Please join me in welcoming Lisa McKay to the blog today!
Lisa McKay is an Australian psychologist who specializes in stress, resilience, and relationships. She is the author of the Christy-Award-nominated novel, My Hands Came Away Red, and the memoir Love At The Speed Of Email (a book critics have called “clever and comedic, poignant and pitch perfect.”) She lives in Vanuatu with her husband and two sons. You can find out more at www.lisamckaywriting.com.
Right up until the day they burned the church, I thought I understood things. You know… God, people, myself. Life. Then, suddenly, I understood nothing except that we had to run. And that we might never make it home.
When eighteen-year-old Cori signed up for a mission trip to Indonesia she was mostly thinking about escaping her complicated love life, making new friends, and having fun on the beach.
She never expected a civil war to flare up on the nearby island of Ambon.
She never expected violence to find them.
And she never expected that seven teenagers would be forced to flee into the hazardous refuge of the mountains on their own.
Now, haunted by blood and fire, Cori and her teammates must rely on each other to survive.
Praised by Publishers Weekly as “fast-paced,” “thought-provoking,” and one of the “best novels of the year,” My Hands Came Away Red will take you deep into the jungle with Cori as she desperately searches for answers and a safe way home.
Hi Lisa! Welcome to the blog!
Lisa: Winter. I used to be summer, but then I developed lymphedema, and now, as the heat rises, my bad leg gets much more swollen and uncomfortable. It’s funny how quickly being in pain can reshape your preferences. Now I’m all about cool weather, which is a bit hard since we currently live in the tropics!!)
Carrie: Ouch! And yes – pain is a great motivator to change one’s preferences…
Lisa: Dogs. So allergic to cats. SO allergic.
Carrie: Dogs are better anyway 😉
Lisa: Coffee. I love my children to the moon and back, but they are both terrible sleepers. I am on my 7th straight year of serious sleep deprivation. Coffee all the way.
Lisa: Ebook. I used to be die-hard print, but then I had a baby and my sister gave me a kindle. It was a game-changer. I realized I could read with one hand, in the dark, while breastfeeding AND get the next book in the series instantly, even at 3am. SOLD!! Plus, SO much easier to travel with.
Carrie: I’m the same way. I still love my print books to look at and hug and smile at. But my kindle is my go-to for travel!
Q: Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?
Lisa: Well, since reading is already taken… mine might have to be “taking tough parenting moments and turning them into amusing facebook anecdotes.” Recently, for example…
Should Child Protective Services have happened to drop around my place tonight at 5:30 we may have had a conversation that went something like this.
CPS: “Uh, ma’am, are you aware that there’s a child on the roof, and he’s up there eating something?”
Me: “Yes. He’s eating dinner.”
CPS: “On the roof?”
Me: “Yes, I gave him dinner on the roof.”
Me?: “Well, you see… When I saw that he was up there on the laundry roof, he asked me so nicely and politely to have his dinner up there. He said please, and he promised to EAT IT. And, well, I knew that if I made him come down immediately there would be a big drama and my chances of getting him to eat anything at all would sink to approximately 16.5%. And in that moment I wanted him to eat more than I wanted him to come down. So I passed his plate up to the roof.”
CPS: “And… how did you come to notice the child was on the roof in the first place?”
Me: “His little brother called out from the backyard and told me.”
CPS: “And when you when to investigate the roof situation, what was your youngest child doing?”
Me: “Playing with a kitchen knife in the garden.”
CPS: “Did you give him that knife to play with?”
Me: “Are you crazy? What sort of mother do you think I am? No, he picked it up when I wasn’t looking and took it outside.”
CPS: “And why weren’t you watching to make sure he didn’t abscond with the kitchen knives, if we can ask?”
Me: “BECAUSE I was rushing around MAKING DINNER to keep these children FED and his father is AWAY FOR WORK and there is only ONE of me and I need about THREE pairs of eyes to offer an ideal level of supervision to my children at all times, CLEARLY.”
Carrie: LOL that’s hilarious!
Q: Who is your favorite book character from childhood?
Lisa: A book I loved when I was young was “The Far Pavilions”. Set in India, it’s the story of a English boy who grows up and joins the army during the British Raj. I was always equally fascinated by the orphaned Ash and the Indian princess, Anjuli. They were both outsiders, both lonely, both displaced, and both prisoners to culture and duty in their own way. I spent two years of my childhood (7-9) in Bangladesh, and then moved from there to the privileged suburbs of Washington DC. There was a lot in that story that spoke to me.
Carrie: That sounds like a fascinating book!
Q: Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
Lisa: I found this question very difficult to answer, until I thought more deeply about it and realized that (unless you’ve been kidnapped and are literally tied up) situations that are hard to get out of are usually those that involve making difficult choices about things that matter a lot.
And as a matter of fact, we’ve had to do that this year.
In the last four months our eldest child (who’s just turned seven) has been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder.
We’ve been living in Vanuatu for almost four years now, since just before the Category Five Cyclone (Pam) devastated most of the country. My husband is the country director for World Vision here, and it’s been a privilege and an inspiration to be here in Vanuatu during this time of rebuilding and moving forwards. Our children think of Vanuatu as home now, and we had intended to be here at least several more years.
However. There are no pediatric occupational therapists or psychologists in town that can help us as we struggle to help Dominic learn to… manage life better with the brain wiring he’s been given. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that he needs that sort of help. We’ve been doing as much as we can on our own but… it’s not enough.
So just within the last 8 weeks—after months of feeling stuck—Mike and I have made the very difficult decision that we need to leave here. Leave Mike’s job, leave our house, and move to Australia for at least the next several years so that we can get the professional help that we need.
Carrie: Decisions like that are never easy – between what’s good and what’s best – but it sounds like you’ve definitely made the right decision ♥
Q: Which of your main characters is most like you?
Lisa: Cori, definitely, the main character in My Hands Came Away Red. She isn’t all me, that’s for sure. But her internal struggles and questions in the face of violence and pain are all mine. They are the same questions I struggled with deeply during the period that I wrote this book. They are, essentially, the reason I wrote the book in the first place.
Carrie: I’ve heard from my author friends that writing is often therapeutic – sounds like that was true for you with My Hands Came Away Red.
Q: Did you have the whole plot outlined before you started writing My Hands Came Away Red, or did you let the characters dictate what came next?
Lisa: I had a clear idea of what happened up to the turning point of the novel—the first big crisis point in the village. After that… I had no idea. So I wrote my way into trouble, and then sat there wondering how on earth they were going to get out of this tiny, devastated village on this remote island in Indonesia and get home again. The rest of the plot unfolded (slowly!!) as I wrote, step by step.
Carrie: oh that’s interesting! You discovered the story along with the characters 🙂
Q: My Hands Came Away Red is such a ‘wow’, powerful, and thought-provoking storyline. What inspired the plot?
Lisa: When I was 18, right after I graduated from high school, I went on a mission trip myself, to the Philippines. Right before that trip, I was thinking about all the Christian fiction books I’d read growing up (a lot of them) and feeling frustrated by the too-neat endings and the too-easy answers I often saw in these books. Someone should write a book about what really happens when you’re 18 and what you believe about God and the way the world works and what’s right and wrong collides with the worst this world has to offer, I thought. So… being 18 and somewhat over-confident and perhaps foolish, I decided I would be that person.
It took me eleven years from that point before I finished the first draft. Along the way, my family moved to Indonesia. They were living in Jakarta when the Muslim-Christian conflict in Ambon began, and my own experiences in Indonesia during that time led me to set my story in the middle of that real-life conflict.
Carrie: A much needed story – and perspective.
Q: What is one of your favorite quotes from the book & why do you love it?
Lisa: This is more than a bit grim, but one of my favorite quotes from the book is this: “For some reason I thought you’d know on the day you died. That you’d look different. Instead of just lying there, wearing the same clothes as always.”
I love this quote because it takes me back to the moment in my own life that underpinned those lines. I was working as an intern forensic psychologist with the state police in Australia at the time. I was out on a patrol boat in the harbor that day, when the call came in that there was a body that needed to be collected off the rocks out at The Gap (a notorious “suicide by jumping” spot near Sydney.
Only, when we got out there and retrieved the body, this young man hadn’t jumped. He’d been knifed in the back and tossed off the cliff.
I remember looking at him that day and thinking that he had no idea what the day held when he got up that morning. He’d gotten dressed, as he always did, and gone out to face the day. And for whatever reason he’d ended up at the bottom of The Gap.
This and other experiences have all driven home the point we never really know what life is going to hand us on any given day. This awareness, in turn, has sharpened my focus on really living in the moment and being grateful for each day and each experience here. I don’t always succeed in savoring every moment, of course, but whenever I remember to, I try.
Carrie: Living in the moment is something I need to be better at!
Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me! 🙂 Before we say goodbye for today, tell us what‘s coming up next for you.
Lisa: Well, we’ve got an international move in the next couple of months, so we’ll all be adjusting to living in Australia. I have an idea I’d love to be working on as a novel (this time set largely in Africa) but that will probably have to wait until the dust settles next year. In the meantime, I will be writing about our family’s journey on www.lisamckaywriting.com.
Lisa McKay is offering an ebook copy of My Hands Came Away Red to TWO of my readers! Open internationally, except where prohibited by law. This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What interests you most about this book?