Friday, February 21, 2014

An Interview with Fantasy Author Anne Leonard

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Anne. Please, tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

Hi Terry, thanks. Really abbreviated professional bio – I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and I got an MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh after college. Then I went on to a literature Ph.D. program, but moved to California with my husband before finishing and had a baby. I got the Ph.D. eventually but decided teaching was not for me. I worked for a law firm for some years, then did freelance editing, then went to law school, where I started MOTH AND SPARK. After I finished law school, I worked as an attorney for two years until I sold the novel, and I now write full-time.

I’ve always written fantasy or works with a fantastic element to them. I enjoy world-building and I’m still like a little kid with liking magic. My writing process is a lot of improv – I have never been good at outlining. In MOTH AND SPARK I made a lot of initial authorial choices that limited what I could do, and I’m looking forward to writing something very different in the future.

Could you tell is about the journey from writing the first words to selling MOTH AND SPARK, and what you did and/or wrote while you were working to sell the novel?

I wrote a first very shoddy draft the summer before I started law school and worked on it during school. After a couple of years I sent a draft to an agent who really liked the first half but said, correctly, that the second half didn’t really go anywhere. I plugged away at revisions for the next three years, a few hours a week, while I finished law school, passed the bar, and worked as a lawyer. When I finally felt it was ready, which was summer of 2012, I sent out queries and samples to some agents who were actively soliciting new clients. I got some bites right away, so I tried a few larger agencies and landed with The Gernert Company in August. I did a couple rounds of revisions, and the book was sent out shortly before Thanksgiving, and there were multiple offers within a couple weeks. It all happened so fast that I didn’t start anything new until about a month after the sale. I don’t like to talk about my WIPs before they are done because I have been known to write 100K words and then have the book crash and burn, but this one is another fairly traditional fantasy. After that, I’ll try other directions of spec fiction.

Does your study of the law and other schooling have an impact on your writing?

Good question. In a general sense, education is like any other experience that goes into a writer’s life and shapes ideas and provides material. As far as law school particularly, I was a writer before I went. One of the reasons I finally went to law school was that the characters in the fantasy novel I was writing at the time were spending a lot of time thinking about power and justice, and it seemed that if that was what I was interested in, I might as well make some money at it. Law actually is a really good complement to epic fantasy; it’s about conflict, it’s about social order, it’s about remedying wrongs. Decisions are about the balance of power. Law draws heavily on history and tradition. Judges wear robes and we call them “Your Honor” – it’s one of the last bastions in American culture of medievalism.

There are also some really excellent examples of writing in legal decisions; I love Robert Jackson, who was an FDR appointee to the Supreme Court, because he is such a good writer. (Justice Scalia is also a very good writer, especially when he’s ticked off in a dissent, though I rarely agree with him.) My own writing of briefs and such has really helped me with reducing ambiguity in my word choices and with structuring plot. And of course writing with a deadline that is inflexible (“This has to be filed by 4 p.m. TODAY”) gave me a lot of discipline for sitting down and writing every day instead of waiting for inspiration.

When you’re writing a novel, do you think about who your audience might be? Who do you (and your agent, publisher/publicist) believe the audience for MOTH AND SPARK will be? Even if unanticipated, would you like Justice Scalia to be among your readers?

Ha! Yeah, I do think about my audience – it’s inevitable. This one I started for my fifteen year old self, so the audience I had in mind initially was mostly teen girls who are not going to put up with a lot of stereotypes about male and female relationships but still have a romantic streak. Since I was writing for myself, I wrote what I wanted to read. When I realized I wanted to publish, then I broadened it to a larger set of readers who enjoy character-driven fantasy and know a sword isn’t the only or even best way to solve a problem. It’s still PG-13, though. One of the biggest surprises for me has been how many male readers have really liked it. We’re also hoping the book gets readers who don’t normally read fantasy but are intrigued by the story and that there’s a cross-over effect. And of course I’d be happy if any Supreme Court Justice read it, and I’d hope Scalia would learn a little about what it’s like for women to be oppressed by a patriarchal society.

Moving away from work and writing for a moment. Can you share with us some of the activities and pastimes you enjoy with family, friends and even when by yourself?

I take a lot of photographs, mostly either landscapes or close-ups of something natural (plants, rocks, insects). I like textures. In the last few years I’ve gone on photography expeditions to Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra, Joshua Tree National Park, and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Besides that, I read (usually SFF, thrillers and mysteries, and 19th c. novels, but also occasional nonfiction, historical novels, Southern gothic, contemporary literary, and poetry), take walks, and listen to major league baseball games. My local team is the SF Giants, but I’m a Cubs fan from way back and I listen to Cubs games on my smart phone too. Family life is pretty quiet – we mostly just hang out at home with the cats. When my son was younger (he’s almost 14 now) we took a lot of trips to science museums. I watch movies but no TV. This time of year the warm sun hits my desk right after lunch, so I nap more than I should.

Where do you hope to see your writing career ten years from now, and what steps do you plan taking to help ensure that happens?

Well, I hope to continue to be a full-time writer. For that to happen, of course, I need to keep writing and to keep writing well. I’m pretty good at the discipline of writing daily for 6-8 hours; I shoot for an average of 1500 words a day. To keep myself writing well, I try to read a lot and see what other people are doing, and I plan to write a lot of different things. I’d like to try my hand at some SF, other kinds of fantasy, perhaps an alternate history, things I can’t even think of now that will make me grow as a writer instead of turning out 8 more versions of the same novel. I want to experiment with different narrative voices and interesting structures. In 10 years I want people to be talking about whatever I’ve published then and to be excited about that instead of thinking of me only as the author of MOTH AND SPARK.

Makes sense. There is some crossover from Fantasy to SF, and even more crossover of readers within the fantasy sub-genres.

As we’re closing in on the end of the interview, Anne, is there anything else you’d like to add or say to the readers here at Up Around the Corner?

Well, first of all, if you’re a writer and it really is your passion, keep at it. Also, read and write outside your comfort zone so you can stretch. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever heard was to be aware of my habits. I think habits are inevitable when trying to tell the story, because the first round is getting the idea on paper, but they can drag the story and the reader down with repetition and predictability if they aren’t reined in on revisions. Finally, I’d just like to say that there’s a lot of really good, interesting, smart work going in in fantasy right now, and it’s really exciting both as a reader and a writer to see the sorts of directions opening up. I think the genre is only going to get stronger.

You can find my website (with a blog) at I’m on Twitter at and Facebook at

MOTH AND SPARK publishes February 20, 2014. It’s from the Viking Press and available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers in hardcover and as an e-book.  (BTW, the hardcover is really really gorgeous, Viking Art Dept. was fantastic!)

Thanks for the questions, Terry, and best of luck with your own books.

You’re welcome, Anne, and thank you for taking the time to answer questions and share with us here.

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