I first met Lisa at an annual book swap hosted by a mutual friend. Guests entered carrying bags of books and unpacked them on the dining room table into neat stacks that covered the whole surface, while a spread of delectable treats enticed us into the kitchen. I thought Lisa looked very much like the girl who had played Robin Williams’s oldest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire—a movie my sisters and I had watched countless times, identifying with it as three children of divorce with a very goofy dad ourselves—but I didn’t give the resemblance a second thought because it never occurred to me that a party for book nerds in a small city in central Virginia would be the place to meet a former child star. Later, Facebook connected the dots as our mutual friend kept “liking” Lisa’s blog posts which piqued my curiosity, and in reading them I learned about her past. She was, in fact, the girl she resembled, a Hollywood transplant who had begun a new career as a writer.
Now, a couple years later, Lisa has finished her first book, a memoir appropriately titled You Look Like That Girl, published this month by Beaufort Books. You can hear her read from it at New Dominion Bookshop this Friday, June 26, at 5:30 p.m.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not Cville, what brought you here?
I’m originally from the suburbs of Toronto. I started working as an actor when I was four, and eventually moved to Los Angeles for my career. I was in more than forty movies and TV shows, like Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, and Matinee. When I was twenty-two, I realized that I was no longer passionate about being an actor – it just didn’t feel like the right path for me. Like all twenty-two year olds, I was questioning who I wanted to be in the world. I didn’t want to be one of those stereotypical train-wreck child actors, so I decided to leave LA to try to find a life that felt more authentic. It was kind of random that I landed in this fantastic city, but now I can’t ever imagine leaving.
What are you working on right now?
My first book was just published. It’s a memoir called You Look Like That Girl. It’s the story of growing up in the film industry and realizing I was trying to live someone else’s dream. I’m just about to go on a book tour for that, which is very exciting/terrifying.
When and why did you start writing?
I don’t remember not writing. Pretty much as soon as I could hold a crayon I wrote down everything that happened to me. It’s how I process the world and make sense of things. Franz Kafka said, “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity” – and I fully agree.
What writer influenced you most as a child? Teen? Adult?
As a kid, I was obsessed with A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I read them dozens of times. As a teenager I had a major J.D. Salinger phase…which has not actually faded now that I am in my mid-thirties. I am inspired by David Sedaris, Donna Tartt, John Irving, Elizabeth Gilbert, Zadie Smith… the list is long!
What aspects of life excite you, stir your affections, fuel your passions, inspire your art? What influences your art?
I’m inspired by connection. I love that people can have seemingly diverse experiences, but the emotional impact is the same. We are all searching for belonging and truth and meaning in our lives—the details of how we do that might just look different. I left the film industry to follow my bliss and be a writer. That feeling is the same for someone who decided to go back to school or start their own business or not marry that guy from high school just because he was nice enough. There are so many ways to be courageous in life, stop operating out of momentum and start really living from the gut.
What do you want people to take away from your writing?
I hope they feel less alone if they are still searching for who they are, especially people who suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Those are issues I’ve dealt with, and we tend to shut down and feel like no one else understands. We tend to feel ashamed. But bringing light to these issues is important in helping ourselves and others cope with the challenges of life.
Writing to me is…
my way of being truly awake to my life and the present moment.
What does a day in the life of a writer look like from your perspective?
I’m a big fan of boundaries. I write everyday from 8 a.m. to noon. That is a sacred time for me. I used to think that I needed to be inspired to write. I soon realized that the inspiration always shows up after I do. I just need to sit down and start typing. I have a Post-It note on my computer that says “Write anyway” and reminds me that I can’t be distracted by the laundry or Twitter, and I don’t need to edit as I write—I just need to create. Writing is the best job imaginable in my opinion, but in the end, it’s a profession just like accounting or plumbing—you have to get up in the morning and just do your job.
What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and your art?
Recently, I’ve been doing promotion for this book and I’m ready to send it out into the world, to do whatever it’s going to do. I feel like I’m sending a kid off to college. A friend of mine just took the book to Puerto Rico. I’ve never been to Puerto Rico. That’s just crazy. I’m excited to get back to my happy place—my desk, with my dog beneath it—and write the next book. I miss the writing part of being a writer.
What reading/speaking events of yours should we look forward to?
I’ll be doing a reading and signing at New Dominion on June 26th at 5:30 p.m. I love that bookshop and I’m honored to be doing an event there. I have the dates for the other cities on the tour at YouLookLikeThatGirl.com.
What are you reading right now?
I just started The Handmaid’s Tale and I’m totally enamored. I’ve never read any of Margaret Atwood’s work. Quite shameful for a Canadian.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue a career as a writer?
The obvious advice is read a lot. But the advice I needed most was: get good at social media. Really. Starting a blog and putting it on Facebook and Twitter can help you get comfortable sharing your work. Self-promotion is challenging for a lot of artists but if you have a passion, it’s your responsibility to put it out into the world! The almost-instant feedback from blogging can also be helpful in clarifying your voice. And yes, criticism will come, but it’s none of your business what people think. You can’t write for other people. You write for you.
What makes Cville special for artists of all forms?
I think the sheer number of independent bookstores speaks for itself. This town seems to understand and support local artists, and that is really special.
Favorite place in Cville to… be creative?
City Clay. Playing on the potter’s wheel is a beautiful meditation.
Favorite place in Cville to… see art?
The downtown mall. Whether it’s chalk art on the Freedom Wall or street musicians or photos hanging for the LOOK3 festival.
Favorite place in Cville to… grab a bite?
Impossible question. But I love Now & Zen, Feast, Tavola, Paradox Pastry—and of course, Bodo’s!
Favorite place in Cville to… get a drink?
Any other Cville favorites?
I recently spent the day floating down the James River—which is one of my favorite things ever. I love that not only is our town so wonderful, but there are so many spectacular things near by.
Lastly… Describe yourself in 10 words or less.
Writer, wife, yogi, dog-mom, Virginian, perfectly imperfect and in progress.