An Interview with Lisa Pell: Author & Consultant
Sylvia: Welcome Lisa. I had the pleasure of reading your book and enjoyed it immensely. Please give our readers a brief introduction of yourself and a little about your book.
Lisa: Thank you, Sylvia, for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you and your readers, and I’m thrilled you enjoyed my book. About me, despite spending most of my 30-year professional life as a writer, this is my first novel. My writing career began as an undergraduate at George Mason University, where I wrote for the student newspaper. After graduation I became a reporter for a newspaper in Alexandria, Virginia. Then I branched into radio and television as an on-air reporter in Bristol, Virginia, and Charleston, West Virginia, before I became homesick for northern Virginia. Back in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, over the past 25 years or so I’ve worked for several public relations firms, large and small, and now am employed with an information technology project management firm as a communications consultant for a U.S. government agency. But my roots are still in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. And that’s where my novel comes into being.
Inspired by my own experience, Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? is the story of my alter ego, Lori Pomay, whose name is what I call a “mutt-a-zation” of the French word for clueless. A happily married career woman living in suburban Washington, D.C., she undergoes genetic testing for in vitro fertilization and her world is rocked when she is told the dad she always knew could not possibly have been her biological father. When discussing blood type incompatibilities, the doctor, in his lovely French accent, said, “I senk you better senk about the milkman.” This mid-life shocker sends my character into an alternately hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking search for truth about her heritage – from Appalachian Cherokees to a Purple King on a church stage, with high-rolling gamblers, car dealers, dentists, and all manner of older, confused amnesiacs along for the ride. It’s a mystery that should appeal to those searching for their roots, with DNA testing foibles and myths of history exposed. I’m fond of saying it’s a mystery only a mother could create, but Paul McCartney might say only your mother should know. I’m a major Beatles fan, was even calling myself the Egg Woman during the in vitro process.
Sylvia: When you first realized that the dad you always knew wasn’t your biological father, what went thru your mind?
Lisa: It was like being hit in the face with a lightning bolt that had been waiting years to strike. I felt like a fool for not questioning my late mother about my paternity when there had been so many clues. We were extraordinarily close. To be told my dad wasn’t my biological father was so stunning my mind went numb for a few hours, and then I became angry at myself for my stupidity. That was followed by waves of denial alternating with a disbelieving sense of betrayal. I never could blame my mother for much of anything; she had sacrificed so much raising me and my sister mostly by herself, with her own life shunted aside as she lived vicariously through her daughters. It was if I were in some sort of surrealistic off-world where I was not really me anymore. That moment of bizarre awakening was such a shock to my system I eventually wrote two songs about it I turned into music videos, “The Ballad of Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rWXRSRPGRU, and “Nothin’ Butt a Mutt” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGv09fZuops . But after more reflection and investigation, I then realized if this situation indeed were true, she probably had her reasons for not telling me. And, maybe she didn’t know, or there was nothing to tell if medical testing errors were to blame. I still love my mother, miss her every day, and dream about her almost every night.
Sylvia: What inspired you to write your first book?
Lisa: Back in 2005 I had experienced several miscarriages and decided to try in vitro fertilization. That didn’t work, but for the first time my blood type was officially confirmed, B-positive. I knew from my late mother’s kidney-pancreas transplant she was O-positive, and I had my dad’s military dog tags, which read A-positive. Generally, basic biology would suggest “A” plus “O” does not equal “B,” so I embarked on what turned out to be a four-year search to figure out who my daddy was – and, like the joke about the dowager spending $3,000 to dig up her family history, and then $10,000 to bury it, I decided to have fun with the story and fictionalize it. Several doctors intrigued by some of the quirky medical and scientific issues involved in my situation, people who have been involved in adoption issues, and friends intrigued by my tales of my Appalachian heritage, began to encourage me to publish my story.
Sylvia: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Lisa: There are three key messages I would like to leave with potential readers:
- Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? is a fun novel, but it’s not fluff.
- In some ways, it’s a medical mystery. Readers will learn more about the fallibility of half-siblingship DNA testing, problems with blood type testing/mutations, the impact of several genetic mutations, and the risks of in vitro fertilization.
- It’s a family saga. This story is about Appalachian families with American roots stretching back before the French and Indian War, and a baby being created. To borrow from the Rock ‘n’ Roll-speak of that rockin’ time period for me – Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?
But the overarching message I hope to leave with people who have read the book is: Know your heritage, both your genealogy and your biology, but be careful, and be prepared for surprises.
Sylvia: Though you fictionalized your story, it is a real issue facing many people. What advice would you give to people searching for biological relatives?
Lisa: Know yourself and your biological heritage, but remember, your search isn’t necessarily all about you. Try to be considerate of others who may have been in tough situations, or may not know anything at all about you. Remember you may be rocking the worlds of many people – from parents and potential step-parents, to potential siblings and other family members. They may not, at least initially, be happy to see you. Be careful. You could be stepping into a mess you are better off avoiding. People may have had good reasons for keeping you away from certain situations. Don’t be too aggressive, or appear bitter, or interested in someone else’s money. Most people try to be helpful once they are comfortable you are not trying to take advantage of them or their relatives or friends, but you probably also will run into a few jerks. Don’t let the smarmy ones distract you. Try to be grateful for your situation, whatever it may be. Keep your cool and maintain your spirit. Some circumstances may add up to mere coincidence, and the further people travel from memories, the less stable those memories become – as a function of the passage of years, some may end up being flat-out wrong. Be politely persistent, but also patient.
Sylvia: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Lisa: Write, then edit, then edit about 10 more times before you ever show anyone anything you have written. Make sure it is as perfect as you can make it before you have a professional review it. Try to be as clear as possible in your writing and avoid mundane details and story lines. Bare your soul, but try to make your book as interesting as possible to others. Speaking of others, if you haven’t built up a social media network yet, you are way behind. With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, it’s tough to be noticed. Build up Facebook friends, maintain professional connections on LinkedIn, reach new people through Twitter, pin products on Pinterest. There’s also Google+, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, and probably several I’ve missed, with more to come. It’s all about connecting with the world. Network – you’ll come across valuable information to improve your story and help you market it later. And keep reading! As others have said, if you’re not reading, you’re probably not writing worth a damn. Learn from the masters.
Sylvia: What marketing techniques have you used to sell your books and which ones have been most successful?
Lisa: With hundreds of thousands of books published every year, unless you are a celebrity, it is hard to break through the information overload many potential readers find overwhelming. I decided, in addition to building up social media connections, I needed to spice things up with music videos and videos of reading excerpts. The response has been phenomenal. Friends have loved the videos and passed them on to their friends, who have passed them on to their friends. “The Ballad of Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?” – is a bluesy rocker I wrote with several professional musician friends, including my buddy Ken Sparks. The video features kids performing to exquisite vocals by my friend Megan Basile, and a stunning guitar riff and keyboards/synthesizer by musician Tom Saputo. Special thanks also to our Elvis, Lee Radek, for helping out on backup vocals. It’s a fun video, as is “Nothin’ Butt a Mutt,” another bluesy original, this time featuring puppies and kittens interpreting Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? On both songs I decided to respect the ears of music lovers and keep my own backup vocals fairly hidden. Harkening back to my experience as a television reporter who had to shoot and edit her stories, I also produced some video excerpt readings featuring a trunk my Scottish ancestors brought to America in the early 1700s. Another features some paintings I did to illustrate the Purple King, a character in the novel. And a video on some love letters my mother received has some amusing sound effects. Other videos and songs will come later. My husband and I, along with many of our friends and family, are having a blast with Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? With a title like that, how could we not?
Sylvia: Ha Ha! Yes, it is one of those title that have the potential to have some humor. So, Lisa, why should we buy your book?
Lisa: I hope my experience can help others by shedding light on some timely, relevant issues, and readers can enjoy a few laughs along the way. My novel should particularly resonate with people searching for their roots, those interested in Appalachian American and Virginia history and genealogy, DNA testing foibles, the impacts of various genetic mutations and medical/scientific issues, including in vitro fertilization, migraine and vascular disorders, vertigo, blood typing issues and blood type mutation theories. My tales of the legends of the Melungeon mix of races back in colonial days have sparked some interest, as well as a funny story about my grandmother joining the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the initial conversation with a fertility specialist, when, in a lovely French accent, he told me because of blood type incompatibilities, “I senk you better senk about zee milkman.” It’s the kind of story that seems to be on many people’s minds with all the attention now being paid to those exploring their heritage, from the celebrities on “Who Do You Think You Are?” to the biography of the late Steve Jobs, an adoptee. And of course, any story about a child born in the late 1950s has to involve a little rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a quirky paternity mystery with a Facebook twist, but, as one advance reviewer said on Amazon.com, it’s more than just a search for a parent, and it will be a good beach read for what’s left of summer.
Sylvia: Is there a special place that you prefer when you write?
Lisa: I load up my glasses of water and plop down in my swivel chair in front of the computer in my home office. I keep pads of paper around the house to jot down notes, but to write something of substance, the desktop computer is my tool of choice. It’s so much faster than hand writing, and so much easier to manipulate text, check spelling, conduct searches, etc. I can type almost as fast as I think, and my left-handed handwriting is slow-going and barely legible, sometimes illegible, even to me. I find laptop keyboards annoyingly unstable, end up plugging in a standard laptop and mouse, and that’s fine for travel, but I prefer the structure of sitting in a chair at a desk. It makes me focus.
Sylvia: What projects are you currently working on?
Lisa: Right now I’m working on a couple more songs for Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? People who have heard my songs are encouraging me to compose a musical. I try to quickly write down my ideas for lyrics and tunes either on a computer or scrap of paper, whatever is handy, whenever I’m inspired. Eventually I’ll get back to my Distortions series. It’s about a woman convicted of a murder she didn’t commit, an amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll performer, and a character with ties to a few Presidents, in a parody of Earth far in the future on “Planet Malaprop,” very similar to “Hearth.”
Sylvia: What is your POWER WORD? Why this word?
Lisa: It’s been said before, and I don’t mean to sound mushy or overly idealistic, but my power word is LOVE. Love has been such a part of the Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? project, since the moment of my conception, through my relationship with my family, friends, and colleagues who have supported me throughout my life and the writing of my novel, to my love of writing and all other outlets of creativity. Love keeps me going. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have received quite a bit of it from my mother, my dad, my sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, as well as my special partner in all this, my husband, the Agent Provocateur. Our relationship has become stronger as a result of the Who’s Your Daddy, Baby? project, and I am eternally grateful for this life-changing opportunity.
Sylvia: Love… I love that word! Thank you so much Lisa. I commend you on a great book. Please leave us your complete website, social media sites and where to buy your book?
Lisa:Thank you, Sylvia. It has been a pleasure meeting you virtually, and, again, I’m glad you enjoyed my novel.
My book can be purchased at:
various online sites listed through http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6421673.Lisa_Pell
and can be ordered through independent book stores
“The Ballad of Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rWXRSRPGRU
“Nothin’ Butt a Mutt,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGv09fZuops
“30 Second Introduction” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SWKNoGnEwo
“Chapter 1: Images of Myth and Myrrh” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gzElyWo6hw
“Chapter 10: The Letters” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsygqGmYZVI
“Chapter 17: Threads of History” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCWCSJChqAs