2/25/14

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.

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