Meet Lisa Wilkes

Florida native and author Lisa Wilkes is set to release her second book entitled Mid-Flight on the 31st of this month. Lisa transports readers to the year 2038 whereby a flight attendant begins to unravel after her best friend is killed in a plane crash. In the throes of unspeakable grief, she uncovers a political ploy to decimate one-fifth of the population. To combat this sinister plan, she must risk everything. Including her breathtaking new romance. We sat down with Lisa to learn more about her, her new book, and her inspiring animal rescue work.

Lisa Wilkes

-Where did you grow up?

Hi, and thanks for hosting me. I lived in Chicago, Illinois, until I was seventeen years old. This is where the story gets crazy! I attended college in Connecticut for one year, then dedicated a year to full-time philanthropy through AmeriCorps (think: domestic Peace Corps) in Jacksonville, Florida. I finished my undergrad degree at the University of Florida and subsequently lived in three foreign countries, along with 10 major U.S. cities, before arriving in Tampa, Florida. That’s where I presently reside.

Looking back on my trajectory, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve been a flight attendant since 2010. Working in the airline industry, it’s been easy to relocate every few years. I love the thrill of starting over in an unfamiliar place. Bright lights and bustling city streets fuel me; I’m fascinated by the energy of major metropolitan areas. Plus, I enjoy meeting new people. This planet offers an endless stream of adventure. Some might claim I have a nomadic soul. I think it’s simpler than that: I just don’t want to miss out on the myriad of experiences presented by this big, beautiful world.

Of all the places I’ve called home, San Francisco will forever remain my favorite. There’s something magical about the Bay Area. San Francisco makes a debut appearance in each of my writings because that city is etched on my soul.

Where did your inspiration come from to write Mid-Flight?

My grad school internship in the behavioral health unit of a hospital shaped Mid-Flight. My patients’ mental health was deeply affected by trauma. Often, this trauma stemmed from societal injustices. My clients had experienced food insecurity, sexual assault/harassment, police brutality, workplace discrimination, all kinds of hate crimes, and other egregious violations.

Mid-Flight was my attempt to capture the absurdity of societal structures designed to harm vulnerable individuals while benefiting the folks with money and power. Sexual predators currently enjoy more legal protections than the women they’ve raped. This is the doing of influential, wealthy extremists who value outdated religious doctrine over basic human rights.

And that was just one of the sad truths reiterated throughout my internship in the behavioral health unit. There were too many disturbing injustices to count. Medical care was denied to trans people who had been tormented, beaten, and worse. The aggressors got away with their hate-fueled crimes, while the victims were left to pick up the pieces. It was sickening, to say the least.I could not keep track of the ways society had legally—and swiftly—destroyed the lives of my patients. Their rights and freedoms had been curtailed by out-of-touch lawmakers interested solely in personal gain. The villains were given every advantage. The scales were tipped.

I vowed to depict this in a fictional format. My book was going to have a social conscience. Mid-Flight would take readers on a fast-paced journey through time. However, it would also elucidate the importance of demanding equality and justice in the present.

-What was your hardest scene to write?

Lexi Brennan, Mid-Flight’s protagonist, has a neurodiverse brother battling chronic depression. A lifelong perfectionist, I’ve always battled anxiety and insomnia. I cannot remember a time my mind was free from repetitive, irrational worries. In addition, my family has a long history of mental health issues. This made the scenes with Lexi’s brother extremely personal. Those chapters were not easy to write.

Colin Brennan is a complex person. I didn’t want to skip any of the details which make him unique and spectacular. Although he is plagued by depression, that was not what I wanted readers to remember about this multifaceted man. Colin is so much bigger than his diagnosis could ever indicate. He is a visionary. He’s a technological genius. Most importantly, he fights like hell to protect others, no matter the cost.

Due to their sensitive nature, each scene with Colin took me a long time to write. I would compose a page or two, then erase the whole thing and start over. I wanted to make sure Colin was described as a brilliant individual, not merely the embodiment of his disorder. In the end, Colin’s personal issues were no match for his determination to change the whole damn world. That was the Colin I wanted my readers to see.

-What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I recruited beta readers to pinpoint offensive, dismissive, and tone-deaf portions of Mid-Flight. The book contains an interracial relationship. I aimed to describe this relationship in a realistic, thoughtful way. Beta readers help a lot, especially when a novel addresses sensitive subjects like inequality, mental illness, or homophobia. Mid-Flight broaches all these topics.

Lexi considers herself progressive, yet she does not realize the extent of racial injustice in America until she begins dating someone subjected to its wrath. At this point, Lexi has an awakening of epic proportions. By the end of Mid-Flight, she is a changed person. That transformation is crucial. In a book designed to expose societal inequities, it’s important to show that progress and growth are possible. We all have the potential to rectify the ignorance or insensitivity we might have displayed in the past. And that is how we will advance our species toward compassion, equality, and enlightenment.

Much of my research for Mid-Flight was experiential. While working in the behavioral health unit, I interacted with a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life. Some patients experienced anxiety similar to my own. Others had mental health issues which were new to me.

I made it my mission to study those conditions through grad school courses which examined the science behind various mood disorders. I also received assistance from the licensed social workers at the hospital. These experienced individuals were eager to share peer-reviewed articles, journals, and psychology books with me. It was a lengthy learning process. I’m thankful for the help I received help from experts in the field.

-What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Canadian author Anita Kushwaha wrote a book that changed my life. Side by Side captures the agony of loving someone who battles chronic depression. For the first time, I felt seen. And understood. This powerful story reminded me I was not alone—others had experienced my unique brand of pain, the ongoing heartache of having a suicidal family member.

For me, Side by Side also served as a call to action. I was more determined than ever to attain my Master’s in Social Work. With that degree, I could provide resources to those who felt hope was beyond reach. It took me three years to earn my master’s degree. More than once, I was tempted to quit. Yet I pressed on, eager to bridge the gaps to mental health resources and supportive services/networks.

In January of 2023, I passed the licensing exam, joining the ranks of esteemed social workers with a genuine desire to improve the lives of their clients. Side by Side was part of that journey. Anita Kushwaha’s book had a profound impact on my perspective as well as my long-term goals.

-Can you share your passions outside of writing? When did you get involved in animal rescue?

I’ve been saving homeless pets since early childhood. I have this indescribable connection to every creature, from rabbits to turtles to parrots. I adore them all.

During the pandemic, I ramped up my efforts to save homeless furbabies. In 2020, thanks to reduced flight schedules, I had a lot more time at home. The entire aviation industry was on the brink of collapse. My job security, as a flight attendant, vanished overnight. It was a terrifying moment in history. However, I decided to take advantage of the additional time spent inside my house. I wanted to do something positive with those unexpected, less-than-ideal circumstances.

That was the start of my fostering addiction! I fostered a cute black kitty, Cupid, through SPCA of Texas. Cupid went to an amazing home. The adopter sent me updates on his progress, which always made my day! I was hooked. Over the next few years, I fostered 29 cats, two dogs, two birds, and a bunny. I am happy to report they all went to fantastic homes, where they are now living in luxury. Those precious pets are presently enjoying endless treats and snuggles.

I’m also on the leadership board for my airline’s animal rescue team, SWATT. We are a group of volunteers who use our flight benefits to transport rescued cats and dogs all around the country, so they can be united with their adopters. There is nothing more heartwarming than bringing a cute pet to meet their new family. I cry every time! It’s so sweet. This year, I started an Etsy page to raise additional money for animal rescue missions. I sell homemade crafts, primarily luggage tags and personalized clothing. I’ve done a couple community events here in Tampa, Florida. It’s fun to set up a booth and display the items I make in support of animal rescue nonprofits. Crafting is a huge stress relief for me. I am thrilled to use that hobby to benefit a great cause.

-Do you have any unique stories from the animals you have cared for?

Every animal comes with its own incredible story of resilience and triumph. I save a lot of animals from the local shelter, which has a very high euthanasia rate. Each time, I do my best to make the pet feel comfortable and safe. Their backstories might be horrific, but their futures are extremely bright. One of my favorite rescue missions happened by accident. I stumbled across a hoarder house after the elderly homeowner had gone into hospice. The home was condemned, and it was set to be demolished. There was a senior tuxedo cat inside the house. That poor little guy was covered in filth, gnawing on the walls because there was no food in sight. There were also nearly a dozen feral cats outside the home. The neighbors didn’t want them there. They threatened to call the police or deliberately harm the cats.

I couldn’t let those cats die. Absolutely not. However, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to find a solution. It’s difficult enough to find adopters for domesticated cats, but feral cats present an even bigger challenge. Ferals need an enclosed outdoor space where they are protected from predators. They aren’t social, so they will never be eligible for adoption. Basically, they require a lifetime of food and medical care. All within a highly specialized setting. I scrambled to locate a sanctuary that would accept the feral cats. After a week of continuous dead-end phone calls, I spoke with a nonprofit willing to give the cats a safe, stable home. I am so grateful for that sanctuary. They offered these outdoor cats a chance at an amazing life, free from the perils they faced at the hoarding house.

The indoor tuxedo kitty became my newest foster. After taking him to the vet, I brought him home and gave him multiple baths to scrub all the debris from his matted fur. He was missing a few teeth, along with large patches of hair. Despite all that, this cat was a lovebug! He was so friendly. He snuggled me immediately and befriended my cats and dog without wasting any time. He was a bit clumsy. What he lacked in coordination, though, he made up for in sheer affection. That cat was a gem. I named him Kringle since I saved him just before the holidays.

Within a month, I found an incredible woman who takes in senior kitties. She adopted Kringle. She sends me photos on a routine basis. I got to visit Kringle a few weeks after he settled into his fantastic new home. He is thriving, enjoying every minute with his awesome fur-ever family. He has even claimed his own spot on the bed!  This rescue mission was really special because it was the first time I’d coordinated a huge undertaking without any help from local rescue organizations. It was a reminder that I could run a successful nonprofit of my own. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. I’m hoping to register as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit by the end of the year.

Mid-Flight by Lisa Wilkes

Where can people find your book?

Right now, the easiest place to locate all my novels would be on my website, Mid-Flight’s Amazon link is Mid-Flight: Wilkes, Lisa: 9781487436506: Books.

Also, a portion of my royalties are donated to Rags to Riches Animal Rescue, Inc. Buyers will support an incredible nonprofit through every purchase of this futuristic sci-fi novel. Together, we can save so many homeless dogs and cats. What could be better? It’s a win-win.

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