Sunday, February 14, 2016

Meet Deborah Leigh, Author

Deborah Leigh is a former magazine editor who took a sharp turn into the world of law, which she has inhabited for over a decade. She borrows from both of her pasts and her love of Westerns and classic films to tell tales of justice from bygone times. Born literally on Los Angeles's storied Sunset Boulevard, she enjoys including worries thought to be intrinsic to modern urban life in her rustic stories. She has called many cities all over the United States and Europe home and was married in France, where she gave birth in a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of Paris. She's had the good fortune to "walk to work" in Wiesbaden, "run errands in Belgium" when she lived near its border, "catch movies" in Luxembourg while living in nearby Metz, France, and study on a tip of Germany so far south, she once cut her morning classes to go to Switzerland, and was back before lunch. She's lived within bicycle distance of the Atlantic Ocean and crisscrossed the United States several times by train and car. Ultimately a hometown girl, she and her only son live in downtown Los Angeles, where she can see Sunset Boulevard from her living room window.

Learn more about Deborah Leigh by visiting and by following her on Twitter.

1. What inspired you to write Wake Not the Hangman? I've always been enamored of stories from the past. One of my lifelong favorite pastimes has been watching classic films. I particularly love well-told Westerns because they distill the human experience into one stripped moment, when everything is on the line, with often the only resource being oneself. When I sat down to write Wake Not the Hangman, I knew I wanted to tell a story that took place in the past.

Then, I thought about how, as a small child, I was fortunate to experience some unexpected but much needed friendships while navigating some tough waters and how that feeling that those "island" attachments gave me kind of never wore off. The generosity of spirit I saw in my friends stuck with me my whole life. I'm still grateful to this day. I decided to tap into that and make the unusual relationship between fifteen-year-old Thornton and the slaves his father brings to the family farm the focal point of the story. There turned out to be so much there to plumb. Rather than devolving into a captive/savior story, we really see how many hurdles Thornton has in his life and how he uses banding with others to overcome them.

2. What are some of the challenges when it comes to writing an historical novel?

The biggest challenge is keeping the reader in the time period of the novel by making sure to use period-appropriate language and descriptions. In the science fiction arena, we talk all the time about world-building, but it's just as important to build the right world in an historical novel and then remain loyal to it. You have to do your research to find out how people lived, worked, traveled, cooked, bathed, courted, and everything else in the era in which your story is set. In Wake Not the Hangman, the protagonist is fifteen. There were times when I knew he just wanted to say, "Duh!" but I couldn't let him because he would have sounded like he was sitting at a computer using social media! [Laughs]

So, on the one hand, it's a ton of fun digging into your craft as a writer and talking about things like anvils and water pumps and riding scarves and homemade jellies and fruit liquor and other such things, but on the other hand, some common references that come to mind, as your scene unfolds, are unavailable to you as a writer. And you can't bypass logic. If cars didn't yet exist in the time period in which your story is set, you may have to address how long it takes one character to get to another's house. How does snow factor in? And you have to get your facts straight. If you're dealing with an abused wife, what are her legal options? What did we call China or Finland at that time? Was it a horse and buggy or a rig? Glasses or spectacles? Beer or ale? And so on.

Finally, you have to battle what people's perception of the time period is. You may face, "They didn't have ice cream in saloons!" simply because the reader has never seen ice cream in a saloon in movies or on television. And yet, as you substantiate some obscure fact, you have to do it in a way that drives the story forward and doesn't bore the reader to death.

3. Why did you decide to start your own publishing company?

I decided to start Darrow Publishing so that I would have a centralized place to manage my various writing endeavors, and so that I could ultimately take on the projects of other writers. I'm in the process of developing two creative-minded websites that will be part of Darrow Publishing, and I also hope to release a small package of classics under an imprint that is part of Darrow Publishing.

Having a place and space where I can focus on my writing projects helps reemphasize my goals. I do things for Darrow Publishing that I might be lazier about [laughs] if I were just doing them for me. Trying to grow a brand and a company makes me, personally, work harder and look for innovative ways to branch out. It's a ton of fun!

4. You mentioned your love of classic films. How does your Hollywood Character Arcs blog on Darrow Publishing’s website factor into that?

As you know, social media has, in some ways, replaced writers conferences in the sense that some of the information about process that a writer could gather at a conference can be found online. You can google "show vs. tell" for a wealth of great posts about how to improve that aspect of your writing. And that's just one topic. Meanwhile, there is also a plethora of inspiration, commiseration, and validation available through social media communities.

Darrow Publishing's small contribution to that is to focus on the art of well-drawn characters by highlighting those that stand out in classic films. Every movie is populated with characters, but the good ones have one or more characters, who, even when dropped into a cliché or a typical genre, somehow stand out because they are so well-written. My hope is that writers who read the blog say, "Ahh. I see how that screenwriter pulled that off. Let me absorb some of that technique or mindset or philosophy and apply it to my own writing." Even a simple, "Reading about good writing just got my juices flowing," is great. I use classic films in the hope that the writer/reader-of-the-blog may not be as familiar with the movie or the characters. Hopefully, it frees them to just examine the writing process that gave us the interesting character, with no preconceived notions because they just saw the movie themselves last year. And, if they decide to find the film and see what all the fuss is about, for me that's fantastic. Anytime I can create interest in classic films, I'm super happy!

5. What writing project(s) are you currently working on?

I'm working on two standalone sequels to Wake Not the Hangman that will complete the trilogy, although I hesitate to use the word "trilogy" or "series" because each of the three books really will stand alone. It's more like I simply have three separate chunks of things to say about this gathering of people connected by name and history. Whichever of the three books focuses on them will stand very much alone as a reading experience. I'm also plugging away at a collection of short stories.

Thanks, Deborah!

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