I’d like to welcome Award Winning Author Lis Anna-Langston to Layered Pages. Lis is a Parents’ Choice Gold Book Award winner, a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner and the Dante Rossetti First Place Award winner for YA Fiction. She is the author of Tupelo Honey, Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond and the short story collection, Tolstoy & the Checkout Girl. Born in the South she loves writing about misfits, screw ups, outlaws and people who generally don’t fit into nicely labeled boxes. She loves zany, wild rides and is the recipient of many awards including; a two-time Pushcart nominee, a five-time WorldFest winner, Telluride IndieFest winner, Helene Wurlitzer Grant recipient, New Century Writers winner, a finalist in the prestigious William Faulkner Competition, & Second Place Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award. She writes Young Adult, New Adult and Middle Grade novels and loves every second of it.
Lis, please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.
I have entered many contests in my career but this is the first book I’ve had go to print. So, I created a list of book award contests and entered. Parents’ Choice, Moonbeam, Literary Classics and IndieBRAG were all on the list and I entered and won each one.
Tell me about your book, Tupelo Honey.
Well, each person sees the book slightly differently. I think this story is about a little girl trying to manage the insanity of her family. I really loved Teresa DiFalco’s review from Parents’ Choice Awards. I think she summed it up so well:
“Tupelo Honey is a delight. Set in rural Mississippi, with a cast of colorful southerners, it stars one pretty dysfunctional family at the center of which is Tupelo Honey. Author Lis Anna-Langston gets into the head of her title girl completely, taking readers on a ride of a sort of haunted but beautiful mess. To paraphrase Tolstoy, it’s the unhappy families that are unique — and by definition, often more interesting. Tupelo Honey does not have an easy life, on the surface. Her mother is a drug addict, and mental illness lingers in her grandmother Marmalade’s house like a hot humid August cloud. Yet Anna-Langston still fills it with gems. It’s certainly not a dull life, one full of heartbreaks big and small, but this tough sweet girl pulls it off with aplomb. It’s a treat from start to end. Langston has written rich, vivid characters, and painted a vibrant mosaic of a year in one young southern girl’s life. It’s a hard book to put down, and one you won’t want to end. I envy its future readers.”
What was the inspiration for your story?
A lot of this story came from a creative memoir class I took in North Carolina. It was one of the first writing classes I’d ever taken. I studied literature in college but I did not take writing classes. So, I wrote to the class prompts. My classmates loved these stories so I kept writing and they made me promise I’d complete the book. At some point, I decided to add in fictional scenes or change the chronology of events and at that point I switched it to fiction. Those classes were hard and honestly, I wanted to quit. My roommate said, “That’s exactly why you should keep taking the class.” She was right. My inspiration came from hearing the stories of my classmates and organizing the material I created every day.
Set the scene for Northern Mississippi in your story.
Well, I grew up in North Mississippi. It was an amazing place with staggering poverty at the time. The light slants low over the earth in Mississippi in the late summer in a way I’ve never witnessed anywhere else. It is a land of triumph and simplicity, a place where people knew their neighbors and talked to each other. Even back in the 90’s they still had party lines in Mississippi. For some reason, I thought that was awesome. They weren’t racing to catch up with technology. It is also partly set in Mexico City which is my favorite city on Earth.
What are Tupelo’s strengths and weaknesses?
I think her strength is her weakness to some degree. She is a little girl who can survive anything but she has to get to the point where she steps out of that circle and begins to thrive. Her strength is her ability to love and constantly find the good in people. She is incredibly resilient and likeable. Her weaknesses really come from outside of her in the form of her mother’s addictions.
How long did it take to write your story and what was your process?
This book is comprised of sections cut from another book. I wrote a book entitled Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond. That book was four hundred pages long and geared more to adults. That book was optioned and turned into a screenplay. In the process of rewriting the book and creating the screenplay a lot was cut, changed, enriched, deepened. It left me with a lot of excess material. One day I compiled all the cut sections and chapters and realized it had a real theme and plot. What had been cut was similar in tone and rising action. So, from the cutting room floor Tupelo Honey began to rise. The actual book took me about three or four weeks to rewrite and put together from that point.
Who designed your book cover?
Me. I designed the cover. Photography and design are skills I’ve possessed for a long time. I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like and kept searching and creating drafts. Finally, I put together the cover and paid a graphic design artist in Africa to do the layout on the back.
Where can readers buy your book?
Tupelo Honey is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and it is available for instant purchase via Kindle and Nook.
What is up next for you?
A grand adventure with the new middle grade and YA books I’ve just finished. These books are particularly electric and filled with great energy and excitement. My agent is shopping them around now. I’m involved in a few film projects. I’m always working on about five projects at a time. Just about everything I create is for a middle grade or young adult audience.
Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?
I LOVE writing for YOU! I love, love, love it. I love entertaining people and bringing laughs and tears into a reader’s life. Okay, the good kinda tears. 🙂 I love it when I am totally swept up in a story, when the world quietly slips away. I aim to accomplish this with my readers. Readers are the lifeblood of the publishing world.
More about Lis:
Her fiction has been published in Word Riot, The Blotter, Petigru Review, Hot Metal Press, The Smoking Poet, Eclectic Flash Literary Journal, Paper Skin Glass Bones, 491 Magazine, Fiction Fix, The Monarch Review, 5×5 Literary Magazine, Red Booth Review, Hint Fiction Anthology, Chamber Four Literary Magazine, Emyrs Journal, Literary Laundry, Barely South Review, Flash Fiction Offensive, Flashquake Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review, Cactus Heart Press, Empty Sink Publishing, Prick of the Spindle Literary Review, Per Contra, Storyacious, Gravel Literary, Bedlam Publishing, New Plains Review, The Merrimack Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Kaaterskill Basin Journal, Sand Hill Review, Conclave. Milk Journal and The MacGuffin Literary Review.
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lis Anna-Langston who is the author of, Tupelo Honey, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Tupelo Honey, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.