Chip MacGregor

June 19, 2012

Lisa McKay talks about her memoir…


In a memoir that reviewers have called a “modern-day fairytale”, a single thirty-something receives an email from a distant stranger proposing they date. As they get to know one another entirely via email they must confront troubling questions about purpose, passion, and what it really means to commit to a person or a place.

Love At The Speed Of Email is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology:

Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.

I sat down with the author, Lisa McKay, to chat recently.

Chip: Your first book, my hands came away redwas a novel. Why did you choose to write a memoir this time around?

Lisa: I didn’t intend for this second book to be a memoir. In fact, I was working on a novel on human trafficking when my husband, Mike, and I became engaged. But as we began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about.

After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the trafficking novel, one day I stopped long enough to ask myself what I really wanted to be writing about. The answer to that question wasn’t trafficking. It was exploring the idea of home.

I’d spent my childhood living in countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. I carried Australian and Canadian passports. I was living in Los Angeles working for a non-profit organization that provided psychological support to humanitarian workers worldwide. I was hopelessly confused as to where home was. Perhaps, I thought, I could write my way towards clarity. That’s when I started working on the memoir.

Chip: Tell me about the process of moving your life from the real world onto the printed page. What did you enjoy? What did you hate?

Lisa: Some of the things I loved most about writing the memoir were inextricably bound up with some of the things that I hated.

I loved that writing the book helped me relive so many good moments and funny conversations. Writing about these things helped me pin down and cement a lot of happy memories. Conversely, however, I didn’t enjoy reliving and dissecting some parts of my own story that I’m not proud of.

I loved the fact that writing the memoir really made me think. During the process of writing this book I learned things about myself – about my actions and reactions, about my approach to commitment, and about how I conceptualize home.

But sometimes I also hated the fact that writing this memoir made me think so deeply. It took me more than three years and three very different drafts to write this book. There were many times when I looked at something I’d written and knew that I wasn’t quite there, but I had no real idea yet of how to take it to the next level. I would try to reframe that feeling for myself as “a season of growth and possibility” but what it usually felt like was “a season of being stuck and frustrated”.

Chip: What’s the hardest part of taking your relationship, analyzing it, and putting it into a book for all to read? 

Lisa: The hardest part of writing about my relationship with the man who is now my husband was figuring out what to leave out. We had written each other 90,000 words worth of letters before we ever met, and that was just the start of the raw material I had to work withl 

Writing about my previous relationships was harder. One chapter, in particular, I must have rewritten a dozen times. I went over that story over and over again, trying to pin down what had happened during that time and, in particular, my own contribution to the unhealthy dynamics of that long distance relationship.

Chip: How did your friends and family feel about appearing in your book?

Lisa: So far everyone seems to have taken it well. I only changed two characters names – everyone else appeared under their own name – so before I finalized the manuscript I did send it to almost everyone who has a significant “speaking” role with a list of page numbers where they appeared and a request to let me know if they had any questions or concerns. I didn’t give them veto power, but I did want them to see what I’d written and to hear their thoughts.

Funnily enough, a couple of my family members were a bit concerned about how other family members might feel about their portrayal, but no one was concerned with how they came across. In fact, the person I was most worried might be hurt thanked me for portraying them in such a good light.

The trickiest part of navigating this wasn’t with family; it was with friends and previous boyfriends. However contacting previous love interests to let them know what I’d written about them before I made it public actually proved to be a healing exercise for me. (You can read a whole post on this topic here). 

Chip: You’ve chosen to self-publish your book — what sort of hopes do you have for it with the reading public? 

I had a great experience publishing my first book with a traditional publisher and I’m excited to explore this new frontier of self-publishing. Technology is changing publishing so rapidly – I find it amazing that I can publish this book and undertake a (virtual) book tour without leaving Northern Laos!!

As for my hopes … I have several. Starting grand: I hope that everyone who reads it loves it and that it sells a million copies.

More modestly (and much more sensibly) I hope that it entertains and I hope that it makes people think. I would love to see this book find its way to people who will enjoy a good love story or who are grappling with questions about home, commitment, or long distance relationships.

More modestly still, I hope to sell enough copies to break even on this project. I’d like to earn a living from writing someday and this particular publishing adventure is all part of the process. 

Chip: Great! Thanks for taking some time to chat with us, Lisa. Best of luck with the book.

Lisa: Thanks for having me! You can pick up a copy of Love At The Speed Of Email on Amazon and elsewhere (a portion of my profits will be going to support charities here in Laos) or drop by my blog and say hello. I’d love to hear from you.


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