Leah Petersen lives and writes in North Carolina when she can get some time away from her day job and her husband and two children. Rather than waste her life getting fresh air and sunshine, spending time with family and friends, or pursuing an actual career, she reads books and writes.
Her first novel, Fighting Gravity, is coming in 2012 from Dragon Moon Press.
1. Your debut novel is coming out next Spring, but you’ve had several other works published. Are they related in any way?
Nope. The novel happened before I decided to become a writer. I’d always “written” in my head but hadn’t put any of it on paper in [insert long time here that doesn’t make me look old.] Fighting Gravity was just a story that I couldn’t get out of my head for months and months and finally my husband said, “Why don’t you just write it?”
Well, duh. So I did. Once it was written I realized it was actually kinda good. So I decided to pursue publication. The shorts and flash pieces I’ve had published since then were part of the process of learning about the industry and trying to build some writer ‘cred while I searched for an agent.
2. What is the favorite sentence you’ve ever written?
That’s easy: (sentence before provided for context.)
I find her in my study, staring at the painting behind my desk. The colors are lurid, obscene in a way the bodies twisted together are not.
3. Who is Gabrielle and how did you find her?
Gabrielle is, among other things, (http://www.gabrielle-edits.com/) Associate Publisher and editor at Dragon Moon Press. It was more she found me than me finding her. I sent Fighting Gravity to Dragon Moon Press during their open submission period. She emailed me asking for the full and ultimately acquired it.
More on her later.
4. You also have a link to JM Frey on your blog. Can you tell us about her?
JM Frey I found when I was researching Dragon Moon as a publisher. She was working with Gabrielle at the time on her debut novel and I’d not only found her when I was snooping around the interwebs but Gabrielle mentioned that my writing reminded her of JM’s. So that made me doubly curious, not only to follow the process of a Dragon Moon sci-fi with some of the same, controversial, themes mine has, coming out just as I was starting in with them, but to see what Gabrielle meant.
Her debut, Triptych, http://jmfrey.net/books/, came out this past spring and it is wonderful. If I write anything like that, I’m just thrilled.
5. Was it difficult to find a publisher for a work that includes Young Adult, Science Fiction, and Homosexual Themes?
Yes and no. The young adult angle wasn’t an issue because I never saw the story that way and never marketed it as such. It’s true, through most of the book Jacob’s <19 years old, (the current form ends there,) but, as it was originally structured, the book ended with him as an old man. So it just didn’t fit to me that it was a young adult story. Especially because, as his society sees it, he becomes a legal adult at fifteen. Yes, there’s plenty of young adult angst in it, but it just never fit for me to place it in that category. Whether or not it hurt me when agents got my partial and Jacob was never older than ten in the first fifty pages, I don’t know.
Science fiction can be limiting because a lot of agents simply don’t represent it. In that category, I actually think not labeling it YA hurt me a lot. Young Adult speculative fiction is hot now and I just couldn’t, in good conscience, send it to agents who repped YA sci-fi but not adult.
The homosexual themes may have limited me when it came to individuals reading my query and deciding whether to request a partial or not, but overall I found the publishing industry very open-minded.
6. How did you find your publisher? Why did you choose a smaller house?
I found the announcement of Dragon Moon’s open submission period on the Miss Snark’s First Victim blog. http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/
I admit, I gave it little more than a cursory examination to make sure it was a publisher that fit my genre and then I sent the query and ten pages. I mean, why not? There was no time to research between the request for the full and the verbal offer, because she read the entire thing in one day and called me back about 24 hours after I’d sent it. Of course, I did a lot of research after that. There’s a long story about how I came to choose the small house, because at that time I had a full with an agent and an editor at a Big House (separately,) so I did a lot of research and gave it a lot of thought before I ultimately chose to sign with Dragon Moon.
In short, I think the point that swayed me the most in the end, was the fact that Gabrielle got my book and my characters and that she was as excited about it as I was.
The long story’s here: http://www.leahpetersen.com/2011/02/how-i-found-my-publisher/
7. During the editing process, were there any changes suggested that you were reluctant to make?
There were a lot of things I had a hard time with when the suggestion first came. The ones I was having the hardest time agreeing with or working out the issues with, were all in the last several chapters, after the main climax. In the end, we ended the book much sooner and moved all of those scenes to a new Book Two.
Other than that, there was only one major suggestion that I didn’t agree with. Not that there was a problem, but I didn’t agree with her proposed solution. She pointed out that there were random references to the personal/social issues surrounding homosexuality, but that it wasn’t consistent and that I needed to develop that better.
Thing was, the reason it was so spotty was that in my head, there were no real issues in this society (and most of the personal ones are a product of the societal ones.) So the problem wasn’t that I didn’t address issues about homosexuality enough, it was that I addressed them at all. When I went through it with the mindset of being consistent, specifically not to bring issues surrounding homosexuality into a society where they didn’t fit, then it worked really well.
8. What is happening to Fighting Gravity during these months before it becomes available to the public?
Got me. 😉 Just kidding. Well, sorta. It’s at the point now where we’re almost finished punting it back and forth between Gabrielle and me, at which point it all becomes very fuzzy. I know there will be all sorts of fancy stuff going on to get my book out of a word doc and into a print/ebook form with a cover and back copy and all that, but beyond that, I’m pretty clueless.
9. Are you working on something new now?
Book Two. 😉 Fighting Gravity was supposed to be a stand-alone but, as I said above, in the editing process it became obvious that we either needed to lose a lot of the content at the end, or move it into a sequel. So it’s apparently turned into a trilogy. That definitely scares me, since I’d only developed the world/story/characters for one book originally. Even though I had a good chunk to start with for a sequel, I’m still nervous about having enough for three books. I’m not much of a plotter.
I’ve got an almost-first-draft of Book Two now (working title is Impact Velocity.) I sent it to my “alpha reader” and he’s sent back his big-picture notes. He made some good points that have sparked all sorts of ideas for how to dial up the emotional impact, and I think that’s going to bring the word count up—I’m still about 8k short of my goal for the first draft. Now I just need to sit down with it and give it an intense work-over so I can send it out to beta readers and then my editor.
10. What is the Suicide Notes Project? What motivated you to do this? Are you still actively posting in this theme?
Suicide Notes is a series of shorts that are present-tense, first person, inside the mind of a person in the last minutes before they commit suicide. It’s raw, brutally honest, and very intense.
I wrote these because here’s so much misunderstanding about mental illness, specifically suicide. You hear about it being selfish, nothing’s so bad you have to end your life, they’re just doing it for attention. There are the loved ones who live with guilt and shame. It’s such a painful subject, on both sides. I lost a friend to suicide when I was a teen and I’ve been on that side of it, lived through that loss and heard all the talk. When, ten years later, I had a brush with suicide myself, one thing that came out of it for me was healing for that earlier loss and a deep understanding of what suicidal depression really is, and what it isn’t.
The misunderstandings just make it worse for the people on both sides of it. If a frank look at what the person about to commit suicide is going through helps one person, on either side of the equation, to healing and understanding, then that’s such a huge victory for me.
What I want, more than anything, is for sufferers to see that someone else has been there and felt the way they do, and for everyone else to understand that, when a person dies of their severe depression, they’re no more to blame for their death than the person who succumbs to cancer, regardless of how they ultimately died.
As for the status of the project itself, it’s on hold. Not because it’s not important, but because it’s very draining. I have to go to a very dark place to accurately re-create the thoughts of a person who believes there’s no way to live any longer. I’m happy to say that my depression is very well controlled right now and I’m afraid to tempt fate. That said, the chances are that I’ll hit another low sooner or later, and I hope that continuing the Suicide Notes project will help me recover from it.
11. My favorite blog post of yours is Why All Writers are Secretly (or not so much) Schizophrenics. That’s one scary looking cappuccino. Do you frequently identify with these symptoms?
Oh, all of that is based on some reality I’ve experienced as a writer, but it’s wildly overblown for the comedic value, of course. Not that I’m not crazy in my own way, just not particularly like that. 😉
I do talk to myself, though. Well, technically it’s my characters talking to each other, but I imagine it looks the same to the casual spectator.
12. I often get distracted by feeding the fish on your blog. (I put them on mine too!) Where did you find these?
Can’t remember. Same way you did, I encountered them on a blog I was reading. I think it was just a one-time visit because I don’t remember what blog it was.
13. How did you come up with the idea of hosting #5MinuteFiction on your blog?
Impatience was the catalyst more than anything else. Lots of blogs in the writer/agent/editor community have informal contests from time to time. But usually there was a submission period of a week or more and then that much of a wait again to find out who won. I didn’t want to wait that long.
14. How do you find judges for #5MinuteFiction? Have you ever won?
I find judges on Twitter mostly. When I interact with other writers, if I admire their work, or their spunk, I’ll often ask them to judge. It’s nice having the variety, they almost never choose the same five I would.
And, no, I’ve never won. I’d like to say it’s because I usually won’t allow the judge to nominate me, but I’ve allowed it a few times and I’ve never won any of those half-dozen or so times.
15. Besides the blog, what other social media do you use?
Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and now Google +. I use some more than others, and sometimes that just depends on my mood. I can’t keep up with them all or I’d never do anything else. I usually prefer Twitter because I find a larger community there more easily.
16. What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
My laptop. Honestly, other than appreciating Scrivener for Windows for how it helps a serious pantser organize a first draft, I just use Word. The laptop’s really the only thing I’m particularly attached to.
17. What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
The shower. As in where I get ideas. I don’t actually write on the walls with soap or anything.
18. What is the most persistent distraction from writing?
Gaming and reading. It’s pretty evenly divided between the two, especially because it’s usually one or the other. I don’t do balance very well, so when I start a book I like I read it in a day or two. And if I find a game I like (RPGs,) I tend to play it a lot and not do much of anything else for recreation. The only good thing about this is that I’m like that with writing too. I do things in binges rather with any regularity.
19. When the day comes that you are on stage, accepting some prestigious award, who are you most likely to forget to thank?
My husband. Which is sad because he’s such a big support for me. But he’s also very quiet and unassuming, and it’s too easy to sort of forget how vital he is. Like breathing.
20. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Han, of course. No way would he wait for the other guy to shoot first. Han’s got balls plus he’s reckless and a little stupid. That last bit is the real clincher.
P.S. Just a couple of great quotes…
Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it. Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988)
If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I. Michel De Montaigne
The shortlink for this post is http://wp.me/p1qnT4-l6
Thanks for having me, AmyBeth. This was lots of fun!
Thank you for sharing such in-depth responses Leah & for the great questions AmyBeth.
(& thank you for the links too!)
I’m looking forward to reading FIGHTING GRAVITY.
All the best,
Great interview! 🙂 So much insight and congrats on the upcoming release! 🙂
Thanks for coming ’round, y’all. 😉 AmyBeth’s lots of fun as an interviewer.
Lovely interview, Leah and Amy! And no worries about the quality of your writing, Leah – as you well know I LOVED Fighting Gravity and I can’t wait until the rest of the world can share in that.
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Aw, this was a very good post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce a good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot
and never seem to get nearly anything done.