Name: Megan Whitson Lee
Where are you from: Originally I’m from Kingsport, Tennessee, but I moved to the Washington, D.C. area when I was 13.
A little about your self `ie your education Family life etc: I went to college for a music degree and graduated from George Mason University. Later I decided that I really wanted to write, so I went back for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the same university. I currently teach English at Centreville High School in Clifton, Virginia, and I live in the Northern Virginia area with my husband, our retired racing greyhound, Chase, and our Italian greyhound, Trinity.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Song from the Ashes was released in August of this year, and since then I’ve been doing book signings and a lot of online promotions!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I first started writing when I was a little kid and my grandfather asked me to write a ghost story about the street where we lived. I titled it “The Ghost of Fleetwood Road”, and it was about a ghost who had six toes rather than five on each foot (yes, I was very young). Later, I wrote fan-fiction for my friends in high school, and I felt compelled to keep writing from thereon out.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think I didn’t consider myself a writer for a long time because I wasn’t “published.” Now, after being published, I realize that I’ve been a writer all my life. Being published doesn’t make you a writer and not being published doesn’t negate your writer membership card. I think it’s something deeply ingrained within.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first full-length finished novel is still sitting on my hard drive somewhere. It was a modern vampire novel, which I wrote around circa 2002. It was inspired by my residence in Melbourne, Australia and the “vampire” clubs around the city frequented by people who fancied they were actually vampires.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I like to write in first person, but I also like a clean, simple writing style with an engaging plot and realistic dialogue. I like to think that’s how I write.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
One of the main characters is a musician, and one of the other main characters sees his life burning into ashes. Because I’m a huge believer in redemptive stories, this one seemed to call for a title that screamed “redemption!”
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. I think as human beings we’re often too quick to remove ourselves from a situation in order to jump into another because we don’t necessarily feel “happy” in our present state. The decisions we make for our own lives greatly impact others, and I really wanted to shine a light on that. Sometimes making yourself happy isn’t what’s best for everyone else in your life. Self-sacrifice is a foreign ideology in today’s culture, and my main character is faced with this decision. Does he make himself happy at the expense of everyone around him? Or trust in God for true joy? Doing the right thing often brings happiness by default.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Well, I’d like to think it’s a realistic story. I think people struggle with these sorts of decisions all the time.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
No, not really. The novel is a modern re-telling of Edith Wharton’s classic The Age of Innocence. But the story is set in my hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Well, other than The Bible…if we’re talking about novels, I’d have to choose my all-time favorites as huge influences: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (my favorite!), Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. These have influenced the types of stories I most like to read and the writing style I most like to read and write.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Well, interestingly when I studied at George Mason, I had some amazing writers as mentors: Richard Bausch, Beverly Lowry, Susan Shreve—they truly mentored me and made me a better writer. Otherwise, I still have to choose the classic writers as mentors (Bronte, Austen, du Maurier—these are the writers whose works I read again and again).
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Currently, I’m reading The Shining. I’ve never read it, and I have to say I’m loving it! I love a good ghost story.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Well, she’s not really new, but she’s newer than what I’m used to read. Gillian Flynn. I’m quite captured by her characters, stories, plot. She knows how to write a page-turner.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I’m writing a novel set in Virginia wine country. A young girl marries an older man who owns a sprawling and successful vineyard, which turns out to be haunted by a demonic presence brought in by some of the practices of his previous (and currently missing) wife.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Definitely Jesus. No one else supports and encourages like him.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I hope so. That’s my goal. It’s the only thing I really want to do.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, I don’t really think so. I loved Wharton’s original tale, and my own rendering I felt was, in many ways, divinely inspired, so I feel that I was only partially responsible…
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Yes. I used to watch old episodes of the 1966 Dark Shadows episodes. I wanted to write my own episodes, so I started writing them and making my poor elementary school librarian read them. Ha!
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding enough time to write! My full-time job (teaching) sucks the life out of me, and I really have to discipline myself to come home and continue my day at the computer.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t really have a favorite author, but if I had to pick one I’d say Emily Bronte. I feel that she had a lifetime of best-sellers within one tumultuous and passionate novel. I’m eternally impressed by her ability to write about thwarted love with words evoking raw emotional torment, yet she maintained the restraint expected from Victorian audiences.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I don’t get to travel too much, but I have in the past traveled to have first-hand experience of settings. I’ve taken up temporary residence in England and Australia (but that was in my twenties, and now I have too many other responsibilities!) Last year, my husband and I traveled back to England and we hope to do it again next year. I have some story ideas brewing on that side of the pond.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My husband, Stephen Lee. He’s a professional graphic artist, and he designed the cover for Song from the Ashes (and my previous, self-published novel, All That is Right and Holy).
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For this novel, I had to make sure I wasn’t slipping into nineteenth century language. Edith Wharton’s novel was set in 1870, so I needed to make mine sound like 2013. I couldn’t read her book and write mine simultaneously or it would have sounded ridiculous.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Beginnings and endings are easy for me. The middle is the hardest part.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Perseverance is what it’s all about. If you really love to write, you’ll do it as much as you possibly can, and eventually, someone somewhere will love it and want it. The old cliché: don’t give up. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s so, so true.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for supporting me. We’re just at the beginning of this ride. There are many more stories to come!
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I remember my mom read a lot to me as a kid. I memorized everything and re-read it to myself again and again before I could ever read. I loved Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella. I had them all on audio records with picture books to accompany. I listened and read them over and over again. I remember The Secret Garden being one of the first books I ever read as a kid.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Physical comedy (people falling over, sadly) usually makes me laugh. Witty humor makes me laugh. Witnessing loss (either for myself or others) breaks my heart.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
My grandmother. I’d love to see her again. She died three years ago, and I’ve missed her every day since. She was an encourager and a wonderful inspiration to me. She was also a great reader, and I wish she could have been around to see Song from the Ashes published. I’d love to have lunch with her again. Hopefully, one day in heaven.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Not here. Because it will be true.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Oh goodness, yes! I love dogs. I am a dog freak. We have two sighthounds, and I volunteer with a sighthound organization (Sighthound Underground) when I can. I’m really passionate about it because they rescue dogs from other countries (particularly Spanish galgos) and find them loving homes in the U.S. I also love to read, of course, and I love cooking! I could cook all day! My step-mom buys me a yearly subscription to Southern Living and I try out all their recipes. I also used to sing a bit.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Madmen, Nashville, Parenthood are my favorite series dramas, true crime shows like 48 Hours and Dateline Mysteries, and my guilty pleasure, The Bachelor. For movies, I love a good drama. Nothing gory or violent. I like movies that make you think.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music:
If someone told me I had Italian blood, I’d believe them. I love, love, LOVE Italian food. Pasta of any kind, but it really doesn’t get better than spaghetti marinara for me. I do love the colors black and electric blue. For music, I’m a country music fan. But I also love old seventies and eighties music. In the late eighties I was a heavy metal fan, but now I enjoy listening to instrumental music and movie soundtracks.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I would love to have been a forensic investigator (ha! That never would have happened. I’m too squeamish). I’m fascinated by the world of criminal investigation. I also think I would’ve enjoyed being a licensed clinical social worker. I like to listen to people.