Q&A: Lisa Soland, Local Playwright, Actress, and Theater Instructor

A local playwright, actress, and theater instructor, Lisa Soland is touring to promote her first children's book, The Christmas Tree Angel (Celtic Cat Publishing, illustrated by Bethany A. Badeaux).

Is it good to have connections through playwriting?

You don't have to know people for this, you have to know how to get something done. How you get something done is getting off your ass and doing it. One call leads to another and another; that's the whole idea. I'm a member of the Knoxville Writers Guild, and that's been a big help with leads. I've sold 500 books at this point in the game, and that's very good—I've done it just by hustling my rear end. Sometimes we feel like, "If we write it, they will come." But it's not like the Field of Dreams. And you've gotta really believe in your product. It's just by the grace of God that this book turned out to be good, and I'm trying to give it good service.

What else are you working on?

I'm teaching at Pellissippi State and Maryville College in the theater departments. That's about giving back, and it's important because as you get older you have to turn back and help those coming up behind you—otherwise, what do you leave? But luckily that's just a small load right now, which was somewhat planned. I'm promoting my new play, The Sniper's Nest, which is based on Judyth Vary Baker's involvement with Lee Harvey Oswald, and that has been getting produced quite a bit. And I'm working on a play called The Walker Sisters, about the five women who refused to give up their home when the government was claiming it for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I want to write a children's story about the Walker sisters, and my publisher asked for a sequel to The Christmas Tree Angel, which will come out next year.

Do you work a lot of hours?

I work nonstop, I hate to say it. When I stop is when my husband comes home, and until he comes home, I'm really swamped. But it's remarkable what's happening to me. I have more than 40 international play publications, and they just keep coming in. It's just compounding. You work so hard for so long, pushing that snowball down the mountain, and eventually it gets away from you and accumulates all that snow—it's amazing.

Is any of the book based on people you know?

The book is about not being defined by what people around you think. The ornaments have all been told they'll be in a box for 364 days, and the angel simply cannot believe that. She climbs up the tree to get away from that, and there she can think much clearer. I think that mirrors anyone. I myself came from a town of 350 people. My mom and dad were blue collar workers and my dad dropped out of high school to fight the war. They were simple people, and the best lesson they taught me was to work hard.

Do you think children will "get" the bigger message about purpose?

They will, you know—children are so open. They'll get it on the level they need to. Before publication, I read it aloud to a first-grader, and found out what she loves the best is the part where the angel works her way up the tree. I think we all identify with struggling with a higher vision. None of us want to accept what others say we should be doing when we know that it's less than we're capable of.

Is it odd to publish The Sniper's Nest and this book in the same year?

I wrote The Christmas Tree Angel 14 years ago. It took me that long to find a publisher. I had no contacts, and made no progress no matter how much I did. But The Sniper's Nest is the most shockingly dark play I've written, and Angel is my most hopeful, sweetest story. The other day, I was on the phone with the Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge talking about a book signing, and that afternoon I talked with a cast of The Sniper's Nest by phone, and they were asking questions like, "How did you know Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the CIA?" It took three days to write The Christmas Tree Angel, and 14 years to get it to the public. That's why writers must be persistent above all things. When I teach a workshop, I don't try to teach about writing—I talk to the writers about not giving up.

Do you ever feel like giving up?

I feel like talking about giving up, but I never really do anything about it. I fantasize about being a bus driver, but then I just continue to do what I know God made me to do.

Soland will sign copies of The Christmas Tree Angel at Christmas in the City on Market Square on Dec. 29 from 12-9 p.m.; at Theatre Knoxville Downtown (319 N. Gay St.) at 11 a.m. and at Union Ave Books (517 Union Ave.) at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7. To order signed copies: lisasoland.com.