Lesile L. Golden is currently working on not one, not two, but three books and is somehow still finding the time to consistently update her blog The Istoriaphile’s Corner. She also recently published an e-book called Season’s Suite that’s all about the stories found in nature.
But Leslie’s writing work ethic isn’t the only reason she’s the See Jane Write Collective Member of the Month for August 2019. She was nominated by Audrey Atkins, author of They Call Me Orange Juice and the SJW member of the month for June 2018.
“In addition to being an awesomely talented wordsmith, she is enthusiastically and unfailingly supportive of every Jane in the group,” Audrey said of Leslie. “She offers feedback that is thoughtful and helpful, she is sincerely complimentary, and she shares careful and constructive criticism. It is this kind of writerly and friendly rapport that I came to See Jane Write to find, and I absolutely did in Leslie.”
In this interview, I chat with Leslie about her blog and her books, writing tips, and why she loves See Jane Write.
Tell us more about your blog, the inspiration behind it, and what readers can expect.
Honestly, blogging was never my first intention. My dream was to be a novelist and playwright. But the old crippling anxiety held me back for decades until college teachers said, “Yes, you can write.” I graduated with a first draft of a kid’s novel in my pocket, but I had no idea what to do next. My friend, Mary Jean LaMay, read the book and said, “Now you’ve got to get a blog.”
A blog? Was she kidding? It took me forever to write a decent-sized book. Now she wanted a blog? But Mary Jean pointed out (rightly) that the publishing business had just turned inside out. Instead of publishing writers whose work should find an audience, the industry wanted authors who already had solid fans. And blogging was a self-starter way to send your voice out and (hopefully) get it heard.
I may not have been sure about blogging, but I had a subject I loved talking about: stories. I love stories and the power they hold. Tell a kid a tale and watch their eyes open up. Lives can change when they hear the right story. The right story can ease a broken heart or heal a wounded nation. Stories have toppled prejudices and powerful heads of state. And stories have brought justice back to the world.
So, I started The Istoriaphile’s Corner: A Space for the Stories that Follow You Home because I believe that’s what the best stories do: They follow you home and make a place in your heart, like a stray kitten or a dear friend. I talk a lot about other people’s stories in my blog, and sometimes, what makes a story work, but lately, I’ve been adding some tales of my own. Right now, I’m running a series of my father’s knee-slappers. He was a gifted storyteller, but he never wrote them down while he lived, and I don’t want them forgotten now. So I’m re-telling them as the man told them to me. And, in a way, my Daddy’s still here.
If blog visitors sign up for your email list, they’ll get a free copy of your new e-book. Tell us about that.
Did I mention I like stories? Well to me, nature has its own narrative, that change with the seasons of the year. And I’m lucky enough to live fairly close to nature, so I wrote some of those short stories down. Those chronicles, with the pictures I took, became (what else?) Seasons Suite, an Istoriaphile’s Almanac. And it’s free for anyone who’d like a copy.
What books are you currently working on?
The Plucky Orflings is deep in its third revision and pretty close to finished. It’s about two sisters in Victorian England who declare war on each other until they have to fight together for their Dad. Then, there’s The Broadmoore Incident, a grown-up’s Mystery/Crime/Gothic set in the Deep South at the beginning of the 20th century. Friendship in the Wind is about the Highland Clearances when 30 percent of the people who lived there were forced from their homes and scattered throughout the world. It’s a heartbreaking story the Proclaimers wrote about in their song, “Letter from America.” I wanted to trace how an event like that would affect three young, tightly knit friends. Alternating between the three stories helps with my perpetual writer’s block. When I dry up on one book, I switch to another. And I have other stories waiting in line.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of your work not only on your blog but also in members-only critique sessions, and I must say that you are an amazing storyteller. What do you do to hone this craft?
Stephen King says to write well, you have to do two things religiously: you have to write, and you have to read every day. I was a late arrival to the King fan-train, but I’ve watched him improve with the years, and he’s telling the truth. You have to read, and you have to read widely, but you need to read with an active eye.
For example, The Graveyard Book is a brilliant book, and a master-class in great writing, but if you read it for entertainment, you’ll never see why it’s great. Go back and re-read it, slowly this time, and watch how Neil Gaiman paces his story. When does he bring in what characters, and how much does he reveal about them? How does he keep some scary scenes at a distance, but bring other terrors close? And that narrative voice – that’s the voice you hear in your head when your eyes slide over the words. Gaiman’s is a singular, recognizable voice and one of the best parts of the Graveyard Book. Each writer needs to hone his or her unique voice, but that starts with studying how someone else’s words sing. And as you train your own voice, you learn to edit.
What advice would you give to people looking to improve their writing skills?
The best trick I know for improving your prose is to read your work out loud. When you’re writing, it’s easy to get lost in a compound sentence. I do it all the time. And when you read silently, your eyes slide over the words. You don’t see the weak spots and mistakes. But read those words out loud and, Ouch! You can hear what’s wrong, like sour notes in good music.
During my first draft of The Plucky Orflings, my husband read each day’s pages out loud. I listened to every sentence. Boy, the clinkers that came off of those pages! The words I skipped or drowned deep in dull phrases. It was embarrassing. But hearing each sentence gave me the chance to fix it right there while I sat at the keyboard. And I hammered away until each paragraph worked. So I write, read-aloud and re-write. Then I read it out loud again.
Why have you been such a loyal member of See Jane Write for so long? What do you enjoy most about the SJW community?
Well, this gets back to Mary Jean again. Right after she said, “You need a blog.” she added, “and you need to join See Jane Write.” Well, I’ve been in love with the idea of writers circles ever since I learned about some great ones in the past. Problem is, I never thought I’d qualify! Unlike the members of the Vicious Circle at the Algonquin, or the Harlem Renaissance Writers Group, or the Inklings, or the Bloomsbury Set, my day job’s not in the literary world. And, when it comes to meeting new people, I’m a split personality: In my head, I’m as brave as Dorothy Gale; in real life, I’m her Cowardly Lion.
When I joined SJW, I knew if I wanted to write I needed like-minded friends to keep me writing, friends who understood the terror of an empty page and banged their heads on the desk at times in frustration. But I needed a community who cared for me as a person, though not as much as they cared about the writing.
When I came to y’all, I weighed 285 pounds, and I was terrified to walk in the door. I was afraid I’d look like just one more pathetic, middle-aged, frightened, fat lady with a fragile ambition to write. As I watched and I listened, I learned we had a few things in common: we all wanted to write, and everyone was terrified. No one mentioned weight; no one mentioned age. No one mentioned things that made us all different. But when I lost weight, the members of See Jane Write celebrated with me just like my family and Weight Watchers sisters. And if I regain a few pounds, that’s not the end of SJW world. Because our main focus is words. And when the time came, See Jane Write listened to me tell my weight-loss story.
So, am I loyal? Try getting rid of me! I’m sticking to SJW like glue! I need writers who can help me improve and writers I can help, too. I need you with your generous heart, and writing prompts that push me beyond the blank screen. Writing can be a lonely, soul-killing gig, and literary success an impossible dream. But SJW makes all of that okay. It takes an impossible dream and turns it into real life.
Who should be the next See Jane Write Member of the Month? Send your nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t be afraid to nominate yourself! Not a member? Apply to join here.