Leanna was gracious in sharing her time with us by answering our many and varied questions! I hope you enjoy reading our Q&A.
Leanna: Hi, y’all! Thanks for having me here today. Hearing from readers is probably the most fulfilling part of being an author. Knowing that my characters have touched a readers’ heart or moved them to laughter and tears or changed them in some way is very heart-warming. It was heartbreaking and encouraging when I received letters from young widows who had read Elvis Takes a Back Seat. Reading their stories broke my heart. But also, hearing that my little story often read like their personal diary in what it felt like to lose their husband and that they’d learned they needed to let go of whatever they were clinging to in the past and reach for the future was a testament to God and how he’d inspired me to write that story. The same is true of my other books, and I simply praise God because I could not do this on my own.
You blend heartache and humour in perfect balance. Is this something that comes naturally, or is it a skill that you have had to intentionally develop?
Thank you. That is really nice to hear. I love blending both but it’s not always easy. Sometimes it simply takes a little time for a story to marinate and for me to stir around in it to find the humor. Angst and heartache is usually easy to find. But turning a situation into humor is not easy. Usually that balance is not there in my first few drafts, so I do have to work at it.
The psyche of authors fascinates me. Do your characters pop into your life unexpectedly and demand their story be told, or do you plan your writing in a more academic process?
For me, characters usually appear in my head and aggravate me until I finally get to their story. Some, of course, speak louder than others. Some are shy, and I have to draw them out. Some don’t want to reveal that vulnerable area of their heart and it takes patience to understand them.
What is it you most hope to accomplish as you send each of your works off into the hands of readers?
First, I hope to entertain the reader, moving them to laughter and tears, inspiring them in some small way, even if it’s just to hang on a little longer or to let go and live. Sometimes I hope to provoke thought and questions for the sake of discussion. Sometimes I like to shine the light on an area and reveal something new and interesting to a reader. I try not to get in the way and preach at a reader. If a character experiences something and that prompts the reader to hear the Holy Spirit in their own lives then that is incredible, but also between them and God.
What is your favourite way to relax and unwind?
I love to spend time with my husband and children. We really like to travel. Sometimes that’s relaxing, sometimes not. I enjoy walking my crazy Hilo Monster dog, playing with our cat and dogs. We have a new kitten coming into our family in a few weeks and that should be a lot of fun. Of course, I also love to read.
Do you have anything ‘in the works’ at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on book #2 of the Plain Fear series. Book #1, Forsaken, will be out in August. It’s a story about good and evil. An Amish woman grieving her first love must make a choice between two brothers that could decide the fate of her soul. You might have heard about this story because it’s been getting quite a lot of buzz. It’s an Amish/vampire story, and I’m pretty excited about this new series. It is a bit more serious, more suspenseful, but not scary, yet I still managed to get a little humor in there. It’s also not being published by a CBA publisher but by a secular publisher. The irony is that it’s probably my most spiritual book.
How did the introduction of “once upon a time come about”
It was not in my first draft. I can’t remember now how I originally began the story but sometime through my first draft when I felt I had a strong handle on the story that beginning just came to me probably while I was scrubbing toilets or something. When I first begin a book, of course I want it to be perfect first time out, but experience has taught me it rarely is. I try not to put pressure on myself that it has to be right the first time because I always rewrite the beginning a few times, especially once I get to the end. I tend to write in layers, and just yesterday while I was putting my contacts in, a line or two for the prologue of the book I’m working on came to me. So I guess that’s just how my brain works.
Who was your favourite character and why?
Cousin It was probably my favorite because I based the dog on my crazy labradoodle, who was just a puppy at the time. She originally wasn’t in the story. When I began writing Facelift, my father had just passed away and I was having a difficult time writing. But I was under deadline and I had to get busy. I tried to be patient with myself and tried not to stress when I would only write two words a day: Chapter Five. So I realized I was writing a lot about our labradoodle’s crazy antics on my blog or Facebook page. Her name is Hilo, from the town in Hawaii that we so enjoyed, but we had begun to call her the Hilo Monster. Anyway, she made me laugh. She also made my dad laugh toward the end of his life when there was nothing much to laugh at anymore. I thought a crazy puppy would be just one more thing that could aggravate Kaye and push her closer to the edge. So Cousin It was born, so to speak, and I was then able to write. So through writing Facelift, just as Kaye receives her own emotional facelift, I too experienced something similar.
Could you tell us a little about your faith journey regarding this book and what inspired you write this story?
Where I live, I see a lot of women who have obviously had some work done to enhance their looks. Sometimes, I must say, the results are not that great. However, one day I thought what if a character had a botched facelift. Of course, that character would have to be a perfectionist and how would that affect them, how would they cope? So Facelift was born from that idea. I didn’t have much more than that when I pitched the story and went to contract. It really wasn’t until I turned in Once in a Blue Moon that I had to start writing Facelift and had to figure out what the story was ultimately about. I knew I wanted one character to have a botched facelift and another to experience an emotional facelift. This was also right after my father died, and so as I said before I experienced my own emotional facelift as I wrote this book. I had to walk through grief and depression myself, much as Kaye does. That’s one reason I got her out running and walking because I discovered that when you’re depressed if you get out and enjoy the sunshine and walk it can really help lift that cloud of depression. I have not been through a divorce, but I have heard people describe divorce like grieving a death. And so I was really able to relate to Kaye in that regard.
After reading that you went to England and Scotland on your honeymoon, I was curious to know where you went and where you would like to go if you went back. (I was born in England and have spent approximately half my life there and half my life in Australia.)
I’m jealous! We love England and we are anxious to visit Australia some day! It’s funny that you ask this question because we did just go back! We took the kids to England for the first time over spring break. What an amazing trip! Of course, we had to do all the usual things like the Tower of London, Natural History Museum, and Harrod’s. We had to eat fish and chips, have a spot of tea, and sample the cheese sandwiches from Burrough Market. We walked down Portobello Road, across the Millennium Bridge and rode the London Eye. One of the highlights of the trip was taking my daughter to see Les Miserables, because she is a budding singer/actress, and I love going to the Westend. I also loved taking my son to the Imperial War Museum, which he loved. We saw the Rosetta Stone and the Magna Carta and so much more. I had never been to Bath or to Stonehenge, and we so enjoyed going to those places. We also flew up for one day to Edinburgh, and not only saw Princess Anne and Edinburgh Castle but tasted fried Mars bars. As you can see, I can go on and on.
What type of dogs do you have and what are their names?
We have a white Labrador named Liberty because we got her right after 9/11. And we have the crazy labradoodle named Hilo. We also have a black cat. We rescued her mother off the highway. She had a concussion and injured leg. She was also pregnant and delivered three kittens ten days early. The other two did not survive but we dropper fed the one surviving kitten and she thrived. We named her Miracle, not only because she survived but also because I’m not allergic to her. My father in law just passed away last week, and he had several cats, including 5 four-week-old kittens. So one of the kittens is coming to live with us in a few weeks. You’ll have to watch my Facebook page for the name this little cutie gets. My daughter wanted to name her Annie, because she was recently in the musical Annie. However, not all minds think alike in our family. So we’ve batted around a few names: Hula, Harper, Beatrix, Paddington. If you have any suggestions, please post them on my blog because I’m running a contest. J
I was completely lost in your novel after the first couple of chapters until I finished (fortunately I have a tolerant hubby)! However we have had some interesting discussions around divorce and its implications for remarriage for Christian couples (we have a solid loving long marriage!). I would be interested in your thoughts and how you approached this topic and your referencing.
You are very welcome. And I’m so glad it prompted discussions! And I’m delighted you have a happy marriage! Divorce can be a challenging topic in the Christian community. I don’t think God likes divorce. I don’t think it’s His first choice for any of us. But it happens. We certainly can’t deny that. I read a statistic that said Christians have the same divorce rate (50%) as non-Christians. Honestly, that makes me sad. But I also don’t believe divorce is the end. Life goes on. And I believe we have a God of second chances.
I enjoyed your book, Are any of the characters known to you? (Especially liked the ex mother-in-law.)
Are you trying to get me in trouble? I can definitely say that the mother-in-law in the book is not my actual mother-in-law. The character in Facelift really is a figment of my imagination. But I do draw from experiences and people I meet or know and utilize characteristics when drawing characters. However, that’s probably all subconscious.
I enjoy a variety from romantic comedies to action adventure to epics. I like old moves and new ones. I loved The King’s Speech and The Young Victoria. Again, more British stuff! I watched To Kill a Mockingbird with my kids a couple of weeks ago. And I also enjoy movies like Enchanted and Tangled. I love musicals like Singing in the Rain and even modern ones like Chicago. I love movies like The Patriot. And I love Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Full circle back to the British again.
Do you enjoy writing humourous novels?
I do! First, I love the angst and need that because that’s what makes us empathize with the character and feel his/her pain. But I love to utilize humor. I just simply love to laugh.
Please share a little of your faith journey
I was saved when I was twelve. But God used an experience when I was pregnant with my son, my first born, to really get my attention. My son was born with a hole in his heart. There is nothing like sitting in a pediatric cardiologist’s office with your two-week-old newborn to put you on your knees. God healed my son’s heart and used that experience to really change mine. During that time, God had been teaching me a lot, changing my heart. I’d been a Christian for a long time, but had never really given my writing to God. So I did. The first thing I prayed about was whether God even wanted me to write. A scary request, especially for an already published writer. What if God asked me to give up writing? Frankly, my life would have been easier if I quit. I had two small children who needed my attention. Besides, who needed the pain of pouring out my heart on paper and then having it rejected again and again? Even so, I prayed. For three years, I prayed and watched for signs or some kind of an answer. During that time, I did continue to write, but I wasn’t sending out any proposals. I was trying to grow my writing. Believe it or not, I kept hearing messages at church or in other places and felt God wanted me to write. Me! So, I finally said, “Okay.”
You have said to me your next book, Forsaken, an Amish Vampire story, is your most spiritual yet. What makes it so?
It’s a story of good versus evil, about how alluring evil can be. If evil looked like our caricature of Satan, with horns and a pitchfork then we’d avoid it, right? But evil is appealing. At least at first. It lures. And so, my heroine feels that draw. When I first thought of this crazy idea, it was just a joke and I didn’t intend to write it at all. However, the seed of that story burrowed into my brain. One day, I realized it could be a story similar to Phantom of the Opera, which is one of my all time favorite musicals. Christine is drawn toward the Phantom. There’s a line in one of the last songs where Christine laments, “I gave my mind blindly.” That is the heart of my story: how a young, vulnerable, grieving woman opens herself to evil.
Can you explain the current fascination with vampires?
I think there are all sorts of reasons for that fascination. Originally vampires were an interesting type of villain. They’ve sort of morphed over the years into the ultimate bad boy. It’s a fantasy, the same way that Amish fiction is a fantasy. I don’t think readers who read Amish fiction actually want to give up their cars or electricity. But I think they dream of simpler times, more innocent times. Which is why an Amish girl works so well for my story. I didn’t want to just write an Amish/vampire story because those were two hot genres. There had to be a good reason. In so many ways, the Amish represent an untouched part of our society, untouched by the craziness of our world. They somehow seem like the last bastion of innocence. Which made a visitation by a vampire very interesting.
Is there a challenge for you switching between writing Christian and non Christian books? Do you have challenges writing a non Christian book and making it appealing to a secular audience?
Not really. I would say it probably depends on the publisher, because each is very different. Honestly I was a bit worried that if I put scripture into my Amish/vampire book that my publisher might take it out. Because the spiritual aspect is very rooted in the characters and the story, there was no problem at all. It’s very normal for an Amish character to use scripture. Not so much for my ex-cop from New Orleans. My stories come from deep inside of me, whether the stories are labelled as Christian or not, they are seen through the prism of how I view the world. And that is from a Christian perspective. Finally, readers are readers. They simply like a good story. I try not to worry if I will offend a secular reader with some reference to God or scripture. Frankly, whatever prickly sensation they might be feeling may be a prompting from the Holy Spirit. Also, the same is true of a Christian reader. I had a reader who was quite offended by a reference to a gay couple in San Francisco in my book Ruby’s Slippers. 5 words of that manuscript ruined the entire book for her. Honestly, I would say that’s the Holy Spirit maybe trying to speak to her heart as well. My guide has to be what God lays on my heart to write, not if I use an offensive word or topic.
What restrictions do you for see for writers in the CBA that you wish weren’t there?
Even in the CBA publishers have different restrictions and guidelines. Those will change in some ways and not in others. What once used to be taboo really isn’t as much anymore. Before I came to the CBA, divorce was really not acceptable for a character so there were a lot of widowed characters. When I was pitching Elvis Takes a Back Seat, an editor said, “Could you make your main character divorced rather than widowed?” Unfortunately I could not. The catalyst for that story was that my heroine discovers a letter her husband wrote before he died and asked her to take an Elvis bust back to Memphis. I didn’t think a heroine who was divorced would be as motivated to follow her ex-husband’s request. LOL! Anyway, things do change and will continue to do so. I really think it all depends on what publisher and what editor you work with.
Christian fiction has changed significantly in the last 15 years. Where do you see it going in the next 15?
I honestly don’t know. So much is changing in publishing right now with ebooks really changing the dynamics once again. So it will be fun to see what happens and how that effects fiction in all genres.
Who has influenced you the most in your writing career?
God. I know that sounds like a simple answer and it is and yet it’s also incredibly complex. He started me on this journey and He has led me through the valleys and over the peaks and along the bumps. He has taken me in new directions that I never would have imagined. Believe me, I prayed about my Amish/vampire book even more than my other stories because I did not want to go that path if God was not leading. I don’t know where He will take me next. But I guarantee it’ll be exciting!
Thanks so very much, Leanna
Thank you and blessings!
Relz Reviewz Extras
Character spotlight on Cousin It
View the trailer
Character spotlight on Bryn Seymour
Interview with Leanna