Unveiling the Strength Within – An Interview with S. Lee Fisher

Discover S. Lee Fisher’s journey from clinical pharmacist to acclaimed novelist, her inspirations, and advice for crafting resilient female characters. 

S. Lee Fisher’s journey from a clinical pharmacist to a multi-award-winning novelist is as fascinating as the characters she brings to life in her books. Raised in small-town Pennsylvania with big-town dreams, Fisher made a name for herself in the corporate world before transitioning to a full-time career in writing. Her novels, known for their strong, resilient female protagonists, draw heavily from her own experiences and the lessons instilled by her mother, who emphasized the importance of independence, both emotional and financial.

Fisher’s deep appreciation for history and meticulous research enrich her storytelling. Her debut novel, A Mystery of Grace, set the stage for the Women of Campbell County series, exploring complex themes of deception, betrayal, and redemption. She describes her writing process as a blend of disciplined structure, a skill honed during her corporate career, and a passion for unearthing historical details through visits to antique stores, old cemeteries, and reenactments.

In this interview, Fisher shares insights into her unique background, the influence of her mother’s teachings, and the meticulous research that goes into her historical settings. She also offers valuable advice for aspiring writers looking to create complex female characters. Join us as we delve into the mind of S. Lee Fisher and explore the inspirations behind her captivating stories, from the pain of personal loss to the joy of discovering new creative passions.

Your transition from a clinical pharmacist to a multi-award-winning fiction writer is quite remarkable. How did your background in pharmacy and your corporate career influence your approach to writing and storytelling?

I have always been left-brain/ right-brain equal, with the left having a slight advantage. When choosing a college major, my choices were music, design, or pharmacy. Even as a teen, I knew that I needed money to eat. Pharmacy won.

Although I wrote training manuals and SOPs, clinical/analytical writing differs from creative writing. My corporate career taught me structure and organization, both necessary for writing sweeping generational sagas. Corporately, I encouraged my staff to prepare not only for the question/ task posed but for the next three follow-up questions, which is an applicable approach to writing fiction.        

The theme of strong women is central to your work. How did your mother’s influence shape your life and career, and how does this theme manifest in your novels, particularly in Becoming Olive W. and Westchester Farm?

My mother preached the importance of a woman’s independence, both emotional and financial. She never wanted her daughters to be trapped in a marriage or dependent on a man for survival. Both she and my father encouraged me to attend college.

When I began writing, I envisioned a life and time before women could vote. I imagined how demeaning that life must have been to be considered a possession, with your worth measured in social graces, not intelligence. Olive was more capable than her male siblings. The desire for and lack of education became Olive’s bane and almost destroyed her.

Becoming Olive W. is set in early 20th century Western Pennsylvania. What drew you to this historical setting, and how did you go about researching the period to ensure historical accuracy in your depiction of Olive’s world?

A Mystery of Grace became the umbrella story for The Women of Campbell County four-book series. In A Mystery of Grace, set in W. PA, Olive is a cantankerous, bitter woman. I thought the reader deserved to know why. So, I wrote Becoming Olive W. to expand the character of Olive Westchester Bailey. The setting and time were already determined.

Research is one of my pleasures in life. Canvasing antique stores, rummaging attics, visiting old cemeteries, reenactments, and recreations bring an added dimension to written information.

Your debut novel, A Mystery of Grace, explores complex themes such as deception, betrayal, and the consequences of decisions. What inspired you to write this story, and what message do you hope readers take away from Eddy Kepler’s journey?

As stated above, A Mystery of Grace became the story arch for The Women of Campbell County series. Eddy Kepler’s story begins in Under the Grapevine, unfolds in Hill House Divided, and concludes in Between Two Dreams. The revised Campbell County character is given a chance at redemption.

Although his story is fictional, Eddy is a tribute to my father as a young man. I began writing to fill the void and channel the pain of my father’s passing.

I want my readers to understand that actions suffer consequences, but with contrition, anything is forgivable. However, a little forethought can prevent the need for forgiveness. When Indiana Jones was offered a choice of chalice in the Last Crusade, he was told, “You must choose wisely.” 

As someone who enjoys painting watercolors, ballroom dancing, and swimming, how do these hobbies influence or inspire your writing process and the development of your characters?

I draw on the knowledge of my many hobbies to enhance my characters’ attributes. Eddy, Harriett, and Shelby golf. Harriett and Eddy went on a swimming date. I love watching The Weather Channel. I include a meteorologist and a pharmacist in each series or stand-alone book. I consider cooking as ‘Chemistry in the Kitchen.’ Cooking, baking, or the lack thereof, is critical to my storyline.

Given your strong advocacy for portraying powerful female protagonists, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who wish to create complex and resilient female characters in their own stories?

When writing strong women, do not make them successful in all aspects of life. Rather, give them one or two fallible traits to keep them human and relatable. Example: Olive is a resourceful visionary but stubborn and unforgiving. Harriett bakes the best cinnamon rolls but cannot cook a meal. A powerful, complex character is not perfect but rather multifaceted and flawed.

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