Lisa Wingate is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Before We Were Yours. She has penned over thirty novels and coauthored a nonfiction book. Lisa was recently featured in the May issue of Welcome Home and generously answered a few questions on becoming a writer and what's next for her!
1. Why did you become a writer?
A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, put that idea into my head. She found me writing a story one day at indoor recess, and she took the time to stop and read it. When she was finished, she tapped the pages on the desk to straighten them, looked at me over the top and said, “You are a wonderful writer!” That was a defining moment for me. In my mind, I suddenly went from shy transfer kid to wonderful writer. When we moved away mid-year, she wrote on my report card that she expected to see my name in the pages of a magazine one day. That expectation stayed with me through many years, several schools, and eventually the ups and downs of getting published. When your first grade teacher tells you that you can do something, you believe it.
2. What inspired your current book?
The century-old history that sparked The Book of Lost Friends came to me in the most surprisingly modern of ways. I opened my email inbox while on the back porch writing, and found a note from a reader named Diane. She’d just finished Before We Were Yours, and she thought there was another, similar piece of history I should know about—a story of children taken from their parents and disbursed into the world, of families torn apart, and the surprising means by which some of those families found their way back to one another decades later. As a volunteer with the Historic New Orleans Collection, Diane had been entering old newspaper advertisements into a database for genealogists and historical researchers. The ads ran in the decades following the Civil War in a column called “Lost Friends,” and were written by formerly enslaved people, now free, seeking news of their long-lost sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, husbands and wives.
“When I was reading your book, I was thinking about these families that were sold, traded, or killed. Their identity taken away. Their constant love of family and their continued search for loved ones, some they had not seen in over 40 years,” Diane wrote in her note to me. “There is a story in each one of the ads.” She shared a smattering of advertisements and a link to the museum’s Lost Friends database of gripping, heartbreaking letters to the editor.
The fictional journey of eighteen-year-old Hannie in The Book of Lost Friends was inspired by one of those 2500 original Lost Friends ads. Her story is, at heart, a story of the deep and everlasting nature of family ties, and of an epic quest from the swamps of Louisiana to the frontiers of Texas in search of the lost.
3. What’s next for you?
One thing that’s next for me is just enjoying being a new grandmother! I could definitely make baby-cuddling a full time job, but stories are always whispering in the back of my mind. I never stay away from the writing desk for long. There are bits of hidden history to be explored, characters to be discovered, adventures to be lived in paper and ink. I’m stirring up the research surrounding another nugget of untold history right now. I can't wait to learn more about it, re-imagine the people who might have lived it, and hear their voices.
That, of course, is always where the adventure begins—with voices that seemingly rise from the ether. Where the adventure will end is anybody’s guess. The only way to find out is to strike off on the journey and see where the characters lead.