism, speculative fiction—you name it, and you’ll find great, great books in each category.
Do you read YA novels? Would you please recommend us some of your personal favorites?
I do read a lot of YA. Recently I’ve read and loved Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.
The must-ask question: what projects are you working on right now?
I’m not sure if my Unwanteds series is available in Spain – the first three books are out in North America now. Book 4 will be out in September, and I’m writing book five right now. It’s a dystopian fantasy series that’s a bit different from my other books, and I really love writing it. It’s about a world where teens who are caught doing creative things are sent to their deaths. Luckily, the man who is responsible for killing these teens is secretly saving them and keeping them hidden in his magical world called Artimé, teaching them to use their creativity to do magic, both for fun and as weapons in case they ever get discovered.
And, to put an end to this interview: you are a tireless worker, a woman with a limitless imagination and a writer whose novels have been read all over the world. What is the next literary goal you would like to reach?
I did one book signing event in Madrid when I was there on vacation with my family right before Cryer’s Cross came out in Spain. My next goal -- I would love to write a book that is so well-loved internationally that I would be forced to do a world book tour. I would definitely love to visit Spain again!