Monday, September 19, 2011

Lisa Mills: Holding On and Childhood Leukemia

Today I have Lisa Mills who just came out with her novel,  Holding On.  She decided that all sales for the month of September would be donated for childhood cancer, so this book has a special topic and a special purpose. While I would love for you to buy her book due to this reason and hope that you do, we are giving away a copy of this novel with the winner choosing the format--ebook or paperback. A random drawing will be held on Friday from those who comment. 

Lisa Mills spent ten years working as a freelance writer, penning devotions, book reviews, a biography, and much more. Her articles have appeared in magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman and Brio.She’s also contributed short stories to several anthologies aimed at encouraging families of special-needs children. Holding On is her debut novel and the realization of a dream to write fiction.

She lives in the Michiana area with her husband and their blended family of five kids, three cats, and a large dog with an over-abundance of personality.

Let's talk about writing! I asked Lisa some questions about the writing process and her personal life.

CM: What’s your favorite part of writing a book?

Lisa: I think I like brainstorming and plotting best. That stage of the book-writing process is so full of hope and possibility, and there are no wrong answers. I love taking subplots, themes, character arcs, and scene ideas and putting them together like a puzzle. In the outline form, it’s easier to see if there are holes, if something is missing, and to shore up the weak spots.

Writing the first draft is a labor of love. I struggle to get the ideas down without nitpicking my sentence structure and word choices to the point that I bring myself to a standstill. That takes constant adjustments to my mindset. “Just write, Lisa. You can adjust it later!”

Then I pore over the revisions. I take the book apart line by line and page by page numerous times before I’m satisfied enough that I will allow another human soul to see the manuscript.

CM: Do you keep regular hours in writing? What’s a typical day when you’re writing?
Lisa: I try to keep a fairly regular writing schedule, during the school year anyway. My kids leave for school and my husband leaves for work around 7, and the house is fairly quiet after that. I usually get a few chores out of the way, then go to my desk. I may answer some emails and check in on Facebook and Twitter. I allow myself a short while to goof off, then I get to work.

If I am writing a first draft, the primary focus of the day is getting down a word count. I try to meet a 1,000-words-a-day minimum during a draft. If I go over, and I often do, that’s a bonus. If I’m editing, I set a goal to fine-tune two or three chapters. Right after a new book release, I take a month to focus on marketing, so my tasks revolve around that.

I work through the day, interspersing chores, and occasionally a nap, into the mix. At 4:00, I set aside writing to cook dinner. Evenings are reserved for family and spouse time.

CM: Any special techniques for building your characters?
Lisa: I love to use an enneagram program that I discovered years ago to help build my characters’ personalities. It categorizes people into nine different personality types, outlining their major traits, defensive coping strategies, strengths, vices, and more. When I determine which personality type my character falls into, it really helps define how they will think, feel, and react to the conflicts in the story.

I prefer the enneagram method over other personality profilers like Myers-Briggs because the personalities are separated into more categories which are further defined and more specific. The better I know my character, the better I can write from his/her perspective, so I recommend the enneagram profile.

I also fill out a quick character chart with age, physical description, background, etc., to help me keep the details straight. Beyond that, I figure it out as I go.

CM: When the well runs dry, how do you recharge your creative energy?
Lisa: I am a firm believer that all work and no play makes a person dull.  So when I am feeling drained, I schedule some fun. That usually means a night out line dancing with my hubby. We take lessons and have so much fun dressing up in our jeans and boots and shuffling around the dance floor. I always leave feeling refreshed and full of creative juices. I also try to spend time with my girlfriends on a regular basis. I have the best friends in the world!

CM: The biggest enemy of my writing is….
Lisa: Fear! I don’t know why but I always feel a sense of anxiety before I sit down to write. I think I’m afraid the words won’t come, or they will come and they’ll be hideous drivel that no one wants to read. So I procrastinate and find a hundred other things that I “must” do first. 

When I finally make myself sit down to write, I usually get into the flow and enjoy myself immensely. It’s one of those mental hang-ups that creative people can struggle with. Thankfully, I am aware of this internal obstacle now, and I can usually bypass it by drinking a Diet Coke for fortification and giving myself a little pep talk. Chocolate rewards also help immensely.

CM: My writing world would be perfect if only….
Lisa: I recently remarried, in case you hadn’t heard! Between my husband and I we have five children. We have two houses until we can sell one and consolidate, so double the house and yard work. And a lot of adjusting to new schedules and circumstances, etc. So I’ve thought about the subject of the perfect writing life often of late.

I think I could write so much more if only my kids were old enough to drive themselves to sports and appointments. If only I didn’t have to shop, cook, and clean. If I didn’t have to pay the bills. If only weeds didn’t grow in my yard and elves and fairies would come and do repairs and improvements on my house. I could write so much more if the dog would quit shoving his tug toy in my hand and the cats would quit walking on my keyboard while I’m typing. If my friends and family members never had a crisis. If ... if ... if.

But then I think about what my life would be like if I didn’t have all these people and activities, and I realize, my life would be so boring. My family, my home, my friends, my pets, and even my responsibilities give me joy and provide comic relief. They inspire me. They challenge me and make me think. They teach me about life and love and being a friend. They help me to grow as a person and as a child of God.

And all that stimulus makes me a better writer. Sometimes they make me a frustrated writer—like during summer break when I can hardly get 20 minutes without someone interrupting my work time—but without them, I’d have little to write about. So I’m grateful for my imperfect circumstances. They are perfect for me.

CM: My best ideas come from…..
Lisa: I write Women’s Fiction, so I think my best ideas come from real life—mine, my friends, people I know or read about. My primary requirement is that it has to grab me emotionally. If I’m going to spend six months to a year living this subject through my work, I want to be passionate about it. So I usually look for topics that leave an impression on me, subjects that come to mind often and won’t let me go, like my experiences with children who had cancer that became the subject of Holding On.

CM: Is there anything in your book that intersects with your personal life?
Lisa: I had a son who seemed healthy at birth, but began experiencing health issues and developmental delays by age six months. He wasn’t gaining weight or doing normal baby things like trying to sit up or even holding up his own head very well. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. So we began a journey of four or five years going to nutritionists, physical therapists, and a wide range of specialists, treating his symptoms as best we could and trying to find a cause. Dealing with his medical needs soon became a full-time job for me. I learned what it meant to have a special-needs child and the sacrifices that parents and families make. Walking that journey with him helped me to understand the emotional roller coaster that parents go through in these situations.

We spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. After an emotionally grueling and medically-expensive couple of years, doctors finally discovered my son had a heart problem and needed open-heart surgery. We drove to a children’s hospital for the procedure.

While my son was recovering from his heart surgery, we spent several days in the ICU alongside families with terminally-ill children. The scenes I witnessed there—an unforgettable mix of suffering, pain, courage, and hope—left a deep imprint on my heart. Many families in that ward were waiting out the final days of their children’s lives. My heart broke for those mothers and fathers. I could only imagine what they were feeling. The sorrow of knowing you only have days left with your child. They wept in the family lounge, exhausted and broken. But then they dried their tears and went back to their little one’s bedside to offer soft words of comfort and smiles full of love, showing so much courage and strength. Life is fragile and love is so precious. I learned a lot about both of those subjects that week.

CM: What inspired you to begin work on this book?
Lisa: My experiences with my son’s medical struggles and all the people I encountered along the way left such an imprint on my heart and mind. I wanted to write Holding On  to honor the bravery and courage I saw in the ICU of that children’s hospital. And I wanted the book to serve another purpose too. Those families in that hospital ward left such an impression on me. As I saw their tears and heard their sobs and witnessed their suffering, I felt so helpless.

Since that day, I’ve wanted to do something to make a difference so maybe other families wouldn’t have to endure that kind of pain. So when I wrote Holding On I decided to donate a percentage of my income from the book to children’s cancer research and charities. Since September is National Children’s Cancer Awareness Month, I’m donating 100% of all money I make on the book to charity. So if readers will buy it, I’ll donate it!

If you love kids and hate cancer, consider helping us raise awareness and funds this month. A Facebook post, a Tweet, or a blog could help save the life of a sick child somewhere. You are welcome to share a link to this blog or my personal blog and website with your social network. Every effort helps, and by working together we can make a big impact!

CM: Were you surprised at the outcome of the book when you finished?
Lisa: After I finished the book, I set it aside and didn’t look at it for at least a year. When I finally picked it up and reread it, I was very moved by the story. I’m sure that people think that writers, having written a book, practically know each line by heart. For me, that is completely not the case. When I finish a book, I’ll remember the general plot and major incidents, but I forget all the details, even main characters’ names sometimes. If I do a sequel, I have to go back and reread to refresh my memory and make sure that I get names, places, and descriptions right in the next book. So when I picked up the story after a year and enjoyed it from a reader’s perspective, I was very pleased.

CM: How do you feel about speaking about the topic?
Lisa: I have done my share of public speaking and I’m actually learning to relax and enjoy the experience. That’s not to say I don’t still get a few tummy flutters. I do! But it’s getting easier as I do more of it.

CM: Any advice to the readers who wish to publish a book?
Lisa: Follow your heart! Like any job, writing has its fun parts and parts that feel like work. Writing novels takes determination and persistence, but it is also very rewarding. It’s one of the few professions where you can be anyone and do anything. Your imagination is the limit.

CM: You offered to give away a copy of Holding On to a blog visitor. How can readers enter the drawing?

Lisa: Yes I am, and I appreciate Crystal’s willingness to host a contest for a free book giveaway. If you would like to enter, please leave a comment, along with your name and contact information, at the end of this blog. 

Crystal will be drawing a name from the people who comment at the end of the week. The winner will have their choice of an ebook download or a paperback version. I used to read paperbacks, but I recently received an iPad as a birthday gift and am beginning to understand the e-reader craze. So I will happily accommodate your preference. :-)

Lisa: Crystal, thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog and offering me the chance to share about myself, my book, and a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. It is my hope and prayer that someday we will find a cure for childhood cancer and novels about parents and children fighting this disease will become obsolete. :-)


Lisa Mills

Author Lisa Mills

Holding On by Lisa Mills

When single mother, Danielle Jordan, discovers her seven-year-old son, Trevor, has leukemia, she is thrust into a desperate mission to save his life. Despite the best medical efforts, chemotherapy fails and the doctors inform her that a marrow transplant is his only hope.

But the search for a donor presents a new set of challenges. Because finding a match among blood relatives is his best chance, Danielle must return to her hometown to confront painful childhood secrets and people who have left deep scars on her heart.

Can she face her hurts and fears to save the son she loves so dearly?


Readers can purchase various ebook formats through Smashwords:

Print and Kindle editions can be found at Amazon:

(Winner has been drawn)


Lisa Lickel said...

Hi, Lisa, congratulations on your debut novel, sounds like a heart-breaking winner. You plot like I do and our schedules feel similar. Best wishes!

Linda said...

Definitely a heart-breaking book! Have a nephew who just went into remission with a Wilms kidney cancer. He's only 10, today. So I know this will be a very interesting book.

desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Melissa Henson said...

My son sees an oncologist and as we sit in the waiting room each visit we are educated in the ability to find joy in the little things. In the play room, kids with IV drips are playing together laughing. My son does not have a diagnosis of cancer. He has a problem with his bone marrow, so I relate to your statement regarding watching the other families. I pray your book will touch the hearts of families whether this is their struggle or not. If it will prompt some to pray for those that are fighting for their lives, then you have been part of a miracle.

Jean Ann Williams said...

Lisa, thank you for writing such a book. I know of several young couples who have lost a child to cancer.

I could identify with your writing schedule, and I agree with putting family first in the evenings!

Lisa Mills said...

Lisa L., Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. Always nice to meet another plotter! :-)
Lisa Mills

Lisa Mills said...

So glad you stopped by and shared with us about your nephew. It's kids like him that inspired the book, and that I hope to help in the process. Many prayers going his way!
Lisa Mills

Lisa Mills said...

I'm touched by your story. I know you can understand the kids at the oncologist's office because a mother worrying over her child is a universal experience, cancer or not. They are so precious and it's hard to watch them suffer and feel so helpless.

I love what you said about finding the joy in the little things. So true! Thank you for coming by and sharing your story. Will be praying for your son.
Lisa Mills

Lisa Mills said...

Thank you for coming by and showing your support. There are so many families out there touched by this disease or similar ones.

I think my journey with my son and his medical issues helped me to realize that time with our kids is precious ... more precious than getting in another 500 words after supper. I'm glad you see that too. :-)

Lisa Mills

MaureenT said...

I like the plot of your story. Am so sorry about your can be hard at times. I lost a baby girl, and when someone asked me how I got the perfect family, I didn't know quite what to say. I had a daughter and two years later my little one was born with a birth defect, she lived 77 days. Then we had a little boy. So yes the perfect family, but??


Lisa Mills said...

Thanks for coming by! And I'm so sorry about your loss. It's hard to know what to say to people when they touch on a sensitive subject like that, isn't it? Do you tell them about the child you lost and risk the awkward moment or just let it pass? A very personal decision. I feel honored you shared her with us.

jude urbanski said...

Lisa and Crystal,
Congratulations on your new marriage and family. So happy for you.

Great interview from the two of you.

Your book will minister to many.

Jude Urbanski

LeAnne Hardy said...

Wow! What an amazing topic. I hear your heart in this interview, and I'm sure readers will hear your heart in the book. May God use it to bless many.

Lisa Mills said...

Thanks for coming by! I hope the book will minister to many and help educate people on what families go through when their child gets sick. Blessings,

Lisa Mills said...

Thanks for stopping by to say hello! I have found it's so much easier to write a book about something you feel deeply about. I hope some of my passion is contagious. :-)
Lisa Mills

Patricia Strefling said...

Lisa, you have found a niche that touches so many people in their direst times of need and pain.

Those who have experience are the ones who are most qualified to share with others and you have done that!


Blessings to the outreach of Holding On and the people who need the comfort!


Karen Wiesner said...

You know I'm you're biggest fan, Lisa. And you're such an interesting person! Thanks for the interview. I enjoyed it almost as much as I did your book. : )

Karen; subscribe to Karen’s Quill for a chance to win my books every month!
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Lisa Mills said...

Thanks for coming by and always being so supportive! I sincerely hope the book will touch hearts and help people find healing for their hurts.

I appreciate the positive feedback on the book and the interview! Thanks for coming to say hello.

Lisa Mills

Jen & Gabe said...

I absolutly loved this book! I have told many people how great and inspiring it was! I unexpectedly found healing as I read your book! You are a great writer and I can hardly wait for your next book!
mooresouthbend at sbcglobal dot net

Lisa Mills said...

Thank you, Jen! Your feedback is a blessing. I write with the hopes that the stories will touch someone's heart, and to know that was the case is just awesome!
Lisa Mills

Alexander said...

Interesting interview! I really enjoy it!

Crystal Laine said...

Thanks to Lisa for coming by to comment and to all of you who commented. Maureen won Lisa's book, and I hope if you haven't read her book, you will buy it.

Thanks, too, for so many sharing your hearts and how this book has touched your lives.