If you’re a fan of magical realism in books you’ll find Lisa Van Allen’s new novel, The Night Garden, absolutely enchanting. Nestled in a picturesque town in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: an enchanted maze with gardens of larger-than-life flowers. Locals believe that a stroll through the wild corridors of the garden maze can help solve life’s most challenging questions. Unbeknown to them, the garden also holds some shocking secrets.
Lisa joins us now to talk inspirations and the day-to-day writing life.
A little bit of everywhere, but mostly I like to write about the things that fascinate me. Part of the spark behind The Night Garden was a fascination with poisonous plants – beautiful, deadly, alluring, untouchable. The first time I brought home a field guide to poisonous plants and mushrooms, my husband said, “Should I be worried?”
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Alas, I’m not one of those writers who has an average writing day. I don’t have any kind of set schedule. I write as the mood strikes throughout the day. Sometimes that means an hour. Sometimes that means no one sees me for weeks. I wish I could work with a more set routine, but I haven’t figured it out yet!
What female writer has inspired you?
I don’t think any readers will be surprised to learn that I love Alice Hoffman. But the first woman writer who really made me feel energized and excited about writing was Margaret Atwood, whom I read for the first time in my first year of high school.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
So far I’ve been able to wing it when I’m writing, with only a vague idea of where the story is going to go. But because of that, I do a LOT of rewriting – far more rewriting than first drafting. Often, I’m rewriting significantly right down to the wire.
I’ve always wanted to write, and my first paying short story publication came when I was nineteen and in college. But it was kind of uphill from there. For a time, I tried not to be a writer – to do something else that would pay the bills and offer more stability. I figured I could do something related to writing, then write on the side. But as it turned out, writing always gets the best of me. And I the best thing I ever did was give up my plan B. I say all the time when I’m speaking to writers: If you have no plan B, there’s no option but to make your Plan A work. You find a way.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Oh – that’s easy. What I hear all the time is, “Once you get one book published, you’re all set.” But nothing could be further from the truth! Each book is a prayer-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. And I’m incredibly and unspeakably grateful every time I am able to write a new story. Being able to tell story, to live my life in stories, is one of the greatest blessings of my life.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Just do it! Lots of people have ideas for books; few people actually get those ideas on paper. If it’s important to you, go after it with all you’re worth.