Saturday, August 14, 2010

Literary Soul Stuck in a Box: Lisa Lickel

Lisa Lickel and her husband live in eastern Wisconsin in a 150-year-old Great Lakes ship captain’s house filled with books and dragons. She writes mysteries and romances, but alas, not literature. Her latest novel, Meander Scar, is set near Madison, Wisconsin. She also writes for FreeQuincy Radio Theater, and local newspaper feature articles. Her website is:; she’s a regular at, and at Look for her on Facebook, Goodreads and Author’s Den, as well as She Writes.

Literary Soul Stuck in a Box
By Lisa Lickel

Jane Hamilton drew a small but intense crowd a few years back when she visited my local book store. She shared one of the reasons why she likes indie booksellers: They understand me and don’t ask questions like “Where shall I shelve your book?” Jane said she didn’t always know how to answer. “I suppose they wanted to know if I’ve written a dog book, or a soccer mom story,” she said.

Genre. Such a beautiful word for a cage. As soon as someone demands a label for your soul, your offspring, the outpouring of your heart, you tell a lie or risk losing potential readers. If an intense middle-aged woman asks you about your book, you say it’s a love story. If your father-in-law asks you, you say it’s about a man who has to deal with life’s left curves. If your pastor asks, you tell her it’s about the struggle for truth.

You turn your first book over. There, above the bar code is reality. The publisher forced you into a vapid pool of love schmuck to make a buck. Commercialism vs. Art.

You want to be remembered for all time, the coming of age story, the overcoming a national tragedy story, the issue story. Literature. Big juicy Scrabblicious words, poignant unapologetic purple prose, universal issues, mind-bending, gut-wrenching situations.

Trouble is, literature isn’t so much read as collected. It’s given Pulitzers. Sometimes movie makers interpret it. The multi-lettered authors are revered, but truthfully, the works are not as commercially successful as a rocking vampire story. Book clubs choose literature and only a few members show up for the discussion. WPR will read them on air at 12:30 if Jim Fleming likes them.

Formula romance is reserved for a mindless weekend bender when I come home from the library with movies I’m not going to watch and an armful of thin little novelettes I gobble like hors d’oeuvres. I read in the bathtub until the candles burn down and the hot water tank is empty. I take the books back Monday morning having already forgotten what I read. One of them might have been about a soccer mom.

I turn my latest book over and look at the cover. What do I tell people about my book? This one’s about a woman who decides to live again when a younger man from her past offers to help put her long-missing husband’s ghost to rest. Until she discovers the truth.

Oh, the salesperson says. So, you write…um, what again? Mysteries? Suspense? Romance?

I smile and say, Well, the one before it was about a dying man asking a woman with a special gift if she’ll die for him. And my next one? That’s about the ethical use of stem cell treatments on a woman who didn’t want to face the relapse of her cancer – the ultimate dysfunctional family.

I watch the salesperson flip some pages. Yes, there are some big words in my books. Sure there’s a little romance going on. Uh huh, some danger. Check the reviews.

Some over the top egos, mine included.

“But where do I shelve them?” I’m asked.

I smile and point. “Why, right next to Jane Hamilton, ma’am. And be sure to call me for your next book club.”


Rebecca Rasmussen said...

Lisa, I am just so thrilled about your post. Thank you so much for sharing it!

Lisa Lickel said...

I'm so tickled to be here, Rebecca; thank you so much for asking. It's nice to break out of the usual interview form once in a while (another box ).

info said...

Lisa, thank you for the great reminder to be yourself! It's easy indeed to get into a box and muffle the creativity.

Next to Jane Hamilton indeed! That's exactly right.

Lisa Lickel said...

thank you

Siobhan Fallon said...

Bravo to another great blog post! Thank you Lisa (and Rebecca!).
Ultimately we want readers to identify with our writing and not be able to put our books down, to get excited when they open our pages, and recommend our words to their friends. Who has twenty years to wait around and see if we made it into the capricious Literary Canon? You have to write the stories that come to you, soccer mom love stories or vampire blood fest. Lisa, looking forward to finding your books on which ever shelf...

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I just received Lisa's Meander Scar in the mail. Awesome!

rose deniz said...

I see being able to define who you are and what genre you write in at the moment a very powerful thing. It makes you fluid and flexible, and maybe even allows you to connect with people who otherwise wouldn't find your book because you can tell them what's in it for them. You tailor and fit your response to the listener and reader. I say 'yay!' to no boxes and the freedom of finding your own niche.

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."