VP Profile #11: Lisa Nohealani Morton

This week I’m blessed with two VP Profiles in my inbox. Lisa Morton writes with a quirky SF/folklore sensibility, and she answers interview questions with a quirky, off-beat sense of humor.


Tamago: Where do you get your ideas for your stories?

Lisa: I think this is the part where I’m supposed to say Hoboken, right? They don’t really come from any one place. Sometimes I start out wanting to write a story with a certain “feel”, and work from there; other times there’s a character or a situation that just won’t get out of my head. One thing that holds true no matter where the idea comes from, though – working on one idea inevitably means that six shiny new ones will pop up, clamoring to be written.

Tamago: When and how did you decide you wanted to write?

Lisa: Oh jeez, about as soon as I knew how. I’ve been incapable of keeping my nose out of books since I learned how to read, and as far back as I can remember I knew that I wanted to be one of the people telling the stories. I started my first novel when I was nine or ten (It was about a carpenter who gets sucked into a fairy world. I abandoned it when my mother claimed to see Christ symbolism in it.), and started submitting stories (really, really terrible stories, I want to emphasize) to magazines when I was twelve. It’s a shame that I didn’t save those rejection slips; they were devastating back then, but these days I’d frame them as a badge of honor.

Tamago: Since your writing seems to cross genres, how would you describe your work to other people?

Lisa: Future fantasy? Fairytales with rocketships? I can never seem to settle on writing science fiction or fantasy by themselves – it’s always post-apocalyptic futures with magic and elves with neural implants with me.

Tamago: Do you have a dream project that you would like to work on?

Lisa: I have this novel that’s been in my head for a while now. It’s a Gothic set in a creaky old generation ship. There’s a deposed captain, an insane AI, and ghosts, among other things. I’m a little afraid of actually writing it, though, so it keeps getting set aside for other projects.

Tamago: Do your Hawaiian connections influence your writing?

Lisa: I think they do in a few ways. Hawai’i’s culture – which I was born and raised in – is so different from the US mainland that when I moved here it was really like living in another country – the culture shock went on for years, and still does in small ways today, after a dozen years on the mainland. I think an experience like that can’t help but give you a little sense of the alien.

I also like to think – to hope, really – that it helps me keep from assuming that all of my characters, or my readers, are implicitly going to be Just Like Me, and particularly from assuming that they’re automatically going to be white. I don’t mean that it gives me any special authority or ability in writing POC characters – it doesn’t – but where I grew up, white was definitely not the default, and I hope that comes through in my writing.

One way that it really limits me – you can tell I like talking about Hawai’i – is geographically. Hawai’i’s a very small place, physically speaking, and I grew up on an island (O’ahu) that’s roughly 44 miles by 30 miles. You can drive around the whole thing in a couple of hours, and in fact that’s something my friends and I used to do for fun in high school. So it’s very difficult for me to conceive of large places – I mean, obviously you’d run into the ocean, right? I tend to forget that I can drive anywhere that’s more than an hour or two away from me in the real world, and if I’m not challenged out of it my characters tend to think the same way – their worlds are very small. Not much of a problem in short stories, but it’s a real challenge with novels.

Tamago: Talk to me about knitting.

Lisa: I learned to knit about two years ago, and I haven’t been able to stop since. I’m the sort of person who can’t just sit quietly and watch TV or a movie; I get antsy. Knitting gives me something to do with my hands. I’ve also found it’s a good way to clear my head when I’m trying to work out a plot problem.

Tamago: Would you recommend a workshop experience like Viable Paradise to other writers? Why or why not?

Lisa: Oh, absolutely, although of course it depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. For me – and I’ve said this elsewhere – the most valuable thing about Viable Paradise was that it was a space to take myself seriously as a writer, both because it was an entire week where I got to focus on nothing but writing and because it was time spent surrounded by other writers, both of the pro and aspiring variety. No one looking at you funny when you talk about the novel you’re working on, you know? And it was a space where I could really take a look at myself and say “I am a writer” without feeling self-conscious about it.

And of course you come out of it with this whole community of fellow writers, and you can share each others excitement over successes and commiserate over rejections together, which is incredibly valuable if, like me, you don’t have an in-person writing group to do those things with.

Tamago: In five years, where do you hope to be as a writer?

Lisa: I’ll leave off all the obvious jokes, and you can assume my daydreams are just as grandiose as every other writer’s. In five years, from a professional standpoint, I’d like to be selling more stories than I trunk, even if it takes a few rounds on the submission-go-round to get them there. From an artistic standpoint, I think I’ve finally gotten to a place where I don’t feel like I’m writing by the seat of my pants, on a purely prose level – but I frequently struggle with larger issues of structure and theme, and I hope to gain more conscious control over those.

Tamago: Where can readers find your work?

Lisa: I had a poem last year at Strange Horizons – you can find that here. I also appear in Hellebore and Rue, an anthology of stories about lesbian magic users that was recently released by Drollerie Press. That anthology was edited by Catherine Lundoff and JoSelle Vanderhooft, and can be picked up either
from the publisher directly or from Amazon.

Tamago: What advice would you give to newbie writers?

Lisa: Hmm, what can I say that I haven’t seen said before? Don’t leave rejections sitting in your inbox for longer than it takes to log them – you are tracking your submissions at Duotrope.com, or in a spreadsheet, or both (I do both), aren’t you? Log in, log the rejection, and delete the email, or file it in a folder, or do anything that keeps it from staring you in the face. And then turn the story around and send it to the next market, of course!

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “VP Profile #11: Lisa Nohealani Morton”

  1. Whoa, the smallness of O’ahu and the way that influences your sense of geography is really interesting. I notice the opposite phenomenon, having grown up in California, where people think nothing of driving for a few hours to get somewhere. In New England, people tend to be very surprised at trips I tend to think aren’t very long. I haven’t ever considered whether this seeps into my writing, though.

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