Friday, March 22, 2013

Interview: Lisa  Kovanda Novelist, Screenwriter, Leader.

This month Lisa Kovanda reveals helpful advice not only for writers, but for parents and teachers of children who display interests in the arts. Lisa is the current President of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild. In the very first question I asked Lisa, she reveals her unique history. Throughout this interview, Lisa is teaching in some way about life, writing and leadership. I’ve never been more thrilled to introduce an author on my page than Lisa Kovanda.

Glenda: Lisa, every interview I do has a unique quality and I learn to appreciate each writer’s life experience. As writers we bind together by the common thread of a love for writing. Having support in our ability and to help us pursue our love for the art of words is a lifelong need.

In your biography on your web site at  you mentioned writing your first book at thirteen and you grandmother bound it. You grandmother must have been a great ally. Please give us some family background as it pertains to writing and support.

Lisa: I was actually much, much younger than 13.  I am thinking possibly as early as age 4. I don't think I was in school yet.  Most of the earliest books were my drawings, with her helping me write the words. They evolved into actual story books as my writing and language skills developed.  I was born in Tehran, Iran, to an American mother, and Iranian father, but adopted and raised in Nebraska. My adoptive family did a great job of allowing me to maintain a cultural identity, even though there weren't many Persians in Southeast Nebraska. My grandmother was a wonderful Czech woman, and a superb storyteller. She really was the most influential person in my youth, the person who instilled in me the sense that there was nothing I couldn't accomplish if I put my mind to it.  My family also allowed me to pursue gymnastics, and fostered an interest in art, music, and theatre. 

Glenda: As you’ve developed your talent since childhood, how would you advise parents, teachers and other influences to help children grow their interests/talents?

Lisa: The thing I recall most about those early influences was that sense of not having boundaries where art was concerned. You want to paint? Do it.  Write? Here's a typewriter and some paper. Children are taught to fail. I love the saying, "Dance like no one is watching." If we instill that sense in kids in any of their endeavors, we would be overwhelmed with what talent comes out. 

Glenda: We are usually told by instructors and mentors to write from what you know. Personally, I have some problem with that, but I love research. You've set some of your dark mysteries and romances in places like Seattle, and West Virginia. What is the draw for you to write using varied locations as backdrops for your stories?

Lisa: When I was a gymnast, and even just riding the school bus, I always had a book to keep me company and whisk me away to places I'd never been before. It was a great way to experience the world vicariously through characters on a page. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. The local library made an exception for me as to how many books they'd let a patron check out at one time, I read so much. But, I spent about a year in Washington State in 1980 (when Mt. St. Helen's erupted, no less) and loved the area, so I've revisited the Pacific Northwest for a couple of my works. Both in "Cedar in Seattle," and my feature script, "Til Death Do Us Part."  I've only passed through West Virginia, but when I was working on "The Hunt," which is set in a fictional Appalachian community, I was honestly thinking of a setting where things would be almost foreign to a minister used to a more progressive urban environment.  Culturally and physically isolated, and almost like stepping back in time a bit. The great thing about the age of the Internet, is that you can research potential settings easily, so it becomes what you know.  I used Google Earth to take a virtual stroll around streets and byways to replicate in my fictional communities. I've set stories in different eras, and in one (still unedited) book, I went from Nebraska, to Chicago, to the Pine Ridge Reservation, and the Hopi Nation. All places I have been, but I certainly did a lot of research to flesh out my memories.

Glenda: You’re a graduate of Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting Colony and have written a couple of screenplays.  Can you give us some short samples from a novel and a screenplay and describe how you change hats between the genres?

Lisa: I've completed seven screenplays, and have actively collaborated on scripts, including the Feature Movie script, "Remission," that is currently in production in Lincoln. Two of my script projects are also going to have novel adaptations. It really is a different thought process between the two mediums. Scripts are succinct. The Point of View is basically the camera.  What you see or hear is all you can put on the page. No motivation or lush sensory detail. I start the process the same, meaning I start with a story paradigm, look at what I want my major plot points to be, then expand that to a 30-45 step outline. I have found writing the script first gives me a great 100-120 page outline to complete a novel.  I make a lot of side notes when I'm doing a script for what I want to flesh out more in the book version. Then I use the script as a detailed outline to fill in the gaps for the book. I'll give an example from my upcoming book, "Modified Flight Plan," co-written with Brian Thomas, who is the main character in this true story of overcoming all odds to pursue your dreams.

  Excerpt from “Modified Flight Plan” screenplay:


Brian lands the Cessna at Chan Gurney Municipal Airport, a
small paved airfield, and taxis to near the fuel pumps.
He gets out and looks around. Two FAA Inspectors in dark
suits and ties stand by another plane.

One of the men, RILEY WALLINGFORD (55) a Native American with
a long gray ponytail, sees Brian. He nudges DAN GILBERT
(45), a more standard-issue Caucasian, and the pair walk
toward Brian.
(under his breath)

Wallingford pulls his ID badge from inside his jacket.

Inspector Wallingford, FAA. This
your plane?

My Dad’s.

Got a license to fly it?

Student certificate, sir.

Can I see it? And your log book?

Brian pulls his log book from his flight bag inside the plane
and hands it to him.
Wallingford looks through it as Gilbert walks around the

You wouldn’t be giving rides, now
would you, son?

No sir. Students can’t take

Gilbert stands up from near the wheel.

Looks like someone lost their lunch
over here on the passenger side.

Brian flinches.
Damn school tacos. Happened during
Gilbert grunts and glares at him.
Wallingford writes on a notebook.

Wouldn’t know anything about a
plane taking off from a field near
here, would you?

Wasn’t me.

Uh huh.
TATE BALOUN (35) a wiry flight instructor, joins them, his
flight bag slung over his shoulder.

Touch and go’s today?

One of your students?

One of my best students.

Tate gives Brian a hard stare.
Brian grins.

(to Brian)
Do your pre-flight.

Tate and the two inspectors walk a few yards away and talk.
Brian eyes them as he readies the plane to fly.

Tate climbs into the copilot seat. He smacks Brian upside
the head.

You can’t lie to the FAA.

I didn’t lie. He asked if I took
off from a field.

We both know that was you.

I took off from the highway, not
the field.
Tate shakes his head and laughs.

Excerpt from “Modified Flight Plan” Novel
In a matter of minutes, he traversed the distance between Tabor and Yankton passing over the Missouri River where boats made an intricate design of white wakes on the rippled surface. He landed the plane at Chan Gurney Municipal Airport, a fairly large, paved airfield for a town of 14,000 people. He taxied to the fuel pumps, shut down the airplane, and hopped out to wait for his instructor.
He noticed two men in black suits and ties near another plane. One of the men was tall, with a gray ponytail half-way down his back. The other seemed like a more standard issue 'man in black.' "Shit." Brian muttered the word half-under his breath. It had to be Federal Aviation Inspectors of some sort. And that couldn't be good.
As if to bring that point home, the man with the ponytail nudged the other suited guy, and pointed in Brian's direction. The pair walked toward him. Just play it cool. He tried to make his face appear calm.
The guy with the ponytail, now apparent as a Native American, pulled a badge out from his breast pocket and showed it to him. "Inspector Riley Wallingford, FAA. My partner, Inspector Dan Gilbert. This your plane son?"
"It's my dad's."
Wallingford's gaze bore into him. "Got a license to fly it?"
Brian swallowed, even though his mouth was suddenly so dry he didn't know if he could answer. "Student certificate, sir."
"Can I see it? And your log book?"
Brian's hands shook as he pulled his flight bag out of the baggage compartment, fished out the log book, and handed it to the inspector. He tried to look nonchalant as he watched the man thumb through it.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the other man--Gilbert, he thought that's what Wallingford called him--walk around the plane.
Gilbert crouched near the co-pilot's door. "You wouldn't be giving rides, would you, son?"
Brian swallowed hard. "No sir, students can't give rides."
Gilbert stood up from near the wheel. He pulled his sunglasses off his face and pointed at the airplane. "Looks like someone lost their lunch over here on the passenger side."
Brian tried to cover his flinch with a quick thump to his chest. "Damn school tacos. That happened while I was doing my pre-flight."
Gilbert grunted. His face remained as blank as ever. Brian wondered if they had special classes where they taught them how to make their expressions so unreadable. Maybe a bit like those guards at the Palace in London who never flinch?
He focused his attention on Wallingford, as he jotted in a small notebook. The Native American man didn't even lift his eyes from his work as he spoke. "You wouldn't know anything about a blue and silver airplane taking off from a field near here, now would you?"
That one he could answer. "It wasn't me."
Wallingford dipped his chin so his eyes looked over the top of his sunglasses his steely stare appraised him. "Uhh huhh."
It was all he could do to not break under the intensity of the man's gaze. Luckily, his flight instructor, Tate Baloun, stepped out of the terminal and headed toward them. In fact, he thought the wiry man's gait quickened when he noticed the two men in black suits talking to him.
When Tate reached them, he shifted his flight bag from one shoulder to the other so he could shake hands with the two men. He gave Brian a pointed look. "How about we do some touch and go's today."
Wallingford turned his attention to Tate. "One of your students?"
Tate gave Brian a hard stare. "One of my best students."
Brian couldn't help it. He grinned. To cover, he turned his head. Tate walked near him. "Do your pre-flight."
Tate guided the two inspectors a few yards away on the taxiway. Brian couldn't hear what they were talking about, but there was no doubt in his mind it was him. Wallingford's eyes met his.
They were definitely talking about him.
Once he finished the inspection, he climbed into the pilot's seat and strapped himself in. He debated turning on his CD player, but thought better of it. No need to piss the FAA off even more by looking disrespectful. Instead he pulled his practical flight exam book out and pretended to study the questions.
Before long, Tate climbed into the co-pilot's seat. As he did, he reached out and slapped Brian upside the head. "What are you thinking? You can't lie to the FAA!"
Brian shook his head. "I didn't lie to them. He asked if I took off from a field."
Tate snorted. "We both know that was you. You fly the only blue striped on polished aluminum Cessna 150 in the Midwest."
Brian smiled. “Well, the blue is faded with plenty of yellow primer showing, and it has chipped white stripes.” He tried to put his most innocent look on his face. "Besides I didn't take off from a field. I took off from the highway."
Tate shook his head and even though it was obvious he was fighting it, a smile cracked the corners of his mouth. "We need to get your training done, and soon. Before we get both of our asses kicked."
Brian grinned. He leaned out the door. "Clear." The plane roared to life.

Glenda: This past year, you took on the role of President of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild. It’s not a lot of people who can take on such a leadership role. I am so grateful to those of you who do take the leadership roles and offices. What would you say to others to encourage more leadership in the writing community?

Lisa: When I was first approached about assuming the helm of the Guild, my first reaction was that I did not have enough writing credentials to lead. I look at the membership roster--both past and present--and I am still an awe-struck fan. But, that's not what it takes to be a leader. I've run a small hospital as a nurse. I'm a retail manager. I'm also the Municipal Liaison for the Nebraska: Other, and Nebraska: Lincoln regions for National Novel Writing Month. (and have also successfully completed the 50,000 word challenge every year I've participated) I understand how to make things happen, and hopefully, get other people to want to come along for the ride. What I try to do is put on events I want to go to. What to say to encourage others to take a leadership role... well, I've had to appoint a few people to the Board since I took office in 2011. Only occasionally have I needed to resort to brute-force. I will say for all of the headaches, stress, and general mayhem, I have gained far more than I have put in. If your writing career isn't going anywhere--or not headed in the direction you want it to be headed--I would encourage you to get involved in writing groups like the Nebraska Writers Guild.  Not just belong, get involved. When you're invested in yourself as an author and writer, amazing things happen!   

I find myself wanting to grill Lisa to glean more from her vast experience and knowledge. If I could I would pester these authors until they were so sick of me, they’d call the cops to pull me away. Since I cannot be so brazen, I will continue doing interviews, reading their blogs and what books I can.

As Lisa quotes “Dance as if nobody is watching.” Parents, husbands, children, friends, teachers, encourage any interest you find in a child. Grab a pencil and paper and write whatever comes to your own mind. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing for a child to look at your endeavors and think I can do that?