Author Q&A With Lisa Wilkes

Author Q&A With Lisa Wilkes

Lisa Wilkes is a flight attendant, animal rescuer, licensed social worker (LMSW), and author. She lives in Florida with three rescued pets and a handful of foster animals. She would love to start her own nonprofit someday. In the meantime, she’s actively involved in several local charities supporting human and animal rights. Lisa has lived in ten US cities and three foreign countries…so far! She considers herself a free spirit, much like the protagonists in both her novels. Lisa’s debut romance, Flight Path, was released by The Wild Rose Press in 2020. Flight Path depicts a string of serendipitous encounters which spark an unlikely cross-country romance.

Mid-Flight, Lisa’s second book, was published on March 31, 2023. Mid-Flight is her first foray into the realm of futuristic sci-fi. This tale follows a misunderstood flight attendant as she navigates a jarring intergalactic debacle. Mid-Flight captures love and loss in times of crisis. It also speaks to the potential for everyday humans to leave a positive impact on a very broken world. One flight at a time. Meet Lisa…

You are an author, but is it your day job? I hesitate to call it a “day” job since I work past midnight on a routine basis, but I do have a full-time job (besides writing and rescuing animals, my biggest passions) that fills many of my days. And my nights. And mornings and weekends and holidays, etc. I’m a flight attendant for a major US airline. In the aviation industry, schedules tend to be erratic, unpredictable, and incredibly unique. To be honest, I love the ever-evolving nature of my work. When things are routine or predictable, I get bored. But there’s never a dull moment in the aviation industry. I really love that.

As a little kid, I dreamed of becoming a published author. However, my vision was idealistic and naïve. I had no idea how cutthroat and challenging the literary world would be. I wrote a few novels as an undergrad student at the University of Florida. During my senior year, I sent query letters to agents and publishers all around the country. The responses were devastating. Nobody expressed interest in my submission. Crickets chirped as my heart cracked wide open inside my chest.

In that moment, I realized the road to publication would be a lot more difficult than expected, and I’d need to secure a full-time job while pursuing this far-fetched dream of mine.

After college, I taught high school for a year. Then I completed a two-year term of service with AmeriCorps (the domestic version of the Peace Corps) here in Florida.  When that ended, I was lost. All I knew was that I wanted to gain inspiration for my future novels. I considered a few different opportunities before setting my sights on a traveling gig.

Coasting through the sky aligned with my goals as a writer and lifelong thrill-seeker. Traveling has always served as a source of inspiration for me, so I applied to be a flight attendant. I figured I’d only fly for one year. I planned to request all the New York trips (I had no idea how the reserve system worked; I thought I could just tell the airline where I wanted to go!). I envisioned myself networking with lots of important people in the NYC literary scene and eventually getting discovered by a famous agent. Of course, that part didn’t happen. And I only got to see New York City a couple times that first year; I was mostly assigned layovers on the West Coast, which wasn’t a bad thing. That was when my love affair with San Francisco began, in fact. But that’s another story for another time…

Anyway, I discovered I enjoyed being a flight attendant. Although I originally viewed the job as a stepping stone, that mentality changed very quickly. The job was fun and exciting. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Thirteen years later, I’m still trekking across the country and enjoying the ongoing thrill of an industry made for starry-eyed daydreamers like myself.

What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? Mid-Flight was released on March 31, 2023. This dystopian thriller, which takes place in 2037/2038, depicts a flight attendant’s battle with an increasingly authoritarian government. After Lexi Brennan’s best friend dies in a plane crash, an intergalactic crisis threatens the fate of humanity. Lexi sets aside her own personal demons to protect those in harm’s way. In doing so, she risks her freedom, her promising new romance, and even her life. Although Mid-Flight takes place in the future, its relevance to our present world cannot be overstated. This book was partly inspired by my grad school internship in the behavioral health unit of a hospital, where I witnessed the psychological toll of systemic oppression and discrimination. Mid-Flight addresses many serious topics, including mental illness and societal injustice.

Major events of 2020 also shaped this futuristic sci-fi/thriller hybrid. As a licensed social worker (LMSW) and human rights activist, I was appalled by the blatant attacks on people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Despite mounting public pressure, extremists in power condoned the unacceptable mistreatment of marginalized groups. Mid-Flight issues a warning similar to the one embedded within The Handmaid’s Tale and Women Talking: there are grave consequences to religious and political extremism. Mid-Flight’s protagonist risks everything to launch a small-scale rebellion because she refuses to accept the egregious abuse which is rampant in her post-apocalyptic world.

How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? First and foremost, I hope Mid-Flight reminds people of their infinite worth and value. I wanted to create a safe space where anyone/everyone would feel appreciated.

Lexi is no stranger to marginalization or bigotry. Her closest friends have faced judgment because of their neurodiversity, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. Yet all these individuals are remarkable and respectable. Each character is capable of inciting deep, meaningful change on a societal level. Mid-Flight aims to uplift readers by highlighting exactly how deserving and incredible they are, despite recent hostility from the powers that be.

Independent Review Board (IRB) had this to say about my protagonist, Lexi Brennan: “she’s immediately a flawed, endearing, gritty real, and relatable character who you want to stay with, whether she succeeds or fails. We’re instantly invested in her arc because it’s clearly going to be a thrilling, wild ride. By the end of Mid-Flight, she’s a magnificent champion for activism and changing the world with a committed group of people who love her fiercely.” With this description in mind, I am hopeful Lexi can show readers their intrinsic value, regardless of any perceived imperfections.

What are you most excited about with this book? Mid-Flight was a giant leap of faith for me. My debut novel, Flight Path, was a lighthearted romance. I also published a romantic short story. Over the past few years, I have met many authors within this genre. For me, romance was familiar and comfortable.

By contrast, Mid-Flight embodied a vastly different genre and tone. In fact, I even switched the perspective for Mid-Flight. First-person point of view didn’t capture enough intensity or drama, so I switched to third-person. Everything about this novel was risky! Thankfully, I enjoy a good challenge. It was fun writing through a completely different lens. Mid-Flight is an allegory for our current political climate. I enjoyed channeling all my creativity to portray this theme…with futuristic technology, expressions, and outer-space pathogens tossed in the mix.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed in your professional industry?  To all aspiring flight attendants: this job doesn’t have a specific, guaranteed outcome. It could lead you a thousand different directions. You are in the driver’s seat. You are the only one who decides where, exactly, this job will take you.

If you’re looking for a quick escape, that’s fine. I started out in that very spot, hoping to fly for one year, then hang up my wings permanently. Maybe this flight attendant gig is simply a launchpad for your next big endeavor. My vision evolved over time, but some folks stick to their original plan. The choice is your choice to make. Do you want a long-term career that doesn’t include a cubicle? That’s okay, too. I’d held a few office jobs (briefly) before joining the aviation industry. I felt claustrophobic going to the same exact spot with the same coworkers and the same exact tasks to perform each day. It seemed like a slow, grueling march toward an inevitable death. I knew I would wither in that setting, so I opted for a job that was different each day. And I never looked back.

So, to all those interested in the life of a professional traveler, remember this: the outcome is entirely up to you. This job is a choose-your-own-adventure story. If you are expecting a standard chapter book with a table of contents and a series of chapters place in chronological order, you will be disappointed. In this industry, nobody is going to tell you what comes next; that’s entirely up to you. If an open-ended career path sounds fun and intriguing instead of scary/overwhelming, you will make a fantastic flight attendant.

How do you handle setbacks and criticism? After getting rejected by countless publishers and agents in my twenties, I no longer fear rejection. At least, not in the debilitating way I used to. I’ve learned that criticism usually isn’t personal. There are lessons to be learned through each critique. To be honest, the brutal comments help me hone my craft more than the positive ones. And I don’t have to internalize those sentiments, as I did in my early twenties. Different people like different things. Reviewers, agents, and literary experts have one thing in common: they are all human. Every single one of them. Their comments might hold merit, but those criticisms could also be a reflection of that person’s day. Or their individual preferences. This means criticism doesn’t always indicate my talent (or lack thereof) as a writer. It’s simply a tool I can use to improve my future writings. Negative comments can be tucked in my internal file cabinet for future use, without allowing them to upset me or incite debilitating self-doubt.

Being an author today is like running a business. How do you manage all your publicity, social media and keep your engagement up with readers? It’s a lot, right? It’s a full-time job in addition to my actual full-time job. The promotional efforts are very demanding. They never end, either; book promo is an ongoing process that requires a ton of time, energy, and effort.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed. Anxiety creeps in, telling me I won’t finish an article on time, or I will botch my next podcast, or I might freeze at an upcoming speaking event. But my nerves eventually retreat, and I can breathe a little more easily. It helps to join a strong community of writers. Fellow authors understand the demands of the industry. They can relate to each struggle I might experience. In addition, they have offered support at every opportunity. I’m grateful for their words of wisdom and encouragement.

It also helps to have healthy outlets. My favorite forms of stress relief include rescuing animals and making all sorts of unique crafts, which I sell at local artisan fair. I donate all profits to animal rescue, happy to support homeless pets whenever I can.

How do you structure your day and make time for writing? That’s a good question. I’m still learning to structure my day and include time for creative self-expression. In fact, this question is an important reminder for me to get back to the business of writing books! I have been slacking in that department.

Since Mid-Flight’s release in March, I’ve been focused on promotional efforts. I haven’t set aside much time for my current novel, a mind-bending thriller about a Chemistry student in San Francisco. It’s all about balance, right? As authors, we need to utilize time management skills and prioritize the things that matter to us. That includes setting aside time each day for the novel I have placed on the back burner for the past few months.

What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? I love the freedom of being a flight attendant. This job places the entire world at your fingertips. During one shift, I might land in five different cities. It’s wild to acknowledge that I’ve traversed thousands of miles within a single day.

 Also, I am on the leadership board for my airline’s animal transport team. We are a group of volunteers who use our flight benefits to transport rescued pets all around the country. We reduce the euthanasia rates in many high-kill shelters by bringing these pets to their new fur-ever homes.

I have completed nearly twenty rescue flights. It never, ever gets old. The sense of fulfillment is so powerful and amazing; I love knowing another animal has been saved from a tragic fate in an animal shelter. And the adopters are always so excited to meet their newest family member. I cry every time. It is beyond sweet! My job offers a lot of really cool benefits, and I can think of no better way to use these awesome job perks.

Get to know Lisa and her books and learn about all her efforts to save animals via her website.

Images Courtesy of Lisa Wilkes

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