Rummanah Aasi
  One of my favorite things about my job is discovering new authors and having the opportunity to chat with them. One of the authors that I discovered earlier this year is Lise Haines. I asked Lise if she would be interested in doing an author interview with me. She graciously accepted and was willing to answer my questions during her vacation. How cool is that?

  So who is Lise Haines? She is the Writer in Residence at Emerson College. She has been Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard, and her other teaching credits include UCLA, UCSB, and Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She is also the author of three books. Small Acts of Sex and Electricity (Unbridled Books), which is a Book Sense Pick in 2006 and one of ten “Best Book Picks for 2006” by the NPR station in San Diego and In My Sister’s Country, (Penguin/Putnam), a finalist for the 2003 Paterson Fiction Prize. She has even written short stories and essays that have appeared in a number of literary journals and she was a finalist for the PEN Nelson Algren Award. She also wrote her very first young adult book called The Girl in the Arena, which was released in 2009. Talk about a busy lady, huh? I asked Lise about her writing, particularly about her young adult book, and how she liked growing up in Chicago and its suburbs.

 Lyn is a neo-gladiator’s daughter, through and through.  Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family.  Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator.  Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying. The rules help the family survive, but rules—and the GSA—can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn’s seventh father, he also captures Lyn’s dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him... For fans of The Hunger Games and Fight Club, Lise Haines’ debut novel is a mesmerizing look at a world addicted to violence—a modern world that’s disturbingly easy to imagine. (Description from Amazon).

Rummanah:  Hi Lise, welcome and thank you for stopping by. I lived in Chicago for many years. Where did you live in the city? Do you miss it?

Lise: Hi Rummanah, thank you for asking me! I grew up in the city and the suburbs. Mostly the north side of Chicago around Old Town and then New Town for the city. The main suburbs were Wilmette and Evanston. I still have family in the area and get back to visit when I can. I see you’re working in Lake Forest. That’s a particularly beautiful area with a pretty famous writers retreat. I had a boyfriend years ago who went to Lake Forest College. 

Rummanah: It's definitely a beautiful area. I didn't know it had a famous writers retreat! Wow, you learn something new everyday. Girl in the Arena and the Hunger Games series share lots of similarities, although they are completely different books. In your opinion, what sets “Girl in the Arena” apart?

Lise: I’m always curious to see what reviewers have to say. One recent review said Girl in the ArenaHunger Games. I guess you could say our unique internal visions or world building set them apart. Collins was working on her book a few months ahead of mine. Neither of us knew what the other was doing. Perhaps this is a good question for readers to decide. I don’t like to spoil things.

Rummanah: I hate spoilers too, which is why I understand you don't want to elaborate any further. So tell me this, why do you think many people like reading dystopian novels?

Lise: All of us have fear, of course. And it’s easy, when world events and resources become highly stressed, to let that fear get out of control. A dystopian novel can focus and contain the fear in a way that a fairytale can address anxiety. If it’s done well, it gives us room to reflect on people and culture in a new way. 

Rummanah: Speaking of seeing things in a new way, Girl in the Arena takes place in the U.S. in the distant future yet it still retains the Ancient Roman culture. How much did research did you have to do for your book?

Lise: You’re right, it does have the feeling of a distant future and I would say that Girl in the Arena is set in an alternative history. Readers will recognize many things from current day. I was fortunate to go to Rome. It felt important to stand in the Coliseum, to try and imagine that world. My time there was short but breathtaking. I did read a few books before I went, to get a clear idea of how gladiators fought. That’s when I learned that there were female gladiators in Ancient Rome. 

Rummanah: I never knew there were female gladiators at all, which is why I was fascinated by your book. What do you want readers to take away from Girl in the Arena?

Lise: A great read more than anything. And a sense of really being in someone else’s head and heart the way we live and breathe with Anne Frank when we read her diaries.

Rummanah: I'm sure they will. All of your books so far focus on women and families in difficult situations. What draws you to these topics?

Lise: I’m drawn to characters. The topics surface as they will. But show me a woman who does not face difficulties in this world. We continue to make less money than men for the same work and the number of single/divorced mothers has grown exponentially. Women are often pressed beyond their limits. And even the most privileged of women often feel they have no voice, the most beautiful often feel they aren’t appreciated for themselves, the most dutiful wouldn’t mind living beyond duty every now and then to have more creative lives. And how many women of power just don’t have time to spend with their kids or make a family at all. Certainly there are women who lead full and happy lives. But many struggle. It’s been less than 100 years since we got the vote in this country. So I’m not surprised that these concerns keep surfacing in my work. 

Rummanah: Very sad, but unfortunately true. Readers usually see all the glorious things about being a writer, but rarely get to see the behind the story. What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Lise: For me, balancing the three careers of parenting, teaching full-time and writing. Then there are the dishes and sleep. Finding time to sleep is probably the biggest challenge of all. The dishes can wait. 

Rummanah: I can only imagine. I don't know how you do it with that hectic schedule. If you could meet any author, past or present, who would it be and why?

Lise: I’d probably obsess for weeks trying to come up with just one. Maybe Lewis Carroll, though I’d love to meet Jane Austen. For modern writers, who wouldn’t want to have a long talk with J.K. Rowling? 

Rummanah: Very cool choices! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by, Lise!

Lise: I wish you all good things!! 

Readers, I would like to thank again Lise Haines and her publisher, Bloombury, for contributing a free copy of Girl in the Arena for my I Heart YA Giveaway. 

3 Responses
  1. Vee Says:

    This is a great interview! I loved hearing about how she went to Rome, and the way this book is futuristic but retains elements of the past, as well.

    And Jane Austen and JK Rowling are probably my two favourites to meet, as well :)

    Girl in the Arena looks fantastic, and I've heard so many good things about it. Hopefully I'll get the chance to pick it up soon!

  2. Jenny Says:

    Wonderful interview, this title is new to me but I'm a huge fan of dystopian reads so I'll definitely be looking into this one. I also love ancient roman culture, so I'm excited to see how bits of that play out in a distant future:)

  3. Daisy Says:

    Great interview! I actually got Girl in the Arena as a present this week and I'm really excited about reading it :) She has great taste in authors!

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