Saturday, October 18, 2008
Lookin' Back Texas by Leanna Ellis
I recently visited with author Leanna Ellis about her latest release LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS and I'm posting our discussion here! A few years back, I spent a weekend at Leanna's house with some other writer friends. Leanna is a wonderful hostess. We ate great food and brainstormed ideas. That was my first glimpse into her idea for LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS. I loved it from the start, and I'm so thrilled to see in in book form and on the shelves for readers to buy. I want everyone to meet her quirky, heartwarming characters. You can link to the book trailer for this novel here. In the meantime, sit back and say hello to Leanna.
Jennifer: Hi Leanna. Thanks for allowing me to pick your brain on my blog! Here we go...People who don’t write fiction are always asking me where I get my ideas. I’m sure readers would like to know the origin of the idea for your latest novel LOOKIN’ BACK, TEXAS. Can you tell us?
Leanna: Hi,Jennifer! It’s great to be here. Well, I will admit that Lookin’ Back, Texas is a pretty crazy idea. Who would ever tell their whole town their husband died when he didn’t? But that’s how the idea came to me. And I started imagining why this woman would do that and what kind of a mother she’d be … and how my heroine would have to deal with her mother and fight the tendency to be like her mother. A lot of my ideas start with a question. Ruby’s Slippers, my book that comes out in April 2009, started when I was watching The Wizard of Oz with my children a couple of years ago. I thought, “What would happen if Dorothy lost her somewhere over the rainbow?”
Jennifer: I love all the characters in the book, but Suzanne’s mom Betty Lynn had me laughing out loud numerous times. Is she based on someone you know, even a little bit? Or simply a product of your imagination? Or are you pleading the 5th on this question!?
Leanna: LOL! I should definitely plead the 5th! Thanks for the out! Mostly Betty Lynn (whom I adored because I never knew what she would do – what a surprise to me when she started rearranging flowers at the florist!) is a figment of my imagination. Let me just say, she in no way reflects my own mother. Honestly, there’s probably a little bit of Betty Lynn inside me. Yep! You heard that right. And I’m embarrassed to admit it. But I think many women can relate to Betty Lynn in some ways because so many of us struggle with perfectionism.
Jennifer: You come up with the greatest titles! I love the pop culture connections—LOOKIN’ BACK, TEXAS and the country song LUCKENBACH, TEXAS. And then there’s ELVIS TAKES A BACKSEAT and your upcoming RUBY’s SLIPPERS with the WIZARD OF OZ connection. Do you typically come up with the story idea first, then the title? Or vice versa?
Leanna: For all of those you mentioned, the story came first. The story for Elvis came long before Elvis ever entered the story. Then my critique group hounded me to put Elvis in the title. It took a while but finally I landed on a title that truly fit the book. With Lookin’ Back, Texas, it was originally titled Fault Lines which actually fits pretty well too because of the fault line in the book and the cracks in so many relationships. But one of my critique partners suggested I move the setting of the book to Luckenbach. And when I started researching I discovered it really did fit well. Lookin’ Back, Texas was a nice play on words which reflects my heroine looking back on her own mistakes. My editor really liked it when I suggested the change. Thankfully, Ruby’s Slippers came as I was figuring out the idea of the book. I had another original title which I can’t remember, but one day Ruby’s Slippers just came to me and then it was after that in researching the book that I learned a pair of ruby slippers had actually been stolen from the Judy Garland Museum that the story started to take shape. I try to be flexible with my titles but also I really need a title that is catchy but also really reflects the theme of the book, so sometimes that can take a while.
Jennifer: The metaphors in your novels are so on target—for instance in this book, the unstable foundation of Suzanne’s marriage and the drought-ravaged, earthquake riddled Texas landscape really stand out. Yet you don’t beat the reader over the head with the comparisons, but present them subtly. As a writer, do you strive to send your readers a “message” or simply to entertain? Or both?
Leanna: My first job is to entertain. In inspirational fiction, there isn’t necessarily a message but a spiritual issue. Some authors tend to preach. I think of the spiritual issue more as theme and the character arc of the story. I try really hard not to be preachy. That is not my goal. I’ve learned a lot about motifs and metaphors and symbolism in writing bigger books and really think it makes a stronger, more powerful book when those are utilized.
Jennifer: Suzanne returns home and is forced to confront her past mistakes before she can move forward happily into her future. Do you feel this is a situation most people confront at some point in their lives?
Leanna: Good question. You know, I think we all have things in our past. Some deal with their mistakes head on. Suzanne didn’t. She tried to cover hers up, much as her mother does, but in a subtler way. Betty Lynn is really a reflection of her daughter. She appears to be more flamboyant in her decisions, but Suzanne’s own cover up has the potential to be much more devastating. So for Suzanne, in trying to block out the past or deny it happened, she did need a moment in her life where she confronted it rather than letting it haunt her. Some of us can accept forgiveness easier than others, and that was the character change Suzanne needed to secure a happy ever after. Even though, there will be consequences in her future.
Jennifer: A real strength in your writing is the way in which you so effectively combine humor with serious issues. Does this come easily to you, or is it a difficult balancing act?
Leanna: It is the hardest thing I do. Wish I could just be serious or just funny. Because I think it takes me much longer to write because of the combination. It’s very tough to find the balance. And some situations are so serious and difficult to face that it takes me a while to find humor. But I’ve learned in my writing and reading experiences that I need a breather from the heavy issues which I love. I need to laugh. So I guess I’m stuck trying to do this.
Jennifer: You have created such a quirky, flawed, yet lovable community of characters in this novel. Was it difficult to tell them goodbye when you finally wrote “The End?”
Leanna: In some ways I did hate to say goodbye, but also by the time I finished Lookin’ Back, Texas I was chomping at the bit to start Ruby’s Slippers. Usually after rewriting so many times and revising so much, I’m ready to move onto something else.
Jennifer: So what’s ahead for your readers? Give us a hint about what to expect in RUBY’S SLIPPERS!
Leanna: Oh, I love Ruby’s Slippers! I can’t wait for it to come out! It was probably the hardest book I’ve ever written. But I am very happy with how it turned out. Basically, Dottie loses her ‘somewhere over the rainbow,’ her dream which was her parents’ farm. And in losing that, she realizes she’s been walking in her mother’s footsteps. She has to find her own path, her own yellow brick road, so to speak. The cover is gorgeous! And the trailer my publishing house did is fabulous! The book is a bit more romantic than my other women fiction titles, so that was fun too! But there are plenty of quirky characters.
Jennifer: Any other news you’d like to share?
Leanna: I’m finishing the rough draft of a book set near Marfa, Texas. Have you heard of the Marfa lights? Right now, the working title is Man in the Moon, but I’m thinking of changing the title to Once in a Blue Moon. See! Working with titles is hard for me.
Jennifer: Thanks for the great interview, Le!
Leanna: Thanks so much, Jenny, for the great questions. And thanks for having me on your blog!
Everybody, I highly recommend Leanna's books. Lookin' Back, Texas is available in bookstores now. Buy yourself a copy!
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