Meet the Author: Lisa Allen

Friday, May 8, 2015

Kansas City is blessed to be called home by many wonderful writers and creators. Thus, it is no surprise that three of our own are included in the collection Listen to Your Mother. In 2010, Ann Imig, through stage performances by writers in her community, gave voice to “the realities of mothers and mothering, of non-moms and caretakers, of sons and daughters … with stories so urgent they press from the hearts of people to the page and then to the LTYM Stage, a small selection which return again to the page.” It is no exaggeration to say the stories are urgent.

But don’t let the title fool you. These stories aren’t all about mothers. In Three Little Letters by Lisa Allen we learn about the power of mothering in the absence of a mother. Ann Breidenbach shares the agony of the other side of adoption in Mothering You, My Son: in Six Chapters. You’ll feel like you’ve been punched in the gut after reading Greta Funk’s The Wondering, in which her children ask “Tell me again how Dad died?”

Allen, Breidenbach, and Funk will read from Listen to Your Mother at the Oak Park Mall Barnes and Noble on Saturday, May 16th at 1:00 p.m. In anticipation of the event, Lisa Allen was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing life:

Listen to Your Mother is a national series. How did you get involved? I’d connected with Erin Margolin on Twitter during a blog conference in St. Louis—we were both lamenting the less than favorable conditions of the host hotel—and I started to follow her because I admire her writing. She was one of the two women who brought Listen To Your Mother to KC, and I saw that she put out a call for submissions on Twitter. I wrote a piece titled "My 180 Factor” and submitted it, and was selected for the 2013 show.

Your essay, "Three Little Letters", in Listen to your Mother is actually about your father. I found your description of him very moving. Was he able to read the essay? Had you given voice to his spirit before, or did Listen to Your Mother provide an avenue previously unexplored? Thank you for that compliment. My dad actually didn’t know that I’d written about him, or that I’d read an essay about him to our 2014 audience. He’s not on social media and while he knew of Listen To Your Mother he’s not been to a show (he lives about four hours away). I’d written about him before on my blog but Listen To Your Mother gave me the chance to really dig into what a special person he is, and to express how he’s made such a difference in my life. I share in my essay that he’s not shy; he’s actually quite outgoing and he has a big personality, but he’s humble when it comes to what he’s done throughout his life. After I wrote about my grandmother when she died, he started asking when I was going to write a book. Being a contributor to an anthology isn’t the same as being the author of my own book, but I’m so happy that my first publishing credit is for something I wrote about him.

What is the significance of your web address, backtoallen.com? There actually is a story there. Allen is my maiden name. I went back to that after my divorce, not because of ill will toward my ex-husband but because I became someone I didn’t really recognize—or like—during my marriage. I took some flack for not keeping my ex-husband’s name (I blogged about it: http://backtoallen.com/the-name-game/) but ultimately it was a question of survival for me, and that’s when I really started to write about some of the personal aspects of my life, usually on the blog.

You’ve got quite a few projects going: your blog, your professional profile writing, ghost writing, as well as the freelance work you do. What have been some of your favorite projects? Which do you find the most challenging? I feel really blessed to tell stories for a living. My favorites change constantly but are typically the articles I write about unsung heroes, the people you might pass at the grocery store and not realize just how amazing they are. I recently wrote a feature about Leonard Porter, who was a fighter pilot in the war when he was only 23. I’ve written about Jim and Barbara, a couple in Overland Park who spend their days volunteering at Children’s Mercy; Jim started volunteering because he has been a foster child and always found himself taking care of the other kids he was around. They met later in life—after a training session for their volunteer work—and got married after they’d both been widowed. And, believe it or not, I love writing dating profiles for match.com. It is challenging work, because everyone wants to appear normal but unique in a novel way, which isn’t always easy to accomplish. It’s fun to have to assume so many different personalities during the course of a day; in a typical week I might write as a doctor, truck driver, stay at home mom, IT exec, actress, physicist, waitress, salesperson, student, or retiree, and I’m only successful if the final project “sounds” like them. My most challenging work, though, is writing my own stuff. I’ve had several books in the works for far too long now!

What are you reading? I just started Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm and I’m finishing up Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I’m embarrassed to admit that my stack of books keeps growing and I’m not making as much progress as I’d like (I set my goal on Goodreads this year at 50; so far I’ve read 12). I re-read Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird at least once a year.

Are there books or resources you think every writer should be familiar with? Yes! I think everyone should read Bird by Bird and Still Writing and keep a copy of The Elements of Style handy. I also find inspiration on Twitter by following the #amwriting and #tenqueries discussions, and I like to follow Lamott, Shapiro, Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Roxane Gay online, because I find them to be real, relatable, and brilliant.

What is the most interesting project you are working on right now? I don’t know if it’s interesting to anyone but me, but I’m working on a memoir about dating after divorce and turning forty. I’d not dated much before getting married, and then I was married for quite some time, so it was a new world for me. I learned that there are still many, many frogs and I realized that I could be bitter about my experiences, or acknowledge that each man taught me something that I needed to learn at that particular time in my life. The book is a series of thank you notes to these men and to one woman who was affected by one of my relationships, whether she knew it or not. I’m editing it now, and hope to either explore self-publishing or connect with an agent who finds it interesting.

Thanks for sharing Lisa!