Author Interview: Leslie Conzatti

1. We’ll skip the “tell us about yourself” because coming up with something on the spot is, truly, the bane of an author’s existence. So, let’s start with something a little easier! Tell me what you’re working on at the moment.

Haha, I don’t actually mind telling a bit about myself–I’ve done a fair few interviews by now and I’m pretty practiced at knowing which bits people are actually interested in, and how much qualifies as “TMI”!

But anyway, moving on to the question of “what I’m working on”: Lots! At the time I’m writing this (mid-October), I’ve worked my way down to “only” three projects in-progress, and I’m trying to get as much of those out of the way as I can, before I commence the new one!

Two of them are serials for my blog, The Upstream Writer–usually I try to keep them pretty short, but sometimes I hit a premise or a group of characters that are just way too much fun to work with, and things kind of explode–but in a “glitter bomb” kind of way, not the “firebomb” kind!

The first is called “Priscilla Sum”, and it’s about a girl in college studying archaeology, when she accidentally exposes the fact that her adoptive parents are a pair of minor gods disguised as mortals… just when their arch-nemesis, a powerful demon, escapes from his ancient containment and is about to acquire the amulet that will enable him to control said gods–and by extension, the entire minor pantheon. She ends up on the island dedicated to the worship of her parents, at an archaeological dig orchestrated by followers of the demon, with a handful of classmates, and they’ve got to find the ancient hidden temple where the amulet was hidden, get to it before the professional archaeologists do, and try to smuggle it off the island without the demon finding out! I’ve been writing this one since January, and I’m still only “almost done”!

The second project is the serial I’m going to be posting more frequently after “Priscilla Sum” is done–I started with the first couple installments already, when I thought I was closer to the end of “Priscilla Sum” than I actually was… But anyway!

It’s a continuation of a serial I ran a couple years back, called “The Clan of Outcasts.” That, in itself, was inspired by a bunch of “character inspiration” pictures, fantasy artwork shared by an author fan-group I’m in. I envisioned this story of super-powered individuals (called “Gifted”) in a very generic fantasy-type setting, except it’s more of a “fantasypunk” treatment, as there are things such as electricity and guns. When it first began, I thought it was just going to be a story about a small group of these individuals who band together (the “outcasts” who become the “clan”) and use their abilities to find the missing Crown Prince, overthrow the corrupt government who took over when the king died, and reinstate the Prince as the rightful king. Well! That was “season one”, anyway… but the villains weren’t finished, and their escape revealed the existence of two even more powerful beings on either side–one trying to use the Gifted to foster chaos and pit the people against one another, and the other trying to stop this from happening and restore balance–and after “season two” I was sure that was going to be the end of it.

Well, the character inspiration images just kept coming, and I couldn’t resist the idea of continuing the story, revisiting old characters and incorporating new ones–and so Season Three of “The Clan of Outcasts” is underway! Three years since the end of the last season… And what has happened in those three years? Plenty! Peace and harmony still seems such a long way off, as a new threat emerges, along with new allies, and new villains–the Gifted must band together once more, because the fate of The Realm is in their hands!

The third project is the first novel in a fantasy series I started working on, back when I thought that my first-ever publication was going to be a stand-alone. It’s called The Last Inkweaver, and the premise is something like: a girl living in a world where academic study and factual representation is seen as the height of intelligence is experiencing dreams and visions she can’t explain. These dreams end up connecting her with an ancient group of crafters (Wordspinners, of which the “Inkweaver” is a sub-group) who imbued their wares with the stories they told, giving the objects and those who received them special abilities–or so the rumors state. This one has been through about three drafts in the last five years or so, and the third is still underway and will likely warrant a fourth draft–so this one is nowhere close to publishing, but I’m definitely working on it!

2. In as much detail as you would like, tell me about your book(s) that are already out/on the way.

In the category of “already out”, I have one self-published novel, and short stories in a few anthologies!

The first anthology I ever submitted to was called Dreamtime Dragons, produced by the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors–various members of a group I’m in. The story I wrote is called “Arthur and The Egg”… a dragon-themed twist on “Jack and The Beanstalk”, only instead of a young boy selling his family cow for five magic beans, climbing a beanstalk and gaining a goose that lays golden eggs, we have Arthur, who is forced to sell his father’s beat-up old truck, and the only offer he gets is a strange old man who gives him five gold coins, and he climbs a rock known as “The Egg” (but in reality, the rock is an egg, a dragon’s egg to be precise), and Arthur ends up with a newly-hatched dragon who bonds with him and takes the name Truck! The Dreamtime Fantasy Authors teamed up again a couple years later, to produce a second volume of stories, Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes, and for that one I wrote a twist on “Little Red Riding Hood” which I called “Red, The Wolf”–as you can probably tell, I made Red a wolf-shifter, and she’s the guardian of a small mountain village, protecting their shepherds and flocks from attacks from other wild predators, and defending the people from miscreants and malevolent passersby. Side note: the anthology version is an “abridgment” of the full story, which I had to kind of cut short in the interest of word-count limits and deadlines. I did go back later after the anthology released and write the complete story as a serial on my blog.

The other anthology that is out and available for purchase is called Cracks in The Tapestry, produced by another writer’s group I’m in, The Tapestry Group. For this one, I submitted the short story “Heartsong.” It was also originally a short serial I wrote for my blog, inspired by a writing prompt about the origins of sirens being the women who were cast overboard by superstitious sailors, according to the legend that a woman aboard a ship is bad luck. My concept was that these rejected women could be “reborn” as sirens, aquatic creatures with spectacular singing voices and the ability to hear the “heartsong” of any creature–like, the frequency on which their psyche operates. Singing the creature’s heartsong creates a hypnotic connection between the siren and their victim, and then the siren can change the heartsong, bending their victim’s psyche to their will, which is often encouraging them to drown. The story focuses on one particular siren who attempts to drown a potential victim–but for some strange reason, though she hears his heartsong, she cannot bring herself to sing it and finish him off. She holds him prisoner till she can figure out what makes this man so different. The Tapestry Group is currently in the process of producing a second volume of stories, called Warping the Tapestry–this time, with more of a sci-fi focus. Stay tuned for my story in that one, which is a unique take on the “superhero” genre!

Then, finally, we get to my solo project: Princess of Undersea, a fantasy re-telling of The Little Mermaid. I actually originally wrote and published it with a small-press publisher four years ago, but back then I was treating it like a stand-alone. Early this year, I decided I wanted to turn it into a series, so I worked out a plan with the publisher to kind of “branch off on my own”, made the necessary alterations to the existing story (plus a few other trouble spots that had me absolutely stymied four years ago–but by now I’d figured out how to fix them!), commissioned some cover art, hired a formatter, and voilà! “The Undersea Saga” is now a Thing That Exists!

Princess of Undersea tells the story of Ylaine, a mermaid princess with a magical Gift of Song she received from the fairies not long after she was born. Her father blames the humans for the disappearance of his wife, the Queen, and has used that anger to provoke the Merfolk into declaring war on the humans–and all that remains is to figure out the best way to make that happen. He uses Ylaine’s songs to convince the other Merfolk to agree with him and support him, while ignoring Ylaine’s own assertions that perhaps a solution can be reached if they knew more about what the humans were actually like. She’s convinced that if her father ever met an actual human, he wouldn’t be so furious at them–but the only way this could happen is if a Merperson could somehow become human. The opportunity comes along, and Ylaine is so desperate that she gives up her magical singing voice for the chance to be human. She finds an island kingdom falling apart and languishing from neglect, and meets Nathan, a prince who is dreading the day when he’ll have to assume his father’s throne and by extension the responsibility for the well-being of so many people. Not only that, but the two royals also uncover a plot that not only spells danger for those within the human kingdom, but threatens the lives of the Merfolk as well.

Starting in November, I’ll be commencing the sequel, Fugitive of Crossway. The fairy tale I’m using for inspiration in this one is the story of “Pinocchio.” It won’t necessarily focus on Nathan and Ylaine–they will appear in more of a “cameo” role–but definitely this will be the kind of sequel that expands the fictional world overall, and brings in characters and concepts that will have an influence on later books in the series!

3. As far as the writing process goes—including such things as conception of idea all the way through to money in the bank—what is the least favorite bit? (Everyone has one!)

Um, probably the worst part for me is when I have an idea that could (and probably should!) require a lot of preliminary research–like I don’t “already” know enough about it to use common sense and bluff my way through the story itself, and just fill in the specific details with research after the fact. I like to know general trivia about stuff, and I don’t mind looking up random things that fall under that category… but as far as the meticulous, rock-solid, comprehensive-type research, I tend to just put off those projects until I can accrue enough “general knowledge” to get by!

One second part that absolutely crushes me so much that my “Inner Muse” would rather come up with a billion-and-one ideas to write instead of focusing on doing it (and also where most of my procrastination happens) is rewriting. Going back over a “finished” draft and trying to figure out those parts that cannot stay as they are, that must change–or (worst of all) looking at a completed scene and knowing it needs to be different, that the way it came out was not quite the way it happened in my head… but at the same time not knowing what words could be the right ones. Sometimes, it could take anywhere from days to weeks to even months to figure out what I was trying to say! In the case of Princess of Undersea, for example, it took about four years to figure out how to communicate what I actually wanted to say in some of the dialogue exchanges!

4. Conversely, what is the bit of the writing process that gets your writery brain grinning?

When I have a premise, a “target scene”, and a climax–and I figure out the way everything works together! It’s a big moment for me when I have all these problems, perils, and scattered scenes–and I know exactly how everything is going to go down, and I know exactly why it works together so well! That’s the part of the process that keeps me happy and motivates me to write and finish a story: as long as it’s all working together, I can stay excited about it! I’m less motivated when I don’t have a clear picture of the how/why in mind ahead of time. It’s why I’ll never be an out-and-out pantser!

5. If you could steal any author’s ability to improve your own work, who would you steal from and why? (e.g. Tolkien’s language skills, Douglas Adams’ humour, etc.)

Ha! I know exactly who I’d pick!

I am very envious of the researching skills of both David Baldacci and Michael Crichton. Crichton, especially, just litters his books with quotes from scientific journals and academic papers, so thickly that you’re not entirely sure if the research is bogus or not, and it really lends an air of authenticity to even his most “far-fetched” premises! And everything that goes into a Baldacci thriller is detailed and specific enough to be vivid–I wish I had a stockpile or network of resources I knew how to use to make my writing just as believable!

I adore the enchanting fantasy styles of Naomi Novik and Cornelia Funke. Both of them create worlds and invent lore that has a gorgeous, folkish, steeped-in-tradition feel to it, and the words and mental pictures they use are just stunning. I want people to read my books and find them just as enthralling!

6. Now for some fun! The main character of the book you’re working on (or have recently finished) has kidnapped you for ruining their life. How will you explain that what you’re doing is for the best?

Hoo-boy! Well, as you can see from my answer above, I have multiple to choose from–but I think my MC from The Last Inkweaver, Callista, deserves an answer the most! I can pretty much guess at which point in her journey she’d choose to just punch right through that fourth wall and throttle me.

Callista, dear–I know it’s a lot! The dreams and the visions, the way I keep thwarting every attempt to just get back to your “old life” and try to “fit in and be normal”–the difficult decisions you find presented to you, when you don’t think you’ve had enough life experience or you don’t feel qualified to what people are asking of you…

Guess what? You are qualified. I gave you the visions and the Tales and had the Inkweaver leave you that Tapestry because you are worthy of it. Your tenacity, your intuition, the incredible burden you willingly shoulder to do the right thing–those are all hallmark traits that, in you, turn into the strength to bring about the biggest change Gramble has ever seen! Keep following that inner voice, and it will lead you to the Deep Truth that has been rooted in the back of your mind since your very first thought!

7. You, your main character(s), and the protagonist of the last book you read are playing poker. What are the stakes? Who will win and why?

Let’s see… The last book I read was Devotion by Katika Schneider–and the main protagonist was, for the most part (since it’s in the middle of a series), Matthias the White Paladin. My main characters–we’ll say of Princess of Undersea, and the sequel, Fugitive of Crossway, which gives me a handful of names: Ylaine, Nathan, Mellisande, Yssandra, Nykkola, and Simon. I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge of poker, so the stakes… We’d probably just use the chips, not actual money. It would be a friendly game, after all. Ylaine and Yssandra would be at a disadvantage because the Mer-Realm doesn’t have poker, so they’d just be fascinated by the cards and keeping track of their values and all the rules of gameplay, without being able to actually strategize; Matthias and Mellisande would actually be capable enough to strategize, Simon would be too timid to place any kind of substantial bet, and would almost never bluff; Nykkola would be the only one to have an advantage with her magical ability to glimpse into the future, and I… would be too busy trying to explain the game to the two “former Mermaids” to pay any attention to my own gameplay beyond average. Nykkola would win. (Unless Mellisande occasionally chose to use her connection with Nyk to attempt to thwart her by taking the advantage for herself)

8. Let’s face it, writing is hard. What do you think are some traps to avoid in your particular area of expertise? (Whether that be your genre, your knowledge of plot, your character building, your world building, etc.)

I discovered my “writing voice” early on–ironically, by writing fanfiction and mimicking the “voices” of the different actors or writers I was “copying.” I wrote a Chronicles of Narnia fanfiction spin-off that had some unwitting siblings-of-friends convinced that Lewis himself had written it. I’ve had commenters tell me that they can read my fanfictions and imagine the actors themselves going through those very motions. In my fairy tale re-tellings, reviewers have said I have a knack for bringing in the nostalgia of the original tale, that sense of familiarity that readers find so comfortable–while at the same time throwing in my own unique twists that keep it fresh and lively and unique. I guess you could say that my skill comes in that sweet spot between “the first inkling of an idea” and “actually having enough of an idea to start writing it.” The ability to take familiar things and concepts and turn them into something that makes a reader go “Well, actually… I haven’t heard this one before!”

I think the traps that I manage to avoid are things like “going the expected route”–I start my re-tellings by going over what exists already, reading through the original stories that are going to inspire my story, and then choosing only a few things that I can do, in order to keep the “traditional” feel of the original (Things I kept from the “original” Little Mermaid, both the Disney version and the original fairy tale: the golden shell necklace, inspired by the one Ursula wears; a boating accident that leads to the mermaid and the human crossing paths; a mermaid turning into sea foam at the end), and then looking at the rest and thinking “how can I change this?” and “If I changed this one thing, how would that change the whole story?” (For example: How would The Little Mermaid change if she actually could speak to the human prince? How differently would Beauty and The Beast turn out if the “Beauty” was actually a vain, superficial, self-obsessed debutante who cared a whole lot about appearances?) Fanfiction also gave me practice in avoiding the “expected” things, because I didn’t want to just rewrite existing canon. I approached every project with the thought “how does my headcanon actually fit within the existing canon?” I would hash out as many details as I could to ensure that my work stayed as near-canon as I could make it–which was the thing that lent an air of credibility and realism to my work.

Another trap I actively worked to avoid in developing my own voice is what I call the “reader bleed” fallacy–the mistaken idea that one must not read in the same genre one writes in, or another author’s “voice” will “taint” the writer’s work. Seriously, I’ve read stories by people who say they “don’t read” because they “don’t want another author’s voice to taint the voice in their head.” Those stories were painfully bad. The “voice” of the author had about as much nuance and natural linguistic flow as a robot from the 80’s. The dialogue was stilted and flat, and the narration was a lot more descriptions and outright telling the reader what was going on and how to feel about it, than allowing the reader to experience it and evoke their own feelings.

The way I avoid “reader bleed” is the opposite of what people think is the solution. Instead of not reading anything from the genre I want to write in–I read everything! I read multiple authors, many genres–I try to spend as much time reading as I do writing. As a matter of fact, I find that the more I read, the better I write. I can tell that I’m reading too much of a certain author if my writing starts sounding like theirs–it worked well for the Narnia fanfic, because I wanted my “voice” to sound like C. S. Lewis! But in everything else, I read pretty indiscriminately, and so my “voice” slowly develops from a strange amalgamation of everything I’m reading, into my own truly unique style.

9. Anything else you’d like to add? Plots to take over the world, for example. Upcoming release dates, links and things, maybe even your favorite chocolate cake recipe.

I’m not going to take over the world anytime soon… But I would like to share that I have a lot of stories–an eclectic mix of original stories and fanfictions–on Wattpad! Over thirty titles, in fact.

I started with a few stories that I had already serialized on my blog, such as “Protective Custody” and “Cipherstalker”, and moved on to my most popular fanfictions (which quickly became my most popular stories on Wattpad as well!), and as time wore on and I attracted more followers, I started posting some stories exclusively on Wattpad (such as “The Water-Man” and “The Amazon Triangle”). Follow this link to check them out: https://www.wattpad.com/user/KartheyM

If you are interested in reading any of the stories I’ve written, or want to find out more about what I’m up to, what I’m reading, or any sort of writerly thoughts I have, all that can be found on my blog, The Upstream Writer: https://upstreamwriter.blogspot.com/

For a current listing of all the books available (since sometimes I get a story published in a limited-edition anthology, and after a time the editor decides to pull it), head over to my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Leslie-Conzatti/e/B08C1G68S3

And finally, for up-to-date information about my escapades and notifications of any book deals from authors I follow, cool things I find on the interwebs, and so much more, you can Like and follow my author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeslieConzattiWriter