Today, I'm delighted to share an interview with one of my very favorite authors. Here's a snippet of background before we get started:
"Winner of the Reader’s Choice Award and the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award for her mainstream novels, Leanna Ellis’ first inspirational fiction release was the wonderful, wacky, heartfelt novel titled Elvis Takes A Back Seat. A former teacher, she now homeschools her own children. With her husband, two children and wide assortment of pets, she makes her home in Texas."
Her newest novel, Once in a Blue Moon has recently released to rave reviews:
The day Armstrong stepped on the moon has special memories for most Americans, but not for Bryn Seymour. It’s the day her mother died. Despite death defying feats, guilt has always pulled Bryn down time and again. But a perfect love shows her taking a leap of faith is the first step to soaring. But it only happens … once in a blue moon.
And now, it's time to meet our guest of honor.
CC: Welcome Leanna! I’m always intrigued to learn about an author’s non-writing passions, maybe find a connection between the two. Leanna, you were a dancer and even considered that as a major in college. Can you tell us a bit about that time in your life and how writing a novel (and pitching it to an editor) might be similar to dancing, perhaps a dancing audition?
LE : Hi, Candace! Thanks for having me here today! Such an interesting question. When I was a kid and teen, dancing was my passion. But honestly, performance was not. I was shy and very much an introvert. I much preferred creating a dance or show, doing the choreography. Choreography is telling a story through movement. I didn’t know anything, just did things instinctively. But I loved it. I remember when I would choose a song for class I was teaching I loved the music. But by the time I’d mapped out the song, choreographed the dance, and taught it to the class I was sick of the music. The same is often true of the writing process. When I begin a project, I love the story idea and the characters. Then throughout the writing process and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, I grow sick of the story and characters. I lose perspective on the story. But then after I send it in to my editor, often months will go by before I have to look at it again for line edits. Reading it again, I fall in love with those characters and feel the excitement of the story once more. I will say that with auditions, you are always nervous. If you’re not nervous then you don’t care enough. And the same is true with pitching to agents and editors. But as with everything you do, the more you do it the more comfortable you become with it. You still get nervous, but your confidence grows as you get better.
CC: May we take that dance analogy a few steps further?
CC: I challenge you to visualize this scenario: You’re a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, and you’re asked to choreograph four dances that will give us the feel of these four of your novels. How would you perform them?
What a fascinating question!
Elvis Takes a Back Seat
Well, of course, Elvis music! Love Me Tender as a waltz.
Lookin’ Back Texas
One of the songs that inspired me for that book was ‘let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon and Willie and the boys…’ and of course that would be a two-step with a lift or two for surprise that the judges would say, “Hey! You can’t do that!”
On the Run by Pink Floyd (Dark side of the Moon cd) with the lindy hop. Might be a very bizarre but fun dance. Len would probably hate it! Bruno would applaud our innovativeness!
Once in a Blue Moon
Oh, Moondance as a quick-step would be romantic and fun filled with lots of twists and turns and surprises.
CC: Love it! I’m crazy about the quirky characters and dialogue in your novels—the way you balance poignant and heart-tugging emotion with great comedic moments. What (to whom) do you give credit as a source for your lively sense of humor?
Uh…God. I’m serious. Honestly, I don’t know really where it comes from. God reveals things to me about the characters, especially in deepening, poignant moments. I have tried to learn ‘less is more’ in those moments. In Elvis Takes a Back Seat, I didn’t know how a widow would feel in certain situations but He showed me. Amazingly, widows have read the book and said my heroine’s reactions and actions were very true to life. Humor for me often comes in the rewrite. I don’t think I’m naturally funny but I like to laugh (as you know when we get together, Candace!) and I like the levity it provides when dealing with difficult or painful subjects. It’s definitely a balancing act and I’m afraid I don’t analyze it too much but do things more intuitively. Going back to that dance analogy, it’s feeling the music of the story as I go along.
CC: The music of the story--great analogy. Your first published work was in the mainstream market. How difficult was it to make the change to writing Christian fiction? Were there specific challenges? Do you have advice for writers who feel called to make this same genre change?
I suppose it was difficult because it took me several years but that was most probably because I was on a journey and didn’t really know where God was taking me. I honestly didn’t set out to write in the Christian market. I wanted to write fiction with inspirational elements whether that was for the ABA (secular) or Christian market. God led me to the Christian market and opened the doors for me. It was all in His timing. I just tried to follow along and keep up. With Elvis Takes a Back Seat, my first in the inspirational market, I didn’t set out to write it for the Christian market but had spiritual elements threaded throughout the story. When God started pointing me toward the inspirational market, I tugged those threads more to the surface but they were always there.
For those who feel called to make a change, pray a lot. I prayed for about 3 years if God even wanted me to write anymore. When I had doubts and questions, I asked for confirmation. I still do that about projects. Remember, it’s not a destination but a journey.
CC: Great advice. You’re a popular and accomplished speaker and, in addition, offer writing workshops. I’m intrigued by the workshop called, “Me, Myself and I,” giving advice to writers on changing from 3rd person to 1st person point of view. Your recent books are all written in the first person. When did you make the change to writing in 1st person? Does crawling so deeply “inside a character’s head” ever make you, as an author, feel emotionally vulnerable? Was there one character in particular who was challenging to write in first person?
When I left the romance market to write ‘bigger books’ that weren’t necessarily focused on a romance, I wanted to grow my writing and stretch my wings. Since I had been writing category romance, which was in 3rd person, I did things that would get me out of the romance mode and one of those things was writing in 1st person. I had always loved 1st person. When I started writing, a writing teacher told me that writing would ruin my reading because I’d start analyzing everything. And of course, I did. But not 1st person books. They could sweep me away. So they still provided my escape reading. Many of the books I read in the secular market were 1st person. When I started writing in 1st person, present tense, that’s when I really found my voice. I still occasionally write 3rd person but I absolutely LOVE 1st. I suppose I’m so into the character that I don’t personally feel vulnerable. It’s usually after I’ve written a book that I figure out my personal connection to the story. For instance, after writing Ruby’s Slippers where my heroine has been ‘walking’ in her mother’s footsteps and her mother’s ‘shoes’ don’t fit her very well, I realized that I had actually done that myself. I became a teacher because I didn’t know what else to do (since my folks wouldn’t let me major in dance) and my mom said I was a good teacher. She had been a teacher. But teaching for a few years showed me it wasn’t my gift. I was capable but it wasn’t my passion. And I had to figure out what my passion was. And that’s very much what my character Dottie has to figure out as she walks down her yellow brick road.
CC: I love your blog, LeBlog. You share warm and humorous family stories, writing updates, recipes and book giveaways—great fun! Your recent Author-Pet interview was a complete hoot. We know you are an animal lover, so let’s turn the tables on you:
If I were interviewing your dog Hilo (aka “Hilo Monster”), how would she answer these questions about you?
What’s the one pet peeve about Leanna that (makes you press paw to forehead) and say: “You just can’t teach that lady new tricks”?
LE: Ah, thanks! I’m glad you like LeBlog. I have really enjoyed those author/pet interviews! And yours, Candace, was definitely a standout!
(Leanna's Dog) Hey! It’s my turn! She’s asking me! Me! Me! Let me answer! Why hasn’t she interviewed me on her blog? What’s she waiting for? I’m popular on her Facebook page. Everybody loves me, the Hilo Monster, as she calls me. I’ve done a good job training my friend. I poke her with my nose and she gets up to let me out. I jump on the dining room table and that gets her out of her chair pretty quick and away from her computer. I counter-surf and grab a letter or bill or even a pair of glasses and she’s up again. Or I get in the trash… She eventually gets me a rawhide bone. Frankly, she was easy to train.
CC: Speaking of tricks, what decadent snack would tempt your author friend to jump through a few hoops?
She likes peanut M&Ms. Anything chocolate. And I like chocolate too, even though she tells me I shouldn’t eat it. Says it’s bad for me. My daddy left some on the dining room table and I jumped up and sampled some myself. But I think I liked the chocolate Easter bunny better. And then there was half a turkey… Yummy! And the chicken wings I got.
CC: If you were part of Leanna’s caravan heading to kids’ activities, what would be your sport of choice? Would you pick her for your team?
I love to play basketball. I can steal the ball! She’s pretty good at dribbling and shooting. We play it in the backyard. But I can take the ball from her. She’s competitive so I’d definitely choose her!
CC: Yours is a Homeschool family—what class do you teach, Professor Hilo?
My job is character development and spiritual growth. They learn lots of biblical lessons from me like patience and forgiveness.
Oh, I love that. Thank you, Hilo! Now back to Leanna . . .
CC: Leanna, you’ve said how wonderful you feel when receiving letters from readers who have felt deeply touched by your books. If Once in a Blue Moon could positively affect the life of just one reader, can you describe who you’d want that to be? What message would you want that person to take to heart?
In Once in a Blue Moon, Bryn learns to take a step of faith. If one reader was encouraged to do that then that would be wonderful! I have already had wonderful letters from readers and that makes the writing process, difficult as it is, worth every step. When we take a step of faith, whether that’s committing our lives to God or stepping out in obedience or taking a risk, we often don’t know where that will lead. That’s why it takes faith, faith in God to catch us if we fall, to sustain us, to lift us up. And that little step of faith, which we often think will cause us to stumble or fall flat on our face, is actually the first step to soaring.
CC: An underlying theme of this book involves discovering the courage to “step out in faith.” Can you describe a recent situation in which you had to personally summon that strength?
Every book is a step of faith for me. I never know how I’m going to make the story work. I have faith that God will show me what I need to know. I’m taking that step this week as I plunge back into a book that I’m not quite sure how I’m going to make it work. In my every day life, parenting is such a journey of faith too.
CC: Do you own an e-reader, Kindle, Nook, or . . . ? Why or why not?
I have a Kindle but I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. I like it for trips though. However, I took it to Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference a couple of weeks ago and go to the airport and the battery was low so it wasn’t useful at all. Frankly, I still like to hold a book, search through the pages, feel the weight in my hands, flip back to read another section again, put it on my bookshelf. If I’m not ever going to read a book again, then I don’t mind having it on my Kindle. But if I want to read a book again, then I want it in book form. But I will say, I played with an iPad the other day and it was very, very cool. Maybe one day.
CC: What’s the title of your next book? When does it release?
FACELIFT comes out October 2010. A ‘can do’ kind of woman, who runs her own business and raises her teenage daughter alone, takes into her home her ex-mother-in-law after a botched facelift. She turns Kaye’s world upside down. Kaye receives her own emotional facelift when she learns joy isn’t tacking on a happy face but relying on her sovereign God who has a plan for her life.
CC: And one last challenge, please:
You have a rare evening all to yourself and decide to curl up on the couch for a little escape TV—an oldie DVD. You make a bowl of popcorn, climb into your Snuggie and hit the remote: Your favorite laugh-out-loud “I Love Lucy” episode. Three questions:
What color is your Snuggie? RED! I love red!
What flavor of popcorn? Butter! I love butter almost as much as Hilo does. And yes, she’s eaten a couple of sticks of butter.
Which Lucy episode? We love I Love Lucy. My kids would probably choose Vitametavegimin (did I spell that right?), which I love too. Or they would choose Job Switching, which is the one where Lucy and Ethel work at the chocolate factory. I always laugh during both of those episodes. But since I’m home alone and it’s my choice--my ultimate favorite episode (and it’s actually two) is with John Wayne. When he arrives in Lucy and Ricky’s hotel room and Lucy’s in hair curlers and tries to cover her head with her handbag…well, it never fails to make me laugh. And then there’s the scene with Lucy and her foot stuck in a bucket of cement…hilarious!
CC: Ah, great reminders--that chocolate factory episode is one of my favorites, too! Thank you, Leanna for sharing these laughs and insights with my readers. I'm excited about gifting one of them with a signed copy of Once in a Blue Moon.
LE: Thanks, Candace, for having me here today! This was a lot of fun!
And now: enjoy this trailer for Once in a Blue Moon. Then remember to leave a comment below so that I can enter your name for the book giveaway. I'll draw the winning name on Saturday the 17th, noon Pacific time.