A Conversation with Lisa Aldridge

An interview by Alicia Cole.

Lisa AldridgeLisa Aldridge lives in the magical Ozarks. She is the author of The Dangerous Impressions Series (NA, Suspense/Romance). Her forthcoming works include: The Ring O’ Callum Brodgar (Melange Books, 2017), Fiery Impressions, Be a Grass Fire, The Death and Rebirth of Maria Sanchez, and The Caregivers.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Lisa was a cultural anthropologist and spent a lot of time in dusty rooms with Native American effigy pots and skeletal remains that were thousands of years old. They whispered intriguing stories to her imagination. She also taught Sociology, History, and English classes. But when she wrote a novel for her college students, she realized her passion for writing.

Lisa has an MFA from Lindenwood University and has published short stories, creative nonfiction, poetry, and flash fiction in various literary journals. She received the Samuel C. Dellinger Award from the University of Arkansas Anthropology Department, and the Teaching in Excellence Award from Northern Oklahoma College.

She loves hanging out with her huge family! She also loves painting and dark chocolate. Someday she hopes to paint an edible landscape with melted chocolates.

Black Fox Literary Magazine: Your work background is very unique. What led you into and out of cultural anthropology?

Lisa Aldridge: When I was growing up, my family raised endangered species of pheasants, peafowl, quail, and other exotic birds. These birds came from all over the world and their plumage was incredibly colorful and beautiful. Each year when the birds molted, we would gather these beautiful feathers and then my mother, brother, and I would spend the summers visiting Native American reservations. We often traded feathers for handmade crafts: pottery, jewelry, weaving. So when I started college, I majored in art but took a class in cultural anthropology; that semester I studied the Inuit, Southeastern Native American tribes, and material culture, like pottery and arrowheads. It felt like home. Although I still paint, I changed my major to anthropology and loved it. It was the perfect fit for me. I’ve studied many cultures from the archeological record to modern times. After graduate school, I taught Cultural Anthropology and Native American Studies at a college in Oklahoma. When I started writing full time, it gave me the opportunity to return to researching some of the same peoples and traditions that I had studied for so long. Cultural anthropology is just part of who I am.

BFLM: How long have you been a writer? What started you on this path?

LA: That’s a good question. In third grade, I wrote stories and drew pictures to go with them; I made cardstock covers with masking tape bindings and then gave them to the second grade teacher in the classroom next door. She let her students read them and they asked if I could make more. I was as flattered as any third-grader could be and set to writing more antics about fictitious animals.

Decades later, my writing was wholly academic. I received the Samuel C. Dellinger Award for academic research and writing from the University of Arkansas, Department of Anthropology. During grad school, I took a class about Imperial Spain; my professor told me that I had “a very entertaining writing style.” Although I don’t know if that was meant as a compliment or a criticism, it led me to write catchier titles and to look for ways to improve my writing style. One of my research papers for the honors symposium was titled: “Pregnant Women Can’t Make Pickles.” Looking back at this shift, I realize now that something was already changing.

BFLM: Does your education background influence your writing?

LA: Most definitely! It influences how I write as well as what I write. Everything I’ve studied has a story waiting to happen. I have a series of short stories which all have a female anthropology grad student as the protagonist!

I’m really excited about one of my current projects. I’m turning my master’s thesis in American History into a historical fiction novel. This project has been so fun to write, maybe it’s because I already have hundreds of pages of notes and an entire thesis to work from. The working title is Be a Grass Fire, but no guarantee that title will survive editing. (However, if there is some savvy agent out there that wants to take on a historical fiction novel about the woman who created the largest folklore collection in the state of Arkansas, I’d be willing to negotiate about the title.)

One of my passions is research, so I have to be careful to not spend all of my time researching when I should be writing. During one intensive bout of researching primary sources about herbal remedies and cures from the Ozarks, I dreamed of a character. She had long dark hair, wore layers of long skirts, and carried a white-oak basket with roots and barks and leaves in it. I dreamed about her so much that she even showed up while I was sitting at the computer trying to concentrate. She would lead me down a path in the woods where I watched her collect herbs, roots, and bulbs. I had no choice but to write about her and give her a name: Adriana. She became the main character of a young adult fantasy novel: The Knowing Ones.

BFLM: Your new YA title Dangerous Impressions has been well-received. Where did the story come from and how has the series developed?

LA: This story has a unique beginning. In the dedication, it says “To my family for letting me read to them and to my college students who insisted I finish their story.” I was teaching in the Sociology department at a college in Missouri. My early morning class was Marriage and Family. It was a small class with quiet students who seemed perpetually tired. One of them had a Red Bull every morning for breakfast! One morning, I decided to do something different to get their attention. I wrote a few paragraphs about some students in a fictitious Marriage and Family class and read it to them. They thought it was hilarious. They wanted more, but we had a lot of material to cover that semester so I didn’t do anything else with it.

The next semester I walked into the first day of the American Diversity class that I taught at that same college. To my surprise, students from Marriage and Family were there! Day after day, they asked for me to finish “their story.” That semester, I wrote the rest of the story and shared it with them. They were so enthusiastic and became my beta readers.

The idea for the actual plot of the story—a college art student being kidnapped by an art thief and ransomed for a stolen painting and then she steals it back—came from my love for art and cultural heritage. Art theft is a multi-billion dollar industry with tens of thousands of pieces of art and artifacts stolen every year, but only a small fraction of them are ever recovered. Through the Dangerous Impressions series, I hope to raise awareness and cultivate a desire in more people to help protect our global cultural heritage.

BFLM: What else do you have brewing, outside of your continuation of the Dangerous Impressions series?

LA: I’m excited to announce that one of my stories will be published in an anthology later this year by Melange Books. The Ring O’ Callum Brodgar is my first time-travel story. In keeping with my cultural anthropology theme, the protagonist is an archeologist working on an excavation in Scotland. She has the uncanny ability of being able to correctly identify obscure 18th century artifacts and eventually realizes she is not from the 21st century when she is approached by someone from her distant past, her very distant past.

Also, I’ll be completing my historical fiction novel, Be a Grass Fire, in the next few weeks and then turning my attention back to my literary fiction novel, The Death and Rebirth of Maria Sanchez.

However, short stories will always be one of my favorite things to write, so I recently began working on a short story collection about Alzheimer’s patients and their caregiver families. The idea came from a creative non-fiction essay that I wrote, “His Reflection Wandered Away,” published in Gravel Magazine (April 2015). I want to explore the relationship between Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers in greater depth through this collection.

BFLM: Do you have a favorite work of your own? If so, which one and why?

LA: My favorite work is whatever I’m working on at the time because I get so involved in the characters and the plot. There comes a point in every story as I’m writing, and again during revision, that the characters come to life and start making decisions for me. They typically approach me in the shower and give me a scene or some great dialogue or a twist that I hadn’t thought of myself. I love those moments when the subconscious has simmered so long that a character bubbles into my consciousness with enough self-determinism that they write their own story.

BFLM: What works, of any genre, do you look to for inspiration?

LA: I never tire of Jhumpa Lahiri’s literary fiction. Most recently, I found inspiration in her short story collection Unaccustomed Earth and the way she explores relationships within the context of change and continuity. Ron Hansen, Eric Wolf, and Rick Bass inspire me to look more deeply at what is around me, what used to be there, and how to describe change. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been a great source of family magic; I’ve read the entire series out loud to my children at least six or seven times! The love they have for these characters has inspired me to create unique, memorable, complex characters with quirky personalities. Poetry has the ability to condense and distill complex thoughts into powerful capsules that explode in my imagination. An Affair of the Stilled Heart by Bobby Aldridge and 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye are two of my current poetry reads that inspire me to focus on craft and the importance and strength of each word or phrase. And of course, I always find inspiration in discovering a new-to-me writer that speaks to my soul in any genre.


Catch up with Lisa Aldridge:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LisaAldridgeAuthor/


Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaAldridge6

Website: http://aldridgelisa9.wix.com/lisa-aldridge


Nathan Bradley’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DangerousImpressionsBook1/

Publisher: http://www.fireandiceya.com/authors/lisaaldridge/dangerimp.html


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