Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Lisha Cauthen

This month I used my wonder twin powers to transform Lisha Cauthen into a person who would let me ask her tons of questions and take an actual real life picture of herself so it could be posted on my blog. Didn't you know? Lisha is my twin. But watch out she's my evil twin and things may get, well, evil. Luckily she's evil in a Doofensmirtz kind of way. What? You don't know who Heinz Doofensmirtz is? Shame on you. He does evil stuff like try to move Big Ben to the Tri-State area so he doesn't have to go shopping for a wrist watch. Yup, that's the kind of evil twin I have. Here, see for yourself:

Okay Lisha, how long have you been writing, and why in the world would you want to do such a thing?

Really? Does anybody give a rat’s patootie how long I’ve been writing? The pathetic answer is: I wrote, illustrated and submitted a picture book when I was 12, which was (mumble) years ago. That’s when we literally banged our words out on manual typewriters--the ones where you had to slap the carriage back with your bare hand. And we used carbon paper. Yes my dears, dinosaurs roamed the land, and the Earth’s crust wasn’t quite solid yet.

Would you believe several of those editors answered me? I wish I still had those letters. I made half-hearted stabs at writing over the years as I raised my kids and did all the stuff you’ve got to do in life. But when the nest began to empty and I started to have time to think about what I wanted to do, I ran across a flyer for an SCBWI conference. I figured after years of supporting everybody else’s dreams, it was my turn, baby. (Cue inspirational, slightly defiant music. Mike Jung could probably help us out here.)

What kinds of stories do you write?

Heh. You kind of caught me. If you go to my blog or read The Sunflower Scoop or read my article on the ICL website or articles in the In The Wind KSCBWI newsletter or follow me on Twitter or meet me in a bar, you might assume I write humor. I don’t.

I write older YA. Geez, let’s not argue about whether “older” YA is a genre. I write “edgy” YA for boys that girls like to read too. With an unflinching point of view. I am not gratuitous, but I am honest. If the story needs a naughty word, one will be provided for you. If sex is called for, it will happen. But it will not be porn. Violence where conditions warrant. I belong to several excellent critique groups, and they have helped me see that a lot of the stuff you think you read in my WIP isn’t really on the page. It’s only hinted at—you make the rest up in your head.

Good job.

Of course, there’s some humor in my writing, just like there’s humor in every-day life. If there wasn’t, I doubt you’d make it to the last page in one piece.

Do you want to tell us what you’re working on now?

Tell me, has anyone said “no” to this question? What would you do, if they did? Leave a big blank space? Or has anyone misunderstood the question, and said, “Well, Heather, I’m painting my toenails a lovely shade of periwinkle.” Or maybe you’ve had a real smart aleck who said, “Working on right now? These questions!” I bet Mike Jung said that. Because I was really tempted to say that.

I am about to wrap up an urban paranormal YA I’ve got going. Boy point of view. I think this is the one. I have some interest generated from first page critiques at our KSCBWI conference. My critique buddies think this MS is light-years ahead of what I’ve done before, and I agree.

(Okay smartypants, Mike Jung, he knew what I was talking about because he's one of my peeps. Anyway, I'm just trying to toughen you all up for the real world of ambiguous questions when you get famous.)

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What part of writing do you enjoy most?

The hardest part about writing is getting off Twitter. No question. Second hardest: convincing all non-writers that I AM WORKING WHEN I AM WRITING. THIS IS MY JOB. MY JOB IS AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR JOB.

I love writing when you are totally in the zone, and you are living the story, and everything else falls away. It’s like channeling, I suppose. Your fingers tippity-type away at the vision while you live it in real-time. Then you kind of “come to” and it’s been 3 hours.

Now that’s writing.

So, how many manuscripts have you written and what have you done with them? Do you have a submission strategy?

OMG. This is like True Confessions of the Shamefully Unpublished. Fine, Heather, just…. Fine.

This will be my fourth finished MS. The first was a woefully painful picture book manuscript, a hilariously awful rhyming little ditty about a boy who redecorates his room. (Please! No more rubber hose, Heather! I’ve told you everything I know!)

The second was a first-love, love story. A genre that I am wholly unsuited to write. But I must say I am still fond of those characters. It was the first novel I wrote, and it was a great accomplishment to put together a coherent story and finish it. I boxed it up with all its permutations and there it stays. I heartily recommend that everybody start with such a book, and go so over-the-top you get a nosebleed. When you speak of it, and you will, you will remember your first writing attempt with kindness.

The third was a fantasy YA that I submitted to about 20 agents and got some good feedback. It has its flaws, however. I have withdrawn it from consideration, and have several ideas for revision. I intend to totally revamp it after marketing my current MS. That’s the thing about writing. You’re always getting better, if you’re doing it right.

I saw Kate DiCamillo this summer, and she said she never read her own books after they were published, because she found too many things she wanted to go back and fix!

(Thank you. I will put away the hose now.)

I know you’re daring. How far would you go to get your book published?

Did you all see how she slipped that little “I know you’re daring” thing in there? Goading me to be outrageous, just to sell blogs?

Well, it worked.

I would take candy from a baby.
I would eat green eggs and ham.
I would marry Edward. No, wait a minute. Some things even I won’t do. Jacob. I’d marry Jacob.
I would spend an inordinate time trying to overthrow #mikesempire @lishacauthen on Twitter.
I would perform a haunting rendition of “Proud Mary” on the nose whistle.
I would bungee jump, if I retained all foreign rights.

(You are soooo easy.)

You are the editor of the very informative Kansas Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (KSCBWI) weekly newsletter: Sunflower Scoop. How do you manage to keep so on top of the writing world?

I could tell you, but then there would be this big tornado, you would age 30 years, and you would become the new Guardian of the Sunflower Scoop. Is that really what you want? I don’t think so.

It’s just a lot easier to subscribe. Free to any SCBWI member, $5 a YEAR if you’re not.

You’re also on the KSCBWI Advisory Committee, how has being such a big part of your local SCBWI chapter helped you?

Okay, I’ll try to get through this part without sobbing like a baby.

Believe it or not, I am by nature a shy person.


I had to go to two conferences before I had the nerve to go to a smaller gathering where I would have to (gasp!) talk to someone. At a workshop Sue Ford, the Kansas regional advisor, announced that they were looking for someone to do the weekly e-letter. Having working in PTA, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, I know that the way to get to know people is VOLUNTEER TO DO SOMETHING. So I raised my trembling hand.

Sue very kindly showed me how to do all the technical stuff and set me up for success.

Doing the newsletter put me on The Committee.

Which means I met people.

And I have made some dear, dear friends.


All these friends are writers, who talk about writing. One of us might come across a tidbit about an agent that will help someone else market a MS. Or we help each other work out plot points, or even role-play dialogue. You can’t do this stuff with normal people. I remember one day Sue Ford, Jenn Bailey and I sat around for 15 minutes discussing the sound a dryer would make if you stood on it and the metal depressed, then you got off and the metal sprang back. Who else talks about stuff like this?

There are perks that come with being behind the scenes. When you put together conferences, you are naturally going to have more time with the editors and agents who come to those conferences. Who do you think drives them to and from the airport and their hotels? Takes them to dinner?

I have made a few presentations, one of which was in front of Bruce Coville! The other presentation turned into my ICL article.

I could go on and on, but I think I already have. SCBWI, Rah! Sue Ford, Regional Advisor, Maximus.

(I have tears.)

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. You’re also a member of Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens as well as several other critique groups! Are you superwoman? Do you ever sleep?

Hey. I can’t live by your rules, man.

Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens is a group whose roots go back to 1967. It is a loose consortium of kidlit writers.

The main critique group meets Wednesday mornings, which is how I got involved. Lots of books coming out of that group. (Elizabeth C. Bunce…A Curse Dark as Gold, anyone?) (And by the way, she is delightful, self-effacing, and talks pretty much the way she writes.)

I also head a monthly YA critique group that we had to close to new members…you get to a saturation point. It’s an interesting mix of newbies to on-the-vergers. But don’t ever turn your nose up at a newbie, writers. They may tell you three things about your MS that make you nod politely, but the fourth thing might knock you right on your ass. New does not = dumb.

I bow to your complete dedication to the kidlit writing lifestyle. Do you have any advice for those of us who aren’t such a big part of the publishing world as you?

Ummm…. maybe you aren’t as weak-willed as I am. I’ve got to surround myself with motivation, or I start to wilt and feel like publication is an impossible goal, attained only by the lottery winners of the literary world.

If you are a fellow-wilter, one way to stay motivated is to read books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Get connected online at The Blue Boards. It’s a very knowledgeable and supportive community.

If there’s any way you can finagle it, a critique group makes a huge difference in how fast your writing will improve.

All right, I have to know, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Wowzer. This is a toughie. Do I get editing privileges? And can I choose which character I am? Because if you’re in Gone With the Wind, it’s a hell of a lot cooler to be the often-married and land-on-her-feet Katie Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler than the pale, doomed, Melanie Hamilton Wilkes.

Alex, I’m going to have to go with Swiss Family Robinson. Does anybody read this book anymore? I know it’s rather stilted for today’s readers, but God, I loved this book. I probably read it three dozen times when I was a kid. Shipwrecked! Tigers! Pirates! My fantasy writer’s cottage is still a treehouse.

But then, you knew it would be something weird like that, didn’t you?

Yes I did.

Thank you Lisha for letting me torture you today. It was quite enjoyable. Besides all the amazing things Lisha does, she has a blog too, The Imaginal Realm. We should all go over there and give her a hard time.


  1. Hi :)
    Thank you for the excellent interview. I found myself nodding throughout, going, Yes! Me too! And the humor is fun. Thank you for introducing me to Lisha Cauthen! I really enjoyed learning about her & her writing. I'm Following her on Twitter now. Thank you for sharing.
    All the best,

  2. Love Lisha! Great interview!

  3. All this time and I never knew you had an evil twin. Which one has been coming to group? Good job, great interview.

  4. This was delicious! Lisha is an inspiration, especially when she ignores the giggling of our writer's group, closes her eyes and madly types away. My favorite moments of working with Lisha and Sue Ford and Colleen Cook and Kim Peek are when we are making all these faces at each other, or gesturing wildly and asking "How would you write this?" *funny face* "How do you describe this?" *spastic body movement*. If it weren't for the Lisha's of the world, I would wilt.

  5. Totally awesome interview. I think Lisha might be my new favorite person (Don't tell Cynthea Liu that she's been replaced)

  6. Lisha, there are few people in the world who can make me snort or burst out laughing. Congratulations. You tied with my toddler for first place. ;D

  7. GREAT interview! Lisha is the real deal. She will be wildly famous one day and everyone will read and know about her books. It's true--we have great fun writing and laughing together. Lisha is part of a great writing community in Kansas!

  8. What Lisha? You don't write humor?!!!

    I think the world stopped spinning for a moment there.

    Awesome interview!!!

  9. I'm sad that I don't live anywhere near Lisha. *sigh

  10. She really does close her eyes and type when she's in the zone! We are so greatful she volunteered. If she hadn't we would have missed out on a good friend. I wish you all could have a Lisha in your world.

  11. lishacauthen.wordpress.comNovember 22, 2009 at 6:42 PM

    Thanks for all you UNSOLICITED comments, everybody. *sniff* But I warn you, I am out of cash.

    And thanks again to Heather. She is a scholar and a gentlewoman.

  12. Fun interview! These are getting addictive, Heather. Keep it up!