In her quest to become a better writer and a published author, Lisa Potocar left no stone unturned.
She did all the work: read other books, attended workshops and seminars, joined writing organizations and got herself a writing coach.
Her first book, “Sweet Glory,” came out in January 2012 and since that time she has been busy doing all the other essential things that help make a book a success: entering contests, making presentations and using social media to promote her work.
A town of Ballston resident and former health care administrator who taught at Adirondack Community College, she recently got confirmation that all her hard work was worth it. Her book, a young adult historical novel about a young woman who joins the Union army to fight during the Civil War, is an award winner that may have an even brighter future.
“Sweet Glory” was selected as the grand prize winner in the TVMe! Contest sponsored by the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office in Florida. As a result, Potocar has been put in touch with agents from The History Channel, Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Network and more to negotiate the movie rights to her story.
Potocar grew up in Perth and went to Broadalbin High School, graduating in 1982. While in college at Alfred State and then SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica, she spent summers working at Sherman’s Amusement Park in Caroga Lake. She began her career in health administration at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany and then went into the teaching field at Adirondack Community College, where she helped create the Health Information and Technology program.
When she began turning her focus to writing, Potocar went back to school, getting a master’s in creative writing at SUNY-Plattsburgh. She also participated in a two-year correspondence course with the Children’s Institute of Literature, based in West Redding, Conn., and finished ahead of schedule.
When she’s not working on a sequel to “Sweet Glory” or playing with her dogs (two friendly Keeshonds), Potocar and her husband, Jed, a Pittsburgh native, are watching sports, particularly football. She is a huge Buffalo Bills fan and has more than 10 jerseys hanging in her finished basement, where she also happens to do most of her writing.
Q: When did you get interested in history?
A: History was not my favorite subject in high school. I hated it. We got loaded up with all these facts and dates, and we had to memorize them for tests. So, I was not enamored with history. But in my early 30s, my mom coaxed me into touring some Colonial homes in Newport, and it was during that tour that history came to life for me. There was all this period furniture, the tour guide with a melodic voice dressed in Colonial garb and this wonderful ambience and atmosphere of the old homes. I kind of got lulled back in time, and it changed my whole perspective. I came home and suddenly I was ravenously reading historical fiction.
Q: Was writing something you always enjoyed?
A: I didn’t do any writing in high school and college other than what was assigned us. But I always felt like I could write. From the moment I could read, I felt like I could feel the power and the magic of the words. I always felt like I would write a book one day. In college I went the science route and not the English route, but I always enjoyed writing my papers and doing the research.
Q: Why did you set your first book in the Civil War?
A: I started reading John Jakes’ “North and South,” and I found myself gravitating toward the Civil War period. I just kept on reading, wanting to know more and more information about that time, and I learned that 250 women had disguised themselves as soldiers to fight during the war. Jana is an amalgamation of several women. She’s based on one woman, who seemed to keep calling out to me from the graveyards and death records, but I used the experiences of several other women as well. I felt like I had to tell her story as a spy and a soldier.
Q: How did you research your book?
A: I did a lot of reading, and I did travel to battlefields and other places mentioned in my book. I went to Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Brandy Station, Chancellorsville, Bull Run. I wanted to dig up every interesting morsel from other writers. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a thing.
Q: How long did it take you to write the book?
A: The whole project, from the time I began to when I won the contest, was 12 years. But it really didn’t take me 12 years to write the book. There was a lot of traveling, a lot of research and editing. I hired a writing coach so that my book would be as polished as it could be, and I entered a lot of contests and got plenty of feedback. If you have a thick skin, you can really use this input to improve your material. I also have to give my husband a lot of credit. On every long trip we took, he had to listen to me read the book and help me make edits. When I needed someone to brainstorm, he helped. And when I had a huge obstacle in front of me, he helped me work through it.
Q: When did you decide to really promote the book?
A: Publishers want their authors out there selling their books, and I think the social media thing really helped me connect to people. Young adult historical fiction is a tough sell, and I knew that going in. So you have to go out there and make appearances and talk to people and it’s been fun. In the spring, I was at the Capital District Civil War Roundtable, and I enjoyed that thoroughly. They wanted me to talk about how I did my research and each step of the writing process. I think most of the people who come and hear me talk haven’t read my book yet. So you do these events, you sign your book and sell it, and each of these talks can lead to three other events. I’m having a ball, and while I do have some sales on Amazon.com, this is really how I’m selling my book.