Talking with Author Anne Leonard about Writing Fantasy, Dragons, and Jane Austen!

This afternoon I have a wonderfully interesting interview with Moth and Spark debut author Anne Leonard, in which we have a great time discussing writing fantasy for adult readers, how Jane Austen configures into her fantasy world, and how much she likes chocolate covered almonds.

*Giveaway Alert* I also have a giveaway of the novel from Viking/Penguin and all you have to do is comment below the post with your desire to win and your email so I can contact you!  The giveaway is for U.S. readers only this time. Good luck and enjoy!

Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book and thanks for joining us, Anne! I’m loving your book and the cover is beautiful, just like your imagery.  How does it feel to be publishing your first book?

Anne:  Right now I’m mostly freaking out. I think the first time I see it live in a bookstore I’m going to flip.  But I feel both satisfied and proud. It took me a long time to get here.

Erin:  Ha, I’d be flipping out too. It probably seems surreal. It’s so cold here in Ohio that I need to snuggle up a comfy chair and warm socks with some coffee or tea. I have another comfy chair, so feel free to make yourself comfortable for our interview. If you brought your cats, one for each lap then?  What would you like to drink?

Anne: Peppermint tea will be just fine. Or hot chocolate with a dash of peppermint schnapps if we’re feeling a little more adult.

Erin: Great, I’d go for the latter!  I’ll mix some up! If we are all settled, I’ll begin the interview. I can’t wait to hear all about you and your book.  Let’s show readers the gorgeous cover first….

Moth and Spark.hi res cover

Q:  Moth and Spark is your debut fantasy novel for adults which you started to write while in law school. How did the inspiration come to you?

A: I had just finished writing another book (which didn’t sell) and realized that I had this love story in me that insisted on getting out and was warping everything else I wrote, so I started just to get it out of my system. I love Pride and Prejudice as a love story, so I thought I’d use that as a model and then add fantasy things. Then as it went along it turned into a book I thought about publishing instead of something that I was just writing to get out of the way.

Q:  I’ve read that you aren’t an outline person, but writing a fantasy book to me seems like it would be one of the hardest endeavors given the fact that you created an entirely new world from imagination with locations, people, etc. How did you keep it all straight with no outline? What was your process?

A: Well, this is one of the reasons it took five years to write. (The main reason was that it’s hard to write when you only have a couple hours a week to do it in.) There are a lot of dead-ends that got cut, and I rewrote the last quarter of the book almost entirely twice. I’m actually personally pretty good with names, so keeping my characters straight wasn’t much of an issue, but I did make lists of events and chronologies and draft maps and such. Periodically I would go through and make kind of a reverse outline to see what I had.

Q:  Going back to discussing law school, why did you decide to take such a trek after receiving your doctorate degree from Kent State University (which in fact is about 45 minutes from me!!) in English and wait to write your book? I know so many lawyers who have quit to become writers, and here you are going the other way around….

A:  I’ve been writing forever. This is just the first book that landed with a publisher. I didn’t want to do the college professor thing for a lot of reasons, so I ended up with a paralegal job that was really a lot like being an editor. Then I tried freelance writing and editing for a while and concluded that web copy about gardening was a lot less interesting to write than legal writing, and I could make a heck of a lot more money as a lawyer, so off I went. An awful lot of law is actually about storytelling and convincing the audience – it’s not as different from writing fiction as many people think. Cases are all about conflict and resolution. Winning over a jury includes making the client likeable.

Q:  Have you always been fascinated by fantasy novels, dragons, Lord of the Rings? It seems like your book would be enjoyed by people who like those themes (I do) but yet you have references to Jane Austen as well (of whom I also like). Can you explain how you’ve tied them both together?

A:  I’ve always read fantasy. I like the chance to disappear into another world entirely. That’s what I like about 19th century novels too – Jane Austen’s world is as different from mine as Tolkien’s is, though not in the same ways. Dragons are sort of the archetypal creature of fantasies, so it seemed like they would be the most fun to stick into a more ordinary domestic setting and see what happened. The ordinariness of the domestic setting vanished pretty quickly, what with palaces and such, but I did keep a lot of the details about social conventions and expectations of young women. I took some of the dialogue about that sort of thing directly from Austen.

Q:  Is your novel more a fantasy adventure or a romance? Can you describe how your book might differ some from most major mainstream fantasy novels (movies)? What makes yours stand apart?

A:  I think the fantasy and romance elements are pretty evenly balanced (which makes some people think there’s way too much romance). It is a book that is much more about relationships than it is about sword fights and leaping from one danger to another. I prefer to term it a love story, because in our culture the term “romance” is loaded with a lot of negative assumptions about women’s roles.  One of the things that people have commented on is how I have two equal protagonists – they share the stage equally and are both instrumental in resolving the plot.  Also, instead of a lot of romantic conflict my characters actually have a partnership, which is apparently a really rare thing in books and is certainly rare in movies. The number of reader comments I’ve seen expressing pleasure that there is a smart, practical heroine with an equal role to play tells me that the book stands out for that reason.

Q:  What has been your most challenging experience in the process of writing and publishing your book? What, in contrast, has been your most prized success so far?

A:  Writing is always both hard and necessary. The new and challenging part has been to continue writing as the publication date approaches. Not only am I busy with things like this interview, but it is really easy to obsess about prospective sales, reviews, and so on. It’s kind of like watching the polls before a Presidential election. The biggest success is that I have been able to be a full-time writer instead of squeezing it in to the gaps between obligations. And of course I’m pleased that people like the book.

Q:  Will Moth and Spark be an individual novel or have you set it up as a planned series?

A: It is an individual novel, and I am not going into lengthy series land, but I am working on another book set a bit later in the same world. It’s not a copy though – it has a darker tone and a very different bad guy.  The recurring characters are all a lot less shiny. When I was considering whether or not I wanted to do a sequel, which was after the book sold, I knew that I wouldn’t write a sequel that was just “the further adventures” – it had to be a story worth telling on its own. At some point I’d like to do a prequel of about 70 years earlier, but after I finish (if I finish) my current project, I’m going to live in other worlds for a while.

Q:  If you hope to write more novels in the future, will you remain a fantasy author? What other books do you hope to write in the future (in the same genre or otherwise)?

A: I will probably always include magical or speculative elements in my fiction, but I want to try other genres and other stories. I’d like to do some SF, maybe some urban fantasy or western fantasy, possibly a historical novel.  I need to stretch and try different things as a writer.

Q:  You mentioned in your bio about editing a scholarly piece of race and color and science fiction. What was being explored and what was the result of the article? I am intrigued after reading that, and it got me thinking about it in relation to various story lines within that genre.

A: I actually edited an anthology of scholarly articles (Into Darkness Peering), which at the time (1997) was the first scholarly work to pay any significant attention to the issue. I wrote a few subsequent critical articles for other publications.  Diversity in SFF is an extremely live and unfortunately contentious issue now, 17 years later, which is depressing – I’d like it to be a nonissue. But what is exciting is that there are many more writers of color than there used to be, and the faux-European setting no longer dominates the genre, so there has been real movement forward. Conversation is actually happening. I wrote a piece recently for the Mythic Scribes writing forum about how white writers can add diversity, and the first step as I see it is to become aware of one’s own whiteness and the privilege that confers.

Q:  Who are some of your favorite authors? Who are the authors that are your inspiration? And authors that you enjoy reading?

A: My current favorite author is Cormac McCarthy, although I would not say his works are ones that I “enjoy” – they’re so emotionally hard. But amazing. I’m fond of 19th c. writers (Austen, Eliot, the Brontes, Dickens, Hawthorne, and Melville). I like Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. I also really like A.S. Byatt. In genre fiction, I read Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, and anyone who has a well-written book with a good story. I used to read a lot of long series epic fantasy but it got to the point where I could read a whole book and nothing had really happened, so I’m a little burned out on that genre now. I also like a good suspense or mystery novel.

Q:  For a fun question, what is your favorite snack that tides you over during long hours of editing and writing?

A: Geez, now I’m hungry. I mostly have crackery/ pretzely type snacks. My major weakness is for Trader Joe’s dark-chocolate covered almonds with sea-salt, and I have to be really careful about having those around.

Q:  Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A:  My website is http://anneleonardbooks.com, and I am on twitter at @anneleonardauth. I also have a facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/anneleonardbooks.

Q:  Where can everyone purchase your book?

A: Everywhere! Indie bookstores have it, as do the big online retailers. There’s also an audio edition. If you’re debating between e-book and hardcover, get the hardcover – the design folks at Penguin did an amazing job creating an utterly gorgeous book. The jacket feels almost like velvet or sanded silk.

Erin:  Yes, I have the hardback and the cover is BEAUTIFUL! Anne, it was a delight to have you here and I wish you the best of luck with your debut novel, Moth and Spark. It’s an amazing journey in a novel.  Stop by again anytime here, you are always welcome! Are you sure you want to take both cats home? This one seems to be sleeping quite soundly on my lap….

Anne: If that’s the one that needs the expensive prescription cat food, you can keep him! Not really, my son would be very angry with me. Thanks for the interview, these were fun questions.

Here are Anne’s cats, they enjoyed joining us for the interview….

cats

Anne Leonard, Biography~

Photo Anne Leonard, Credit Judith Love Pietromartire

Photo Anne Leonard, Credit Judith Love Pietromartire

Anne Leonard lives in Northern California.  She has degrees from St. John’s College, the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, and University of California-Hastings College of Law.

Leonard began MOTH AND SPARK while attending the University of California-Hastings College of Law (where she graduated cum laude) eking out a few hours on weekends or a half hour on the bus, or wherever she had the chance.

After 3 years, she had a draft, but ultimately decided to practice law first.  At last readers will be introduced to the deadly harsh steppe lands of Sarian, to the white-barked tree-lined streets of Caithenor.

Check out her website at www.anneleonardbooks.com, or follow her on Twitter @anneleonardauth, or her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/anneleonardbooks.

Moth and Spark, Synopsis~

Moth and Spark.hi res coverViking;

On-sale: February 24, 2014

Hardcover; $27.95; ISBN: 9780670015702

ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN E-BOOK

A Prince with a quest.

A commoner with mysterious powers.

And dragons who demand to be free—at any cost.

Set in the land of Caithen, a country on the brink of invasion by vicious Tyrekh, this breathtakingly imaginative fantasy packs every punch the genre requires—intrigue, war, sorcery and magic, dragons, and forbidden romance. For fans of the Games of Thrones series, Diana Gabaldon, and Anne McCaffrey, MOTH AND SPARK is an elegant and compelling read.

Recruited by the Firekeepers, Prince Corin has been given an impossible task—to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, though no one, not even the dragons or their riders, understand the bonds which hold them. Given their power, but none of the knowledge to use it, Corin is torn between his new quest and his royal duty to defend his country from the Sarian invasion.

Before arriving in Caithen for Summer Court, Tam, the unassuming daughter of a well-respected doctor, has no idea she was born a Seer, someone gifted with visions. After a rainy afternoon leads Prince Corin and Tam to a chance encounter in the palace library, they meet for dinner where sparks fly, but it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner, Caithen is falling to the Sarians. When an attack on the capital forces the lovers to flee, Corin and Tam must figure out how to master their newly discovered powers in order to save Caithen and themselves. With the help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they might just pull it off.

At last readers will be introduced to the deadly harsh steppe lands of Sarian, to the white-barked tree-lined streets of Caithenor.  Every last element of Leonard’s lush, extraordinary world carries the heft of cinematic detail with pitch-perfect vision.

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1 Comment

Filed under Q and A with Authors

One response to “Talking with Author Anne Leonard about Writing Fantasy, Dragons, and Jane Austen!

  1. Another great interview!! Thank you for introducing us to Anne Leonard. The book sounds intriguing!

    Like

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