Interview with Liza Wiemer author of "Hello?"
Last month I read the BEST BOOK EVER -- Hello? by Liza Wiemer! What made this experience even better was being able to reach out to the author and tell her how much I loved her story. She was incredibly gracious and agreed to an interview. I think it's such a treat to hear directly from an author about their novel and hope you think so, too.
I’m so excited that I get to interview you! As I told you, I loved, loved, loved your novel Hello? for so many reasons. But before I start peppering you with questions about the book, would you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thank you so much for your fantastic questions and for having me on your blog! It’s an honor!
When I was a teen, I wasn’t thinking about becoming a writer. Actually, I was interested in becoming a doctor and was pre-med my freshman year at UW-Madison. That changed quickly as I realized how much I loved teaching. If I still needed confirmation, the proof came during a World Health class. My professor put up gory slides and described the medical issue in front of us. I passed out. Sitting down. Bam. Out like a light. It caused quite the scene. But hey, I just might have to use that experience in a future novel. :)
As a teen, I always kept a journal and I was an avid letter writer. I had a pen pal from England, and we wrote back and forth a lot. I also had quite the imagination, mostly out of necessity, a desire to be anywhere but in the difficult environment that I called home.
My writing career started in adult non-fiction. Truthfully, my passion is in YA, but there is no doubt that the approach I take in understanding my characters is based on what I learned from writing non-fiction. Digging deep, interviewing my characters, revealing those secrets comes from the skills acquired while researching and telling the stories of real people.
I know Hello? is your debut novel, but I am curious if it is the first novel you wrote.
Hello? is my third novel, but the first to be published. To this day, the first one needs major editing. When I started it, I knew very little about writing YA fiction. Transitioning from adult non-fiction to YA wasn’t easy. But I was determined to learn! Then, I wrote a second YA novel. According to my agent at the time, it came “very, very, very close to selling.” But it didn’t. That’s how it goes sometimes. I’m not at all making light of it. Years of my life went into writing that novel. There’s still more to do. The biggest issue is that the novel didn’t fit into a clear category of YA or MG. The main character is transforming between middle school and high school, which is a critical time in most teens’ lives. After all these years, I still appreciate that transition, but this needs to clearly fit into the MG category. I’d like to go back to that manuscript and look at it with fresh eyes.
Can you tell me how this idea developed for you as a writer? Did you have a clear vision of each of the main characters from the beginning?
I was frustrated. For three months, I had researched a different novel my agent was excited about, but when it came down to writing the story, I kept hitting a brick wall. Hello? was born while pacing my living room floor. In a small notebook I carry, I wrote: “This is a novel with eight characters, whose lives intertwine because of one action. That action changes their lives.” Eight characters became a more manageable five. And yes, I did have a pretty clear vision of my characters because I interviewed them. I got to know them intimately and, for the most part, they stayed true to the qualities and circumstances that came out during the interview process. As I dug deeper, more insights came out that impacted the novel.
I love the concept of lives intersecting in extraordinary ways—even when the characters aren’t aware of the impact they are having on others. It’s a very strong theme—that of how one person can make a difference and set in motion an entirely different set of outcomes. Have you seen this exemplified in real life?
Gratefully, quite a few times. From when my seventeen-year-old self met my future husband at a jazz concert because my best friend literally dragged me out of bed to go with her—see my “About Me” page for the love story on lizawiemer.com; to being introduced to an online magazine book editor at a critical time when, for four months prior, every effort to connect with someone in the book news world yielded no results. I had pretty much given up. But then, one act of kindness, this one “hello” made all the difference in the world!
I’m struck with awe each time these moments occur. They’re life-changing. One of the main concepts of this novel is “One HELLO can change a life. One HELLO can save a life.” I’ve witnessed this over and over again. But I believe it’s critical to be receptive to it. And it also goes hand-in-hand with another theme of this novel, which is: Kindness. Compassion. Chain reaction.
I was really excited to see the distinct chapter styles that match certain characters, one where the character only writes in verse and the other written in script format with stage directions and all. Was this part of your initial idea or did the differing styles come about further into your writing?
Angie’s chapters are written in free verse, and that’s how I heard her voice in my head. But I had a huge problem. I hadn’t written any poetry since middle school. I didn’t have a clue how to go about it. I knew it was critical to be true to her voice and my first attempts were awful. I was even encouraged to give up. But NO! Because I understood WHY Angie needed to convey her story this way. Free verse poetry allowed her to show a different side of herself. It allowed her to express herself and to show a side of herself that would never have come out through narration. So, I had to learn. I read many novels on free verse poetry and poetry, but Angie’s voice didn’t completely “click" until I had a one hour editing session with a retired poetry professor. That hour allowed me to understand the importance of cadence and helped me recognize the critical point to break a line.
The screenplay for Brenda was initially in the style of a play. But after one chapter and a conversation with award-winning playwright Laura Harrington, I switched to Screenplay format. It gave me more flexibility. Also, Brenda keeps readers at a distance. She keeps secrets. Writing in screenplay format gave Brenda control to reveal her secrets “on screen” when she was ready. It protected her. This format doesn’t allow for showing any inner thoughts. Setting, action, and dialogue can be revealed, but there are no bubbles over Brenda’s head exposing her most vulnerable experiences. When she’s ready, the reader discovers it because she shows it “on screen!"
Do you have a favorite character or is that rather like asking a parent which child is their favorite?
I love different things about all of these characters. Here are just a few things that make each a favorite:
Tricia - Her relationship with her grandma was based on my close, loving relationship with my own.
Brian - I admire his ability to recognize that he made mistakes and that he doesn’t have all the answers.
Emerson - I love his relationship with his family, his realization that his need for perfection is unattainable. I love his kindness, gentleness, and that despite all that he’s gone through, he’s above rumors and lies. He’s strong. He’s caring. He has a huge heart.
Brenda - I admire that she eventually recognizes that a pivotal traumatic moment in her past no longer needs to define her. I admire her strength to take action, to live life in the now.
Angie - I admire her owning up to her mistakes, her fears. I love how she transforms from the superficial person, the one she only allows others to see, to revealing more about herself and striving to be better, kinder.
I love books set in places that I recognize and have visited myself. What made you choose Door County as the setting for your novel?
The moment the idea came to me for this novel, I just knew it had to be set on Washington Island and Sturgeon Bay. Years before, I’d visited both of those places and knew how incredibly beautiful they are. I wanted to incorporate and capture that beauty. It wasn’t until I spent weeks on location did I begin to understand how much the environment influenced people’s experiences, attitudes, and lifestyles.
Can we look forward to another book from you soon?
With all that I am, I sure hope so!
Before we move on to the Fast Five list, is there anything else you want to tell readers about yourself or your book?
I know it’s said in the acknowledgements, but I can’t stress enough how this novel is so much more than me as an author. There are so many INCREDIBLE people connected to this book, from Washington Island to Sturgeon Bay to all around the globe! To editors, librarians, principals, teachers, bloggers, and vloggers, to the young adults/adults who provided insight while writing the novel, and to those I’ve met afterward at book clubs and during school workshops, to readers and reviewers. We’re all connected. There isn’t a day when I don’t think about the links in this amazing chain. Know that I’m deeply grateful.
Fav Pizza Topping – Hey, I’m from Wisconsin, so definitely CHEESE!
Book You’re Reading Now - (I always have more than one) ARC: Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven, audiobook: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab, ebook: When We Collide by Emery Lord
Coffee, Tea, or Both – I need my coffee, but it has to have a HEAVY dose of chocolate and a splash of milk!
Fav TV Show as a Child – Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons
Best Place You’ve Vacationed – That’s really tough. Because instead of holiday or birthday gifts, we save, pool the money, and travel as a family. We've had some incredible family road trips. One in particular occurred when our elder son Justin was in second grade. He was really into Elvis Presley. So, that winter break, we drove to Memphis, TN. Going to Graceland and even more so to the Civil Rights Museum, are still experiences we all talk about today.
Also, we saved ten years to take our boys to Europe. It was a life-changing experience none of us will forget. Out of all the places we went, Italy was beyond amazing. The smartest thing that we did was hire tour guides, who gave us a behind-the-scenes intimate look into the history, art, culture of Venice and Rome.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Facebook: Liza Wiemer
Pinterest: Liza Wiemer
Amazon Author Page: Liza M Wiemer
THANK YOU, so much, Val! Great questions!
My pleasure, Liza. Thank you for stopping by!
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