In 1999 freelance writer Lisa Selin Davis started writing “seriously”. The result? A continuous flow of article and prose publications. It seems only natural that the next step for this Brooklyn, New York writer would be commercial publication with Little, Brown & Company. In 2005 her novel, Belly, was released and a year later continues to garner subtle attention. I hope you enjoy getting to know this mysterious new writer.
Moe: Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer?
Lisa Selin Davis: I notice a lot of writers talk about getting a good grade or some other kind of attention for writing, and that’s what got them started. I do remember getting an A-plus on an assignment in English class–the idea was to emulate the voice of a writer we’d read, which sent me on a lifelong digression, since I was aping Salinger.
A babysitter told me once, if I felt scared, I should write about it, and that did seem to help. I must have been scared a lot, since I’ve written so many pages.
Moe: What inspires you?
Lisa Selin Davis: Every time I look at my cat it’s like I’ve never seen him before. Wait, is that inspiration? Mostly, I get my inspiration from talking to other people, from having people help me adjust my attitude or perspective in some minute way that changes everything. And a really good meal. And a really great movie. And when I’m shown how wrong I was about something.
Moe: Every writer has a method that works for them. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Lisa Selin Davis: I try to write for an hour in the morning, working on my own stuff. After that, I do my paid writing work–articles and such. Most of the time, I have to wrestle with myself to keep my fingers typing.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Lisa Selin Davis: I’m in the middle of my second book, and both times, I started by writing many short stories about the characters, so when it came time for the novel, I knew a lot about them.
My method is, well, chaos. I spit everything out in chunks. Then I have to figure out how it all works together, suture, go back in, rip it apart and do more surgery. I’m learning to trust the chaos, and not panic.
Moe: When you have your idea and sit down to write is any thought given to the genre, plot or type of readers you’ll have?
Lisa Selin Davis: Nope. And I hope I never think about that stuff. The voices of doubt are already so loud. I figure out the plot after. Not sure I’d recommend this to others, though.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Lisa Selin Davis: I’m usually drawn to a subject by visiting it–I gather up information, let it sit for a while, process it, and spit it back out. Along the way, I do a lot of looking things up, or calling my mom, the reference librarian, and asking her to look it up.
Moe: How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? Where do your characters come from? Where do you draw the line?
Lisa Selin Davis: I don’t think I consciously pilfer from people’s lives, but, yes, little things make there way in. Both my projects have sprung up when I’ve gone to visit people–had a glimpse into their lives, felt a spark and filled in the rest.
Moe: Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it and what measures do you take to get past it?
Lisa Selin Davis: I’ve not had writer’s block, but I’ve had times where I’ve detested what I’ve written. I just keep writing.
Moe: When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
Lisa Selin Davis: I hope they understand what I’ve set out to do, and that’s it, I guess. Oh, yeah, and I hope they think I’m a good writer. I don’t know why that’s important, but apparently it is.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Lisa Selin Davis: Being published doesn’t mean you’ll be successful–it doesn’t mean you can make a living as a writer. But it does open up a lot of doors. Mostly, I’ve made a lot of friends, which is such a wonderful outcome.
Moe: How do you handle fan mail? What kinds of things do fans write to you about?
Lisa Selin Davis: Fan mail? There have only been six letters, and one was a solicitation for a Boggle date. One person told me he thought I’d written the story of his father’s life. That was the best.
Moe: What’s your latest book about? Where did you get the idea and how did you let the idea evolve?
Lisa Selin Davis: My latest book is about four estranged members of a family reuniting in Phoenix. It’s about architecture and the homogenization of the American landscape, a little incest, born again Christianity and ex-hippies.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Lisa Selin Davis: I love narrative non-fiction and I love books by women with A names–Alice Munro, Anne Tyler.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Lisa Selin Davis: Did I mention the magic of cinema?
Moe: New writers are always trying to gleam advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Lisa Selin Davis: When I went to school, I thought they were going to tell me the secret of how to be a good writer. Finally I learned it: work very hard all the time. And try to be honest.
Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Lisa Selin Davis: I’d be very sad if I weren’t a writer, because the only other thing I’d want to be is an artist, and that’s even harder.
Originally published 6/20/2006 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.