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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interview: Lise Haines (author of Girl in the Arena!)

Lise Haines was kind enough to answer a few questions about her novel and writing!

A Brief Introduction:
LISE HAINES is the author of three novels, Girl in the Arena, published in the US and the UK (Bloomsbury) and in Turkey (Alfa-Artemis Yayınevi); Small Acts of Sex and Electricity (Unbridled Books), a Book Sense Pick in 2006 and one of ten “Best Book Picks for 2006” by the NPR station in San Diego ; and In My Sister’s Country, (Penguin/Putnam), a finalist for the 2003 Paterson Fiction Prize. Her short stories and essays have appeared in a number of literary journals and she was a finalist for the PEN Nelson Algren Award.

Haines is Writer in Residence at Emerson College. She has been Briggs-Copeland Lecturer at Harvard, and her other teaching credits include UCLA, UCSB, and Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She grew up in Chicago, lived in Southern California for many years, and now resides in the Boston area. She holds a B.A. from Syracuse University and an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars.

The Interview:
First off, tell us a little bit about your novel, GIRL IN THE ARENA.
Lyn, my narrator, is 18 years old and lives in Cambridge, Mass. Her world is more or less as we know it except that our society now has gladiator competitions where combatants live and die in the arena. Lyn’s mother has married one neo-gladiator after another, and as a Glad daughter, Lyn is expected to follow a set of tyrannical rules. When she loses her seventh father in the arena, she finds herself having to make some really tough choices.

What inspired you to write GIRL IN THE ARENA?
In part, I was reflecting on the level of violence that young women experience in our world, and how little we talk about that. But when you write a book, so many things are streaming through your mind. I was fascinated by my daughter’s avatars, and that type of virtual reality warrior. And then…I just wanted to tell an engaging story, and immerse myself in Lyn’s world.

Are you anything like your main character?
Wow, I’ve never been asked this question. My immediate answer is: not really. But I can relate to her desire to do things on her own terms, and how arbitrary or unfair rules just drive me crazy. She also has a fighting spirit and any single mom, as I am, has to have a fighting spirit if she and her kids are going to make it in this world. You know, JK Rowling has that spirit, Toni Morrison…

Did you do any research while writing GIRL IN THE ARENA? If yes, please explain.
I had a teaching post at Harvard one year and that made it possible for me to get to Rome. There are quite a number of parallels to Ancient Roman culture and the neo-gladiator society of Girl in the Arena. And I was surprised to learn that there were female gladiators in Ancient Rome. I have other interesting facts on my website:

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this novel?
Finding time is the tough part. I teach full time and I have a teenage daughter. To make it all work means cutting down on sleep. The writing itself was a dream. I love writing. It’s hard to describe the pleasure I have when I drop into another world that way.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes, always. There were moments when I considered other things to support myself. To be a good writer, I think you have to have an understanding of human psychology. So I might have made a good therapist or maybe a photographer—I’m a very visual writer. My mother and father were journalists, so I was always around writers. In high school, I used to stay up half the night writing.

What jobs did you have on your way to being a writer? Did they help you in any way as a writer?
Oh, I had some funny jobs like motel maid, waitress for a day, inventory controller, bank teller, administrative assistant, bookkeeper. Most of those jobs were pretty mind-numbing and paid poorly. Many of my female college students don’t like the term feminist (an often confusing and mixed up term), but women really got the raw end of the career stick—and even now we make less on the dollar. You try and get a short story or two out of those lousy jobs and you hope you move on quickly.

When and where do you usually write?
I’m so bad, I write a lot in bed. My desk is often crowded with papers. Sometimes I work at a large table or go out to a coffee shop.

Is there something that is a must have for you to be able to write?
I don’t think of myself as fussy in that way. But loud drilling, jack hammers, wood chipping machines…they make it tough.

What author or book most influenced you as a writer or in general?
I love so many books it’s hard to narrow the list down. I recall reading Once and Future King by T.H. White, about King Arthur, and going crazy for the particular way he depicted fantasy. Alice in Wonderland always rocked my world—still does.

What are currently reading?
Mostly I’m reading nonfiction books, reflecting on the next novel I’m writing.

What book are you anxiously awaiting?
What I’m looking forward to is time to really dive into the stack by my bed. I’ll probably read Lorrie Moore’s new novel next. And Leviathan looks good.

Can you tell us anything about your next YA novel?
I’m working on something but I’m in that superstitious stage where I have to hold off talking about it for a while. If Girl in the Arena really takes off, I’m thinking about writing a sequel.

The Hiding Spot is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Is there a place, activity, or person that is your hiding spot?
I guess that would be writing. And putting my feet up and watching a movie with my daughter. Any chance to get out in nature is something I relish as well.

Anything else you would like to share with us?
I have this whacky book trailer I hope everyone checks out: I crack up each time I see it.

Thanks so much for all of your good energy around GIRL IN THE ARENA!!

Thank you, Lise, for taking the time to answer these questions!
To read my review of GIRL IN THE ARENA, go here!


  1. I'm definitely interested in reading Girl in the Arena =)

    Full time teacher and mum, I'm glad you found the time to write Lise!

    Thanks for the interview ladies, I enjoyed it.

  2. Great interview. This book looks great.

  3. Great interview! Really interesting to read. How lucky is she having the opportunity to go to Rome! I love Italy. I so need to check out that trailer when my internet is cooperating because I've seen it posted everywhere and people saying it's hilarious!

    I can't wait to read her book =)

  4. Good interview!! Her book is reminding me of The Hunger Games a bit.


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