Writer of eerie ghost stories set in Stillwater, Oklahoma
This month we're featuring Oklahoma author Lisa Courtaway!
Tell us a little about yourself - a brief bio, if you will.
I am an Oklahoma native, having lived most of my life in Tulsa and Stillwater. As a married mother of four who also owns six (yes, six!) dogs, is an indie author, and works as a media teaching assistant at an elementary school, I am tired all the time. But I still find time to read, obsess about true crime investigations and lovingly meddle in the lives of my children.
Growing up, I was a theater kid and a huge fan of Stephen King (still am) and horror fiction and movies. I excelled at all classes related to English and writing and barely passed those related to math and science. I always wrote poems and kept journals until child three and four were born less than five minutes apart, at which time writing was put on the back burner.
What led or inspired you to start writing fiction?
Returning to my "hometown" of Stillwater, a place I loved growing up in, prompted me to create stories that are something like an homage to a town that I find unique and inviting.
There is nothing more exhilarating to me than a well-crafted ghost story. I love a good scare! So, writing paranormal mystery was a natural world for me to enter when I got serious about writing something I could actually publish. The Shadows of Camelot Crossing series is inspired by my actual, quirky neighborhood. The haunted house on the cover of Red Water was inspired by the home my family lives in, although ours is sadly not haunted, nor as fantastical as the fictional Weizak home.
We were unloading our belongings into what we call the "Shrek" house on a rainy day, and I couldn't ignore the eerie ambiance our new surroundings exuded. I began to daydream about a spirit who would linger in the house and the surrounding woods, and the story evolved rather quickly.
Believing I heard our kitchen door open in the middle of the night led me down the tangled path of the Deep Water story, and my teen years in Stillwater set the scene for my current WIP and third (likely final) book in the Camelot Crossing series. All of the stories are sprinkled with varying degrees of my own "real life" experiences and moments. Writing Deep Water and the upcoming Muddy Water has been cathartic for me and has allowed me to hopefully put to rest some of the lingering effects from considerable adversity I experienced as a child and young adult.
What’s your most recent published book? What’s it about?
Deep Water tells the story of the Clarkson family (neighbors to the Weizak family of Red Water.) The younger Clarkson daughter, Wren, disappears during the historic winter storm of January 2011. Her older sister, Birdie, is forced to step up and care for Wren's two young children as well as her aging parents.
Immediately after Wren vanishes, Birdie is plagued by visions of her younger sister and odd, inexplicable occurrences that she tries to pass off as figments of her overburdened, stressed mind.
The momentum and intensity of the eerie events escalate, pushing Birdie to face truths about her family and herself that are devastating. The reader is pulled into the unraveling web of secrets and family discourse, where ultimately (and satisfactorily) they learn the reason behind Wren's lingering specter.
What has been the most challenging part of being an indie (self-pubbed) author?
Most definitely the marketing aspect of it all is the most challenging. I used to be in advertising. I was a copywriter and broadcast production manager, but self-promotion is not my bag. There are so many avenues for promotion, but it is all very daunting, time-consuming and frustrating. My sixteen-year-old daughter helps me with my TikToks and my twenty-three year old son guides me through Instagram. Beyond that, I just try to take it slowly, learning and evolving strategies, but I have so far to go.
What has been the most delightful or fulfilling part of being an author?
Hearing from people who love the stories is beyond delightful, and the sense of accomplishment of holding a newly printed book in my hand is incredibly fulfilling. The pride of crafting over fifty-thousand words into a compelling story, the excitement of opening my Dropbox to see the newest cover art rendering and the thrill of hearing that readers couldn't put the book down makes me so happy. There is so much about the process that I truly love that helps push me through the more anxiety-inducing or mundane aspects.
Tell us a bit about your process. Do you write every day?
Oh, how I wish I were so disciplined. I am an all-or-nothing type of writer. I was much more consistent with my writing before I returned to work, but I was fortunate enough to land a job that allows a stretch of many days off. At the same time, the days I do work with children are mentally and physically draining, so I don't have much creativity bubbling up by the time I get home. I need to be in the right headspace and have a block of time that allows me to expand upon a chapter or a scene. It is challenging for me to write if there are too many distractions. But I have a lovely little nook in my bedroom, with a view of the bewitching woods where a large part of my stories take place. It is a wonderfully immersive environment and very peaceful.
Every night, as I am falling asleep, I am thinking of my characters and things they might do or say. I keep a notebook on my nightstand and am jotting dialogue, plot twists and snippets of scene setting language at all hours. So maybe I do write every day, even if it is only a few dozen words written in a drowsy state!
Do you have a favorite review you’ve received, and if so, what do you love about it?
This is one of my favorite reviews I received from a fellow author whom I've never met. I love how twisty and expressive it is.
Lisa Courtaway has the incredible ability to bring her characters vividly to life. An intriguing and complex story set in two time periods and staged in two different social and economic settings. Red Water is a contrasting tale of mothers and daughters with secrets and complicated family histories. At the beginning of the virus quarantine in 2020, fifteen-year-old twins, Holden and Hazel, along with mom and dad move into a unique Tudor home in a mid-western college town. The Weizak family steps right out of a 1950s sitcom where dad would be Ward and mom would be June complete wearing a dress and pearls while cleaning house. A tragic mystery that aches to be told haunts the thirty-five-year-old house. The author skillfully tells the tale in a style as if they rewrote Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street for Hallmark. – Tom Phillippe, author of Bowie.
I'm so thrilled to see that readers comment on my ability to build characters. The people in my stories are like my not-so-imaginary friends. They are alive in my mind, so it is wonderful knowing that they come across as real to readers.
What tips do you have for other authors working on their books?
Be prepared to cram your brain full of more learning than you ever thought possible. I am constantly turning to my wonderful editors, newly established author friendships, YouTube, books, the internet, etc. for more and more knowledge.
I was so naive when I set out to write my first book. In some ways, that uncorrupted mindset was a good thing. By the time I finished my first draft and started the next phase, I had put so much time and effort into the book, I couldn't imagine giving up on it in the face of the daunting next steps.
But being open to the process and soaking up as much wisdom and information as I possibly can has definitely made me a better, more thoughtful author. It is a journey that is full of amazing moments and tremendous growth that I know will never stop evolving.
Also, hire an editor! Do not skimp! Editing has got to be the single most important step in self-publishing. There is nothing more off-putting than reading a book by an indie author that is riddled with clumsy writing and errors. Having a great cover and great editors are essential to producing a successful book.
What has it been like, working with Andrea and Michele of Two Birds?
I could never say enough about Two Birds! Andrea edited my first book, and she was so patient and thorough. She taught me so much, so incredibly much. Then Michele came along for my second book and brought a whole new perspective and guidance that has allowed me to grow and learn even more. I am so grateful to have such an amazing team to work with. They are responsive and informative and so skilled. Michele has written both of my blurbs and I hope she can write all the blurbs to come. I am blown away by her ability to sum up my stories so eloquently while making them sound so intriguing. If I picked up my books and read the blurbs, I'd be sold. Entrusting her to knock that impossible task out of the park is such a huge burden lifted off my shoulders.
Two Birds has also provided proofreading and formatting for both books. It is so important to have trust in people who are handling your work with such attention to detail and know-how. They truly make me feel like my books are as important to them as they are to me and that is invaluable.
I could go on and on about working with Two Birds, and I recommend them every time I'm asked for advice on editing, proofing, formatting and blurb writing. I don't ever want to have to work with another editing team, because I can't imagine any other company living up to the standard that I am used to working with Andrea and Michele.
What is the most helpful tip you can offer to authors who, like you, want to find the right editor for their books?
My search for an editor was formidable. Knowing how important it was could be overwhelming at times. I finally came up with a short list and reached out to those few. I was immediately struck by the responsiveness of Two Birds and really felt comfortable with them.
I would advise other authors to really research the heck out of it, but also trust your gut. Read works edited by the editors you are considering; submit samples and see how you feel about their input. You need to trust them, and it helps to like them too. Aside from yourself, they are quite possibly your biggest ally. You need to believe in them as much as you believe in yourself.
Where can authors and readers connect with you, and find your books?
I have a social media presence and have released wide, so all the major online retailers carry my books. Being an author is essentially being a small business owner, and I believe strongly in supporting local, mom-and-pop businesses. Our local book shop, Bliss Books and Bindery, has been so supportive of me and my work. Seeing my book on their shelves next to works by icons like S.E. Hinton and Stephen King is mind-blowing. I encourage readers to shop in those funky, little indie bookstores whenever possible. I have found that the small businesses are always eager to order books for you and in doing so, you have helped yourself, a small business owner and other indie authors. My website is under construction, but links to my books can be found at lisacourtaway.com