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Interview with Brittany Leonard

A little something about Brittany Leonard:

As a high school English teacher, Brittany loves learning and engaging with stories. She has recently published her first book, The Life of a Shadow, which was co-written with her dad. Brittany also enjoys travelling, and now lives on the West Coast with her partner and their cat. Their favourite way to spend time as a family is to go hiking or camping. Watch out for Brittany's upcoming series, Element the Graphic Novel - a young adult fantasy series for ages twelve and up.

Questions and Answers:

1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always really enjoyed reading and writing, ever since I was a little kid. I remember writing lots of stories and poems growing up and into high school, but it was never something I considered pursuing as a career. After becoming qualified to be a teacher, I had to take some time off due to an injury, and it was then that I started writing again. I’m so happy to have come back to this passion and that I’ve stuck with it through to publishing!

2. How long does it take you to write a book?

Since I’m not writing a traditional novel, and I’m stumbling through the whole publishing process, it’s taking a number of years. For my children’s book, it was basically done within a year (including illustrations). For my graphic novel, I’m on year three and am just beginning the official illustrations for it. I don’t expect it to be finished for another year or two.

3. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I wish I could keep a schedule when writing, but I don’t. Usually I’ll focus on a “writing” task and then an “illustration” task to keep things interesting and motivating. I might edit a chapter of the graphic novel, and then go and do some of the illustrations for it for a couple of weeks, and then go back to the next chapter. I like that I can bounce between the two types of tasks o that I never get bored!

4. What would you say is your unique writing quirk?

I’m not sure that this is unique, but I feel most inspired when I’m outside in nature. Often my ideas comes to me when I’m out and about, and I have to record ideas in voice notes or text messages to myself. Yet, I feel most focused when I’m sitting inside in my creative space, with reference photos and tips posted nearby.

5. Whether it be traditional, self, or story book apps. How d you find the publishing process?

I went with self-publishing through Amazon and am so pleased that this is such an easy and inexpensive option for authors! However, there are definitely barriers along the way and I’m finding marketing to be the most difficult part, since I have no training or expertise in this particular area.

6. How much of your writing process involves research in your subject matter or plot?

A lot more than I expected! For the world I’ve built, it’s based off of the elements air, water, fire, and earth, and was also based in scientific symbiosis of these elements. Beyond researching these science connections, I also have looked into space science to try to make my world as close to realistic as possible. I also have done a lot of research on the writing process in general for writing comics, and have been self-training in illustration as well.

7. When did you write your first book and how old were you?

I had a poem published in an anthology when I was in high school, in a book called Surfacing by Polar Expressions Publishing. My first official self-published book is called The Life of a Shadow, and it was published when I was twenty-eight!

8. What do you like to do when you're not writing?

When I’m not writing, I like to read, draw, or explore outside! I live in an area with a lot of trails and camping spots to explore. Summers are filled with adventures with my partner and my cat, who is leash trained!

9. What does your family think of your writing?

My first published book, The Life of a Shadow, is very special to them because the story was written by my dad. They are so grateful that I helped them turn it into a book! My next book series I think they are proud of me for creating, but the genre isn’t really appealing to them.

10.What was one of the most surprising things you learned about yourself in creating your books (characters, location, plot)?

Definitely the most surprising thing was how characters can actually come to life. There were moments my characters would tell me that they wouldn’t say or do what I was writing for them. Before experiencing this, I would have thought a writer were crazy if they described their characters talking to them

11.What is it you particularly like about the genre you write?

There are so many things I love about graphic novels: they’re for everybody, they encourage hesitant readers to give reading a try, they’re very handy when teaching reading strategies (such as inferencing), they come in diverse genres (not just superheroes), they allow writers to convey mood and foreshadowing using images, you can reread them without being bored, and so much more! I specifically chose this genre for my story because I want my readers to experience the images I see in my mind through colour palette and lighting tones, not just in the way I describe the scene.

12.Do you have any suggestions to help others become writers? If so, what are they?

I love the quote “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting” by Robert Graves – once you start to understand that writing involves the entire process of drafting, editing, revising, getting feedback from readers, and repeating, then you can understand that anyone can write something amazing, it just might take a few drafts to get there!

13.Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

Readers of The Life of a Shadow say that their kids love the story because it reminds them that they are loved. Many readers say they want to buy extra copies for people they know who are expecting a baby soon. They also have told me that they love the shadow puppets at the back of the book and have spent a lot of time playing with these with their children!

14.Do you like to create books for your target audience?

Yes! My target audience for my graphic novel is for high school students (and hopefully some adults too) because I’d like to use it in my classroom. Of course I love this age group and look forward to sharing my joy of reading and writing with them. They also get very excited and impressed that I can do more than just teach, and that my passion in our English class extends to my own life.

15.What do you think makes a good story?

Two things I think a good story need are in depth worldbuilding, and likeable characters that grow during the story. I know that worldbuilding is more common in fantasy, and that’s probably what draws me to fantasy stories. I just love when the societies within have an intricate history and are structured with purpose and detail. I know Harry Potter is always referred to, but I think it’s just such a good example – she builds places, and types of people and creatures, languages, economy, political structure, culture, everything! It really feels like its own place, and that’s what draws people into it. In my own series, it took quite a while, but I’ve been building all this history and culture into it too – it must be there in order for the story to feel real.

16.How do you handle writers block and what do you tell other aspiring authors who may be fighting or fearful about hitting that wall?

Honestly, when I hit writer’s block, I just take a break. I switch gears and go into research mode or illustration mode until the block goes away. This is my tip for other writers too. You can try to fumble through it and push through the part your stuck on, but if that doesn’t feel right, just take a break. I believe creativity takes a lot of energy; sometimes we run dry, and that’s okay. Just take a break, and let that creativity storage refill!

Final Note:

I have to admit her story and reason for writing this book touched me in so many ways. It's all encompasses the delight of family. How her family is the cornerstone to why she chose this particular book as her debut book to be published. It's refreshing to see how her love for familial history and storytelling was the catalyst for her desire to publish her work. Not only are her words near and dear to her, the illustrations are hers too. This is a book I am definitely adding to my sons library.

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