To finish off our Featured Author Week with Anne Leonard, she was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions for us about dragons, fantasy, her characters, and writing. Be sure to check it out below!
1: For those who are unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, so most of life has been about finding ways to write. I got an MFA and then tried the academic route (Ph.D.), which turned out not to be what I wanted. I eventually ended up as a lawyer, where I could make money by writing. (I used to joke that I got paid for telling people they were wrong.) I continued to write fiction and now am a full-time writer. I live in Northern California with my husband, our teenaged son, and our two black cats, Puck and Theo. For fun I go out on walks and take photographs. I’m also a baseball fan.
2: In your own words, can you give us a little summary of Moth and Spark?
Boy meets girl and they have adventures. More seriously, there are two main plots wrapped together. One is about magically enslaved dragons who are using the male lead, Prince Corin, to get free, and the other is about him and Tam falling in love. It turns out that she has magical power of her own, and the two of them work together to solve the problem of the dragons.
3: Dragons have been written about for ages. How did you approach creating and then writing them, so that they felt fresh and new for readers?
One thing I did was think a lot about my experiences with snakes, so that I could have some very real reptile images to use in the writing. I have never had snakes myself, but a college friend did, and I walked around with a 9 or 10 foot constrictor on my shoulders once. Snakes are really cool. I also knew that I didn’t want my dragons to be very human-like, but I did want them sentient and not wild beasts, so I thought a lot about dragon communication with each other and with humans. They have a language that’s not like human language.
4: You alternate between the leads of Tam and Corin in the story. Which voice came to you first? Is one easier to write than the other?
Corin was the character I started with, because it had been a while since I’d done a male POV in my writing, but it took a little more writing to figure out exactly who he was. Tam came easier at first, because I was a lot clearer on who I wanted her to be when I started writing about her. Now, every time I’m writing one of them I think the other is easier, so it must be about the same.
5: This book is part adventure, political intrigue, romance, and self-discovery. Is there one element that stood out to you as your favorite to develop and write?
The romance was the impetus behind the story, but the politics is most interesting to me on an intellectual level. One of the reasons I went to law school was that the characters in the fiction I was writing were starting to spend lots of time talking about politics and justice, and it seemed like if that was my interest, I ought to get paid for it. I think the same things that make law interesting to me are what make fantasy literature interesting – it’s about systems of power and questions of justice. Both are about people in conflict in the context of larger forces.
This is kind of hard to answer without a lot of spoilers, but for her at least it’s really about figuring out who she is and having the courage to stick to it – discovering her own autonomy. For him it’s more about picking out his path among things he can’t control. They both have to learn how to love someone, and they have to learn how to negotiate the various kinds of power that they have.
7: The politics of the land are complicated and intricately interwoven. Take us through the process of creating the lands and the challenges of balancing the various political schemes.
Ack. This was rough and took several drafts to develop into the shape it finally took. One of the hurdles I create for myself as a writer is setting up situations before I figure out the motives that led to them, so I had to go back and back-track a lot. I knew that I wanted an invading army as the fuse that set other things in motion, and I also knew that I wanted the politics of imperialism to play a part, but it wasn’t until I really figured out the role of the dragons that I knew where to go with that. Then with the more local politics I initially created something that was way too complicated to sustain and I had to back down on the intrigue to keep the book from tying itself in knots. I read some history and historical novels, not for specific ideas but just to get a sense of things that could happen, and I did some looking at political philosophy too. I have plenty of job experience working in places with lots of internal politics, so creating it was easy – making it fit was harder.
8: Tell us about your writing process. Walk us through a typical day. Do you outline a lot, or do you try and let the story flow as you’re writing?
I don’t outline much, and I actually want to try doing more of that in the future. I have to do a lot of writing to get to know my characters and what situations will wind them up – I also revise a lot as I go along, so Chapter 1 might be through 3 or 4 drafts before the last chapter is even started. It’s helpful sometimes to write back story or scenes that don’t actually go in just to get a sense of what’s happening. When I get stuck, it usually means something is missing earlier, so I re-read my drafts frequently. I also discuss things with other people I trust, but not much. My husband is a therapist, so sometimes he does therapy on my characters, which is very helpful. One of the most unexpectedly frustrating things about publication now is that as I answer people’s questions about the novel, I see things I want to change, and it’s too late! I try to take walks a few times a week or when I’m really stuck, and if I need to shake stuff in my head around a lot I will read poetry or watch a movie.
9: Can you tell us anything about book 2 to help hold us over?
Well, right not it’s not finished so I can’t promise anything and I am a little wary of talking about it too much, but it’s darker, without so much romance. The characters are all less shiny. And I’m writing some chapters in the point of view of the villain, which I have never done before and which is tremendous fun. The plot involves the fall-out from the events of MOTH AND SPARK, but ideally it too can be read as a standalone. I did not intend to write a sequel at all – I had spent a lot of time living with these people already and wanted something new – but when I created the character of this particular villain, then I had to keep going.
10: What’s on your reading shelf right now? Anything you’ve read recently that you’d recommend? We’re always looking for great books.
I’ve been reading a lot of recent SFF (including some YA) to catch up on the genre, but I’m feeling like I’m at the point where I need to cut down on my reading so that it doesn’t take my focus off my writing, so I’m going to switch my upcoming reading to more mystery/ suspense and “literary” fiction on my TBR pile. I’m not allowed to go to the library again for a while. The most recent book I bought was The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, but the one I think I’m going to start up again with first is The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. The writer I’m recommending to everyone right now is Cormac McCarthy, who is tough to read emotionally but is just phenomenal with his language and storytelling. I’m also excited to read Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, which is just coming out.
Thanks Anne! Don’t forget to check out the rest of our Anne Leonard Feature Author Week, including entering for your chance to win a copy of Moth and Spark. Want to know more about Anne? Check out her website at www.anneleonardbooks.com, and follow her on twitter @anneleonardauth.