Southern author finds inspiration up north

Southern author finds inspiration up north

It all started the moment Lisa Patton wrote the opening line to what would eventually be her first novel.

And so it began, the years-long transition from the music industry to bed and breakfast innkeeper and back to the music industry before settling into a career as a best-selling author.

Patton calls it an adventurous spirit.

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“When different opportunities arise, I think, ‘I could do that,'” she explained.

A Memphis native, it was only natural for her to return to her hometown after graduating from the University of Alabama. In her mid-20s, she worked on Beale Street as the manager of the Orpheum Theater, which led to positions as promotions manager at FM 100 and promotional director at Channel 5.

However, a lust for life and an August trip to Vermont — perhaps, the most beautiful month to go — led her to Vermont, where three snow-filled seasons proved to be anything but sleigh bells and a holly, jolly Christmas.

Being from the South, she didn’t know what it was like to live through a snowy winter, much less three of them.

“We don’t know what it’s like to really live on the other end of the snow shovel and know just how heavy snow really is,” Patton said. “We just think, ‘Oh, isn’t that pretty.’ There’s fluffy snow and there’s wet snow and I learned what it was like living there three years. That was a real eye-opener.”

When her dog passed away, she was stunned when locals informed her she would have to wait until springtime before burying her fury companion.

Then gasped at the recommendation that she let her dog rest on a garden shelf until the ground thawed out in early May.

“That was the impetus of what would become ‘Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter’,” Patton said. “That one event because I knew I had a story.”

With the same exaggerated naive sense of humor as Lucile Ball and her own genuine Southern charm — something Patton hopes appeals to women ages 18 to 85 — she orally shared her story with anyone within earshot.

Actor Treat Williams, who stayed at the Vermont inn, was the first to ask if she had thought about writing a book, but never actually considered the idea until she relocated to Franklin, Tenn., and Patton was sharing stories with her lifelong friends of what it was like being a Southern lady living in the northeast.

She began by “marinating” on the juxtaposition of the South and North before starting her first novel by writing, “No one ever told me you can’t bury somebody up north in the wintertime.”

“I was writing it,” Patton recalled, “but then life would hit and I had to have a job and I was a young mother raising two little boys by myself. I’d been divorced. I knew that was a dream, at that point, but it wasn’t a reality.”

She created Leelee Satterfield and the other characters over an extended period of time. It wasn’t until 2005 when Michael McDonald — the former Doobie Brother, whom Patton was working with — convinced her to let him read the first five chapters she had written.

“He called me and he encouraged me and said, ‘You’ve got to go for this,'” Patton remembered. “I knew he wouldn’t encourage me like that if he didn’t see something there, because I respected him as a creative person, so I went for it.

“Once I got into it, the pace really picked up.”

She began to regularly schedule time to write and wrote the majority of it over the winter months, while relaxing on an oversized chair in front of a large stone fireplace inside the Brentwood Library.

Writing a book is a lot different than finishing a book, so, in 2008, she stepped aside from working with McDonald and focused on being a full-time author. Now, she writes Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until about 2 p.m. with a goal of getting 1,000 words a day on the page.

“Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter” was published in October 2009, the second book, “Yankee Doodle Dixie,” came out in October 2011, and the hardcover version of “Southern as a Second Language” was released in August 2013.

The paperback version was released a year later.

“I can’t tell you how good I felt when I typed my first ‘the end,'” said Patton, who now lives in Brentwood. “Ironically when it came time to writing the second one, that’s when it couldn’t take as long and I almost choked under the pressure, because I had to be under a deadline the second time.”

She added, “Once I completed two novels and I knew that I could, the writing of the third was much easier.”

She’s currently writing her fourth novel — a standalone story set in Oxford, Miss. Although she’s an Alabama graduate and is quick to quote lyrics to “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan — “They got a name for the winners in the world / I, I want a name when I lose / They call Alabama the Crimson Tide” — she recognized her alma mater can be polarizing, so she chose to set the new story on the Ole Miss campus.

“I’m excited about the new characters,” Patton said. As for Leelee, Kissie, Riley and the others, she added, “I was ready to put those to bed.”

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