In the spirit of a tradition I started a few years ago, I occasionally invite writers whose work I enjoy to appear here on ScriptSuperhero.com for an interview. Past interviewees include Charlaine Harris, L.J. Sellers, Amanda Hocking, T.L. Haddix, and Cidney Swanson.
Now, add to that roll call Lisa Nowak.
About Lisa Nowak
Lisa Nowak, Author, DRIVEN
In addition to being a YA author, Lisa Nowak is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. She enjoys dark chocolate and stout beer and constantly works toward employing wei wu wei in her life, all the while realizing that the struggle itself is an oxymoron.
Lisa has no spare time, but if she did she’d use it to tend to her expansive perennial garden, watch medical dramas, take long walks after dark, and teach her cats to play poker. For those of you who might be wondering, she is not, and has never been, a diaper-wearing astronaut. She lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband, four feline companions, and two giant sequoias.
SS: Where did you get the idea for a book about a girl mechanic?
LN: Well, for many years, I was a girl mechanic. I wanted to communicate the passion I felt for this non-traditional career choice. I was also inspired by the Beach Boys’ song Car Crazy Cutie, which tells the story of a girl at the drag strip who’s more interested in tuning up a car than getting some lovin.’
SS: I understand this is the first book you wrote, even though it’s the third in the series. Why didn’t you publish this one first?
LN: Chronologically in the character’s lives, Driven comes third. When I originally started this series, back in the early ’90s, I wrote Running Wide Open, which was a mainstream adult novel from Race’s POV. Then I came up with the idea of combining a second book about Race, Kasey, and Cody (the boy Jess falls for) with a story I’d been mulling over about a hot-rodding girl mechanic. I tried selling both books, but didn’t get anywhere, so I stuck them in the attic until 2005. At that point, I saw that Driven was more marketable and needed less work, so I re-wrote it first and approached agents with it. In fact, Driven was the book that landed me an agent. But my traditional journey was long and arduous, and by the time I decided to go indie, I had four books in the series written, so I published them chronologically.
SS: What were you trying to accomplish with Driven? What do you want your reader to come away with?
LN: Two things. I wanted to show how a tough, resilient teen would survive a terrible home life and achieve her dreams in spite of it. I also hoped to realistically capture the emotions of a first romance. Not just the excitement and giddiness, but also the fear and doubt that so many of us experienced. I didn’t intend this to just be another “oh-he’s-so-hawt” love story. I wanted it to be more layered and realistic than that.
SS: I understand you normally write boy books. What made you change to a girl’s perspective?
LN: I love writing boy books, but they’re a hard sell. I’m hoping people will read Driven, fall in love with my characters, and go back to buy Running Wide Open and Getting Sideways. The difficult marketplace was not the reason I wrote a girl book, though. In fact, when I started the series, I didn’t think about marketing at all. I just wrote the sort of books I wanted to read. I see so many books for girly girls, and as a teen I enjoyed stories about kids who were like me. Tomboys with diverse interests who had more important things to do than get all angsty over some boy. I figured if I liked that kind of character, there must be other girls out there who would, too.
The last thing on 16-year-old Jess DeLand’s wish list is a boyfriend. She’d have to be crazy to think any guy would look twice at her. Besides, there are more important things to hope for, like a job working on cars and an end to her mom’s drinking. Foster care is a constant threat, and Jess is willing to sacrifice anything to stay out of the system. When luck hands her the chance to work on a race car, she finds herself rushing full throttle into a world of opportunities—including a boy who doesn’t mind the grease under her fingernails. The question is, can a girl who keeps herself locked up tighter than Richard Petty’s racing secrets open up enough to risk friendship and her first romance?
“The first romance is captured beautifully—just the right combination of natural and awkward, of eager and scared.”
~ Bob Martin, writing professor, Pacific Northwest College of Art