‘Hi, I’m Todd and I’m an addict…’ I stared into the watery black coffee in my cup, searching for answers that weren’t there.
~ from THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE
Leesa Freeman stopped by the blog in November with a guest post about her journey to publication. I invited her back to talk more about her debut novel and some of the decisions she made when writing the book.
THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE tells the story of a young man on his path of self-discovery, navigating relationships (old and new) while doing his best to stay sober. When I read this book, I wanted to ask Leesa about common issues all writers face: writing from unfamiliar perspectives, tackling intimate scenes, and tried and true advice.
I’m honored Leesa returns for an interview and am offering a giveaway at the end. Drop your name in the comments for a chance to win a signed copy of THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE (random.org will choose the winner on Tuesday, January 14th).
Now, welcome Leesa!
CC: Writing a novel challenges an author in many ways, the choice of perspective being one. THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE is told through the eyes of a young man who, after a football injury, becomes addicted to drugs and lands in rehab. What was the biggest hurdle in starting out from this point of view (which I imagine was foreign to you in a myriad of ways)?
LF: When the idea for this story came to me, there wasn’t a question in my mind that it had to be told from Todd’s point of view. There was a lot I didn’t know about him – that he was a recovering addict, for instance – but I had this overall idea about who he was and just couldn’t get him out of my mind. That said, I had no idea how to write as a guy and the last thing I wanted was for it to come off as some stereotypical dude, or worse, a chick’s schmaltzy version of a guy. I spent a long time writing some really bad stuff, paralyzed and struggling until I realized something fundamental: I wasn’t writing a guy who happened to be a person, but a person who happened to be a guy. Once I figured that out, writing Todd became much easier because those fears and inhibitions began to disappear.
CC: I don’t typically ask this next kind of question, but here goes. I’ve read my share of sex scenes in books: some smooth and well-written; others thrown at the reader in such a way that is more jarring than exciting (and even a bit rude). The passionate moments in your book unfold naturally within the storyline and never feel gratuitous. There’s a real art to making those kinds of scenes work. I have avoided writing sex so far; my stories haven’t called for it, but I admit I’d be hesitant to try even if they did. From a craft perspective, what’s one tip you could offer a scaredy-cat like me?
LF: I guess the most important thing advice I can give is to write for yourself first. That includes sex scenes as well as anything else. If I sit wondering how a reader will react to how a scene happens, I’ll never write anything. I can’t predict what will turn a reader on – or off – and I don’t try. What I do try to do is figure out what will turn my characters on, what will satisfy them, then I make sure that those scenes add to, rather than detract from the overall story. If it is sex just for sex’s sake, it gets deleted, but if it needs to be there to enhance the story and move it forward, then it stays.
CC: Tell us about your next big project.
LF: I’m in the process of looking for an agent for my novel Into the Deep End about a young man, Luke Stevenson, who has been talked into (guilted into?) working at a summer camp for kids with Spina Bifida. As a paraplegic, he has more in common with the kids than he realizes, but he is still angry from the car accident and mourning the death of his twin sister. It takes Luke time to understand that his personality is not dependent on his body, nor is his capacity to love another dependent on his ability to walk.
CC: What are you reading these days?
LF: I just finished John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, which I loved, but I’ll read just about anything so long as it is well-written, has fascinating characters, and a rich storyline.
CC: What is one piece of writing advice that has stuck with you throughout your journey?
LF: I love the Holley Gerth quote, “Be courageous and write in a way that scares you a little.” What that means to me is I can be complacent and write something that simply skims the surface of a topic, and it may be lovely and beautiful, but I don’t know that surface writing can truly touch the reader. I don’t believe that surface writing will stay with the reader long after they close the book. To create something memorable, I need to push myself, scare myself, and explore the depths of my own emotions so the reader can also explore the depths of the character’s emotions. That is my job, and if I do it well, perhaps my characters will become as real to the reader as they do to me, not just words on a page, but living and breathing people with their own hopes, dreams, and fears.
A native Texan, Leesa Freeman enjoys escaping the chill of New England, if only in her imagination, often setting her stories in the places she loved growing up. Some of her favorite moments are the ones where it’s just her, her Mac, and simply conversing with the people who live inside her head, and sharing their lives with those who take the time to read her stories. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters, where she is also an artist, avid baker, a self-proclaimed music snob, and recovering Dr. Pepper addict. Visit her website and follow her on Facebook.
Don’t forget: Leave your name in the comments for a chance to win a copy of THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.