Interview with Megan Whitson Lee: 'I went straight to publishing houses that would look at unagented work'

Megan Whitson Lee grew up in Tennessee but moved to the Washington, D.C. area as a teenager.  She worked for criminal attorneys before earning her master’s degree from George Mason University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. Previously she received a Bachelor of Arts in Music followed by a year-long residence in London where she worked as a Literary Assistant. Her self-published first novel All That is Right and Holy won second place in the 2009 Christian Choice Book Awards. Megan teaches high school English in Fairfax County, Virginia where she lives with her husband and two Greyhounds.
Her latest book is the Christian fiction, Song From the Ashes.
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About the Book:

Attorney Landon Kingsley craves order and normalcy, and aside from his well-hidden vice of smoking, he lives the life that everyone expects from him in his hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. Recently engaged to beautiful nursing student, April May, Landon’s new fiancée is everything he could want in a wife. She is devoted to her faith and family and truly loves him.

April’s cousin, Ella Casey, has returned to Kingsport after ten years of pursuing a career as a country music singer in Nashville. Ella’s failed career and affair with a married music producer scandalizes her in the eyes of the town, but her legal troubles drive her to Landon for help. Landon finds himself increasingly attracted to Ella and more discontent than ever with the path he has chosen for his life. Amid a firestorm of family and town gossip, Landon is tormented by his past and the complicated decision of whether to listen to God’s voice or follow his own desires.

SONG FROM THE ASHES, a modern retelling of the classic Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence, explores the dilemma between the pursuit of dreams and personal happiness versus contentment in God’s plan for marriage and love.

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Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

A: Song from the Ashes is a retelling of the Edith Wharton classic The Age of Innocence. A couple of years ago I read the novel, and even though the book was written almost a hundred years ago, the issues and themes (the quest for love, honoring commitments, infidelity, the struggle between personal happiness and doing the right thing) are relevant to the modern reader. I also wanted to write something involving my hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. Kingsport is a small town and everybody knows everybody’s business, so the setting lent itself well to the finger-pointing and gossip over Ella Casey and her return from Nashville.

The second inspiration was through a close friend of mine who lost her daughter to Trisomy 18 at 17 months, and her strength in the midst of such a terrifying ordeal was truly inspiring. That’s only a small portion of the book, but an important part.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

A: The main difficulty I experienced was in making sure I didn’t allow any old-sounding language to slip into a contemporary novel. Wharton’s novel (written in 1920 about 1870s New York society) contains lengthy descriptive passages and the dialogue is very proper. I would advise anyone retelling a plot from a classic novel to put some distance between the reading of the classic and the writing of their own novel (so that they don’t adopt the sound of the original language).

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

A: The publisher is a small press—eLectio Publishing. A few years ago I wrote a self-published novel, which was picked up by an agent. That began two long years of trying to sell the book to a big publishing house (which, incidentally, never happened), so this time around, I decided to go straight to publishing houses that would look at un-agented work. I read about eLectio through Poets and Writers magazine.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

A: With my first book (which was self-published), I was surprised at the cost of self-publishing. With this book, I haven’t experienced any monumental surprises. eLectio told me what to expect every step of the way, so it took a lot of the guess work out of it.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

A: Right now I’m working on two novels. One is a paranormal/romantic suspense. I’ve wanted to write a classic ghost story for a long time, but this will also have an inspirational message to it. The second one addresses the issue of sex trafficking happening in public schools and told from the point of view of several narrators. Both are in the beginning stages right now, so it may be a while before they come out.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

A: Well, Facebook is probably where a lot of my online time is spent. Blogging has grown on me a bit, and I really enjoy reading other bloggers. A few writers I follow have really interesting topics, and I’m always excited to see what they’ll write about next!

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

A: I wanted this novel to explore universal themes of domestic frustrations and the struggle with contentment in marriage, as well as the battle between personal happiness versus acceptance of God’s plan for our lives (as often they are not the same).

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

A: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about Song from the Ashes! I hope readers will enjoy it and find it encouraging!

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