Recognition – Local author wins prestigious Oregon Spirit Book Award

March 2022 Posted in Other

By Melissa Wagoner 

When author Lisa Gerlits learned that her book, A Many Feathered Thing, had been named a 2022 Oregon Spirit Book Award (OSBA) winner under the category of Best Debut Book, she almost didn’t believe it.

“It’s unexpected because it’s two years after the publication date,” Gerlits said. “I thought my husband was joking.”

But it was no joke and the cover of Gerlits’ books now displays the golden OSBA seal to prove it.

“Now I can call myself an award-winning author,” Gerlits said. Explaining that, awards like the OSBA often provide a much-needed boost to first-time novelists and to their books as well. 

And that’s precisely what the award’s creators – the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) – a Portland-based nonprofit whose goal is the improvement of English language instruction in schools – had in mind.

“English teachers love books and getting books into kids’ hands,” Karen Johnson, Co-chair of the OSBA Committee, explained. “An award given by English teachers helps teachers know the best new books, and it’s an honor to the authors to be recognized by ‘experts,’ for their excellence.”

Author Lisa Gerlits

And for their hard work which, in Gerlits’ case, was over a decade.

“From the time I started writing to the time I got with Capstone [Editions, her publisher] was ten years,” Gerlits recalled. “Then from the time I sold it, it was two and a half years until the publication date. And that’s totally normal.”

But that doesn’t mean the wait has been an easy one. A writer from an early age, Gerlits is no stranger to the successes and failures of creative life.

“I started writing picture books when my first child was picture book age,” Gerlits, a mother of three, said. “I joined a critique group and wrote a number of picture books. But none of them sold. I got lots of experience getting passed on.”

She also discovered she was in the wrong genre. 

“I realized I’m a very long-winded person,” she laughed, “and perhaps the short form of a picture book was not for me.”

Then inspiration struck from the most unlikely of places.

“I was teaching art and theater to eight to 12-year-olds and I just love that age,” Gerlits said. Admitting that, if she could, she herself would return to that stage in life. “And that’s when I knew; that’s my age group.”

And so, for her first novel Gerlits chose an 11-year-old protagonist, Clarity Kartoffel, who – though she is cursed with a name that, in German, means potato, a younger sibling who receives much of her parents’ attention and a fear of public speaking that stems from a hearing disability – still does not feel that she has suffered enough hardship to be a true artist, which is her dream. Thankfully, an unlucky accident brings Clarity the mentor she’s always desired, along with numerous lessons in life.

“It’s complex and thoughtful and well written,” Johnson wrote in a review of the book for the site, Goodreads. “A very good read.”

And one for everyone, not just the eight to 12-year-olds for whom it was written, and not just for those who have an interest in art.

“Because there’s a lot going on in the book,” Gerlits pointed out. Admitting that one of the things she has found most surprising has been the number of ways readers have found to interpret the story. 

“But I’m glad if people take different things away from it,” she continued. “I feel like books should operate on multiple levels so it’s enjoyable for everyone who picks it up.”

Available for purchase nearly anywhere books are sold, A Many Feathered Thing can also be found at Books N Time in Silverton, which is Gerlits’ preferred choice.

“And I’m happy to sign copies,” she added.

Because she knows how inspiring meeting a successful writer can be to those who are just starting out. And to them she recommends, “Figure out what you like and what you think is good writing. Read… and write a lot. And don’t be afraid to write a lot of bad stuff or to throw it out and change it. Make it something you’re happy with. Because if you keep working on that you will come up with something you’re really proud of.”

And one day it may just win awards.

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