Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Leslie Tentler and I’m the author of seven novels, including the Chasing Evil Trilogy (MIDNIGHT CALLER, MIDNIGHT FEAR, EDGE OF MIDNIGHT), the Rarity Cove Trilogy (BEFORE THE STORM, LOW TIDE, IN DARK WATER), and one standalone, FALLEN. I was a finalist for best first novel at ThrillerFest 2012, and a two-time finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense. My novels have been translated into multiple languages, including most recently, Japanese.
I live in the Atlanta suburbs with my husband, dog, and several cats. I also work as a writer and editor for a marketing and PR firm, which is something I’ve done for over 20 years.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Settings inspire me, certainly. A lot of my stories are set on the southeastern coast, since I’ve always romanticized living at the beach. My first novel was also set in New Orleans, which is a city I visited several times and became entranced with both its culture and history.
Beyond that, it can be any number of things, including topics I want to learn more about. I’ve had a number of characters who are law enforcement officers. I’ve also written characters that are ER doctors, physical therapists, cafe owners, and psychologists. I really enjoy getting to know more about these occupations so that my characters are as realistic as I can make them.
Still, I think the biggest inspiration to me is the simple question, “what if?” Ask that question of yourself and you can come up with an unlimited number of story ideas.
How do you deal with creative block?
For me, the hardest parts of writing are those opening paragraphs in each chapter. I’ll spend hours trying to get those first couple of paragraphs just right. During that time, I’ll stare at a blank screen or “type and delete, type and delete” until I begin to feel confident about what I’m working on. Once that happens, the rest of the chapter rolls out a little more easily.
It sounds simple, but knowing exactly “where” to start a story, and “where” to start each chapter can be difficult. With my third book, EDGE OF MIDNIGHT, I was under a tight deadline and was really struggling with the first several chapters of my draft. They just seemed “off.” I was totally freaked out about it. I was certain the story was not going to work and that I’d lost my “mojo” by the third book. I finally realized that I had started the story too soon, so I eliminated two chapters and started more at the point of action. From there, the story came together. EDGE OF MIDNIGHT was later a finalist in the Daphne du Maurier awards.
Back to the question, though: There really isn’t a cure for creative block other than “butt in chair and fingers on the keyboard.” Discipline wins out over creative block every time.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
There’s a famous Dorothy Parker quote that goes, “I hate writing. I love having written.” That is absolutely true for me. Working on a manuscript really brings out my inner critic and I’m always certain that whatever book I’m writing at the time is terrible. Writing is a pretty grueling process for me, but the payoff is immense—after the work is done.
On the flip side, any time a reader leaves a positive online review or emails me to say how much they enjoyed my book is the very best part. It makes all the work you’ve put into a project worth it, and I’m so appreciative of those readers.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
It tends to be a bit of both. I write characters and stories that speak to me, yet I’m always aware of and hoping to also meet reader expectations. In romance, there’s always the expectation of “happy ever after” and I try to give readers some form of that anticipated ending. In the future, if I ever write outside the romance and romantic suspense genres, those happy endings might not always be the case.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
They definitely help you in regard to scene writing. I try to put myself in my characters’ places in order to feel their emotion and get it on the page. There’s a lot of empathy that goes into writing a character—you have to really feel what they’re feeling in order to convey it authentically.
I think the hardest story I’ve ever written was FALLEN, due to the very emotional backstory of my two main characters who had once been happily married but divorced after a tragic event that neither could get past. Putting myself in the place of Lydia, my heroine, was especially complicated, since her feelings were buried deep down but were very, very raw.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
I’m not sure if it would work for everyone, but I usually read the chapter previous to the one I’m currently working on before getting started for the day. I find that doing that takes me into the story more deeply than just diving in where I left off during my last writing session. I also sometimes read the story aloud, almost like a voice actress producing an audio of the book, which also helps to immerse me back into the story.
Do you outline your novels before writing them?
Yes and no. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I’ve never been able to outline a full-length novel very well. The one time I had to do it for an editor, I got the outline approved but ended up veering wildly from it because once I started writing, I could see that things were not going to work out the way I had envisioned.
What I do instead is write the equivalent of the novel’s “back cover copy” which is a few high-level paragraphs that roughly tell what the story is about. Then, I’ll write the first thirty or so pages “freestyle,” because I usually have a good idea in my head of how the story will start out. When I start getting closer to the story’s “murky middle,” as it’s called, I’ll outline a single chapter, draft it out, then outline the next chapter, and so on until the story is complete. I usually have an “ending” for the book in my mind from the beginning, but what ends up in those middle chapters are often surprises to me.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m currently working on a romantic suspense short story as an experiment. Shorter reads have become increasingly popular in today’s busy world, and I’ve had this one on my mind for a while. It involves an Asheville, North Carolina, police detective and a woman once married to a killer.
I also have an idea for another full-length novel, but I’m currently still in the research stages of it.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.
Let’s see. I was student body president at my high school. My father was a teacher and athletic coach there, and he coached boys varsity football, girls track and basketball, and boys soccer. His soccer team, in fact, won two Tennessee state high school championships. It was a relatively small town, and I can tell you that the movie and television show “Friday Night Lights” captured what it was like for the coach’s family, the players, and fans pretty accurately.
Another fun fact: My brother recently authored a nonfiction book on sports documentaries.
And one more thing: There are actually three Leslie Tentlers in my family. My mother-in-law is named Leslie, and her daughter—my sister-in-law—was named after her. It can sometimes be confusing, but we’ve gotten pretty used to it.
Thanks so much for the interview!