[Interview by Lisa Hendey, owner of CatholicMom.com]
While we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in person, I have “known” Lisa Barker since the early days of CatholicMom.com. “Little Mom”, as she is known around the boards at the Catholic Mom Community, has been a source of inspiration, of friendship and of entertainment in my life as I’ve had a front row seat to watch her writing grow and flourish as she has shared her writing her at CatholicMom.com. With the recent release of her novel Inheritance, Lisa turns a new page in her career, entering the world of fiction. I’m pleased to share my recent conversation with Lisa Barker and to recommend Inheritance for mature readers.
Q: Congratulations on the publication of your latest book, Inheritance! First of all Lisa, could you share a bit of background about yourself and your family for our readers?
A: Thank you, Lisa. It took a lot of work to get Inheritance published.
I am a long-time writer of fiction, going back to high school where I fell in love with writing and then went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State. I knew only that I wanted a home of my own, a family and to write. That has translated to who I am now, a stay-at-home mother of four, married to the love of my life and always writing in some form or another. I have previously written short stories and self-published two humor books based on a column I wrote for five years about the antics of my children when they were much younger.
Being a mom became my life a few years after college when I was blessed with twins. I started writing Inheritance when the twins were four. It has taken me thirteen years of writing and revision, through major upheavals in my life to get the book to a place that satisfied me and that I hoped would grip readers and keep them reading.
Throughout the years, I kept returning to Inheritance because I could not forget the characters and I could not bring myself to throw the novel away. It had to be written; I had to tell the story of these characters.
The major events in my life that I worked around included a divorce, a brief stint as a homeless single mom, re-marriage, a fourth baby, an annulment of the first marriage, another baby, the degenerative and terminal illness of my youngest daughter and her death and all the ordinary busy-ness of raising five children. You can see that I not only had crosses to bear, but mortal sin to resolve and major growing in the faith. I’ve come to understand that my ‘addiction’ to the characters over the years is based on my own need for acceptance, mercy and love. I may have written and finished the first draft thirteen years ago, but it took a decade of conversion in me to work through revisions and give these characters their happy ending.
Q: Please accept my condolences on the passing of your lovely daughter. You have been in our prayers. How has your faith supported you during this difficult time?
A: It hasn’t been my faith, but the faith of my Catholic mom friends on CMOMC.org, the faith of people who attend Mass every week and the faith of the Church and Her saints that has kept me going. Right now, I stand figuratively in a desolate place where I feel that cool, raw wind of doubt lash at my face tempting me, but I feel the verdant strength of faith in others and it calls me to Jesus again and again. It is the Communion of Saints and Jesus’ Real Presence that saves me.
A friend offered to pray me through ‘the valley,’ and when she said this I immediately thought of Psalm 23. I am in the valley of the shadow of death, but the Lord is with me and that wind of doubt cannot claim me, but I can see the path where you cross over and disbelieve. And yet, I know my baby girl is enjoying the beatific vision now…and she prays for me.
Q: Inheritance is a departure from your past two books – why this genre at this time in your life? Can you share the basic plot of the book?
A: When I write fiction, it always involves a love story. I have long been a fan of romance and that is what Inheritance is, a boy-meets-girl story. And since I had been working on it for the past thirteen years, it’s not really a departure for me though it is perhaps a surprise to others—yet hopefully not a shock—especially for people who have read my Jelly Mom humor column. Inheritance is really an obsession only those closest to me have known about.
When I retired the Jelly Mom column, I knew it was time to dedicate myself to finishing Inheritance. Writing as a copy-writer, then as a columnist and certainly as a member of the Catholic Mom Community (CMOMC.org) gave me the experience, confidence in my writing, spiritual growth and encouragement to finish.
Inheritance is about two people who have come from the most difficult childhoods, meeting, falling in love and working their way toward marriage armed with growing faith.
Joe Taylor has been sober and chaste for the past four years, but on his 34th birthday he is the same age his father was when he took his own life. Joe is struggling with that memory. On this particular night he returns to the party scene prepared to throw it all away. He meets Wendy, a very sober and innocent young lady who happens to be visiting her sister, the host of the party, that night.
It is the most unlikely meeting, but for Joe it is everything, it is hope, and it derails him from the self-destructive lifestyle he was prepared to take up again. He falls in love with Wendy, she falls for him as well, and they grapple with what it means to love someone and be loved, both coming from alcoholic families and Joe being a dry, but recently fallen, alcoholic himself. Both must deal with the way their childhoods have made an impact on their adult lives and with family members that are not supportive of them. In this, they regain their faith and reach a point where healing can begin.
Q: This new novel bears a “mature” rating for some of the content depicted, but has a deeper meaning and message. Why the “R” rating and why are these elements fundamental to the story you’re telling in Inheritance?
A: First of all, I absolutely did not want anyone who has read anything I have written before to expect G rated material. I want people to know that up front and I tried to make that clear with an “R” rating and the blurb on the back of the book. I especially do not want moms allowing their teens to read the book without their consent. My teens, both seventeen, are not allowed to read it yet and this mainly has to do with the first chapter of the book. It deals with Joe’s very dark state of mind, his struggle and, in part, his consent to the temptation to get drunk and have sex.
From the beginning, I knew this character was in a dark place mentally and he needed to be there so that hope would be a bright contrast to despair.
Also, there are at times the usage of strong language and flashbacks to show abuse Joe suffered in his childhood.
But this is not a bodice ripper, nor is the plot driven by sexual tension as romances tend to be these days. Sharon Cummings of CMOMC.org said that the book is clean and refreshing.
What I have is a man in a very dark place who needs to come to the light and for that, I rated it “R”.
Besides, in my perfect world, authors would have the courtesy of rating their own books before you read them (especially if they deserved a “mature” rating) so you’d be prepared up front and know what you were going to put into your mind ahead of time. I took a chance with the rating, and may lose some readers, but hopefully gain their respect and the respect of my audience. That’s important to me.
Q: What have you enjoyed about the adventure of writing fiction? Who are some of your favorite novelists and how have the impacted upon your writing?
A: I enjoyed these characters taking over and demanding to be heard…even though it drove me crazy at times, because when I first started writing Inheritance, especially with Joe’s character, I had no idea what to do with him because I couldn’t relate to his experiences. But, I could relate to grappling with an addictive personality, mortal sin, struggling for intimacy and needing and seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Hemingway was a favorite of mine in high school and college. He understood dark places. But can I write like him? No, not in the least. I am very much my own voice.
I like Stephen King’s writing for the stream of consciousness that he does so masterfully.
And I have to say that Harlequin’s Steeple Hill Love Inspired series has influenced me because those books have shown that you can write about love and not leave God out of it…except I want to have Catholic characters and the freedom to write a little more than just boy-meets-girl if the characters take me there.
Q: What’s next personally and professionally?
A: Professionally, my readers have been requesting a sequel to Inheritance, which I am inclined to oblige.
Personally, I am going to enjoy my children at home this summer. My twins are seventeen and this is their last summer as high school students. My oldest son is fourteen and will be starting high school in the fall – a huge milestone. Not only is he maturing, he’s growing taller than me! And my youngest, whom I homeschool, will be starting third grade and he’s becoming more worldly by the day, so I think I will just take my time and enjoy my kiddos.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?
A: Right now you can buy Inheritance in paperback through Lulu.com for $11.89 or download a .pdf version for $7.99. Details and reviews can be found here: http://www.lisabarker.com
Inheritance will be available through Amazon.com later this year. I would also like to create a Kindle version and will be working on that after the book is available through Amazon.com.
Interview by Lisa Hendey, owner of CatholicMom.com and author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.