A Closer Look: Author Lisa McKay
- Thursday, February 28, 2008
That’s exciting. And then, you kind of broke the rules. You didn’t go about pitching it in the usual way with some sample chapters or getting an agent. You actually wrote the entire manuscript of My Hands Came Away Red and sent it out to people that would take it unsolicited, correct?
Yeah, I wasn’t thinking about publication when I wrote it. I wrote it because I always knew in the back of my mind that [publication] might be an option one day, if I was very. very lucky. But it was that feeling of “I have said I’m going to do this, I feel tasked to do this, so just do it. Now is the season to do it.” In retrospect, it might have been wise to do a little more preparation. To learn, for example, that manuscripts are not typically 170,000 words long, which was how long it was when I had finished it. So, I overwrote drastically. That’s how little I knew. I was like, I’m gonna write it, so I might as well just finish it. So I almost didn’t let myself think about publication until I was finished.
I always thought that that was jumping too far ahead in the process. And I just feel, compared to how challenging it was to write it, I feel so blessed by the publication process. I didn’t know what to do when I finished it, so I started thinking about, What do you do with these things once you finish it? And I looked up publishers who took unsolicited manuscripts, and I sent it out to three of those. Two of them were interested, and Moody was actually the very first publishing house I had queried. So, that was just, it just felt like an amazing God thing.
That definitely sounds like a God thing. Now, tell us a little bit about your very interesting day job that sort of colored the characters in your book. I was just doing a little bit of research, and I was trying to wrap my arms around what that looked like.
My full-time day job at the moment is working at Headington Institute. We’re a nonprofit that provides psychological and spiritual support for humanitarian workers around that world. I direct our training program. Basically what that means is that when I’m on the road, I’m teaching workshops on stress, trauma and thriving and coping with the pressures of humanitarian and disaster-relief work. I talk about travel stress and a whole bunch of other unusual stresses that tend to come with humanitarian work. When I’m back here in California [McKay’s home base], I’m writing material for their website and overseeing projects and planning for workshops. We’re working on regional workshops in Kenya. Unfortunately I had to postpone going to Kenya next week due to the violence there at the moment, but we’re hoping to be there in July, and then in Asia sometime in August. So, it keeps me busy.
Do you ever have to use some of your own advice just to deal with what your characters went through when you were writing it?
Yeah, I think writing Hands was actually somewhat therapeutic for me. I had almost a complete first draft before I started working at Headington. A lot of the stuff I had done before Headington fed into it as well. I had done a Master’s degree in International Peace Studies. And one of the major questions is “How do you begin to wrap your mind around societies that have hurt each other so badly—even recently?” So a lot of my early trauma experience in terms of psychology, in terms of being, was while working as a psychologist in Australia. I don’t actually work as a registered psychologist here in California, but I did in Australia. And that was in prisons and with the police, so I picked up a lot of trauma experience there that made me think about what happens to us when we come up against the worst that life has to offer.
I think a lot of my early struggles, even from being a little girl, when I was 7 ... we moved to Bangladesh. And I think that transition from a wealthy, developing world to a not wealthy, developing world, (at that time I think Bangladesh was the second poorest country in the world) was so difficult to wrap your mind around. I think I had a lot of very deep questions about suffering and God’s role in that and our role and response. Basically, how do you reconcile omnipotence and goodness, and how on earth can you make sense of these things when you come up against them that closely?
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