Former Valley reporter becomes New York author
The first time Lisa Wixon saw her name in print, she was a teenage crime reporter for The Record-Courier.
She also covered such staples as new businesses, 4-H Club news, centenarians’ birthdays and profiles of new school teachers.
Lisa could do it all: write, interview and take pictures.
The reason I know this is because I was her editor, and, when it was time, encouraged her to leave Gardnerville, where she grew up, for California.
Fast-forward 20 years.
Lisa, now 35, is just about to break into the world of publishing.
Her first novel, “Dirty Blonde and Half Cuban” is due May 1, published by Rayo, “an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.”
“I pass out every time somebody says they’ve sent it out for a review,” Lisa said in a recent interview from New York City, her home for the past few years.
She called from Grand Central Station, enthusiastic and on-the-run, like always.
At Harper Collins, she has an editor, an agent and a publicist. There’s a big marketing push for the summer and book tours in Washington, D.C., Miami, and San Francisco.
“It’s a lead title for the summer,” she said.
In the industry, it’s called “a summer beach read.” Rayo publishes books for Harper Collins in English and Spanish about diversity within the Latino community.
The novel is the story of an American woman in a search for her real father that takes her through what’s billed as “the sexually ambiguous Cuban society,” forcing her into a world of “base morals and gutsy survivalism.”
I had to ask how a girl from Gardnerville found her voice in a novel about prostitutes, sex and communism.
“I’d lived in Miami for 10 years,” she said. “I met a lot of Cubans, but I only heard one side of the story. I thought it would be fun to go to Cuba for a week and I stayed for a year.”
She had to leave every eight weeks to get her visa validated.
“As a foreigner, you absolutely can’t work. What I did was take a lot of dance classes. I took Spanish. I lived with a Cuban family and I watched people.”
She said she was happy to have the opportunity to write a story of Cuba that rarely gets told.
“There are only six full-time reporters in Cuba. Imagine the stories that don’t get told. It’s unlike anyplace I have ever been,” said Lisa.
Lisa first visited Havana in 2001 and returned in 2002 and 2003.
The book started out as the Havana Honey series of stories Lisa wrote for the Internet magazine Salon.com under a pseudonym.
“Thousands of people read them,” she said. “I started to look for an agent after that. I got really lucky, I have a wonderful agent. The editor who edited my book at Harper Collins had been trying to reach me through Salon. They gave me a book deal before I wrote the book.”
She said it took about four months to write the 246-page novel. She wrote every day from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“I’d been injured in a weird accident and fractured my spine. Basically, I was in bed for six months with my laptop,” she said.
“It took me a couple of years once I left Cuba to write about it,” she said. “I never had writer’s block. I really mapped it out. I didn’t have any problems writing because I had been thinking about it for years.”
When she finally finished the book, Lisa said euphoria gave way to temporary sadness.
“My ‘baby’ had been born,” she said.
She stayed away from the manuscript for about a month, then made corrections and changes.
The novel tells the story of an American woman in search of her real father, and of the sexually liberated Cuban society she infiltrates in order to find the roots of her past.
“The main question that came out of Cuba was that these people have to undergo some great humiliations in order to eat dinner. As Americans, what would we do if we were put in that position? How would we keep our own integrity?” Lisa said.
Raised in Carson Valley, she is the daughter of Tom and Jeannie Wixon. Her father edited and published The Record-Courier for many years and Lisa grew up at the old Eddy Street location where we eventually put her to work. She graduated from Douglas High School in 1987 and left the state in 1988.
“What was really nice about Gardnerville – because it was such a small town – was that growing up I maintained that friendly attitude even after I left that you don’t find so much any more. It makes it easier for me to approach people and ask questions.”
Her second observation about growing up Gardnerville will resonate with any kid who’s ever complained that there’s nothing to do.
“The other thing that Gardnerville did for me was to leave me feeling kind of claustrophobic, yearning to get away, to open my eyes, not just to the next city, but to the whole world.”
She’s visited 40 countries.
“I have a serious travel bug and it won’t go away,” she said.
“Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban” is enjoying a meteoric rise on the Amazon books list. Earlier this month, the book was ranked No. 1,490,229. Wednesday, the novel had jumped to 331,530, not bad for a novel that hasn’t even been published.
The film rights already are in negotiation.
“I can’t believe it. It’s one of the most incredible experiences that I have ever had. It’s scary and exciting. I feel so happy to be able to write a story that still has meaning and is happening in a country that’s 90 miles off our shore. I had the luckiest break ever.”
She said 35,000 hard cover copies are to be printed. She is working on ideas for two other books and is waiting for the reviews.
“If it’s not well-received, I will just crawl under a rock, or hold my head up and try again,” she said.
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