Your book is based on one of my absolute favorite places, Yosemite National Park. I was first drawn to your book by this quote about Half Dome:
“I was struck by the cliff's peculiar shape, by its sheer expanse of rock and its towering, rounded face. For the first time in my life, I felt awed, and speechless, and completely overwhelmed by the idea that something so beautiful had existed here this whole time, just beyond my reach.”
Can you share a little bit about your time in Yosemite, and how it inspired you?
Yosemite is definitely one of my favorite places as well, and I’m so honored you enjoyed my quote enough to pick up your own copy of Essence.
Simply put, Yosemite National Park is one of the most awe-inspiring and gorgeous places I have ever been in my entire life. I lived and worked there during the summer of 2004, and my time in the park shaped who I am today more than nearly any other experience I have ever had.
I accepted a sight-unseen job at the park’s concessionaire during my senior year of college, and I showed up with a cowboy hat, a backpack, and no idea what I would actually be doing that summer. Human Resources assigned me a front desk job at one of the park’s hotels, and they told me I would be sharing a 10’x10’ tent cabin with a roommate for the next four and a half months. (Lucky for me, that roommate ended up becoming one of my very best friends—and the real-life inspiration for my Essence character Kadence. We also had such an amazing time that summer that it was easy for us to forget how few possessions we actually owned.)
Yosemite’s landscape certainly inspired my story, but the other park employees who also lived there were even more inspiring to me. Some were there because they loved the place, others were there for the money, and still others were there because they felt like they had to run away from something. The dynamic of so many people mixed together planted the seeds for many of Essence’s characters’ interactions, and I feel like these interpersonal relationships are my very favorite part of the story.
In the story, the main character of Autumn is searching not only for herself, but her own strength as well. She grew up in a cult, and after escaping it, finds herself in what might be another cult masquerading as a group of wild-spirited thrill seekers. I think a lot of people can relate to this scenario. So often we escape one situation only to find ourselves repeating the patterns somewhere else, against a different backdrop. What advice would your main character, Autumn, give to people who are stuck in a situation or set of patterns?
Thank you so much for noticing the similarities between Autumn’s struggles and many other people’s struggles. I purposely left Autumn a little bit unpolished in this book, because I wanted readers to experience her insecurities and mistakes first-hand. I also wanted them to identify with the root of her choices, even when they didn’t always agree with them.
Although Autumn’s and my personalities are quite different, we both struggle with trying to be the person we think we should be instead of being the person we actually are. Sometimes, we become so consumed with pleasing others that we even lose sight of our own opinions and preferences.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing the character of Autumn was a bit of a cathartic experience for me. And now, on the other side of things, I think she—and I—would both say the only way to escape this pattern is to recognize it for what it is and break it.
Your decisions may not please everybody, but at the end of the day, you need to be comfortable in your own truth—even when it’s inconvenient to others. You can’t let anyone else dictate your feelings for you.
One of the things that stops people from pursuing their passion is a fear of the unknown. When we follow our hearts anything can and will happen. For you, that anything showed up when your publisher closed its doors just a few weeks after your release. All books they were publishing, including the paperback version of Essence and its planned sequel, were canceled. How did you handle the news? Were you able to learn or grow from this experience?
When I first began my journey to publication, I took every scrap of bad news I received personally. If an agent or editor didn’t want to represent my work, that meant I was a bad writer. However, through time (and many, many rejections), I have learned this is simply not true. Publishing is a business, and it’s a fragile one, at that. Sometimes, the market dictates changes, and sometimes, those changes are very inconvenient to our plans.
When I first heard Essence’s print run and sequel had been cancelled, I—of course—had to suffer through the necessary stages of shock and grief. To be so close and to still see my dream of seeing Essence in bookstores not come true… Well, that was a very hard reality to take. However, once the dust settled, I began to realize the decision had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with a changing marketplace, and sitting around feeling sorry for myself wasn’t going to do anything to fix it.
When your publisher closed shop it would have been easy to give up on Essence and just say it wasn't meant to be. But you stood up for your book and got your paperback rights back so you could still see a print version of Essence. What kept you going? How did you find the strength to go forward?
I definitely pondered just letting Essence go when I first heard the news. Although an e-version of the book would still be available through my publisher’s parent company, Essence’s publication definitely lost a bit of its luster when I realized I would never actually get to hold a print version of the book in my hands
Luckily, my publishing team completely understood my struggles. Although they wouldn’t be able to publish my paperback as planned, they were completely open to the idea of giving me back my rights so I could self-publish a print version of the book myself. My agent worked extensively with them to facilitate this, and my publishing team went as far as to personally reach out to my cover artist to make sure I would still be able to retain my gorgeous, ready-to-go cover.
This entire process took place in just a few short weeks—from hearing the news to getting my rights back to frantically laying out and uploading the book onto Amazon’s CreateSpace in time for Essence’s scheduled debut. This time period was a sprint, and I worked well into the wee hours of the morning most nights to make it happen. It was exhausting, but what kept me going was the realization that even though my debut wasn’t going to look exactly as I had planned, I was still being given an opportunity to publish my book. That fact alone was pretty darn amazing, so I wasn’t going to let my ego ruin it for me.
Thank you so much Lisa! I found Essence to be a book I couldn't put down, and I'm so grateful to be able to share your interview here. Last but not least, here are some photos of Lisa with Essence at a writer's conference. When the paperback version was cancelled Lisa faced the fear of self-publishing, and that was how she returned to this writer's conference three years later, holding her own book, and as one of its speakers!