What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Facebook! Not only because my friends have been supportive and instrumental in spreading the word about my novel, but also because my book is of interest to a very specific subculture of people--those who followed the Grateful Dead around. I belong to several groups for Deadheads, and my novel has been received warmly there. I appreciate the love and hope it helps people relive those days that we are so nostalgic for!
Describe your desk
It is a mess! Right now it's covered in books, papers to grade, lesson plans, lotions, hand sanitizers, fake flowers, a little koala bear....an enigmatic bunch of clutter!
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Chicago, so I have been exposed to everything. There is so much culture in Chicago, so much ethnicity, great food, great art, great theater, great museums. There is also crime and all the problems that plague a huge city. Even though I had a pretty good life in a pretty good neighborhood, you can't grow up in Chicago without being exposed to that other side. I'm currently writing a book of short stories about urban youth, somewhat influenced by my students and somewhat influenced by things I've seen in my life.
When did you first start writing?
I have written for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first poem before I was in Kindergarten. I have always loved to write: poetry, short stories, essays, speeches....I even enjoy writing research papers! I kept a journal from the age of 14 until the age of 25 in which I wrote religiously--mostly about boys, in retrospect--and I believe that might be the only thing that kept my sanity through those tumultuous years.
What's the story behind your latest book?
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I followed the band the Grateful Dead around the country. There was a whole subculture of people following them from show to show, camping together, selling things in the parking lot. It was a unique experience that can't be truly understood unless you were there. The protagonist of my novel, Free, brings that scene to life for readers who didn't experience it, and will be pleasantly familiar to those who did. I always went home after each tour, but there were plenty of people who remained nomadic until the next one, who went to new towns, stayed with new people, found new ways to survive. This intrigued me, and Free is the story of one such person.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Well, I wrote a book! After years of writing short stories, poems, and unfinished novels, I finally finished one. Then nothing happened for the next few years, because I had no idea what one does after writing a book. Eventually my friend Kevin encouraged me to get it published, and I found a small-press company who published it. They are no longer in business, so recently I republished my first novel under my own label, Scribomusings Press.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I am very new to Smashwords, so time will tell! But Smashwords is user friendly and very fair to authors from what I have seen so far.
What do your fans mean to you?
I love the feedback I've gotten on this novel. My fans see things in my book and in my characters that I might have missed, adding a richness to the story. My fans inspired the book I'm currently working on. So many people have asked for a sequel. They want to know where Free is now, how she turned out. My next book isn't going to be about Free directly, but it will answer these questions. I'm really enjoying revisiting her.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on two things at the moment: a compilation of short stories featuring urban youth, and my second novel, which is not a sequel to my first but does piggyback on it. The short story project will be completed first, and will probably include an excerpt from the novel. I have been a high school teacher in an urban community for over 15 years, and my students have influenced a lot of the stories in my compilation. They find it meaningful to read literature that reflects their lives, that they can relate to. I want to be able to give this to them.
I started writing my second book due to multiple requests from my fans. They want to see where the main character from my first book is now, and as I thought about it her story began to unfold. However, this time it will be told through someone else's eyes.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are so many. Harper Lee and Carson McCullers are probably at the top of my list. I think To Kill a Mockingbird is the greatest book ever written, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter a very close second. I have also read nearly everything Stephen King has written. He is a master at characterization. No one can develop a character like King. My favorite books of his are his Dark Tower series. Lately I've been reading Hugh Howey, a science fiction writer who got his start through internet publishing. His Wool Omnibus series is brilliant. Another favorite book is The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It is fantasy meets historical fiction, and takes place during the time of King Arthur. I could go on. S.E. Hinton, who probably influenced the style of my first novel more than anyone else. William Golding. Barbara Kingsolver. Douglas Adams. Neil Gaiman. Maybe I should compile my top 100 list!
What inspires you to get out of bed each morning?
Well, I'm not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. If I had my way I'd sleep until at least 9 every day. But what inspires me? People. My son. My family. My friends. My students. I am naïve enough that I still believe deeply in the inherent good within people. I see this manifested every day, in so many ways. I see beauty in everything. It calls to me. It beckons my soul. I have seen enough hardship in my life to know that sadness and beauty are inseparable, that suffering is crucial to living, and that 'this too shall pass'. If there is pain, there will be joy. You'll see it in children playing, in a cat curled up in the sunlight pouring through a window, in flowers pushing up through frozen ground. This is what inspires me to make art. This is what inspires me to live, to breathe, to be.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember the first play I wrote! It was called "The Car Crash", and it was about a mother whose children were yelling in the car and caused her to crash. All the children died but she survived. In the next scene she is at home mourning her children, and their ghosts come back to haunt her. It ends with her jumping out the window to her death. I think I was six when I wrote this. I was always a little macabre.
We Chicagoans can get used to anything. We’ve been putting up with horrid weather, bad traffic, exorbitant taxes and crooked politicians for a long, long time. So I guess it’s no surprise that when we see headlines like “77 Shot in Weekend Violence, 14 Killed”, we just hoist it up on our big shoulders and go about our lives. That is, unless you know one of the 75+ people harmed by violence over the last five days. That probably makes it harder to handle. But chances are, you don’t. Unless you live in one of the distinct communities that boast a litany of shootings each week, mostly involving young, poor minorities, you probably feel removed, maybe even slightly smug, that the violence doesn't touch you. You may even have thoughts like “If that were my kid I’d never let that happen,” or “What’s wrong with their parents” or “That’s what they get for gangbanging.”
Perhaps thoughts like those are accurate. You can’t argue the fact that the majority—-not all, but most—-of the names on the list of the dead and wounded (if they even bother listing their names) were making poor choices that led to their injury or death. For some, the choice might have been simply that they were out on the streets of a dangerous area. For others, it might be that they were committing their own acts of violence. To me, those details don’t matter. What matters is that we are losing lives here, and every child lost to us is a loss to our entire society. And every time we shake our heads and write it off as somebody else’s issue, we lose a bit more.
When you scan the list of incidents after another violent weekend, you see things like “19 year old man” or “14 year old boy” or “28 year old woman”. Sometimes there are names, sometimes not. Names or not, these are faceless individuals, most likely in dangerous areas, possibly making bad choices, maybe in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that is all we know. The news reports don’t usually say things like this:
Luis hated school until he found poetry. After that, he couldn’t stop writing. He wrote countless poems, many about his violent life and the choices he was making. He was funny and candid and got along well with his teachers and peers. Luis was killed by gun violence at the age of 17.
Marley was good looking, happy, and funny. He made jokes all the time. The girls loved him. Though he could barely read he tried hard in school because he wanted to graduate to make his mother proud. It was hard, because he had health issues that kept him out of school a lot and had to be constantly monitored by doctors. He seemed to be doing better when he was shot to death at the age of 19. His classmates clung to each other and wept when they heard the news.
Miguel was a hyper, rambunctious freshman, silly and immature for his age. His teachers worried for him because of his gang involvement. He was killed the summer after his freshman year. His family is featured in the documentary The Interrupters, visiting him in the cemetery daily.
George wrote editorials for his high school newspaper. He was so smart that he graduated high school early. He opted to stay in Chicago for college because he didn’t want to leave his family and friends. He hadn’t yet graduated college when he was killed.
Aaron wasn’t that into school work, but he was friendly and funny and liked to play around with his teachers. His family moved to a better neighborhood hoping for a better life, but he still went back to the old neighborhood to see his friends and get into trouble. He was shot while running from police when he reached down to pull up his pants-—the officers thought he was going for a gun. He was 17.
Augie was a heavy set, short, silly kid. He was well liked by the staff and teachers at his school. His family sent him out of state to get him away from the streets, but he must have ended up back here, because I heard the other day that he was one of the 14 killed these last five days, shot to death while on his porch. He was in his early 20s.
I could go on. In my fifteen years of teaching I have lost many more students and former students to street violence. Maybe to everyone else they’re just names on a paper, kids acting stupid, products of bad parenting, somebody else’s issue. To me they were children with strengths and weaknesses, promises and potential. I weep when I read about another child lost to us, because I know those names on the list were real people, kids with hopes and fears, who were loved by their families and their friends and their teachers. I will never get used to the violence on our streets. I will never see it as somebody else’s problem. This is my problem. This is everyone's problem.
I keep the following poem on the wall of my classroom, and read it to my students frequently. It is a fitting memorial, and a cautionary tale, and I'm sure Luis would be proud that I was sharing it if he had lived.
I am strong and brave
I wonder if my braveness will get me killed.
I hear gunshots.
I see people dying, hurting, in pain.
I want it to stop.
I am scared, worried.
I pretend it is OK to do what I'm doing.
I feel nervous fear.
I touch my body to see if I'm still alive.
I worry I will get killed, and not see the people I love.
I cry at night just thinking.
I am scared, worried.
I understand I need to stop.
I say will I live to see 30?
I dream I can live a normal life.
I try to make it happen.
I hope I can live to see my child grow up, and not make the same mistakes I did.
I am strong and brave,
even though I feel different inside.
For as long as she can remember, Lisa Litberg has loved to write. Over the years she has amassed quite a collection of short stories and poetry. Free is her first novel. Ms. Litberg has been a high school teacher for nearly twenty years and helps empower her urban students with the power of the written word. Currently she is working on a short story compilation geared toward urban youth, as well as her second novel, which will answer her readers' questions about what happened to Free.