People are buzzing about Lisa Fipps and her debut novel, STARFISH! For good reason, it’s bound to be a classic. This poignant novel in free verse has already earned numerous starred reviews and a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection. Wow! And she is just getting started.
I met Lisa via Twitter and immediately fell in love with her kind spirit and sensitive soul. Also, we share a love of all things British and pugs!
My kind of gal.
Please grab a cup of tea and join us for a bit of chitchat.
About the Author
Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, award-winning former journalist, current director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She’s working on her next novel and several others. She currently lives in Indiana and lived in Texas.
- Tell us about Starfish.
Starfish is a middle-grade novel in free verse about a fat girl named Ellie. Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules—like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.”
She’s found her safe space—her swimming pool—where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. At the bottom of the pool, she starfishes. Stretches out. Takes up all the room she wants, instead of living by the fat girl rules society taught her. The pool is also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who love Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie is able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life—by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
- How did you come up with the idea?
Starfish is the book I wish I had when I was a fat kid trying to cope with the bullying. I never told anyone what I was going through. I never reached out for help with the emotions: sadness, anger, shame. I never stood up for myself. I thought I deserved to be treated badly because society teaches us that if we’re fat, it’s our fault. If we truly hated being bullied, we’d just lose the weight.
- Do you base your characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!
Starfish is not based on people I know, but it’s based on experiences I had. The names of characters are based on people I know. For example, Sonya, Catalina’s mom, is named after author Sonya Sones, a mentor and friend. The school librarian is named after my elementary-school librarian, Mrs. Pochon. She was the best!
4. How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?
Not everything that happens to Ellie happened to me, but a version of everything that happens to Ellie happened to me. So, yes, real-life experiences play a huge role in Starfish. As far as future works, I think there’s a bit of every author in every story they tell. Sometimes authors draw on real-life experiences. Other times they dip into their emotional wells when characters need to authentically express feelings. a
5. What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?
I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I grew up poor. So that meant reading cereal boxes, recipe books, newspapers, magazines, my mom’s books – hence my love for Erma Bombeck when I was a kid – the entire World Book Encyclopedia, and library books. Authors have influenced my writing more than specific books. Once I like a book by an author, I read all their books. Authors who influenced me the most when I was a kid and teen include DuBose Heyward (because of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes), E.B. White, Norman Bridwell, Beverly Cleary, and Ernest Hemingway.
6. What are you working on now?
I’m always working on something. Well, actually, several somethings. Sometimes a scene or a character trait for a novel comes to me when I’m writing my work in progress. So, I stop, write it, and go back to my WIP.
- What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I see what I call video clips in my head of scenes, things that help reveal a character’s personality, etc. I watch them and make note of them. It’s kind of odd. I’m a total pantser. I think that’s because I was a journalist for years. But I do plan the overall book. I just don’t do detailed outlines. That totally zaps me of my creative energy. I like to let the story tell itself through me rather than control it so much.
- Loaded question: How long was your road to publishing and what happened along the way?
Starfish took a while because of personal commitments. I started it while working six part-time jobs for three years as I transitioned from journalism to marketing. Then I got a full-time marketing job – right before my mother almost died in a car accident and needed a lot of care, which is right after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was working full-time, being a full-time caregiver, and writing Starfish. I’m not a patient person by any stretch of the imagination. So, I was frustrated that I couldn’t just devote all my time to Starfish. But the process taught me that you make the time and find a way to focus on what’s important to you.
- What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I give aspiring authors the same advice Norman Bridwell gave me. He’s from my hometown. I interviewed him several times when I was journalist. I mentioned to him that I was writing a book. He told me to keep going, even if I got rejections along the way. He wrote me the sweetest letter on Clifford the Big Red Dog stationery. I still have it. If you want it – really want it – don’t stop. Just keep going.
- Do you have a favorite middle-grade book?
Hmm. There are far too many favorites for me to name them all. But some of my favorite middle-grade authors include Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Linda Sue Park, Karen Hesse, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt, and Andrew Clements. I could go on. And on. And on.
For more information about Lisa, please visit her website.