INTERVIEW WITH FORMER NEW YORK TIMES JOURNALIST, LISA LUCIANO
Author of The Chosen Ones
ABOUT LISA LUCIANO
Former New York Times sports reporter, Lisa Luciano has a unique perspective into the icy world of competitive figure skating, which she writes about in her debut novel, The Chosen Ones. The book won multiple awards in advance of its release in May 2020 including Best Sports Fiction in the NYC Big Books Competition. Luciano was also a television producer and director who received national recognition for excellence in educational programming. A teacher with 40 years of experience, Luciano taught English, TV Production, Technology, and Digital Literacy and most recently worked as a Library Media Specialist. She currently resides in Connecticut.
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1) What motivated you to write The Chosen Ones?
I was motivated to write The Chosen Ones as a result of my work for the NY Times from 1991–1994 when figure skating was at its peak of popularity. In the course of my investigations I discovered there were many issues in the sport. Judges from various countries were colluding and trading their votes and deciding on the winners before the competitions took place. At the time, professional figure skaters were not allowed to represent their countries in the Olympics when athletes in other sports had done so for years because of a power struggle over money. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
The articles were prompting change and being read by a worldwide audience. That’s when suddenly I was told my services were no longer needed. I could draw only one conclusion — the truth was making the people and organizations I was criticizing uncomfortable.
My journalistic platform had been silenced, but not my pen. That’s when I decided to write a novel based on the behind the scenes reality of figure skating which would offer a panoramic view of a world that was dealing with not only systemic corruption, but homophobia, sexual abuse, eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, the use of illegal performance enhancing methods and more. There were so many issues I still wanted to address that I felt a novel was the best way to tell the whole story.
2) Why did you choose to make your novel fiction instead of a non-fiction book about the secrets of the figure skating world?
My background was journalism and I had already had a non-fiction book published, but after my experience of being exiled not only by the NY Times, but a major figure skating publication that I was also writing for, I was concerned I might have difficulty securing a publisher due to the fear of possible lawsuits. Much of what was going on in figure skating was well known in inner circles, but had no paper trail and would have been hard to prove which would have been necessary for a non-fiction book. I also would not have been comfortable writing what could be falsely accused of being hearsay or rumors. Writing fiction would take that excuse off the table for those who didn’t want me revealing their secrets.
I felt the truth was too important to have it dismissed, so I tried to find the best of both worlds by writing a hybrid story that can be considered creative non-fiction or realistic fiction. Most of the events in the story are inspired by real skaters and situations and were used to tell essential truths about the sport. Ironically, since the book was written, many of the things portrayed in what was a fictional series of events have actually happened in real life.
3) When did you realize that you first wanted to be a writer?
I remember it vividly. There were two events that made me realize that writing was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was a junior in high school and had just finished reading a book for English class. When given the choice, I read mostly non-fiction about sports as I was a gymnast at the time. In fact, I had been recruited by two of the top coaches for the women’s U.S. Gymnastics team to train with them for a possible shot at making the Olympic team until a back injury ended that dream. So there I was, reading inspiring stories about great athletes and teams, when something occurred to me that changed the course of my life. I thought, if it feels this good to read a book, what must it feel like to write one?
That prompted me to take a journalism course. Unknown to me, the teacher took a project I had written and submitted it to a national writing contest which I won. The prize was to spend the summer being mentored by journalists and fiction writers. The positive feedback I received from them gave me the confidence to then go on to study journalism in college and to pursue a career as a writer.
4) Did you enjoy writing for the New York Times?
Writing for the NY Times was as Dickens said, the best of times and the worst of times. The freedom I was given to dig my teeth into the corruption of a sport I loved and had hoped to help get back on course was amazing. But with it came a tremendous sense of responsibility. After my first article about professional skaters being banned from Olympic competition, the rule was changed. That’s when I understood how important the role of a journalist was and that I had an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference by simply telling the truth. Ultimately, it was that very thing that led to me being shunned by the newspaper, but it also made me realize the power of writing and validated the work I had done. So despite how things ended, I will always be grateful for the opportunity that any writer would dream of and it motivated me to change course and resulted in The Chosen Ones which is a book I’m very proud of.
5) What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I like to write first thing in the morning and/or later in the day when it is quiet and I don’t have to think about who or what is on my phone waiting for me. I remember reading advice from another writer saying you should approach your writing the way to do any other job. Set a schedule. Stick to it. Unfortunately, a schedule doesn’t always work for me. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. But generally, I get up and check for messages from my publisher, publicist, website and social media. I then read the news from different online sites. That sometimes gives me ideas for future blogs or books. I then start writing.
I tend to lose myself in the writing so it’s not unusual for me to go non-stop for hours, even skipping meals. I literally lose track of time. But that’s when I know I’m in a good place. Eventually, my body sends me a message that I need a break, so I stop and do necessary tasks around the house, then in the afternoon or evening I pick up where I left off. Every writer’s process is different, but that’s what works for me.
6) What do you hope readers will get out of The Chosen Ones?
I hope readers will realize that while sports are exciting for the fans, there are sometimes dramatic and tragic situations going on behind the scenes. Athletes experience pressure and stress on a level most of us can’t fathom and hopefully this story is a warning to everyone of the consequences for both young and older competitors. We need to help and protect them. Unchecked, corruption runs wild and taints what should be a fair and honest competition and it shouldn’t be accepted by or tolerated by the fans. Finally, while dreams don’t always come true, if we try we can find happiness in our lives by not letting someone else define us and just being who we are.
7) What is your advice for aspiring authors?
Find truth. Learn your craft. Take the advice of others who are on the same path. Use your strengths, but acknowledge and work on your weaknesses. Never settle or get complacent. Your words have power. Use them responsibly. If you are a journalist, tell the truth because your readers deserve it, not because you know you can make someone think or believe what you do. If you’re writing a poem, a short story, a book or a screenplay, find an essential truth and make sure you include it while you’re trying to tell an exciting story or offer a thought-provoking idea. That’s what your audience will respond to.
And, seek your own personal truth. Don’t become a writer because you like the idea of waking up when you want, walking around all day in your pajamas, having no boss to answer to and thinking you will make millions of dollars for sitting at your computer. Know that there will be constant challenges to you and your work. There will be more rejections than affirmations. Absorb the criticism and learn from it. Write because from your heart and soul, you have to. And as they said during the American Revolution, stay the course. I wish you true satisfaction in your career and the best of luck.
Keep Up with Lisa
· Instagram: @lisalucianobooks
· Twitter: @LisaLuciano888
· Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-luciano-39875a74/
· Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53296616-the-chosen-ones
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