# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Leslie Edens is a kneejerk reaction living in Bellingham, Washington, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer. I’ve been writing with one writing group or another since 2012, and doing events like NaNoWriMo and the Village Books Open Mic for a couple of years. We have a very healthy writing community here, and for me, it has led to 17 books and multiple short stories. The common thread is they’re all speculative fiction, and they tend to involve some kind of mashup with the supernatural or the paranormal. They’re also pretty funny if I do say so myself. I have quite a few YA Fantasy books with ghosts and mortals (The Heather Despair series, The Spirit Gods series, The Half-Ghosts series). I have a noir-style book starring an alien who runs a pizza parlor on Earth (The Odd Pizza Place). I have a horror comedy series about a vampire who lives in the current day but can’t get his head out of the 1980s (An 80s Kind of Vampire series). I have a New Adult LGBT series with ghosts and mortals, and most recently, I rewrote Dickens’ Great Expectations but with witches and warlocks in the 1990s grunge-era Seattle.
# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
I’m an amalgam writer, meaning I take bits and dabs and slices of real life here and there, along with fiction I’ve absorbed, and somehow juggle them in my brain and produce absolute fiction with them. So most of what you read is made up, but occasionally, there’s a good story in there that has something tangentially related to real life. I will admit this much: I was a teenager in the 80s, and I did live in Seattle in the 1990s. I also grew up near a small town in New Mexico, and I lived in Tornado Alley just like L. Frank Baum and Laura Ingalls Wilder. But I have never seen a ghost, met an alien, run a pizza place, or jumped into a portal, so I’m guessing those parts are made up.
I believe it does help the writer to have a lot of real-world experience. There’s a misconception that one will then write down and directly use that experience for fiction. What the experience does is jump-start your confidence and ingenuity. It does not necessarily translate right into stories, but it gives you the feel of what might happen or stimulates ideas which might be totally different than your experiences!
The funny thing is that a lot of people who read my books assume I’m into the paranormal or a spiritualist. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m into imagination and creation. The parts of these books that are the most real are things like emotional reactions, personalities, and all the stuff you learn from many long years of closely observing and listening to people. I’m one of those people that others feel compelled to tell their stories to, but that doesn’t mean I copy down their stories. What I copy is their voice, their way of speaking, and I try to recreate that.
# What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Usually, it is just a phrase or a word. I have written entire books in response to an enigmatic two or three-letter phrase. That phrase might be the title. The science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, described his writing as a process of asking “What if?” and then waiting for his mind to answer the question. For me, the question is “What is?” as in, what does this phrase mean? What is it? And my mind answers the question in quite a colorful manner.
A few times, someone who is telling me a story has let drop some intriguing detail. That detail might inspire an angle for me. I am intrigued by urban legends and folklore, and I did my undergraduate thesis on urban legends of New Mexico. So I collect urban legends, and I do try to integrate them where I can, because I think they’re fantastic pieces of mini-literature, and it gives me a kick how their parts work.
# How do you deal with creative block?
I don’t really get it, but I’ve had false starts. False starts seem to happen at times when I don’t put my all into the story early on or I don’t feed it and put energy into it. Thus, the story peters out and doesn’t have anywhere to go.
I’m curious about the blocks that other writers get, and I’ve asked a lot of questions to try to understand the problem and maybe help them. From what I’ve gathered, I think it’s a form of fear. One of the ways I have evaded that fear is to lower the stakes for writing. I play around or say that I’m going to go “play” with my manuscript. Writing is my fun time. Another way to get around block is to write about the very feelings of fear that bring on block. I assigned a character a type of block and let her express how she felt about that, and wow, I got a lot of pages from that. Writers should be writing about feelings that make sense to them, and I know the fear of block is a feeling that makes sense to writers. So why not integrate that and write about it? As you can see, there are creative ways to get around the blockage, and the block might come from taking this whole writing gig just a little too seriously.
# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
I’m also an indie editor, and I think of editing as part of the writing process. So from that perspective, I don’t think you can make a mistake—not exactly. You might have a version of the book that could be better, and then you’d be making plans for a revision, but I wouldn’t call that a mistake. I’d call that a draft that needs revision, and that’s standard procedure. And I believe anything can be fixed. I just don’t believe everything should be fixed. Sometimes, it is more productive to write another book and hone your craft, as opposed to driving yourself crazy with revision.
I think it’s probably more productive to think in terms of what you’d be satisfied with than what might be a mistake. It can be difficult to stop revising, particularly if you’re thinking about mistakes and flaws. There is no perfect manuscript. One of the best skills a writer can have is knowing how to let go of a book and call it good.
The usual problems I find in my books (and often other people’s) that need to be fixed involve problems with the logic. It could be something as simple as a scene that started in the light and later is suddenly in the dark—easy fix! Or it could be as complex as a magic system that’s too complicated and doesn’t make sense.
Consistency can be a big problem with some writers. Others have a poor tone, a lack of agency in the characters, pacing is off, the voice isn’t developed, scenes lack a clear goal, too much back story, character voices are too uniform, dialogue doesn’t have enough beats, scenes lack proportion . . . the potential problems are nearly infinite and particular to each book, which is why listing or obsessing over them is not likely to help. When I get to know an author’s writing, I recognize what they struggle with in particular and try to assist them in those areas. I also start out by telling them what is working and what they do well so they can do more of that!
Fiction writing is an incredibly complex endeavor. I have done all kinds of writing, from journalism to nonfiction to academic, and fiction writing is the most difficult. When you sit down and analyze the parts, as I so often do as an editor, it’s mind-boggling how many things can not work. That is why the only real way to eliminate “mistakes” and smooth your execution is to practice for hours of the day, get lots and lots of feedback, and keep writing.
# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I spent about seven years in various critique groups locally, and there’s this idea that if you get exposed to lots of critical feedback, you’ll toughen up. That’s not exactly what happened, but I did learn how to separate valid feedback from comments that weren’t really relevant. The experience in the groups was invaluable since I got a much better idea of how people were perceiving my work. I learned about common errors and became more aware of writing cliches. (Pro tip: if you really want to see your work clearly, read it before a crowd of strangers! Issues with it will magically become quite clear.)
So I still get angry or frustrated when someone doesn’t understand my writing or finds a flaw in it that I didn’t notice. I am thankful for the feedback and the opportunity to improve, but it’s still hard to absorb it sometimes. I especially hate it if they point out a mistake that I didn’t spot.
To a certain extent, it can be good to check and see if the criticism is valid and involves something you can fix or improve, but if you let this dictate too much of what you’re doing, you’ll never stop revising. So best to let it go unless it involves a matter you intended to work on and fix.
# How has your creation process improved over time?
I’ve trained myself to write fast and not stop for rewrites until the manuscript is done. I’ve put between four to eight hours a day into this for eight years, so I’ve gotten much better at turning out a book that is well-crafted and needs less in the way of revision. I’m always surprised at how well these books come out. I’ve learned not to pay attention to any bad or grouchy feelings I have while writing, since the mood I’m in makes no difference to the end quality of the writing—or very little, anyway.
Since I often write humor, spontaneity in my writing produces the funniest material. What has happened is that now I can quite confidently start a novel and know it will be finished. I use the NaNoWriMo tracker year round and have a daily writing habit. Writing a book has become less of a challenge, so I’m currently swinging back toward deepening the process. But I believe in writing at a quick pace and getting it all down. If I have to stop or go away from the work for too long, it’s harder to get back into the swing of the book, although I have done it before. I went back to a book I’d abandoned and finished it after five years, and another first chapter I’d left sitting for four years recently became a book. But it was not the best idea because not only had I forgotten where I was going with the story, my writing had improved! And that led to some differences in quality between the beginning and latter parts of the books. That is why I try to finish them in a time period of 1 – 4 months. I know that seems like a very short time to some writers, but I am comfortable with it.
# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
Best: I never run out of ideas or inspiration. I can come up with stuff no matter what, and it is good stuff!
Worst: I can go nuts with revision and need serious limits put on me there, or I will revise until I die. Can that be an official cause of death?
“Officer, she wouldn’t stop changing up the scene, and we found her plastered on the floor with cut up pieces of her manuscript in her cold, dead hand . . .”
“Yes, sadly, I’ve seen this before. Tragic display. We can rule out other causes. This was clearly death by revision.”
Most surprising: Despite my preference for reading the classics and my general disdain for genre fiction, I tend to write plots and stories that belong in comic books, and I am good at action scenes.
# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I’m satisfied to be writing at all, so I mainly write for readers. My intent is to entertain—I’m largely focused on entertainment value, especially with the humor. I love to do readings and get up and do the voices and get laughs. I’m a big ham, and in another life, I was probably a stand-up comedian. I entertain myself in the process, but I think of what I’m writing as intended for others. It frustrates me when I can’t find an audience!
I also write for the characters to some extent. I feel they deserve my attention. But I don’t think I write much for myself, except in the sense that I’m writing what I specifically can create, and I’m exercising my specific talent, which is a weird one. In the sense that I refuse to write in a really conventional way, I suppose that is what I’m doing for me.
# What role do emotions play in creativity?
When I first started writing, I needed to dig deep to really express myself. I called it “opening up a vein,” and it was actually painful. But after all these years of practice, I hardly have any emotions at all when I write, other than grouchiness or satisfaction.
A lot of people don’t agree with me on this (I’ve asked), but I think emotions can be a real hindrance to getting the work done. I’m not saying to block them, but too many people give way to their emotional states and give up because they feel bad that day. Instead of worrying about my emotional state, I concern myself with my persistence in the face of difficulty. I give the same advice to people who must have everything just so to write. How often is that going to happen, that your kids and animals are totally quiet, you have a private cabin on an island, the weather is perfect, your favorite candles are lit, and you’re in a good mood? You’ll write once a year if everything has to be just so. Learn to write through it.
My books get most emotional during any part with a love relationship or certain close friendships. There, I do try to dig into the emotions—not my own, but I’m trying to provoke an emotional response in others. Sometimes I’ll have something awful or funny happen to a character, and I’ll test it on a reader to see if it “works.” I may have no response to it myself, but I’m trying to get a reaction. I don’t particularly like vomit jokes, for example, but I noticed a lot of people think they are very funny. So I wrote vomit jokes into some of my comedy scenes.
In many ways, what I’m doing is conducting a large experiment where I test things like this and observe responses, and my own emotions don’t really play a role in that part of it. But when people laugh or react—I have to say, I really enjoy that.
# Do you have any creativity tricks?
I have nothing but creativity tricks! I’m a trickster at heart. Meaning I make up all kinds of games and do things to fool myself all the time. I’m a master of motivation by trickery. But I’m having fun doing it. Creativity is the best thing ever, and I wish I didn’t have to stop doing it to do things like eat, sleep, exercise . . . here’s ten tricks I use.
- Locate the music for my character and play it while writing about them.
- Go to a thrift store and buy things for the character—helps enhance characterization.
- Pick a random chapter out of a book, read, analyze, and apply whatever I learned.
- Write first thing in the morning or late at night when the veil is thin.
- If I think, “That can’t happen to my characters,” then I have to write that. It’s a challenge and makes the best stories.
- Keep my laptop and paper and a pen within reach at all times to record ideas or work on things at all hours.
- Text myself ideas if I don’t have paper. I’ve even written ideas on the side of a box in one circumstance.
- Read about something interesting but unrelated. This fills the well for later inspiration.
- Yoga is nice for clearing the mind. It’s like a total reset that clears the slate.
- Have a conversation with myself about my story, asking, “What happens next? Why did they do that?” and so on, letting yourself answer.
# What are your plans for future books?
Hahahaha, PLANS? Let me tell you how I came up with the last one. I woke up, and a pun occurred to me, and I thought, that’s funny! And then I decided it wasn’t a joke. It was a BOOK! That’s how I come up with them. Random idea pops into my head. Might be a book! It just depends on how taken with it I am. At any given time, I have a huge arsenal of potential stories I could write. I develop the ones that feel like they have “legs” and can really go somewhere.
But to be more direct . . . I might try my hand at mashing up something with a space opera.
# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I think I just did, but here are some more.
If I can’t remember the name of a substance, I call it “wax.”
I spend hours analyzing music albums I’ve heard a thousand times and trying to figure out the best way to do a remix or sampling, even though I’ve never done those skills and probably never will.
I have a thing for databases, container ships, side shows, and urban legends.
I write long, involved essays analyzing various works of literature, and I never show them to anyone.
I grew up living on a wildlife refuge. Okay, total disclosure. Two wildlife refuges.
When I was 14, I decided to read the entire Bible, and I did it in one year.
When I was 15, I was reading things like Vonnegut, Heinlein, Hunter S. Thompson, Anne Rice, Hemingway, and Bloom County.
I really like New Order, and I wrote about nine books listening to the album Substance 1987 over and over. No, they are not a boy band!
I once read most of Crazy Cock by Henry Miller at a party, then finished it at a successive party.
I have worked in two libraries and two bookstores and taught English in two colleges.
I am super good at song and dance while driving the car, including car headbanging, a skill that’s far too underappreciated by these young people today.
I love literary criticism and philosophy almost as much as I love Dr. Who, Star Trek, Buckaroo Banzai, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I used to rock climb when I was younger, but these days, I am reduced to running and snowboarding. I can run to the ocean from where I live—and I can drive to Mt. Baker in under two hours.
Amazon author page: https://amzn.to/2lWrRWy