Today, I am honored to feature an interview with Michelle Lowery Combs, author of the Heir to the Lamp!
Michelle Lowery Combs is an award-winning writer and book blogger living in rural Alabama with one cat and too many children to count. She spends her spare time commanding armies of basketball and soccer munchkins for the Parks & Recreation departments of two cities. When not in the presence of throngs of toddlers, tweens and teens, Michelle can be found neglecting her roots and dreaming up the next best seller. She is a member of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, Alabama Writers’ Forum, and supports her local aspiring authors groups.
Tell us something unique about yourself.
I’ve been 5’10” tall since I was twelve, and the Little Old Lady in the Grocery Store’s best friend ever since.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve written for as long as I can remember: diaries and short stories I poured over as a kid, articles for my high school newspaper, college essays. I’ve always felt t that I communicate far better in writing. There was a long time when I felt awkward and clumsy whenever I spoke to people I didn’t know well—maybe because I don’t tend to filter my thoughts very well and often whatever pops into my head gets said. Writing forces me to be more reflective and considerate of my word choices…and hopefully makes me seem like less of a bumbling idiot.
What inspired your novel, Heir to the Lamp? What makes it special?
As an adult, I fell in love with middle-grade and young adult series fiction. Both are relatively new to the book world. The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High were the closest I’d come to experiencing anything similar in my youth, and both of those series were pretty terrible.
Finally a parent, I discovered through my children Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and, yes, even the Twilight Saga. This led me to seek out titles that would have been around when I was a kid but that had gone unnoticed: Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.
I gobbled them up one after another. When I was done, I remember looking at a library shelf and wondering, “What now? What series will I read next?” It was then that I decided to write my own. Driving home that afternoon, I began to brainstorm. I knew two things for sure: that my protagonist would be a girl and that she’d have a supernatural ability. Witches, wizards, werewolves, and vampires abound in today’s young reader market. What would set my story apart? A little more consideration brought me to a realization about how seriously underrepresented genies are in all of literature. That settled things: I would write a book about a teenage genie!
Have you always been interested in magic and legends of genies?
I’ve always tried to find a bit of magic in the everyday world around me: a glorious sunset, the smiles of a sleeping baby, the flow of a perfect piece of prose. To me, believing in magic in a broader sense represents a kind of innocence that I’ve tried not only to preserve for myself, but now also for my children. My five-year-old asks me almost daily about mermaid combs and super hero capes. I hope that she, too, will always enjoy contemplating a world in which they really exist.
Could you tell us a little about your main character, Ginn? What was it like writing her story?
Ginn is sporty and smart. She’s impatient and a bit snarky, the way I believe most teenage girls are, even if only for a short time, in their adolescence. Ginn is loyal and loves her family, despite the fact that some of them drive her crazy.
In the beginning of Heir to the Lamp Ginn thinks she’s got her life figured out. Then a single wish changes all that and leaves her feeling as if she doesn’t know anything. What’s happening to me? Who am I? They’re questions all teens ask themselves at some point.
When writing Ginn’s story, I drew on some of my own memories of growing up a giant among other girls. Physically, she’s a combination of my older daughter and me. My daughter is a talented athlete and I drew from my experience of coaching her youth league basketball team for some of the scenes in the book. Ginn’s personality, however, is all her own.
Ginn is a character I couldn’t help but care for. I enjoyed developing her very much.
As I read Heir to the Lamp, I found Ginn’s adopted family quite unique and refreshing for a YA novel. Could you tell us what inspired you to create a unique family?
One of the themes I explore in the book is: What makes us who we are? Is it all in our DNA? Can we trace our natures back to ancestors, some of whom we’ll never know? Or are we molded more into our true selves by the people we willingly open our hearts to?
My own family is as eclectic as Ginn’s. I have three biological children, two step-children, and maintain a close relationship with a now adult cousin that I informally adopted when he was a teen. Someone looking at our family portrait may puzzle over our “real” connections to each other, my cousin and I are only ten years apart in age, but we know what we mean to one another. We are a family. Having one another in our lives has made each member of my family a better person for it.
Today more than ever the “typical” family is anything but. I wanted to write a story that recognized that and celebrated diversity.
Will we be seeing more of Caleb and Rashmere in future novels of the Genie Chronicles?
Absolutely! Ginn is still quite young at 13, but already she recognizes her feelings for Caleb. Her relationship with Rashmere, however, complicates those feelings. Rashmere has proven his loyalty to Ginn. He’s a friend she can count on and trust. Is Caleb? Will it be possible for Ginn and Caleb to maintain a friendship once Caleb knows Ginn’s true nature? These are some of the questions I answer within a broader plot in the sequel to Heir to the Lamp, Solomon’s Bell.
Do you have any other books in the works? What are your future goals?
Besides Solomon’s Bell, I’m working to finish a coming-of-age story set in 1960’s Alabama called Daddy’s Girl. Two chapters of Daddy’s Girl have each won a national writing contest award and been published in the online literary magazine Alalit.com. I have high hopes for the novel.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
- Read! It is so very important to be well-read in the genre you are writing.
- Write—if not daily then as often as possible.
- Connect with other writers. Joining a writers’ group was the best thing I ever did to keep me motivated on my journey to publication.
Where do you like to write?
With five kids still at home, the one place I’m alone is the bath tub, and then only sometimes. While I do consider soaking to be another great hobby, the tub isn’t the most conducive place to combine my two favorite pastimes.
I write wherever and whenever I can. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sprung from the shower to jot down a note on a legal pad I’ve taken to keeping nearby. I talk to my characters in my minivan on the way to my office and have piles of old business cards with snipits of dialogue on them in the glove box and cup holders.
When I’m under a deadline and have reinforcements willing to wrangle my brood, I like to write at my local bookstore or coffee shop. Nothing feeds my muse better than the sound of running water unless it’s the smells of brewing coffee and new books.
Which do you prefer: longhand writing or laptop?
I wrote the entire first draft of Heir to the Lamp in longhand at my sons’ pee-wee football practices: two hours per evening, four nights a week for four months that would have killed me with boredom had I not had a novel burning inside me to get out. However, because I have a tendency to self-edit as I go, I prefer to write by laptop.
What is your favorite genre to read?
My heart belongs to YA scifi and fantasy, but I do also enjoy adult historical fiction. Phillipa Gregory’s books about Tudor England are some of my favorites. I loved Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Mark Childress’s One Mississippi. Anything set in Appalachia between 1850 and 1960 will always have a place on my reading list as well.
Cats or dogs?
Pets don’t fair too well at my house. Just like the Lawson children in Heir to the Lamp, my children really did inadvertently starve a hamster to death when they lost track of who was supposed to be feeding it for almost two weeks.
For the past three years, we’ve been the owners of a calico cat that my then two-year-old named Strawberry when her first choices of “blue” and “three” were vetoed. Strawberry is very adept at reminding anyone nearby if it’s been more than six hours since she’s eaten. She’s also shown great fortitude for being packaged into a cardboard box repeatedly by my youngest and the occasional accidental tub bath.
Dinner or desert?
When given the option, I ALWAYS opt for desert first on account of “you just never know”. Should the apocalypse happen during the dinner hour, I will leave this world happy knowing I ate pie instead of chicken and steamed veggies as my last meal.
Ice cream or cake?
Cake, on account of it’s more like pie.
Thank you, Michelle!! In honor of this interview, Ketch’s Book Nook is giving away an e-copy of Heir to the Lamp (either Kindle or Nook). Open until midnight, July 25th (INT). To enter, complete the Rafflecopter form -> a Rafflecopter giveaway
Also be sure to check out today’s review for Heir to the Lamp!
Heir to the Lamp (Genie Chronicles #1)
A family secret, a mysterious lamp, a dangerous Order with the mad desire to possess both. Ginn used to think she knew all there was to know about how she became adopted by parents whose #1 priority is to embarrass her with public displays of affection, but that changes when a single wish starts a never-ending parade of weirdness marching through her door the day she turns thirteen.
Gifted with a mysterious lamp and the missing pieces from her adoption story, Ginn tries to discover who…or what…she really is. That should be strange enough, but to top it off Ginn’s being hunted by the Order of the Grimoire, a secret society who’ll stop at nothing to harness the power of a real genie. Ginn struggles to stay one step ahead of the Grimms with the help of Rashmere, Guardian of the lamp and the most loyal friend a girl never knew she had. The Grimms are being helped, too—but by whom? As much as she doesn’t want to, Ginn’s beginning to question the motives of her long-time crush Caleb Scott and his connection to her newest, most dangerous enemy.