Around the Globe with JOHN LEONARD

It’s a cold October day here in Iowa, but I’m heading south, specifically Georgia, more specifically Savannah, even more specifically, just outside Savannah, with this week’s featured author. All I said to him was I wanted warmth, and music and good food.

Soon, we’re enjoying reggae music, waves on the beach, the black and white Tybee lighthouse in the distance. We’re on the back deck of the North Beach Grill on Tybee Island and I don’t wanna go home.

1.    Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

Atlanta is a pretty big city with quite a few famous people, but I think a number of people will still find me interesting because of the range and variety of my work. There’s a little bit of something for just about anyone. Of my five published books, three just won gold medals from the Readers’ Favorite book awards: under my pen name “Rocky” Leonard, my thriller novel titled Secondhand Sight won first place in the Fiction/Horror category. Two nonfiction books also took top awards; Always a Next One: tales of dog fostering won in the Animals category, and Counterargument for God won in the Religion/Philosophy category.

2.    Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

The key to the success I’ve managed as a writer thus far has been my partnership with my wife, who serves as manuscript appraiser, cover designer, editor, copy editor, and has become small imprint publisher extraordinaire. The main reason my books received positive reviews and more recently won awards is because I have a very talented editor who’s willing to sleep with me.

3.   What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as a deep sea diver? 

I haven’t always been a writer; I was a software developer for twenty years. My high school English teacher told me years ago that I could develop the raw talent God had given me, if I’d only stop killing my brain cells and focus on doing good work. Better late than never, I like to think. My desire to express my gratitude for that talent helped inspire my books Divine Evolution and Counterargument for God.

4.   Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

Today, I think I’d like to have dinner with John Sandford. Yesterday, that answer would have probably been Michael Connelly, and tomorrow could be T. Jefferson Parker. I’d want to talk to Mr. Sandford about his Virgil Flowers novels. I also like his Lucas Davenport novels, but Virgil Flowers is an awesome character, and it seems to bring out his very best work, writing him. All three of these writers are masters of the craft.

5.   If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book(s) be great company?

Always a Next One would be great airport reading, I think. It’s a collection of short stories that are pretty quick reading, and it could probably be completed in four hours. The other two books I’ve mentioned might make good reading on the deserted island, the choice depending on whether or not you expected to survive the experience. If you expected to be rescued fairly quickly, Secondhand Sight is a riveting paranormal thriller, so reviewers have said. Even though it’s over 400 pages, they turn quickly. It grabs you from the first sentence and doesn’t let go. On the other hand, if you despair that you might die on the island without ever being rescued, perhaps my book Counterargument for God would be better for cheering you up.

6.   Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.

When I start on a novel, I try to map out the plot in a synopsis as soon as possible, but I don’t let the lack of one stop me from capturing a great scene or dialog that belongs with the story as soon as it comes to me. In my first novel Coastal Empire, a very important sequence took place in Bonaventure Cemetery down in Savannah, so I spent hours walking around the place, talking into my voice recorder, making verbal notes that eventually translated into several action chapters in the book. A novel currently in development with the working title Premonition has a very important location that my wife created for me, using my descriptions, and Adobe Photoshop. The number of edits and rewrites depend on how long it takes me to capture the voice I want. When I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about something I’m working on or planning to write.

7.   “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

Join a writer’s group. Listen to how other people go about their work. I’m pretty sure nobody would want to copy the insanity that is my writing schedule. I usually work on several things at once. I’ve been known to draft a novel, put it aside, and write another one before editing the first. I don’t feel like I have enough time to say everything I want, or at least, it takes longer than I’d like for me to get a book completely ready for publication. I wish I had laser-like focus, but too much of my day is work, work, work…oh look, a butterfly! Train of thought just got derailed, and I’m off in another direction. You’d have to be insane to copy the method of my madness.

8.   I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” what is your philosophy of life?

My philosophy of life is that it’s a journey that’s simply too short to be wasted, so set some goals and figure out a way to meet them.

9.   Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

Stop writing? Are you kidding? I’ve got two novels that will be finished and edited by the first of next year, if not published. Premonition, the sequel to Coastal Empire, is next. I’ve got another half dozen plot outlines, ideas, book titles, the whole nine yards. It will be years before I have to worry about writer’s block.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

My website is www.southernprose.com, where I blog and have information about books, articles, interviews, etc. The publisher’s website is www.eachvoicepub.com.

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