Lisa Tucker: “Play Your Heart. That’s What You’re Really After.”

May 1, 2004
Written by

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview With Lisa Tucker
Author of the passionate novel, Shout Down the Moon

By Doris Booth

May 2004

Shout Down the Moon

Shout Down the Moon by Lisa Tucker

Buy This Book via Amazon.com

Lisa Tucker is the author of the intoxicating book, SHOUT DOWN THE MOON (Downtown Press/Pocket/Simon & Schuster, April 2004) In her second work (following her acclaimed debut novel, The Song Reader), Lisa offers a mesmerizing story of a young woman whose past threatens to destroy the life she has created for herself and her young son.

Jazz singer Patty Taylor, survives a horrible childhood, destructive teenage relationship, and homelessness to go on the road with her young son and members of a traveling band. When her ex-husband shows up wanting her and his son back, Patty begins a journey that changes her from girl to woman. It's the story of following dreams, overcoming obstacles, finding your voice, and becoming the hero of your own life. Here, Lisa talks about her very own dreams and visions for her writing career, and about how the book came to be. " Once I get the character's

voice in my head it's like

a visitation."

—Tucker

AUTHORLINK: How did you come up with the idea for Shout Down the Moon?

TUCKER: My husband and I were in the music business and on the road in the 80s. So, the setting was familiar. But Patty's life is fictional. It's told from one woman's point of view.

AUTHORLINK: How did you make Patty seem so real?

TUCKER: The book is character driven. Once I get the character's voice in my head it's like a visitation. The person starts talking to me. I may not know his or her name in the beginning, but I know I want to hear the rest of their story. . Writers usually approach the craft from one of two angles. One writer will work from an outline, another will work from the process of discovery. I am definitely a discoverer.

When Patty goes to a jazz jam, tells Jonathan she can sing, and then fails miserably in front of a large audience, I think, "No, no, not this. That's so depressing. She has to get out of this situation." If I had to plan out the story ahead of time I don't think these surprises would happen. I wouldn't know what to do from an outline.

AUTHORLINK: Doesn't the discovery method make you include a lot of extraneous information?

TUCKER: The characters tell you a lot of stuff the reader may not really want to know—like do you really care if they went to Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner? I do have to edit. My favorite part of this process, though, is the writing, and listening to my characters.

"I didn't know what I was doing. I had read a lot of novels, but

 

that isn't the same thing as writing and editing one."

—Tucker

AUTHORLINK: What inspired you to start writing?

TUCKER: I love reading. My graduate studies were in American literature and criticism. I have never had a course in creative writing, but I learned a lot about the way novels work from reading so many of them. I read Moby Dick 13 times. Until I actually started writing, I thought of myself as an analytical person and believed I could never make up a story. Then I tried to write a short story , and the idea came to me for Song Reader (her debut novel). Instead of writing my dissertation, I wrote that novel. Toni Morrison once said that writing is merely a sustained act of reading. In fact, if I were stranded on a desert island the two items I would want with me would be paper and pen.

I taught a course at the annual Taos Writer's Conference, and I told the attendees: "The thing you can write best is the thing you love to read. If you love mysteries that's where you should begin." I discovered I am not a short story reader. I like to read several hundred pages—a big novel. Of course, if someone asks me to write a short story and says they'll publish it, then I'll certainly try to write it!

AUTHORLINK: When you finished your first book, Song Reader, what did you do with it?

TUCKER: I said, "Okay. I have this book. Now I have to find an agent." I sent a number of queries to agents and received a little interest. Trouble was, the manuscript was 800 pages long and I hadn't figured out the Kentucky Fried Chicken thing yet. Somebody told me I'd have to shorten the work, but I didn't know what I was doing. I had read a lot of novels, but that isn't the same thing as writing and editing one. I simply didn't feel capable of finishing the first book, so I started another simpler novel, and in 1997 I found an agent at the Sewanee, Tennessee Writer's Conference. The book didn't sell. So I wrote a third one— Shout Down the Moon. In 2001, as I was revising the first book, Song Reader, Marly Rusoff of the Rusoff Agency signed me on as a client and within a month she sold both Song Reader and Shout to Simon & Schuster. At the time, Marly, who founded The Loft in Minnesota, had just opened her agency and had just a few clients, one of whom was Pat Conroy.

[Editor’s Note: Rusoff only accepts queries from new authors. Her website provides complete information on how to approach her.]

" I'm a

 

' leaver outer' writer.

I rarely have to cut now. . ."

—Tucker

AUTHORLINK: Did Simon & Schuster require you to revise the manuscripts?

TUCKER: Oh, yes. They asked for revisions on both works. For Shout, the editors wanted me to explain why Patty was attracted to Rick. I had to add more information about the fact that her mom had kicked her out and that she had a deep desire for a home. Rick represented a certain stability, fulfilling her need to have a house and family. I added a few more scenes about Patty's mother too, to get the character more "on the page." I used to write too much, but these days I’m a " leaver outer" writer. I rarely have to cut now, but always have to add. My editor at S&S, Amy Pierpont, and I had a two hour conversation about editing, right after I signed the contract. She really works with her writers.

"It's great to be able to write

 

full time–amazing, really."

—Tucker

AUTHORLINK: What are you currently working on?

TUCKER: I have a third book coming out at S&S in April 2005, no title yet. Sales for Song Reader have been really strong. So, my original two-book contract with S&S has now grown to include a third and fourth title. I have been really lucky.

AUTHORLINK: How do you feel about all of this success?

TUCKER: Happy, happy, happy! It's great to be able to write full time—amazing, really. Now I think, "hey, I can really write." I never expected the success I have received. My expectations for my work were not low, but realistic. Things started happening for Song Reader when Seventeen magazine and Pulpwood Queens chose the book. Then Book Sense offered the book as a reading club suggestion along with titles like The Lovely Bones, and White Teeth. I thought, "Oh, my goodness."

AUTHORLINK: So, will this success change your life?

TUCKER: It already has! I grew up in Missouri and didn't move around much, couldn't afford to. Now, I have traveled to places I have never seen as part of my book tour, including the recent London Book Fair. It was the first time I had ever owned a passport, or been out of the country. And best of all, I can now write full time.

AUTHORLINK: What's your advice to a writer who wants to break into the business?

TUCKER: Write the whole novel first. I sold my third book on the basis of a synopsis, but that's only because I had finished two manuscripts. Also, get a few people to read your work. They don't have to be professionals, just people who will be honest with you. Then, keep revising. When you are really ready, go to a site like Authorlink to find an agent. If you receive negative comments from an agent or editor, really listen to that. Publishers want to publish good books, and they know what will sell in the marketplace.

You have to take all of the feedback seriously—but not so seriously that you quit writing. I used to get devastated by rejections. It was hard for me to see the good in them. I used to think, "I'll never find a publisher.” You have to keep plugging away at it. Never give up. To do this as a career, I think you have to love it. The writing itself is what gets you through all the rejections and publishing obstacles. It's what sustains you all the way through.

AUTHORLINK: We love the quote on the last page (p 291) of Shout. It seems more than appropriate here: "All you can do is keep trying, keep improvising. And playing your heart is what you're really after, not perfection."

TUCKER: Yes, I would have to say to every writer, "Play your heart."

***

Lisa Tucker lives in Santa Fe with her husband and son. Visit her website at www.lisatucker.com.

—Doris Booth

 

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This post was written by Doris Booth