Today, I'm excited to welcome R.L. Prendergast to A Bookish Affair!
How did you get the idea for Dinner with Lisa? What drew you to writing about the Depression?
Have you ever wished you’d written down the stories told to you by your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles? I know I have. For years I listened to my relatives recounting their childhoods, and talking of the unusual characters they’d known. People who did crazy things, and had nicknames like Hateful Dan, The Black Prince and Dumb Dora.
As a child, I enjoyed these anecdotes immensely, but didn’t think about them after they’d been told. However, as I got older, and the various relatives, including my grandparents, passed away, I wished someone had recorded their stories. Not long ago, I began asking my mother and father about some of the tales my grandparents used to tell. They remembered some details, but many of the stories had been forgotten – lost forever.
After completing my first novel, The Impact of a Single Event, which became a national bestseller, I began to write down the recollections of my parents and their older siblings, all now in their seventies and eighties. As the cache of tales grew – a great uncle’s experience in WW1, my mother’s memories of the neighborhood corner store, my father’s memories of life on a dairy farm – I saw a connecting thread. Before long, I was researching the time periods in which the stories took place – and was inspired to write Dinner with Lisa.
What was your research process for Dinner with Lisa?
Once I had the family stories in order I spent months pouring over old newspapers from the 1930’s in an effort to understand the time period I was writing about. I came across stories about children eating on alternate days so their siblings would have a chance to eat too or people deciding not to eat for weeks at a time so they could pay that month’s rent. I realize things like this are happening today in North America, however, during the Depression almost no one was spared these hardships and because of that there were also wonderful stories of communities coming together to help each other. My own grandmother spoke of homeless men coming to the door for a meal nearly every night. “We never turned them away, no matter how little we had ourselves,” she said. Above all, there was humor. A great aunt once told me there were two options. Laugh or cry. Those who chose laughter faired much better. I guess things haven’t changed all that much in that regard.
What was the most difficult part of writing this book? What was the most fulfilling?
The most difficult part of writing my novel was the fights I had almost every day at lunch. You see, four-inch tall aliens, with little tiny ray guns, invaded my home and took over control of my microwave oven. This is a problem, because I usually heat up leftovers for my lunch. It often took me an hour or more to fight the aliens off enough to reheat my food and escape back to my office!
Okay, so no aliens invaded the house. I only put that in because the process went very smoothly. I don’t recall any great problems. Perhaps I’ve just blocked out any unpleasantness now that the novel is on the bookshelves. As for the most fulfilling part, I think it was when my editor told me she was fascinated by my story. My editor is a woman who has written 34 of her own novels, probably sold over a million copies and has edited who knows how many more books, and she found my story fascinating! I was very happy that day.
Do you have any more projects in the works right now?
I’ve got a couple of projects I’m working on. One is a children’s story inspired by my son, who hasn’t slept through the night since we brought him home from the hospital. You can see his picture on the home page of my website (www.RLPrendergast.com). The other project is a fictionalized account of one of the most famous people who ever lived. I’d like to tell you more, but I need potential readers to be intrigued enough to visit my website again. The job of a storyteller, after all, is to keep the reader interested!
If you could bring three fictional characters with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
This is tough. I think the first fictional character I’d bring is Robinson Crusoe. This guy showed excellent (if unrealistic) skills for surviving on a desert island. From the simple tools and supplies he extricates from his ship he built himself a fenced-in habitation, learned to make pottery, grew rice and barley, and did a number of other amazing things with next to nothing. Robinson Crusoe would be a handy guy to have around.
I think the second person would be Ebenezer Scrooge (who would appear like Alastair Sim) after he’s been visited by the three ghosts of Christmas. At the end of A Christmas Carol Scrooge becomes a model of generosity and kindness. As the final narration states, "Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge." I like Ebenezer Scrooge’s his new attitude.
I think the third person would be Yoda. The guy (or whatever you want to call him) is
supposed to be 900 years old. I’m sure he’d have lots of good stories to tell.
Oh, Yoda is one of my favorites too. Thanks, R.L.!
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