Within the last year I was lucky enough to discover an author by the name of Barbara Taylor Sissel, and I fell in love with her writing. I have read many of her books and often think there is no way she can top the one I just finished. But boy, was I wrong. I just finished What Lies Below, her newest release that came out May 2018. As always Barbara had me guessing till the very end. She truly writes the story so you feel like you are right there in the book, feeling what the characters are feeling. What Lies Below is set in small town USA, where everyone seems to know everyone. That is until Gilly one of the main characters moves to town. She is new in the small city and really falls in love with Zoe and her dad. She loves to make her animal shaped pancakes at the local dinner. Then out of nowhere the unimaginable happens, little Zoe goes missing. And Barbara takes us along for the ride. We get a glimpse into the past of Zoe and her dad, as they look at the possibility that Zoes mom could be the one with her. We also get a look into Gilly’s past as the book goes on, and the search for Zoe continues. I NEVER saw the end coming. I was totally shocked but Barbara wrapped it up in a nice package so at the end the book fell totally complete. For anyone who enjoys reading a good book with many twists and turns this would a great one for you!!!
Barbara was kind enough to do an interview, of sorts, with me! Below you can read her answers to my questions and get to know one of my very favorite authors!
Barbara, what made you decide to start writing?
Reading. From the time I was old enough to listen to a story or to read to myself, stories took me away. I was around 11, reading Wuthering Heights and utterly lost in Catherine’s and Heathcliff’s drama, when I vividly recall my head popping up from the page and the thought zinging into my mind that I wanted to do it for other people. Write stories so vivid they would become utterly lost. It’s so relieving, I think, and comforting to lose oneself reading about others, their troubles and triumphs.
Who are your favorite authors to read? And who’s work has inspired you?
I like Lisa Scottolini, Anna Quindlan, A.J. Banner, Christine Baker Klein, Diane Chamberlain, Elizabeth Strout, John Hart, and Wiley Cash to name a few. Longtime favorites who inspired me besides the Bronte Sisters and several other classics authors are Anita Shreve, Kent Haruf, and Pat Conroy.
Where did the premise behind your most recent book come from?
I’ve always been interested in ESP. Whether a person dreams the future or has visions, whether the capability is even real, is something I find fascinating. I’ve had a bit of experience with glimpsing the future myself so I kind of asked my muse about doing a story, featuring a character who had the ability through dreaming. Gilly in WHAT LIES BELOW is who came to life, a very reluctant psychic.
I’m curious, what does character development look like for you? (How do you go from an idea and a name to a full-blown character?) Do you base any of your characters off people you know?
Sometimes a plot suggests itself first and it seems to call characters to it, and sometimes the character introduces himself or herself. They’re usually in some kind of mess. I never know too much about them initially, but they strike a chord. I want to know them. For me, to make them full-blown takes writing about them day in and day out for months. After I finish a first rough draft then I really feel comfortable with them. They’re very real to me so in subsequent drafts they just get realer. (Is that a word?!) I don’t write a person I specifically know. I think I cannibalize people with whom I’m familiar, taking a bit of this one and a bit of that one. I don’t think there would be a way to take my life experience out of my writing experience. I think the uniqueness of our various experiences is what gives each writer his/her unique voice.
Why did you decide to have drug addiction play such a big role in What Lies Below?
It’s never a conscious decision when a character comes with issues like alcohol or drug addiction. That said I’ve got some personal experience with it. Not my own but with members of my immediate family. Both my parents struggled with depression and self-medicated with alcohol so it’s ground I’m familiar with and have now done a ton of research about. In WHAT LIES BELOW, the history of addiction that two of the women characters share, the way each one deals with it, and the fact that Jake at different times in his life was drawn to both, unfolded naturally. His attraction for them was at once his greatest flaw and his saving grace.
What is it about the genre, within which you write, that you love so much?
The fact that it allows me to explore in a realistic way the troubles, problems and dilemmas that all of us face, and to then work out how to resolve the issues, whether it’s even possible. Is whatever happened forgivable, and if not how do you live with it? I love to hear that something I wrote sparked a dialogue, brought on a healing, made someone turn from anger more toward compassion and forgiveness. So often books have helped me to rethink situations in my own life. I feel that while you can learn a lot through non-fiction, fiction, too, is a powerful tool for transformation.
If you could give a new writer advice what would it be?
Persistence is key. That and discipline. Writing at the same time every day, making the commitment is important. There’s no boss to tell you when to show up or how long to stay. Write, write, write and write some more. I’ve heard it takes a million words. I’ve also heard you need to have read 100 books in your chosen genre to adequately know how to write the genre. But to me so much of writing is intuitive. I think you have to know how to be still and listen.
If you could use only 5 words to describe you as a writer what would they be?
I would hope to be honest, heartfelt, compassionate, human, compelling
Lastly, what do you think sets you apart from other writers around today?
I’m not really sure, but maybe it’s that I tend to write a bit more “thinky” type story as opposed to a thriller type story.
I hope you will go out an pick up one of Barbara’s books! And that you will fall in love with her writing as much as I have!