Monday, February 14, 2011

J.M. Leotti Interview

It seems like this week is interview week here on The QQQE. Today I'm interviewing J.M. Leotti, and tomorrow I've got Andrew Smith. You guys remember Janice, right? She interviewed me last month. Anyway, today it's her turn, or my turn, depending on how you want to look at it.

These posts can get long, so let's just get right to it:

When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been addicted to writing and painting since I was in kindergarten. I used to make books, write them and then illustrate them.

How long have you been writing seriously?

I didn’t take my writing seriously at all until I studied fiction at The Writers Studio in New York City in the late ‘90s. I was working as an assistant editor for a new company, and quit both my job and school about a year or so after the attacks of 9/11. It was a really scary time, and I remember the acrid smell of smoke during my classes. I published two short stories in literary magazines, but was unsure about the direction I wanted my life to take. I started sculpting and painting fairy subjects to make money, but continued to write novels and short stories in my spare time. I never finished them, though, and ended up with folder upon folder of unfinished writing on my desktop. A couple of years later I met up with a writing buddy I’d lost touch with, and the spark ignited again. This time, I intend to see it through.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

How words play against each other. I love the sounds of certain words like icicles and flurries and butter cream. They are notes, and sentences are measures of music. I like crafting sentences that give an image or make a sound. I love a story that leaves me thinking about it long after I’ve read it. This is something I strive for.

What is the most difficult part?

For me it’s figuring out how to pace a longer work. I tend to write everything quickly and then go back in and do surgery. Pacing, making sure scenes are balanced and interesting, that to me is tough stuff. I never know if I’m going too fast or too slow. At this stage, I have only my taste to rely on. Eventually, I’ll let others read my novel, but I would never bore them with a rough draft. Except my husband. He hears everything, poor man.

Have you completed any novels, even if only in draft form?

No. I have half of a middle grade novel that I started a couple of years ago, half a YA that I started years before that, and an adult novel that is almost complete. This is the one I’m working on now. Finally, I’m dedicated to finishing something! There will be hoopla and pilsners for all when I’m done. I’m actually looking forward to editing it. I like rewriting. I feel that’s when I construct my best sentences.

What is your favorite genre to read?

Literary fiction, fantasy and poetry. I also love books of facts, symbols and quotes. I’m a big fan of the Idiot’s Guide books. I tend to read everything, even YA and picture books. There is a lot of wisdom in some children’s literature.

If you had to meet one of your characters in a dark alley who would you last want to meet, and why?

Draven, one of my villain’s henchmen. He is completely devoid of compassion, charming and deft with a halberd—to me the deadliest of combinations.

And which character would you want there with you for protection?

Interestingly, not my main character. She is troubled and doesn’t always make the right decisions. I would have to say Pup, who is brave and loyal and has a knack for cutting through bullshit.

Do you stick to any kind of concrete writing schedule? If so how many hours a day do you write?

*She mumbles an answer into her hand.* Um, no. I’m trying to be better about that. I try to write at least one page a day in my novel. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. On my days off, though, I write a lot, sometimes ten pages or more. When I can afford it, I spend the whole day writing. I love those days, but they are few and far between. The days I don’t write at all tend to be days spent making money at other things.

Do you prefer writing novels or short stories and flash fiction?

Hard to say since I haven’t yet finished a novel. However, I’m really enjoying the process of working on something longer. To be involved in a story for over a year now has been a great joy. Flash fiction to me is the closest to poetry. Since I will probably never be a poet, I’d have to say I love flash fiction. The building of images to create a story in a short space is a fascinating process to me.

Do you outline, or is the plot all in your head? If you do outline how far you deviate from it?

I outline and change as I go. Sometimes something better comes along after the outline is done, so I just go with the flow.

What is your biggest strength as a writer? Your biggest weakness?

Not sure. I was told in writing class that I was good with dialog and description, so I’ll go with that. My weakness is getting my ass in the chair, and choosing titles for my stories. It’s just baffling to me. What the fuck do I call this thing?

Who is the best author you have only discovered in the last year?

Should I be embarrassed by this answer? Elizabeth Hand. She’s AMAZING!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Many thanks Matthew, for this interview. It was really fun, and I love your questions. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors!

Fun Random Questions for The End (I stole this interview idea from Jen at Unedited, though I made my own questions up). Which would you rather be?

Painting a landscape or a portrait?

Portrait. My husband is a landscape painter, and I could never do what he does!

A Vampire or a Werewolf?

Vampire all the way. Who wants all that hair on their legs? Vampires are sexier. (Although I loved Oz in Buffy. He was cool.)

Drinking a nice Chianti or a smooth Merlot?

Ah! Don’t say the words ‘nice Chianti’ around me! Totally freaked out by Hannibal Lecter. Merlot, merlot, merlot!

A rich and famous author or a poor but critically acclaimed one?

I think there are a lot of spaces in between being a rich and famous author and being a good writer. Hmmm. Jonathan Franzen or JK Rowling? Both good minds, both good writers (in their own ways) neither is starving (well at least we know Rowling isn’t)... I have my fantasies like everyone else, but the reality is I have no idea if I’ve got the ‘it’ factor. I’m hoping to be good enough to make a living from writing. Paying the monthly bills on time would suffice.

Partying with some Dryads or relaxing with some Nereids?

Tough choice. I love trees, but Dryads don’t seem much like the partying type. Some are shy, can’t leave their trees, you know, rooted to the spot. Maybe I’d like to share some ‘tales of old’ with Dryads, maybe some wisdom, but for partying I might have to go with Nereids. Maybe they can get me a backstage pass to a Poseidon ball!

Reading an e-book, a hardcover, or a paperback?

You evil man. How can you make me choose? However, if I must, there is nothing like a classic hardcover.

Great answers! If you would like to know more about Janice, be sure to visit her blog, but you can also read the flash fiction piece, through which I discovered her, here at The Alchemy of Writing.


Jessica Bell said...

Great interview! I'm a merlot girl all the way too :o)

Sarah said...

Fabulous interview. Oz was one of my favorites as well--I was super-bummed when he stopped being a series regular.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Idiot's Guides - that's funny! And hardcover for me as well. Good interview!

Renae said...

Great interview Matt! Loved the random questions.

DEZMOND said...

he he these were some really creative questions, nice interview, Matthew!

Anonymous said...

Once again, thanks Matt for a really fun interview. The questions made me think about my writing and other aspects of this creative endeavor. As always, lots of luck and wisdom to you! :-) BTW, today is my birthday, so thanks for the great BDay present!

Matthew MacNish said...

That's awesome! Happy Birthday!

Paul Joseph said...

Great interview, Matt. Love the diverse range of questions. And happy birthday, Janice!!!

Shari said...

I loved your questions. It made for a great interview. It's always good to meet another writer!

Stina said...

What a sweet husband. Mine never reads my books--probably for good reason. Him and romantic YA definitely don't mix.

I wish my weakness is getting my ass in my chair and coming up with a title. Okay, maybe the second part is true. But that's like the best weakness to have. Someone else can always come up with a rocking title. ;)

Laura M. Campbell said...

I enjoyed the interview. The questions kept it moving nicely. I can't figure out what to title anything I write either. It seems to be the hardest part of writing sometimes. You want to capture the readers attention, but I don't want to give to much away either. And on the subject of vampires and werewolves, I loved Oz from Buffy as well. I hated watching him leave Willow. I think I cried more than she did. I plan to check out J M's blog. Thanks!

Sarah Ahiers said...

ooh nice interview. Though clearly werewolf is the correct choice

Old Kitty said...

Great interview!! I so agree that vampires are way sexier! I love how Ms Leotti compares words with musical notes too! Thank you. Take care

LTM said...

supercool interview! Thanks, guys! And glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks pacing is tough stuff... interesting week ahead~ :o) <3

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great interview! Hardcover FTW!

Melissa said...

You always have the greatest interviews!

Bryan Russell said...

Great interview. It's interesting to see how everyone finds their way on this weird little path called writing.

Christina Lee said...

Awesome! You forgot to mention the fava beans with the chianti! hahahaha!

Lydia Kang said...

Great interview you two!
I'll take the Chianti, btw.

Shannon said...

Thanks for another great interview, Matt! Love meeting other writers!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. Loved your unique questions. It's always interesting to read about other writer's process and their schedule of writing.