Tiffany: Welcome, Lisa. Thank you for agreeing to be today’s guest author.
LAS: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Tiffany: First question: how did you become a writer and when did you start?
LAS: I always knew that I could write because I never received less than “A’s” on essays and term papers. But I assumed that anyone could write good clean prose if they tried. I do remember, in elementary school, daydreaming about characters and inventing elaborate plots, but at twelve hungry curiosity and fiction for escape and solace. Reading has always been an integral part of my life. My parents read voraciously. But it wasn’t until my children were grown that the need to write responsibilities forced me to focus on the practical. Fortunately, I loved to read – non-fiction to feed my fiction resurfaced, abruptly, and with the impact of a tsunami. Once started, I was hooked.
Tiffany: What can you tell us about Exceeding Expectations?
LAS: I intended the book to be a page-turner suspense, primarily written for women, so naturally I included romance. The crime that inspired it took place in Palm Beach, playground of the mega-rich, which permitted me to incorporate additional lush settings, like an expansive estate in Virginia, an entire 5 story Manhattan townhouse. Romantic pre-WWII Paris was a bonus. But frankly, I adore the characters: There’s Jack Morgan – lackluster artist, gifted lover, irresistible rascal and utterly devoted father. His daughter Charlotte (Charlie), a funny self-deprecating 23 year old who is aware that she’s pampered, over-protected and unprepared to do anything besides marrying a member of her elite social class. Raul Francesco, the flirtatious young lawyer, Cuban expatriate, who enjoys teasing Charlie, when he’s not helping her deal with the fallout of her father’s devastating suicide. Supporting characters also have their own unique and memorable personalities. Bu6t I don’t want to ruin the surprises that I’ve worked to hard to incorporate. Readers will discover them for themselves.
Tiffany: What inspired Exceeding Expectations?
LAS: All three of my published books were generally inspired by media coverage of people that I found intriguing. In 1998, Florida television and newspapers were reporting a story of a local Palm Beach socialite (ironically named Fagan) arrested for kidnapping his daughters eighteen years earlier, when they were 2 and 5 years old. The primary reason that it had taken eighteen years to find Fagan was that he had successfully reinvented himself. As William S. Martin, a handsome widower with two young daughters and no apparent means of support, Fagan had met and married a wealthy Palm Beach widow. After their divorce, another affluent woman agreed to wed and maintain his family’s plush lifestyle.
Neighbors, friends and the teachers at the girls’ tony private school all described him as “likeable,” “charming” and “devoted father.” Throughout his arrest and subsequent proceedings, his loyal third wife steadfastly stood by him, as did both daughters. Perhaps what most surprised people who followed the case was that the girls’ mother, a research scientist teaching at the University of Virginia, through the media and her attorney, repeatedly begged her daughters to meet with her and they refused. To my knowledge, that continues to this day.
As I was following the case I found myself thinking that there was an even juicier story behind this headline-grabber and set out to create one. I began with a few core facts. A man with an invented name and history, twice married to wealthy widows, living in Palm Beach, playground of the mega-rich and famous, and involved in a crime. Two adoring daughters unaware of their true identities. Given time, my imagination happily supplied the rest. A townhouse off Fifth Avenue. A sprawling estate in Virginia. Romantic Paris in the years prior to WWII. A riveting past for Jack Morgan: skilled lover, lack-luster artist and irresistible rascal. A full-blown range of challenges and hard-wrought triumphs for his traumatized daughter Charlotte (Charlie).
Tiffany: Which is more important in your books – the characters or the plot?
LAS: As hard as I work developing a plot that holds readers from the first to the last page, I start with one intriguing character. For example, in Exceeding Expectations, I saw Jack Morgan as a living, breathing, complex person with both weaknesses and strengths – devoted father and likable conman who prefers the company of sophisticated beautiful women older than himself. To accomplish that, I fabricated a difficult childhood that could produce those traits. The son of a hard-drinking widower, the youngest of four touch brothers, all reluctantly raised by the sole female in the household, their overworked sister. A man who missed the physical affection, compassion and tenderness of a mother, Jacks wants to be pampered. Yet when he sees a newborn he relates to its vulnerability and can’t abandon it.
Tiffany: If Exceeding Expectations is made into movie, have you given any thought as to casting?
LAS: That’s a question often put to me at book events. Deborah Previte, the Bookish Dame, thinks Raul is Andy Garcia’s clone. I can absolutely see George Clooney as Jack Morgan at fifty. He has the talent to play serious and comedic roles, and the looks and sex appeal to play Jack. The problem is, what actor could convince viewers that he’s George Clooney at twenty-five? Maybe the addition of false eyelashes would help. I’d love to hear suggestions from readers. As for my heroine Charlie, I see a young Gwyneth Paltrow playing her. Sadly, I don’t know how to turn back time. Any suggestions?
Tiffany: I also think a young Gwyneth would make a fantastic Charlie. I could also see Amanda Seyfried playing her too. Here’s a fun question for you. Tell us 10 things about yourself that fans might find interesting or surprising?
LAS: 1. Interesting or surprising. Well, I make jewelry, but refuse to sell it. I like what I make too much to part with it. (Occasionally, I give a piece to a very good friend.)
LAS: 2. I enjoy watching television documentaries on an impossibly wide variety of subjects.
LAS: 3. I don’t need a time machine, black hole or a crack in the universe to step back in time. A visit to any museum, historic mansion, or dig site that has art or artifacts from the past will transport me. When I can’t get to one of the above, and I desperately need a break from the frantic age of instant access, an antique store will do.
LAS: 4. I’m impossibly impatient. For example, besides the news, I record all TV programs I want to see so that I can condense a 60 minute episode into 30. (Which does not upset my husband whose tastes differ dramatically from mine, and who does his viewing in another room. Having things in common in marriage is highly overrated.)
LAS: 5. I’m fascinated by all facets of crime, criminals and deviant behavior.
LAS: 6. I’m a volunteer tutor at an after school program for disadvantaged kids.
LAS: 7. I love watching lightning and listening to thunder but only when I’m safe and dry.
LAS: 8. I’m equally parts left and right brained, a condition I share with the late Oliva Goldsmith, author of First Wives Club. When I worked at IBM it troubled me not to be primarily left brained, like most of my geek colleagues. Goldsmith’s must-read primer for novelists, The Bestseller, assured me that the condition was ideal for writing fiction. The creative right side provides the original characters and plot, while the practical left side organizes, evaluates and bullies the right side into endless editing.
LAS: 9. I grow orchids in front of my house and cactus inside.
LAS: 10. As a kid, I was so impressed that my mother could whistle through her fingers that I practiced and practiced for days until I could do it. My daughter is the 3rd generation of women in our family that accomplish this awesome feat. When I explained the quirky family tradition to my son’s eight year old, in an hour she nailed it. I’m so proud.
Tiffany: Last question: what particularly pleases you about writing?
LAS: The creative experience. Before I began writing, I envied painters, sculptors, composers. Imagine applying oil to canvas and fashioning a masterpiece. Imagine hearing wonderful music in your head that hasn’t been heard before. Imagine turning a shapeless lump of clay, or block of stone, into an object that produces emotions in viewers. I stopped envying other creative people after publishing my first book, Dangerous Lies. Writing is as creative as any branch of art. With words as my tool, I weave stories by placing invented people into invented problematic situations. If I’m truly skillful, I not only entertain, I touch, transport and meaningfully move readers. Now that’s a powerful and addicting drug.
Author Lisa April Smith lives with her husband, He-Who-Wishes-to-Remain-Anonymous, in
Eternal Playland, Florida, a delightful spot just off I-95. Ms. Smith describes Eternal Playland as "a little piece of level heaven with occasional dampness, where the bugs are plentiful but respectful, and even the smallest strip mall contains at least one pizza place and a nail salon."
Before discovering a passion for writing, Ms. Smith sold plumbing and heating, antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM. She returned to college multiple times to study anthropology, sociology and computer science, in which she holds degrees, as well as psychology, archeology, literature, history and art. Combine those widely diverse interests with a love of travel and a gift for writing page-turners and it’s easy to understand one reviewer’s unbridled praise for Exceeding Expectations, “She (Ms. Smith) has a brilliance for conveying characters, and the intellectual capacity to place them in historical settings that sparkle with glamorous detail . . . that make it fun to read . . . ”
Big thanks again to Lisa April Smith for stopping by the blog today and answering some fun questions!