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Interview with Megan Whitson Lee, author of Song From the Ashes

Our guest today is Megan Whitson Lee, author of the Christian fiction, Song From the Ashes. Megan grew up in Tennessee but moved to the Washington, D.C. area as a teenager. She worked for criminal attorneys before earning her master’s degree from George Mason University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. Previously she received a Bachelor of Arts in Music followed by a year-long residence in London where she worked as a Literary Assistant. Her self-published first novel All That is Right and Holy won second place in the 2009 Christian Choice Book Awards. Megan teaches high school English in Fairfax County, Virginia where she lives with her husband and two Greyhounds.

Thank you for this interview, Megan. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. When I was around seven years old, my grandfather asked me to write a story about a ghost with six toes on either foot. I went all out! I wrote this little booklet, illustrated it, and titled it The Ghost of Fleetwood Road (where we lived at the time). After that, I was hooked. In high school I wrote fan fiction (before fan fiction was even a genre) for my friends, and by college I was writing novels. My undergraduate degree was in music, but one day I realized that I’d much rather be sitting at the keyboard of the computer rather than the piano keyboard, so I switched gears in grad school and received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from George Mason University. And from there I just kept on writing!

Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?

Sure! Song From the Ashes is a modern retelling of the classic Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence. It’s set in the small, gossip-laden town of Kingsport, Tennessee where attorney Landon Kingsley is torn between two women—the young and beautiful nursing student, April May, and her cousin, the scandalized country music singer from Nashville, Ella Casey.

Ella has returned to her hometown after spending the last ten years in Nashville. Her failed music career and affair with a married music producer makes her the subject of gossip and speculation, and her legal troubles drive her to Landon for help.

Landon finds himself inexplicably drawn to Ella, and as the date for his wedding draws nearer, he’s more discontent than ever with the path he has chosen for his life. Amid a firestorm of family and town gossip, and an increasing desire to break away from small-town life and expectations, Landon is tormented by his past and the complicated decision of whether to listen to God’s voice or follow his own desires.

Why did you choose your particular genre?

I’ve written Christian fiction for the last eight years—ultimately because I wanted to write about the redemptive power of God’s love. Along with that, I’ve always loved the story of The Age of Innocence, and the challenge of turning it into a relevant and modern tale was very exciting to me.

What was your greatest challenge writing this book?

The greatest challenge was not allowing myself to slip into the wordy, descriptive narrative that was the fashion in Wharton’s era. The Age of Innocence was written in 1920, and readers were different at that time. They were willing to wade through expansive prose. As beautiful as it still is to read, contemporary readers want things to move much more quickly.

Are you published by a traditional house, small press or are you self-published?

This novel is published through a small press—eLectio Publishing, although I have self-published before.

Was it the right choice for you?

Yes. When I self-published, it was really difficult and expensive, and I didn’t know what I was doing. The staff at eLectio has been wonderful, encouraging, and supportive, and I’ve been truly thankful for their help through every step of this process.

How are you promoting your book thus far?

Word-of-mouth is important to the promotion of novels. I’ve met a lot of fabulous people through the blogging world, and they’ve been gracious to me in helping to spread the word. Using social network is crucial, of course—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads are all invaluable promotional tools as well as promotional materials (book marks, postcards, etc.), which are easy to pass around to potential readers. I’m also blessed with a publisher willing to do promotional work for the book as well.

How is that going for you?

It’s too soon to tell, but I believe that perseverance and prayer are the two most important components to the promotional experience. I have faith that this book will make it into the hands of the right readers.

Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?

I really do think word-of-mouth is king. I was recently contacted by a reader of my self-published novel (titled All That is Right and Holy) to tell me they were talking to someone about the book in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, and the person asked where she could get several copies of it, as she wanted to read it and pass it along to her daughter. That’s always great to hear!

Do you have another job besides writing?

(sigh…) Yes. For now I teach high school English.

If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?

I would say use social networking/marketing to its fullest potential. I’m still figuring out how it all works, but so far it’s been my biggest ally in this murky world of book marketing. Use all of the venues possible—blog, facebook, tweet, and whatever else you can manage to work into your schedule. Social networking can become like a second job if you’re not careful—but it’s invaluable for promotion.

What’s next for you?

Currently I’m working on two new novels, both set in Virginia. The first one is a scary tale involving a “haunted” house and a newly married couple in which both parties are also haunted by their pasts. The second one addresses the sex trafficking issues currently going on in public high schools—a cause I feel passionately about.

Thank you for this interview, Megan. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?

Absolutely. My website is www.meganwhitsonlee.net and my blog page: http://meganwhitsonlee.blogspot.com.

Song From the Ashes is available at Amazon.