Q1: When did you start writing and who has influenced you the most?
Lisa: I was always writing short stories and plays as a young child, and reading books. My undergrad degree is a BFA in both Theater and English Education. While in college I took a creative writing course with the recently deceased novelist, poet, essayist, and critic, Zulfikar Ghose. He became my writing mentor, and the next semester I took his grad level Creative Writing course. He was a phenomenal writer and teacher, and we stayed in touch after I graduated. Just two years ago, when my children were older, and I started writing and submitting poetry for publication, he was very encouraging to me and I’m so grateful that, before his passing last summer, he was able to read my first published chapbook, which was digital, and shared with me one of the images I had written that would remain with him forever. All that I learned from him, his writing, and the great writers he urged us to read and learn from are my most important influences.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Lisa: After my children were older, I began reading the classics voraciously and binged on all the works, journals, letters, and biographies of Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Shirley Jackson over of a couple of years-( I also read some Tolstoy and Camus and Kafka during that period.)
Reading about how these women were able to somehow navigate their writing careers in spite of the times in which they lived, with social expectations of women being nothing but housewives or secretaries; (certainly not professional writers), I was so inspired. Especially now that, thankfully, times have changed, I felt compelled to follow in the paths they had forged.
I do remember one distinct moment: I was doing laundry, and we had just learned that my 23 year old son, who is a 3-time cancer survivor, now had chronic heart disease, caused by the years of treatment his body had endured. So, I’m putting clothes in the dryer, and the phrase “If one of us must die, I hope that it is I.” I thought about how Shirley Jackson was always jotting things down on scraps of paper at home whenever they popped into her head, so I quickly found a piece of paper and wrote it down, and kept writing, and then began researching how to submit, and never stopped. That was what all that reading over those years had been building toward, and the writing finally started to happen and flow out of me.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Lisa: Of course, my husband has been a tremendous support, since I am still working full-time working with high school students with special needs, which means most of my weekends is when I read, write, submit, and participate in workshops. I’m retiring in the next few months, and I know we are both ready for me to have more free time to write, so that I’m more available to him and my family on weekends!
I would also say that, since I started this whole journey during Covid times, I did a lot of workshops either in private Facebook groups or on Zoom, and I have learned so much from the writers in these groups, and their networks. This is a very supportive community. We all do this because we love it so much, knowing that the chances are slim that we will ever become famous or rich. The goal is to write, and write well.
I’m also grateful to Fahmidan Publishing for publishing several of my poems, and publishing my first chapbook, in digital form, “Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus.” They also nominated one of my poems, “Who You See” for “Best of the Net,” which has been so validating for me.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Lisa: I grew up in a suburb southwest of Houston, and attended a very large high school. Luckily, I found my “tribe” in theater and choir and advanced English classes, so I had a group of like-minded friends who understood about that urge to express oneself creatively, and although we were definitely the “geeks” at school, we were very close and had a lot of fun.
Several of my high school friends were gay, which was very unaccepted in the early to mid 80s, and I was, and still am, so in awe of their bravery in coming out to their friends. I felt honored to be a trusted confidant, and cried the entire day that the right to gay marriage was made Law by the Supreme Court, thinking of all the bullying and abuse some of my gay friends had been through, even as teenagers! I’ve gotten a little off topic, but I think it really opened my eyes to how various forms of art, be it acting, designing, singing, writing, etc. was such a healing force in peoples’ lives.
I didn’t travel much as a child, except to visit my grandparents in Texas and Illinois, but five days after our college graduation, my now-husband and I left Austin to backpack across Europe for 9 weeks. We had EuRail Passes with a map, about 3 changes of clothes, and a tent in our backpacks- with no pre-made plans, and, of course, no cell phones, this being 1989. It was an incredible adventure, starting in Frankfurt, and then going as far East as Greece, and as far west and Ireland with most countries in between. I specifically remember going to restaurants that I read the Lost Generation writers had dined at, a bar Oscar Wilde had frequented, and some of the places in Dublin that Joyce mentions in Ulysses. I sat and read Madame Bovary on bench in front of Notre Dame while in France, and I actually stood on the amphitheater stage of The Theater of Dionysus in Athens. (I don’t think people are allowed to do that now) Looking back, I’m so glad we were young and crazy and just went for it- We’ve traveled a lot since then all over the US, and also, with our children once they were older; to Turkey, Japan, Thailand, and we went to Costa Rica this past summer. I really believe that travel, especially when you try to go where “the locals” go, is life-changing. It has definitely influenced my writing, insofar as the experiences I’ve had with the people of all the various cultures while traveling, and also just feeling the spirits of all those amazing artists, writers, composers, architects, throughout the centuries speaking to me through their different means of expression that are still preserved today. All forms of art are truly expressions of cultures and periods in history, and you realize how connected we are, and how self-expression is a universal basic human need.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively?
Lisa: The title poem of my last chapbook, “Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus” holds special meaning to me. Reading Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” was life-changing for me during a very difficult time, and helped me to ponder and realize how the suffering we all experience in life really does have meaning.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Lisa: I’m definitively an introvert, so I love just staying at home, reading, writing, listening to music, and playing piano. That being said, Austin is a beautiful city with a river going right through the middle of it that I loved to kayak on, beautiful walking trails, and an incredible new 4-story Central Library, which is definitely my happy place outside of my home.
Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from your writings?
Lisa: In my poem, “Life Still Dances,” I write about how my family celebrated Mardi Gras in the hospital room when my son was in treatment. We had always celebrated at home with beads, music, food, and dancing- and so we did it even in that hospital room with my son hooked up to an IV pole. We had the music playing and my son was dancing with his sister, and my husband and I were dancing:
“It is a dance of the exquisite Normal; Nearly lost In our lives
That cancer cannot take away from us.”
Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that come back to you as an inspiration?
Lisa: In college, I would always crank up the brilliant soundtrack to the film, “The Mission” composed by the late, great Ennio Morricone on my turntable, whenever I would stay up all night writing papers or short stories for classes. If there are lyrics, I find it difficult to write my own words while hearing other words being sung, so I became a big movie score soundtrack nerd starting in high school. A lot of times, I’ll put on a soundtrack to a film that may go well with the tone of what I’m going to be writing.
And to inspire me and give me breaks when I’m not writing, I’m very much stuck in the 80s. Just a few examples are David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, early U2, and Talking Heads. I think they are all brilliant. The song I tend to go back to over and over is “Heroes” by Bowie, and I also love the symphonic version by Peter Gabriel in his “Scratch My Back” album. There are many reasons for this, but it would take me another three pages to write about it…(Working with students with special needs, heroes themselves, for the past 22 years, is just the tip of the iceberg for why I need this song in me life- see more below and you’ll figure it out more…)
Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books or events that you would like to promote?
Lisa: Yes! I have a poetry chapbook, “Womb Worlds” (Finishing Line Press) in pre-sale status through January 20, 2023, and the book will be released in the weeks following March 17.
It is about my experience of having a child battling cancer three times, and (spoiler alert) how his life was eventually saved by the donated umbilical cord cells of a newborn, who will forever remain anonymous to us. But it’s also about how this traumatic experience changed me as a person and my outlook on life. The fact that my son’s blood, down to his very DNA, exactly matches another person’s on this planet, as a twin, whom we will never know, just makes my head explode. We are all connected on this planet in mysterious ways that we cannot even fathom.
The title “Womb Worlds,” of course, refers to the wombs of these two connected children, but also how we all live within the “womb” of the universe, and like a lot of writers, I’m very drawn to images and meanings of bodies of water; so there are a lot of micro/macro water images.
To read more about the book and order a copy, people can go to https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/womb-worlds-by-lisa-molina/
Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey?
Lisa: During the time that I was writing the poems that ended up being in my first chapbook about my son’s cancer and cord blood transplant, I was listening to the Peter Gabriel version of “Heroes” on Amazon Prime music, because, of course, I think of my son and the donor family that saved his life as heroes.
One day, after weeks of listening to this song, I happened to see the cover art of the album when I was getting ready to play the song on my phone, which I had never paid any attention to. I instantly knew that the photo/design on the cover is of 2 red blood cells sticking together. Since the poems I was writing were about how my son’s life was saved by a donor giving him the fresh new cancer-free blood cells that still circulates in his body to this day, I was just gobsmacked by the connection. And then I learned that Gabriel’s next album was titled “Scratch My Back.”and the following tour was called “The New Blood Tour” Wow.
I also collect typewriters that are the same brand as the ones Sylvia Plath and Shirley Jackson used. I now have 9 vintage typewriters like the ones they used throughout their lives-
Bio: Lisa Molina is a writer in Austin, Texas and author of the digital chapbook, Don’t Fall in Love with Sisyphus (Fahmidan Publishing & Co, 2022). Her new chapbook “Womb Worlds” is currently available for pre-sale with Finishing Line Press until January 20, with the book being released in spring 2023. Molina’s poem “Who You See” was nominated for 2022 “Best of the Net” by Fahmidan Journal, and her poetry has twice been chosen as a winner in the Beyond Words Magazine 250-Word Writing Challenge. In February 2022, her flash fiction piece “Young Man in the Moon” was named a finalist in the “Fifty Shades of Blue” contest, held by The Ekphrastic Review. Molina’s poetry, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction can be found in numerous online and print publications and anthologies, including The Champagne Room, Fahmidan Journal, Beyond Words Magazine, Miniskirt Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, Sky Island Journal, POETiCA REViEW, Neologism Poetry Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Amethyst Review, Boats Against the Current Poetry Magazine, Epoch Press Autumn 2021 “Transitions” issue, Bright Flash Literary Review, and several anthologies by Quillkeepers Press and The Poet. She lives in Austin with her husband, two adult children, and two cats, and works with high school students with special needs.
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