Monday, July 19, 2010

author interview: christine lemmon

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Christine Lemmon, the author of Sand in My Eyes and a number of other titles, stopped by to answer a couple of questions. Also, check out the giveaway for your chance to win Sand in My Eyes!

You once lived in a house attached to your family's ice cream shot. What was that like? And what's your recommendation for an ice cream treat on a hot summer day?

It was a dream-come-true for a young girl when all I had to do was run through our kitchen, then through a bathroom and there I was in this pink kingdom of sorts with fifty flavors and a pop machine, too! It had me believing at a young age that anything in life is possible and even at the start of my novel, Portion of the Sea, I wrote: “There is a time in every woman’s life when pink is her favorite color, when anything is believable and the lines separating the possible and the impossible are blurred.” The ice-cream shop was in Saugatuck, Michigan, a thriving resort town. There were lines out our door until midnight and I worked side-by-side with my family scooping ice-cream. When I needed a break, I would sit in the sugar cone closet and write in my diary all about the adventures I was having and the characters I was encountering.

My sister and I would make ourselves a cone with as many flavors as we could fit on it before it began to tilt (pink bubblegum and blue moon were two of my favorites early on). I haven’t let my own children try this at home. I do, however, have them scoop their own ice-cream and they use the silver scooper I grabbed when my parents sold the shop. I let them make a mess and never get upset. Ice-cream was too good of an experience for me as a kid so I want it to be fun for my kids, too.

Flowers play a central theme in Sand in My Eyes. What's your favorite flower?

Because I went to school in Holland, Michigan, and was a Dutch Dancer in the annual Tulip Time Festival, the sight of tulips make me want to dance and scrub streets with buckets of cold water and old-fashioned brooms, and sometimes makes me homesick. But roses—-the kind that look picked from the backyard—-are my favorite. I live on an island filled with tropical flowers, and oddly, there happens to be a large rose bush thriving alongside my house. Sitting on my porch and looking out at its pink blooms is what inspired me one day to write in Sand in My Eyes that women, like roses need rest—-periods of non-productivity—-in order to prepare for their next bloom.

In addition to writing novels, you've worked for newspapers, radio, and TV. How have your experiences there influenced your books?

In Portion of the Sea, I write of two women (Ava and Lydia) living almost a century apart but bonded as if they are friends by a journal that Ava writes and Lydia reads. They arrive on the same island, enter womanhood, fall in love, and leave the island behind to follow their dreams and pursue careers and they do all of this side-by-side as if they are friends. Having worked in news, I enjoy researching, and in writing this story I gained a fresh appreciation of the rights we women have today. Ava pursues a writing career in New York for a magazine at a time when women were supposed to focus only on being ladies and she was pressured to only write about fashion. Lydia pursues a career in journalism in Chicago when society had women thinking the only reason they should go to college is so they might talk more intelligently with their husbands.

I also researched the history of Sanibel Island, where I live and where my stories take place. I had fun incorporating the interesting facts such as in the late 1800s people from all over the country were arriving to the island because they believed it to be a ‘healing paradise.’ And women were walking around wearing hats made of pink roseate spoonbill feathers (no wonder the birds shortly after became endangered for a time). And the school house here on the island blew over in a strong wind (my kids loved hearing that fact).

Which of your books has had the most impact on your life?

The writing of Sand in My Eyes helped me through a specific stage when my children were small and my house a mess and my greatest accomplishment was getting us all dressed and out the door each day. I remember going into my kitchen, forgetting why I had gone in there in the first place, spinning like a top, responding to the demands of three little ones, and feeling more like a chicken with its head cut off than the logical, upbeat, ambitious, organized woman I once was.

I used to beg and plead with the sun to go down so my house would be quiet and I could think my own thoughts, and write! It was during this time that I created the characters of Fedelina and Cora and had them saying all this stuff, like one day your house will be perfectly clean and quiet but your children will be grown and gone and you would do anything if you could to have that messy house and your children back. My characters pulled me through and gave me insight to see beauty right here and now in the midst of the chaos.

In addition, during the writing of Sand in My Eyes, my mom was diagnosed with a horrible cancer. I found myself waking in the middle of the night stricken with worry-filled insomnia. My character Cora came up with an idea to try when unable to sleep at night and crazy as it sounds, because I wrote it, I then tried it, and it truly did work. I did as she said and handed it all over to God in the middle of the night.

In a way, I feel like the writing of Sand in My Eyes was the older me talking to the present me, telling me it all will pass—that the stages a woman goes through in her life are brief and once we go through them our lives are over, so why hurry? Why allow ourselves to live in constant states of stress? It’s as if we’re walking around with sand in our eyes, unable to see all the beauty around us.

What's up next for you?

I have been at a fork in the road with ideas coming at me for two different novels. One is more comfortable and the other more challenging. It confused me to be getting ideas for two stories because typically, I am quite focused, working on one at a time. I stood at this fork, praying and discerning which way to go and have since taken steps in the direction of the more challenging story. My youngest will be starting preschool a few mornings a week come fall so I may decide to try writing during daylight hours for the very first time. Usually I only write from nine to eleven at night, or five to seven in the morning when my children are sleeping.

I will continue writing blogs, keeping in touch with readers via my website ( and also writing my newspaper column (Long Story Short) which appears in the Island Sun.

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