Friday, September 15, 2023

Author interview with Leonora Ross


This week I’m interviewing the lovely Leonora Ross, who writes contemporary women’s fiction and literary fiction. She first published in 2021 and has two indie books currently, with a third on the way. So let’s meet her:
‘I was born and raised in Africa, but I’ve lived in Canada and the US for over 20 years. When I came to Canada, I had to decide if I wanted to continue with a career in law and all the jazz involved in re-qualifying, but I decided to pursue a childhood passion instead. So, I attended a private art school for three years and became an artist, and I’ve never looked back on that decision, although I will always be drawn to the complexities and intrigue of the legal system.
I’m a huge tree-hugger and love wandering in the wild. Nature rocks my world.
The writing bug bit me a few years ago. I never thought it would evolve to where I’m at now. It’s been absolutely thrilling.’
And here’s more, this time a tweetable version (tweet here):
‘I like to explore themes of family, love (although not always conventional), philosophy, and social and environmental issues. My books are for readers who like expansive and culturally diverse plots and settings.’
This sounds intriguing, but what inspired her to become a writer?
‘In truth, when I started having ideas for ‘Tess Has a Broken Heart’, and Other Comedies Full of Errors’, I was homesick. I missed my sisters and my girlfriends back home. I was asking myself typical mid-life questions and wanted to share my thoughts with my girls. And I’ve always liked stories with strong women characters. 
Many things were also drastically changing for women after the #MeToo movement, which was great. I wanted to write about the ageing woman — that fragile age where you’re too old to be young and too young to be old — and her sense of belonging in modern society, even with these liberties available to her. In Tess, my characters are all women who’ve never been married or are divorced. Women who fell into this category were traditionally stereotyped. But I wanted to keep it light and tongue-in-cheek for the most part. In fact, it’s pretty offbeat and quirky. 
Above all, I wanted to write about the amazing sisterhood between women. And that’s how it started.’
Aww, homesick is awful but what a great way to channel her emotions! What age does she consider mid-life?
‘For some women, it’s sooner, and for others, a little later, but it’s safe to say somewhere in your 40s, there’s a mental shift that takes place (men experience it too). The tendency is to question a lot more, be less inclined to accept BS and mellow down on things not worth stressing about. Her midlife years can be an incredible and liberating time for a woman or leave her feeling debilitated - depending on what she chooses to let in or let go.’
Oh, I hear you Leonora (yes, been there, done it!). So, does she have a daily writing routine?
‘I’m an early riser. I must have coffee before I’m of any use. 
I catch up on social media but don’t spend too much time there. I’ve been working on my third novel for the past ten months. During the writing of a book, a typical day would be (notwithstanding all those pesky little interruptions called life, in between): I write for a couple of hours, take a break to exercise, have lunch, and then write until it’s time to shower and prepare dinner. I write again after dinner, often until 10, sometimes 11 p.m., most days. There are times I work less and other times, I work more.’
Gosh, what long days! Apart from the hours, what has she found the hardest part of writing professionally?
‘When ideas start bouncing around in my mind, I become restless. I write down any tiny thing that pops up. But when I’ve made tons of notes, the most challenging part is to start that first sentence. 
You have to motivate yourself to stick to your plot — that often happens for me around the middle of the book. And then, when it’s all there, you have to send it out to the world and convince yourself there must be at least 100 people on the planet who’d like your story. Surely there must be 50, right? Worst case scenario, there’s always family and friends to dump it on.
Writing and publishing involves a lot of pep talks with your doubtful self.’
That sounds a lot of pressure - is she good at building her own confidence? And can she share any tips for others? 
‘Oh boy. The short answer is yes. But it depends on a lot of factors. Some days, everything feels off-centre, and no amount of pep talk seems to work. It’s usually not a good time for writing or editing. I do think it’s important to remind yourself to stick with what you are busy doing, to keep going and avoid distractions. 
Finding ways of alleviating stress, writer’s block or just plain insecurity, like going outside and allowing your mind to focus on something bigger than your little internal world, can be a great pain - and timesaver. People have different circumstances, and there isn’t just one way that works for everybody.’
Very true! What does Leonora enjoy the most about writing?
‘I love how a word strings into sentences once your mind gets going. It is beautiful how powerful the imagination is. When you’ve chosen your characters, they start living and breathing with you until the book’s finished. It’s a surreal feeling, in a way.’ 
I don’t think I’m alone in admiring the way writers create characters from their own creativity – such a fantastic skillset! But it begs the question, what’s the most difficult thing about writing characters who are very different from you personally?
‘To be authentic is key. My latest protagonist is a man in his late 30s, so it was challenging placing myself in his shoes. Thinking up the conflict is easy — family especially provide ample inspiration — but I’m a problem solver, so I tend to want to fix things. I don’t like disharmony, but my editor often reminds me to stretch out the tension and let it linger a while. It’s a tug of war.’
Excellent advice, and what a fab sounding editor! Poorly edited books are one of my pet peeves, so what does she consider to be the best money she’s ever spent as a writer?
‘Professional editing and cover design services. Indie authors, especially, shouldn’t skimp on that. It is too important.’
Very true – covers definitely sell books. So, for people who haven’t read her work, which book should they read first, and why?
‘The Suncatchers was my second novel. It’s incredible to see how much you improve from the first to the second and so on. And I can see the improvement in my writing. The story is set in Amsterdam and explores my protagonist’s journey from age 21 to her late 30s.
How we view the world around us changes significantly with every decade we enter. Love and how we express and receive it change, but we discover that some things don’t change; they are our anchors in life.’
Can she give us an extract?
‘Ruben, Luka’s father:
“Perhaps if we also live our lives, aware, new constellations will open up for us in our minds, and we will be able to embrace far beyond our eyes’ ability to see. Perhaps we will appreciate more.”
Oohh, what a great taster! And how about her next book?
‘At the moment, I’m getting my latest novel ready for publication and setting up my marketing campaign.
I have a new book idea floating around, and I’ll start grabbing and pinning down those thoughts soon when the traffic in my head feels less congested.’
Exciting times then! Does she read reviews of her books and how does she handle them?
‘Yes, of course. It was a shock to read that first unflattering review — ha! Likewise it’s great to read one where the reviewer clearly connected with the characters and story. But every writer goes through this. Nobody’s exempt from the torturous bliss of reviews, and the reason is, readers are human beings with different tastes, just like yourself. 
I’m learning a lot about how to better put my books out to my target audience. Not everyone will like my books. It’s just a fact. So, I try to get it out to those who will. It can be quite the conundrum.’
Aw, that’s an interesting point. With so many books being published every year, hitting the right audience sounds key so is she optimising searches or looking at other author strategies like targeting advertising?
‘It’s a combination. With certain genres, it’s a fraction easier to narrow down your audience (like YA), but it becomes a bit more complicated with others. Being specific is essential. AI can help with that, but only when you know what your audience looks like.
Part of the process is what you reveal about yourself and your writing style, which you can enhance through advertising and interviews, and that’s a good way of attracting your readers to you. Yet, if it were simple to find that sweet spot, it wouldn’t be something most authors have a hard time with. And we do.’
And it’s interesting that we, as readers, have the power to help our favourite authors too – don’t forget to spread the word if you find a book you love! All writers, particularly those not published traditionally (where budgets for marketing are usually larger) really need our support to get their book noticed. If you’re not sure how to complete a book review, please read my featured post (press here) – it’s easier than you think!
Back to Leonora – does she have any writing-career highs or lows?
‘Every time I finish writing a novel, I say, “Wow! I can’t believe I’ve just done this.”
Writing about things that are important to me and then being able to share that — it’s priceless.
I’ve self-published two novels, and I’m proud of that, but it is costly and stressful to undertake the whole publishing journey yourself. I’ve learned some things the hard way, but every lesson makes you wiser and more equipped.’
I love this answer! If she didn’t write, what would she do instead?
‘Well, I’m also an artist. Lucky for me. I’d spend peaceful hours in front of my canvas and bring vivid images to life. It’s something I genuinely love doing.
Everything is about creative expression.’
And if she could go back in time and talk to her younger writing self, what would she say?
‘Don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. There is a lot of good-intended advice, but not everything applies to your situation. Take only what you need, stay open to learning, work on improving your character and skills, and trust your instincts.’
I think that’s great advice for life in general! Does she feel there are any traps that aspiring writers might fall into?
‘To want immediate success. It’s a wonderful thought: to be a New York Times bestselling author. But there aren’t many authors whose first novels become bestsellers. There are numerous reasons: exposure, trends, skill level, marketing resources, etc. Being realistic and focusing on honing your story will keep distractions out.’
Leonora is a huge supporter of other authors – her Instagram ‘Author Spotlights’ are brilliant, but I wondered what made her decide to help others, rather than just promoting her own work?
‘Self-promotion can feel blah after a while (even though we need to keep doing it). I enjoyed doing the author spotlight but had to put a halt on it to finish my novel - it was just too intense to stay focused on both. 
Another great way of supporting fellow authors is reading their books and leaving a review for them. I see plenty of authors who do, and I love that. Authors can leave well-crafted reviews, too, which not only help generate sales but also boost their fellow authors’ morale.’
Very true! I ended our interview by asking what she’d like to say to you directly:
To authors: your fellow authors can be a great support network because they understand exactly how tough it is. Remember, your story is your unique voice. Celebrate your achievement—it’s hard work writing a book—but don’t compare yourself with someone else. It’s demoralising and it will seriously hamper your creativity. Appreciate the work of someone you resonate with and learn from the greats. And just enjoy your craft.
To readers: read books even when they are not best sellers. Most books aren’t. Don’t be guided solely by trends and what’s listed as the best or most popular on sites. Many of those books landed there because of extensive advertising campaigns and social media influencers. There are many wonderful authors who don’t have those kinds of resources or luck to be discovered by someone who can boost their book. You may find some of the best books you’ll ever read, by simply exploring what you like. And please, don’t forget to write reviews. Spread the love.’
What fabulous advice! If you’d like to find out more about Leonora, please follow her links below:
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