HOLLAND – Growing up in Holland, bestselling author Lisa McMann had no shortage of access to the written word.
“I used to go to the Herrick District Library with my mom every Saturday,” McMann said in a recent interview with The Sentinel about upcoming book parties in Holland and Grand Rapids.
“That was our big day. We filled our arms with books and looked through them. I took the maximum and read them all, especially in the summer. I didn’t really have many books as a kid. We didn’t have much extra money for it. I found them in the library.”
In her teenage years, McMann had a paper route.
“Our whole family has delivered newspapers for The Holland Sentinel,” she said. “There are four children and I am the third. My eldest brother started the route in his early teens and passed it on to another brother. I adopted her when I was 15.”
In high school, she began a decade-long relationship with Baker Book House at their children’s bookstore, Pooh’s Corner. This continued through college as she traveled between locations in downtown Holland and Grand Rapids.
It seemed only a matter of time before McMann would write his own book. But her first foray into publishing didn’t go as planned.
“I tried to write picture books right out of college and failed,” she said. “I got so many rejections. I just decided that I’m not good enough. I stopped writing for ten years.”
McMann became a real estate agent — and devoted herself to the job.
“One day my boss asked me, ‘Don’t you have any hobbies? You spend a lot of extra time at work. I know you don’t play golf. What do you do?’ And I honestly didn’t know. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I thought maybe it was time to start writing again.”
She started reading her old stories.
“I realized they were pretty bad,” she said. “One was fine, but they were bad because I didn’t get any feedback from others. I didn’t have anyone to help me turn them into better stories.”
McMann joined writing groups online and began writing short stories. In 2004, she entered a contest with one of her stories and won $10,000.
“That was around the time we moved to Arizona,” she said. “I used that money as a fallback fund and started work on my first novel. My first two novels went nowhere. I couldn’t find an agent with it. But I just kept writing and eventually got an agent in 2006 and my first published book came out in 2008.”
This year McMann is celebrating her 29th published book: The Invisible Spy. The book is the latest installment in The Forgotten Five series, following their debut Map of Flames, which was released in February. The Invisible Spy hits shelves in early November.
The middle-class adventure/fantasy series features a character with cerebral palsy.
“It was really important to me to include a disabled character in the story,” she said. “We meet her at the end of the first book. I actually asked a good friend to be my sensitivity reader because she has cerebral palsy and I figured who better? That’s so important when we’re writing about something we don’t have personal experience with.”
This friend, Stacy McNeely, has known McMann since her Pooh’s Corner days. McNeely still lives in the Holland area and works as a therapist.
“She was the manager of Pooh’s Corner and I met her when I was in middle school,” McNeely said of McMann. “It was a great honor to be asked to help with this project and it was also really cool to be able to help raise awareness.
“There isn’t that kind of inclusiveness for children with disabilities, especially in middle school books. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and I don’t know that I’ve ever read a work of fiction featuring a character who has cerebral palsy.”
McNeely and McMann hope the character will give children a chance to see themselves on paper.
“The character is exceptionally comfortable in her own skin and is really okay with educating other people about her limitations,” said McNeely. “I love that. She’s not ashamed, scared or shy. Sometimes we don’t know how to talk to or about people who are different, and (McMann) really didn’t mean to offend or hurt anyone. It’s so important to learn and ask.”
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During the pandemic, McMann has spent time virtually visiting schools in Michigan, including all six Zeeland public elementary schools and both West Ottawa middle schools. Later this summer she will host back-to-back book parties in Holland and Grand Rapids.
The first will be Thursday, July 28 at 7 p.m. at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, 2660 28th St. SE. The second will be on Friday, July 29th at 6pm at Barnes and Noble in Holland, 3050 Beeline Road.
“Whenever I’m in town, I try to do something there,” McMann said. “I just hope to see a lot of fans and readers and I’m really looking forward to the visit.”
Learn more at lisammann.com.
— Contact reporter Cassandra Lybrink at [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @BizHolland.