Guest Author Interview: Joshua R. Leuthold, Part 1

If you guessed that eventually I'd invite my husband, poet Joshua R. Leuthold, to do a guest interview on my blog, you were right.  Josh opens up about his wicked love affair with reading, the long road to publishing, and how even his non-writing hobbies just feed back into his writing.  In fact, his answers were so deep and thorough, I decided to split this into 2 parts.

So kick back, and we'll delve into one of the most genuine, independent minds I've had the pleasure to know.

Thanks for taking time away from your writing projects. How did you get started writing?

My writing journey actually started with reading. I didn't read much until 4th grade when I had a teacher named Mr. Szumski who insisted that we read for his class but never specified what we were to read. During a parent/teacher meeting, my mom asked if the fact that I was reading primarily comic books mattered. He told her it didn't matter what I was reading, just that I was reading. This advice from a teacher to my mom allowed me great freedom to read what I wanted for the entirety of my schooling. It was even better the next year when he let us choose books from the library he had available at the school. I found fantasy adventure novels in his collection, published by Tor if I remember correctly, and I fell in love.

It wasn't until my freshman year of high school that I learned that writing was not done by some race of super beings but was actually performed by people like me. I had a teacher at that time who assigned one creative writing assignment during my otherwise ordinary English Composition class that opened my eyes. She suggested I take a creative writing course the following year. I did and found myself amazed at the freedom you could have when writing.

I started by writing poems that were confessional, some of them borderline plagiarized, but out of that immature beginning came a sophisticated growth. This culminated in my taking college courses with a focus on creative writing. Once I'd taken all of the credits required in various composition classes, I stopped going to college. I had, and still have, very little interest in the degree itself; it was the workshop atmosphere I craved.

Then, there was a stagnation as other pursuits constantly pushed writing to the back burner. It wasn't until my wife, who I met during my college years, started publishing her own work using the new freedom offered by non-traditional avenues that I realized I didn't have to try and impress a panel of individuals I knew nothing about to get my work published. Her constant drive to create and publish her work inspired me to do the same.

What do you do for fun when you’re not writing? (Like I don't know.)

I enjoy video games, movies, television, tabletop role-playing games, and cooking. If I had to delve into why I enjoy these things I can say that all of them tell stories in their own ways.

Video games, long considered little more than toys, have finally grown to the point where the majority of gamers are adults. The reason video games are so loved is as varied as the people playing them, but for me it is entirely about the stories they tell. The most fun style of game for me to play are the styles that involve telling a story but allowing me as the player to determine the hero's actions within the plot being developed. This goes straight to my desire to create dynamic personalities within these stories as I've always preferred character development over plot-heavy stories.

The same goes for movies and television. While some reality television has been able to entertain me, usually competition-style shows, I find I'm more satisfied with shows that have deep character development. Currently I'm absolutely hooked on The Walking Dead and Being Human. I loved Bomb Girls and wish they wouldn't have cancelled the 3rd season in favor of a 2-hour television movie to close out the series.

Tabletop role-playing games are their own form of story telling, and they constantly improve my ability to improvise cause and effect relationships. I am the game master for my group, and often the players will throw curveballs at me that take a moment to process before I can have the cast of non-player characters react appropriately. It is always amazing to spend a little time prepping a scene or encounter and then have the players react in a way I could never have anticipated. It really opens up possibilities for events in my own writing as I see more possibilities than the obvious by having four other people looking at the same event and reacting in completely unexpected ways.

What kinds of books do you like to read?

I mentioned my early love of fantasy adventure, but I grew into literary fiction in my high school days. Catcher in the Rye was definitely an early and oft-read favorite. Now I've expanded my reading to include a great many different genres and styles of writing. Recently I've read and re-read Colson Whitehead's Zone One, I'm absolutely in love with Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and I can't get enough of Marcus Sakey's thrillers. I'm looking forward to reading Brilliance, another Marcus Sakey novel that he says is quite a departure from his crime thriller roots which is very exciting to me. I love it when an author decides to explore new genres, and I can't wait to read what he's done.

Do you like music or silence when you write?

When I'm writing my first draft of a poem it usually rips through me pretty quickly and without much preparation on my part. The real work, as any writer worth reading knows, is in revision. Whether I use music or not often depends entirely on how in-depth the writing or revising I'm doing is at the time. If it is a scene or idea that I've been cultivating in my head for a long time, to the point where the tone is clearer in my head than I could possibly make it with atmosphere changes, I'll just work at it without music.

There are many times where I don't have the tone very clearly in my head and I need help with getting into the narration or the imagery. For those particular times, I find it helps a great deal to find music that matches my vision for what I'm working toward.

I remember a writing exercise in my high school creative writing class that involved playing a playlist of music and just writing stream-of-consciousness style while the music played. After it was done and I read through my work, I could see the way the music shaped the words as the songs changed. It really clarified the effect that atmosphere can have on writing.

Do you have any advice for writers just starting out or trying to navigate the new maze of publishing?

The first piece of advice I would give to anyone, especially considering my own fledgling status in this new realm of publishing, would be to concern yourself least with how your work will be judged. If you are worried about what others may say or think of your work, it won't be genuinely yours. Inauthentic works are the easiest to see through, as often your idea of what the reader wants is very different than what they actually desire. The further you remove yourself from your own ideas because you feel they are too risky, the further you remove that very unique thing that makes your voice your own.

After that, the most important thing I can say to anyone publishing their own work rather than going through traditional channels would be: edit, revise, and proofread. The first and most offensive thing to a reader is a lack of professionalism. It may be hard if you don't have anyone in your support structure who can beta read or edit your work, but still try your hardest to appear professional. If your work looks and reads like the diary you wrote in during your angst-ridden teen years, it won't be appealing to a very wide audience.

Catch the second half of Josh's interview next Wednesday.  We'll focus on his chapbook of poetry, Long Day in Rehab.  Josh will share his thoughts on the title, artwork, and more.

For reading this far, you should get a little something extra, huh? How about a free ebook?  Download Long Day in Rehab free all weekend, March 1st and 2nd.  The cover photo has the link.


Who Doesn't Love Judy Blume?

Judy Blume is one of those authors so big, so classic, and so widely read, you don't have to remember reading her books to know who she is.

Probably because she's been writing and publishing for over 40 years.

Judy Blume is a cornerstone of literature for teenagers and most other age groups, and rightly so.  She digs into the stories and characters we know, love, and don't often get to read about.  The book you probably know by title alone is Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.  And seriously, reading over the first few pages in the Amazon viewer, the book is timeless.  Forty years haven't changed the fact that moving, making new friends, and trying to wrap your head around the ins and outs of growing up are daunting, scary, confusing things.

It's probably the timelessness of Judy Blume's books that make her perfect for readers of any generation and is prompting her publisher (Simon & Schuster) to relaunch her books with more modern, simple covers.

Today Books has a great article on the recent cover reveals with artwork for four of them.  I think the hot pink and lipstick cover for Deenie is my favorite, followed closely by Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself.  I love the pink star-shaped glasses on the bold yellow background.

Judy Blume
Simon & Schuster
Judy Blume
Simon & Schuster


You can see what a huge difference in covers this is when you hover over the linked titles.  Here's the cover from the Deenie paperback in 1975:

(That's Deenie on the cover wearing a back brace for scoliosis.)

It's a huge update, one that I hope will be successful and let a new generation of readers discover Judy Blume's straightforward, understanding stories.

What are your memories of Judy Blume and her books?  What do you think of the new line of covers, set to launch this spring?


New Reader Poll & JK Rowling's Matchmaking Regrets

Welcome to the weekly Wednesday post.

It's been ages since I asked your opinion in a reader poll, so here's your chance to tell me what you want.  I'm releasing my next short story, “Prisoners,” in the next few months, but I don't have a Pinterest board for it.  (XZA has the Underrated Media group board, “My Best Friend's Diary” has Amazing Diaries, “Deadhill” has Rustic Views & Living, and “Harlequin” has Masks.)

You have 5 options, all of them related to my story.  But I'm not going to tell you what it's about - you can probably piece it together from the options, anyway.  The board isn't about me.  It's about the pictures you want to see.  You did such a great job on the last poll, I'm leaving this entirely in your hands.  You can find the poll in the upper right-hand corner of this blog.  Even if you're not on Pinterest, please vote - you can also check out my boards directly from my Facebook page.

While we're waiting on the results, we can ponder the latest JK Rowling news.  She made Internet headlines when she admitted Hermione Granger should've ended up with Harry Potter instead of Ron Weasley.  There are dozens of articles on it that pop up with a simple Google search (including an open letter from Entertainment Weekly), but US Magazine has a short and sweet rundown.  Thoughts?  Reactions?  As the only person on the planet who hasn't read the series, it just gives me author doubt.  (Did I pair up the wrong characters in any of my books?)


LibraryThing Group Reads & One Sweet Sale

I prefer Goodreads to LibraryThing, but I couldn't pass up the latest email from LT without spreading the news.  The group One LibraryThing, One Book is like every other One _____, One Book you've heard of.  (One Campus, One Book has been popular for years, bringing students and faculty together to read and discuss a chosen work.)

The February pick for LibraryThing is one of my long-standing favorites, the great classic The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.  It's usually remembered as being haunting and supernatural.  I always remember it being hysterically funny and a perfect snapshot of the times.  Especially if you can read between the lines, this book is no snooze fest.

If you prefer something more modern, March's pick might interest you.  American Gods by Neil Gaiman (you knew his name was coming sooner or later, didn't you?) is a book I could probably go on and on about at the drop of a hat.  Beautiful writing, superb combining of old world gods with new world America, and flawlessly interwoven story lines.  Characters both elusive and personable, extraordinary and human.

If you want to participate in One LibraryThing, One Book, here's the page for it.  Official discussions start on the 10th of each month, and you can join the almost-300 members in early discussions, too.  You can also help choose future selections if there's a book you love you want to share with the group.

Now for my sale.  It begins with a riddle: when is a novel like a short story?

When it's priced at $.99!

Starting at midnight PST, my novel XZAwill be available at the lowest price I can set on Amazon: $.99.  This sale will run from Thursday the 6th until midnight the morning of the 13th, the day before Valentine's Day.

I've always loved love stories in reverse, whether as a book or a movie comedy.  That's the way XZA unfolds.  Xan knows Michael for 10 years and even lives with him before she starts thinking about how he really fits into her life and if she should change the way she thinks about him.  It's perfect for cynics and romantics alike.  Remember to grab or gift a copy before the sale runs out.


Harlequin Unmasked Cover Reveal

You asked.  You got it!

“Harlequin” is available for free reading and sampling.  It's also for sale at the very fair price of $.99.  Just follow the link to Amazon and soon you'll be reading Harlequin.