Long and Short Reviews welcomes Lissa Bryan, whose debut novel Ghostwriter was released by The Writer's Coffee Shop in August. Her next release, The End of All Things, is scheduled for release in January.
I asked her to tell us a bit about Ghostwriter.
After being laid off from the newspaper where she worked as a journalist, and losing her boyfriend in rapid succession, Sara Howell is looking to downsize before her dwindling savings run out. Things are finally starting to look up when she lands a job ghostwriting the biography of a popular politician and rents an isolated island house which turns out to have once been the home of her favorite author, Seth Fortner, who mysteriously disappeared in 1925." Seth suffers from PTSD from his experiences during WWI," Lissa continued. "He was at the Battle of Verdun, arguably one of the most horrific battles in human history. Unfortunately, PTSD wasn’t understood during the time, though from records and stories like Hemmingway’s Soldier’s Home we know there were a lot of veterans affected. They came home to a society that didn’t understand what they’d been through or how it had changed them. Gertrude Stein called it the Lost Generation. Sadly, it’s something that still afflicts veterans today, who may not seek treatment because of the stigma. A reader told me that reading about Seth’s reaction to it helped her understand her own husband, who’d recently returned from a tour overseas. That meant a lot to me."
But when strange things start happening, as objects break, or go missing, and terrifying visions appear, Sara begins to wonder if Seth ever left, or if she is losing her mind.
What happened to Seth is a secret closely guarded by the family to this day, a family that seems to exist under a terrible curse. Through an old trunk of letters she discovers in the attic, Sara unravels the mystery and becomes caught up in a tale of greed, lost love and the horrors of WWI.
When Sara realizes she is not going crazy and that Seth Fortner’s spirit still haunts her new home on the isolated island, she begins to draw him out of his shell bit by bit. She will discover what happened to the idealistic young writer who went to the battlefields of France to save lives, and to his beautiful bride to destroy the love between them, and what led Seth to make a terrible choice which would have consequences that would echo for generations.
They gradually fall in love in their world of dreams, dreams which swiftly become more attractive than reality, as Sara learns from a ghost how to truly live. Will she be the one to break the “Fortner Curse” by helping Seth conquer his demons, and heal both of their hearts in the process?
She's currently working on a historical romance, set in the time of Henry VIII. Lissa began it during NaNoWriMo this year—and got her 50,000 words written—but admitted there's still a lot of novel left to write. Her goal is to have it finished by the end of the year.
In fact, if she could meet anyone in history, it would be Anne Boleyn.
" Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome to marry her had a profound effect on the Protestant Reformation," she explained. "I would want to show her England, show her the country her daughter helped to build into a world power, and all of the biographies written about her. I wonder what her reaction would be to know she is one of the most studied and debated female historical figures. I would ask her if she wanted it, if she actually wanted to be queen or was pushed into the role by her family’s lust for power and wealth. "
She has a large library of reference books, some of which delve into extremely esoteric topics. She also uses the internet extensively, since so many primary source documents are now online through sites like Google Books.
"I spent an evening a few months ago researching the burial of Jane Grey and discovered a delightfully ghoulish report from the Victorian era on the exhumations of graves of historical persons," she told me.
She would also love to go to Britain again—she's only been there once, and with writing about Tudor England it would be invaluable research. She's relying heavily on photographs and paintings for her descriptions of the palaces, but would love to be able to visit them again and add more touches of realism, like pacing off distances and checking out the view from certain windows.
Lissa doesn't remember a time when she wasn't writing stories in her mind—sometimes over a period of years—rewriting them, replotting, using different characters, until she felt it was finished. Then she'd tuck it onto a mental shelf and move on to another story. She would also rewrite books and movies, ending up in the fanfic world.
"I never really considered publishing any of my work. I thought the only way that could happen is if I sent out reams of manuscripts and endured repeated rejections. I’m not bold enough, nor thick-skinned enough, for such endeavors," she admitted. "To say I was shocked when the publisher approached me would be an understatement of epic proportions."
"Do you write in multiple genres or just one?" I asked.
"I write romance, but it’s in many different sub-genres: paranormal, historical, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi … While I don’t think I’d like to write outside of the romance category—I couldn’t see myself writing a murder mystery, for example—I like to play with possibilities within it. Different settings, different time periods, even different universes … wherever my imagination takes me."
Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"
"Keep writing. It’s the only way a writer can ever get better. If you can’t think of anything to write about, write about being unable to think of a topic. Anything—just keep the words flowing. Every time you write, you get practice in piecing sentences together, being more concise, more fluid, more expressive, picking just the right word to convey the proper mood.
"I used to correspond with a published author and she gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten: Every word in a story must drive the plot forward. If it doesn’t reveal something important about the characters or plot, it’s just dead weight.
"Stephen King calls it 'killing your darlings.' No matter how beautifully written a sentence or paragraph may be, it should be cut if it doesn’t move the plot along. It’s sometimes very difficult, and you may be tempted to make excuses for it, but keeping the story moving is a writer’s primary job, even though we may sometimes want to linger."
About the Author:
To my surprise, one of my stories became popular and that brought me to the attention of a publisher, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, the original publishers of Fifty Shade of Grey. They asked me if I’d ever considered writing a novel. I had plenty of them tucked away up in my head, but I’d never imagined I’d actually publish one.