Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lisa Nowak, The McCall Initiative Episode 1.1: Deception

AUTHOR: Lisa Nowak
BOOK TITLE: The McCall Initiative Episode 1.1: Deception
GENRE: YA dystopian
PUBLISHER: Webfoot Publishing

Try the first episode of The McCall Initiative for free at all these retailers.

Barnes and Noble:

Please tell us about yourself:

I am a writer and landscaper living in Milwaukie, Oregon. I enjoy chocolate, reading, snuggling cats, and staying busy, and while I could probably do just fine as a vegetarian, I could never go vegan because it would kill me to give up cheese. I have a classic type A personality, but philosophically I’m very Taoist, embracing the ideas that things are best in their natural state and that going with the flow is the smart way to work.

When and why did you begin writing?

I wrote a little poetry starting at around the age of eight, but I didn’t get serious about writing until I was thirteen. I wanted to write because I’d always loved reading. In fact, when I was really little, my mom used to bribe me with books. She’d take me and my older brother and sister to the local blueberry field and make us pick berries. Naturally, as a five-year-old I was more interested in goofing around than getting any work done, so my mom would buy these little picture books. She’d tell me if I could pick a coffee can full of berries, I could have a book.

What are your thoughts about promotion?

I think each author needs to experiment and find out what works for her. My best luck has come through writing a series and making the first book in that series free. You get on different lists that way, and if you can manage to get an ad with one of the more powerful advertising services, you can really climb the charts. I approach marketing by using the 80/20 rule. 80% of your productivity should come from 20% of your efforts. If you’re putting 80% of your time into something that’s only getting you 20% of your results (which is typical of promotions) you need to re-think your approach.

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so how to get through it?

There’s a part of me that doesn’t believe in writer’s block. It’s too easy to use it as an excuse not to do the hard work that’s necessary in writing. But there are times when the words just don’t come as easily as others. The thing I’ve found to be effective most when I’m struggling is to take a walk with my digital recorder. Giving myself some sort of mildly demanding physical activity occupies just enough of my brain to let the creative side get down to business. I’ve had days where I sat for six hours in front of the computer and didn’t write more than two hundred words, but when I went out to take my walk that night, I came up with another eight hundred in forty minutes.

Another good approach when you’re stuck is to brainstorm with friends. Sometimes they’ll give you good ideas, and sometimes the unworkable ideas they come up with will stir an idea of your own that’s useful.

What are your current projects?

I’m currently working on something a little different. A serial, which is a story broken down into novella-length episodes. It’s kind of like a season of the television drama, where you’ll see part of the story each week, but you have to watch the whole season to get the entire plot.

The idea started with an article that described what the United States might be like half a century from now if current predictions about climate change play out. The article projected that while much of the country would be devastated, the Pacific Northwest would remain largely unchanged and “climate refugees” would move here in droves. This reminded me of the 1970s, when Governor Tom McCall told people they were welcome to visit Oregon again and again but to please not come here to live.

This scenario seemed like the perfect setup for a YA dystopian series, so I plotted out a story set fifty years in the future. Led by a rock star-turned activist, the Pacific Northwest has seceded from the United States to form the country of Cascadia, which has closed borders. People outside are trying to buy their way in, and someone is kidnapping and disposing of poor families to make room for these wealthy immigrants.

What do you plan for the future?

For the rest of 2014 I’ll be completing the first season of The McCall Initiative. I’m currently working on the fifth of nine episodes. Once I’m done with that, I intend to write the fifth and final book in my Full Throttle series. At that point, I’ll tackle season two of The McCall Initiative. I’m not sure where things will go from there, but I’m confident that when the time comes, an idea will present itself and I’ll totally fall in love with it.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?

What genre do you write and why?

I write YA fiction for the same reason a lot of other people do: I still feel like a teenager inside my head. But beyond that, I really enjoy the genre because it lends itself to a first person POV and to having a distinctive voice. I’m also into fast-moving stories with little description and lots of dialogue, and that’s the sort of thing teens are looking for.

What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?

One of my main influences as I developed the idea for The McCall Initiative was the terrible political divide we’re experiencing in the United States right now. People on both sides have become so extreme and so unwilling to listen to any other point of view. My Full Throttle series appeals to both sides of the political spectrum because it focuses on basic human values: love, family, self-reliance, and integrity. Both sides seem to want to lay claim to those values and say the other lacks them, but that’s not the case. At our core, we all want and need the same things, we just manifest those wants and needs differently.

When I was researching this series, I did a lot of reading about Tom McCall, Oregon’s 30th governor. I was amazed to learn that while he was a Republican, he was very progressive and placed high value on preserving the environment, as well as championing human rights. McCall believed in voting for the good of the community, as opposed to along party lines. I’ve modeled one of my characters after him, and I hope that as people read the series, they’ll be persuaded to look a little harder for the things we have in common. That they’ll examine the issues, rather than allow themselves to blindly swallow whatever the politicians and commentators have to say.

Which comes first: the plot or characters?

Generally speaking, characters come first because they’re what give me the most satisfaction. I love character-driven fiction. But in the series I’m working on now, the plot came first. All I knew about the characters was that I had to have a female and male protagonist who would swap off telling the story, and that they would fall in love.

How did you decide how your characters should look?

I’m not really big on writing descriptions, so when it comes to how my characters look, I’m pretty much lost beyond their hair and eye color. To give myself a cheat sheet, I started looking through stock photos for models meeting my basic criteria. I try to find those that have a lot of poses to choose from, particularly when I’m writing a series. This allows me to send my cover designer links so the characters I’ve imagined all along will be on my covers.

I copy the photos into a Word document, print them, cut them out, and paste them on poster board, which I hang up over my desk. This way I can glance at my characters while I’m writing to get a quick description of their body type or facial structure, or just to be inspired.

Did your book require a lot of research? If so what kind?

This series required a ton of research. Not only did I have to figure out what technology might be like fifty years in the future, I also had to create a whole new country in a world devastated by climate change. This meant studying potential scientific advances, global warming, the history of United States, and the U.S. political system.

I have a character with aspirations to be a doctor, which led to medical research. Another wants to serve in the Army, so I had to read about that. And my Cascadian president started out as a rock star, which meant I had to know a little bit about music. Since I’m trying to incorporate the flavor of Portland, Oregon into the series, I visited Pittock Mansion, the Benson Hotel, and the White Eagle Saloon, all of which serve as central locations. I’m also using local culture, such as the Portland Timbers, the Cascadian movement, and the Shanghai Tunnels, so I’ve had to familiarize myself with these topics.

I’m constantly coming across little things I need to look into as I write, like the Enigma machines of World War II and how the blues provided a foundation for rock music. Fortunately, I have a great team of experts I can turn to for questions about technology, medicine, and meteorology. Another good source is my Facebook community. Whenever I have a question about a subject I’m not familiar with, or just need help coming up with a name for a minor character or a computer program, I’ll post it on my wall and take suggestions.

What, if anything, bugs you when you read a novel?

Probably my number one pet peeve is weak characterization. I really have to be able to get to know the character and experience what they’re going through to become engaged in a book. So many times these days I see YA novels that feature a male love interest whose main redeeming quality is being hot. No, I’m not going to fall in love with your character just because you tell me he’s cute. I need a little more than that.

Describe your writing space.

We have two rooms above our garage, and the front one is my office. It has a sloped ceiling with skylights, which makes it a challenge to pin up those character boards. :) My cats stay in the office, so I’ve always got furry little distractions running around. I’m big on mood lighting and use a string of solid amber Christmas lights to create a warm, cozy glow. Since it’s easier to get into my fictional world when it’s gloomy or dark outside, I often close the shutters and blinds on bright days. But that’s only in the winter. In the summer, I go outside and sit on my deck where I can look at my garden. I like to be really comfortable when I write, so I kick back in my office chair with my feet up on my desk and my laptop in my lap. Sometimes this means typing around my cat Keelan, who thinks he belongs there too.

Book description:

What if the Pacific Northwest seceded from United States? In 2063, it has.

The climate change that’s devastated all but the Northwest corner of the U.S. has been around since before Piper Hall was born. She doesn’t spend much time thinking about it, the secession that created Cascadia, or the closed border, erected to keep out climate refugees. All she wants is to get through high school and earn a medical degree so she can pull her family out of poverty. Piper’s sure her little brother’s stories about poor people vanishing are just rumors—until she comes home to an empty house. Losing her future, her family, and her freedom and forced into hiding, Piper has to find a way to get to the bottom of the disappearances. But the only one who can help might be the very boy whose family has displaced her own.

Deception, Episode 1, Season 1, of The McCall Initiative serial, is approximately 69 pages or 24,000 words.

Box set #1 is now available. It contains episodes 1-3, Deception, Revelation, and Conspiracy.


  1. A lot of writing! Sounds like a big project!

  2. I've read the first three books in their series and can't wait for the rest. The characters are so real and the situation could be true some day. Highly recommended.

  3. I read everything I can that Lisa writes. Her characters are believable and the stories so good and true that I get completely lost in them.
    I really strongly suggest that you try one of her free books. Just don't blame me when you go through withdrawal after you have read them all.

  4. An amazing and comprehensive interview. Being treated to the inner workings of a talented writer is an adventure in itself; and then the intriguing premise of her new series, The McCall Initiative, really ropes you in. I've read every one so far and can't wait for the next. Alice Lynn

  5. Great interview! Thanks for sharing with us how this talented author approaches her work.

  6. I can verify that Lisa does a LOT of research for her writing! In fact, she goes above and beyond, more so than many authors. Lisa's writing is smooth and so complete that if flows wonderfully. Her stories hold your attention from beginning to end.