Hello, my Lovelies! How did your week go? Mine was good. So this week I interviewed a fellow author named Leslie Conzatti. Okay, so lets learn about Leslie .
1.) I see you are a Christian. How has that influenced you as a writer?
I believe that a writer’s beliefs have a major impact on their writing, whether directly or indirectly. My faith influences my writing in big and small ways: not necessarily that every story references God, or that all my protagonists possess the highest morals, or I only write about ideas that coincide with Biblical truths–but the things I believe do affect the way that I write. I believe that my faith does give my stories a distinct moral center, and the stories I write do stay, for the most part, relatively clean. I might not consider myself a “Christian author”, or that what I write is “Christian fiction”–but I am a Christian who writes fiction.
2.) I noticed you also have a blog. Did you start blogging or writing novels first?
That depends on what you consider “writing novels”! I started writing stories as early as eight years old. By the time I started “The Upstream Writer” in 2013, I’d participated in NaNoWriMo (the “Fifty Thousand-Word Novel In Thirty Days” Challenge) twice–so in a sense, those were my first “written novels”, and the whole reason I started a blog was to share my writing and my thoughts on literature and whatnot with the general public, for free, just to get feedback and see what people might say about my writing. I added indie book reviews as a feature shortly after beginning the blog, just to gain even more visibility. (and also to support the indie author community!) Seven years later, I’m still going strong with serials, articles, and book reviews galore!
3.) Which do you find easier, blogging or writing a novel?
They are very different activities, I can say that much! I feel like sometimes the serials I post most on my blog feel a lot like novels–in some ways, the writing for a blog serial doesn’t necessarily have to be as polished as I would make a novel. Blogging is also more gratifying in the short-term because once I write something, I can post it and get feedback from it. While writing a novel, the only person who sees it before its final draft is mostly me, maybe an editor, and a beta-reader–and that’s only if I’m going to publish it.
So to answer the question, blogging is definitely easier, from shorter planning times, to shorter duration from start to finish. But I very much enjoy writing novels and dreaming up blog posts equally!
4.) If you could have one of you novels made into a movie which one would you chose?
Oh gosh! Well, one that would be really fun, that I already have “head-cast”, sort of, would be the novel I wrote for the 2016 NaNoWriMo, called The Amazon Triangle. It started with a couple random scenes I dreamed up one night, (and managed to remember with enough clarity to make notes for it!), a sudden hankering for another crazy adventure film like the movie Sahara that starred Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, and Steve Zahn in an adventure that spanned exotic locations, conspiracy theories, action and history, and the discovery that two incredible actors whose skill and works I have very much enjoyed–Tom Hanks and Jeremy Irons–both had sons who also happened to be very capable actors: Colin Hanks and Max Irons. Over the course of several months, I hatched a plan that involved the Bermuda Triangle, the Amazon Rainforest, a race of shapeshifting warrior women who transformed into silvery mermaids underwater, and the conspiracy of the Japanese Holdouts, who somehow “missed the memo” about the end of World War 2, and apparently took a while to convince that the world had ceased fighting each other for the time being. (My brain: What if they didn’t realize that the War had ended because a whole platoon got stuck in a time loop?) I also threw in a mother and daughter for the plot (hence the “triangles” happening with relationships as well as a reference to the geological Triangle!), and basically imagined Meryl Streep and Grace Gummer in the roles. Fun times! (You can read the novel and enjoy the mental images on Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/story/92310529-the-amazon-triangle-nanowrimo-2016-project)
5.) Who is your favorite character out of each book?
I assume you’re referring to the four books I have listed on my Amazon Author Page: Princess of Undersea, Dreamtime Dragons, Cracks in The Tapestry, and Myths and Monsters. Out of those four, the only one that I can call “all mine” is actually Princess of Undersea. The rest are all anthologies, full of short stories from multiple authors, myself included.
From Princess of Undersea, I think my favorite character is probably Giles. When I originally wrote it, I fully intended it to be a straight mash-up of the Disney version and the original tale, so having a character who was a combination of Sebastian’s paranoia and anxiety, coupled with Grimsby’s prim and proper aloofness was hilarious to think about… and then Giles happened on the scene, and he was so kind and considerate of Ylaine, while the other characters were either ignoring her or actively seeking her downfall… He turned out to be a stronger, nobler character and I didn’t have the heart to change him back, and the story is all the better for it!
In DREAMTIME DRAGONS, my story “Arthur and The Egg” features a newly-hatched dragon who takes the name “Truck” and I found him absolutely delightful to write!
In CRACKS IN THE TAPESTRY, my story is called “Heartsong”, and my favorite character is probably Kellan, who starts out as a captive of a siren who finds herself unable to drown him… and he ends up turning around and learning more about her, in the process.
As I mentioned earlier, my story in MYTHS AND MONSTERS is “The Water-Man” and my favorite character is absolutely the shapeshifting cryptid Celian (like “Celia” but with an N at the end). I drew inspiration from Celtic folklore, like Selkies and Kelpies, to invent my own creature, the Leonie—which is the kind of creature Celian is. He becomes human for the first time and befriends a twelve-year-old girl and her widowed father and he’s just the sweetest seven-foot “cinnamon roll” you could ever meet!
I have a fourth anthology out, pictured on my Facebook Author Page but not on my Amazon page (because the publisher decided to list it differently) but it’s the second volume of stories by the same group that did DREAMTIME DRAGONS. This volume is called DREAMTIME DAMSELS AND FATAL FEMMES. I wrote a twist on Little Red Riding Hood called “Red, The Wolf” and it’s about a lycanthrope dubbed “Lady Red” who guards this little mountain village—until the day she suffers a wound that stops her from changing out of her wolf form, and she’s taken away from the village by an unsuspecting traveler and his pet wolf who has taken a shine to Red, no matter how many tones she rebuffs him. I loved writing the character of Red in that story, figuring out how she would act and behave, having both wolf instincts and human sensibilities!
7.) Do you have more books planned for the future?
Always and forever! One just has to look at the number of books I have listed on “The Shelf” or under “The ReBible Series” on my blog to see the sheer number of books and series I hope to someday write, to say nothing of the ones that I’ve written in the past that I very much would like to go back and re-write.
For now, I’ve got at least two series that are going to be a sure thing: Princess of Undersea, which I plan to release in the fall, will the first of a 4-book series, and I’m plugging away at a full-length fantasy novel that will also be a 4-book series.
8.) Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing? And Why?
Currently, I am in the midst of my first time self-publishing, so I’m not sure how this is going to go, but my first novella was traditionally published–at least, by a small-press publisher. There are a lot of horror stories out there about small presses basically taking the story away from the author and reserving the rights and changing things about the story and not allowing the author to have input in the cover, even… But my first publishing experience wasn’t like that. The publisher was patient with me, assisted me all along the way, and allowed me to have input over basically everything. The only out-of-pocket I paid was a reduced rate for my first box of books (and technically registering the copyright, too), so that was nice. The whole reason I’m able to go back and re-publish this book by myself is due to his gracious suggestion and a mutual agreement between us–and I definitely think that having that positive first experience alleviated a lot of the anxiety I felt, and gave me enough confidence to move forward now! It’s great!
9.) How does your book ‘Princess of Undersea’ differ from the original ‘Little Mermaid’?
Lots of ways! I definitely tweaked it enough to be original. One of the major ways I deviated from a lot of the different iterations of the famous tale is that I didn’t take the mermaid’s voice away entirely. See, that was a huge problem I had with the way the story is always told–she has no voice, no real way of communicating with the humans, so she could be easily dismissed and ignored right up until the very end… if she’s lucky. Most of the time (the original tale included) the Prince just forgets about her entirely and she fails in what she sets out to do! I wanted to explore how the story would definitely end up differently, were the mermaid allowed to retain her voice–albeit I did give her a stutter that she wouldn’t be able to overcome. That way, the Prince would have to learn a whole lot of patience and be really committed to hearing her out every time she spoke.
A second thing that I changed about the story is the princess’ motivation for going on land. In the original tale, she saves a drowning human and immediately wants to go ashore and find him because she’s fallen in love, right? Yeah, I definitely needed to raise the stakes on that! So instead, Ylaine (my main character) is motivated to become human because her father is trying to inspire the other Merfolk to declare war on the humans–Ylaine wants to find out for herself if they’re as malicious and evil as her father claims they are. She is certain that if she finds the man she saved, she can convince him to be the representative for the humans in front of her father, and the King of the Merpeople will see that he is mistaken and call off the war. Sure, love might play into it as Ylaine learns more about the humans and in particular the one she meets–but it’s certainly not her first goal, or her main motivation. She just wants to bring peace between the realms.
There are quite a few other changes: the look of the Merpeople, the way the villain operates in the background to achieve their own goals, and more–but I don’t want to spoil too much! I can at least promise that you’ve probably never heard “The Little Mermaid” like this before–yet there are still elements that will feel familiar about the story, bringing all the nostalgia of fairy tales back to the reader!
10.) What is your favorite character you have created? Why? What book are they from?
Ooh, good question! I feel like every story I write has at least one character who is ridiculously fun to write, and imagine them reacting to various events through the story. That being said, I’m going to have to mention a second time and give a bit more detail about one particular character who I kind of got really attached to: Celian from the story “The Water-Man”, currently available in the anthology MYTHS AND MONSTERS.
The story started as a really bizarre and creepy nightmare of sorts, swapping between scenes of a knife-wielding murderer and impressions of a father and daughter on a beach, encountering a strange-looking eel-whale-like creature who in the dream transformed into a man. (who looked a lot like Adrien Brody, for whatever reason!) I became fascinated with this part in particular: what sort of creature would that be? Why did he change? What was his story? Being able to also tie in the murder part of the dream was more of a “fun challenge” I threw into the story, just to mix it up a bit.
In the process of writing it, I began to picture Celian’s interactions with the other characters through his eyes: he’s familiar with a large part of humanity, because he is able to leave the water by taking the form of a land creature. He’s never actually been human because he can only shift through physical contact–hence, when the young girl, Madi, reaches out to touch the wounded creature she sees on the beach, it allows him to shift and change, and he has a whole new form to explore with. His understanding of being human comes mostly from Madi’s memories, which he could glimpse as he shifted, so he’s got some concept of social propriety and modesty and such–but at the same time, he’s quite perceptive, can perhaps pick up on nonverbal cues with the instincts of his creature nature.
Celian has to be careful, though. His shifting abilities allows him to pick up the memories and instincts of whatever he mimics, but if he is in an alternate form, and he sees something that triggers a memory from a different form, he’ll start to lose his current form. Like in one scene, he’s human, and he sees something that triggers a memory from when he was, say, a bird–and the consequence is that he starts changing back into a Leonie, right there on land! That was a fun scene to write. Also being able to write a story that’s not obsessing over throwing two adults into a romantic relationship, but building a simple friendship between a young girl and an adult man into a fairy tale has a unique sort of magic that I really loved!
11.) Has your blog helped improve your writing?
One of the biggest ways I think blogging has helped my writing is it really helped me think small. Before I started blogging and penning serials and whatnot, I couldn’t write a short story to save my life. All my plot ideas felt too complex and overblown to ever fit in something shorter than ten pages… Then, as the blog entered its first summer, I got an idea of how to write something fresh every week, without having to think too hard. I called it “The Suggestion Box”, and the basic idea was that I decided I could write a story starting with just four components: a name, to give me a sense of at least one character in the story; a time, to help me decide the setting; a place, to give me a genre, of sorts; and an object, which would serve to help me develop some kind of conflict for it. I then contacted a bunch of different creative friends and relatives, asking them to give me suggestions for each of those four things, just the first that came to mind, not necessarily connected. Once I got the list, I challenged myself to come up with a story idea that incorporated all four things and write it, in as many scenes as I could come up with on the spot. Once I had referenced all four things, I could end the scene wherever I wanted.
This exercise freed me from having to see an idea all the way to its completion. You can read them all on my blog, under the “Serial Saturdays” tab. The biggest lesson that blogging has taught me is how to develop a plot line in less space than a novel takes. I learned how to communicate ideas in a few sentences, rather than mucking my way through an epic journey. I learned how to write variety into my characters, how to let them have their own unique personalities. I learned how to communicate setting without dumping all the information at once.
12.) What is one thing you wish you knew before becoming an author/blogger?
I wish I knew more of a solid, consistent writing group. It took me a very long time to step out of my comfort zone and find people who were like me, who shared my tastes or at least my enthusiasm for story–and even from there, it has still taken me a very long time to find out what I need to know about the publishing process, both in having contacts in the business, and what it might take for self-publishing. Even now, I don’t really have a consistent group that I meet with, to give me feedback, and it feels very stagnating at times. So that would be my advice: if you’re at all interested in writing, get you a friend group who will support you in that, team up with a supportive family member, and just look out for people who share your enthusiasm, so you can both feel supported by the other’s energy when yours is waning!
13.) Is fantasy the only genre you write in? If not what other genre do you write in?
Thanks to blogging, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve dabbled in a bunch of other genres, like steampunk, sci-fi, cyberpunk, romance, and even a bit of supernatural and horror. Most of what I’ve published so far, though, is fantasy in various subgenres.
14.) How do you handle criticism of your work?
I’d like to think I handle it pretty well! I try to keep the idea in my mind that my skill is always growing, that there’s always a “different” way to tell the story, whether I agree with the commenter that another way is “better” or not. Especially with comments from an editor suggesting changes in a manuscript, I’ve found more often than not that most of the time, the changes end up making the story so much better than I originally wrote it. Sometimes, I have very specific reasons for writing a certain scene or a character precisely the way that I did, and so I have plenty of reasons why it needs to stay that way, and I won’t budge about it. But, as I’ve learned during the “renovating” of Princess of Undersea, as long as I’m still learning and practicing and growing, even the work that I considered “the best I can do” four years ago has been much improved by the simple fact that I understand more about writing and storytelling now than I did then.
We’ll just have to see how it feels later on, when I will inevitably receive a scathing review–it’s bound to happen at some point. Hopefully not before I have a stockpile of rave reviews with which to console myself!
15.) What do you feel is the most important aspect of writing? Of blogging?
Definitely I’ve learned that one of the most important aspects of blogging is to have an attention-grabbing title, and a good thumbnail image–it makes a huge difference for whether or not your post gets noticed! Unfortunately I didn’t realize this for a good portion of the first couple years I blogged, so there are about a hundred or so posts without proper formatting and no thumbnail images… and so they kind of languish in the background. Also, if you’re going to use random images pulled from the Internet–make sure those links don’t expire without your knowledge. Many times I’ve gone back to share an old post, only to discover that the thumbnail image isn’t viable anymore… and if it’s just a random post that I felt like fit the point I was trying to make, it makes it that much harder to find again!
As for writing, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that there is always more to learn. Just like the way I look at criticism and critique, a draft is never really “finished”, even after it is published. I can always find room for improvement. If any kind of negative comments get you down and make you feel like you want to give up writing, take a break and ask yourself: “Which is more important? To write, or to be adored?” Because I have seen writers whose skill leaves much to be desired, but they are hawking their works like it’s the next big book-to-film adaptation, and the only reviews are positive ones… But if it’s not actually very good, and there is zero character connection, the dialogue is stilted, and the story is only half-baked at best… Is it really worth anyone’s while? It almost feels like that sort of author just wants to write whatever and wants people to like it, without investing too much in the actual skill of writing. On the other hand, there are those who perceive that they have worked very hard and they share a bit of their writing on some platform or whatever, and the moment anyone says “It’s good, but…” they respond with a long diatribe of “I suck and I am giving up writing and deleting the whole thing”–but how often has that attitude actually worked for anyone? How committed are you to the activity of writing? Will you keep writing even if only a few of your stories ever see the light of day? Does it still fill you with delight, from the second or third draft to your eighth or ninth? Are you willing to scrap whole scenes and revise them wholesale, or is the way you write just “the way you write, take it or leave it”? Because more often than not, you might find that most people choose to leave it… and then where does that leave you?
Keep an open mind, keep a willing attitude, and for everyone’s sake, keep writing!
16.) Thank you for taking time out of your day, I have one last question. If your book ‘Dreamtime Dragons’ became a motion picture who would you want to star in it?
As I’ve mentioned before, DREAMTIME DRAGONS is an anthology, so only one of the stories is mine. Ergo, I can only speak for “Arthur and The Egg”… but if that was ever turned into a short film, I think probably an actor like Noah Schnapp would be great for the role of Arthur… Not sure who I’d want to voice Truck, though… Gregg Sulkin, maybe?
This was a fun interview! Thanks so much for having me!
What a fun interview this was. Thanks again Leslie for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. If you would like to learn more or check out Leslie’s books here are her social media links.