*Doing a little soul searching this summer? Check out this exclusive interview with Leah Stewart and come back next week for a chance to win an Autographed Hardcover Copy of Leah’s latest book, Husband and Wife!
Leah Stewart is the author of The Body of a Girl, The Myth of You and Me, and her latest novel, Husband and Wife. Leah has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan. During her work as a secretary for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, she wrote her first novel, The Body of a Girl. Since then, Leah was worked as a magazine editor, copyeditor, and a staff member at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Leah’s second novel, The Myth of You and Me was chosen as a Book Sense Pick in 2005. As a recipient of a 2010 NEA Literature Fellowship, Leah is a teacher for the University of Cincinnati. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children.
1) How long have you been a writer?
Really, always, even though I feel a little silly saying that. I was too self-conscious to call myself a writer until after I published my first book, in 2000. But I have a box full of stories I wrote at five and six, mostly involving a princess held captive by an evil claw. (Why an evil claw? I have no idea.)
2) How did you get started in publishing?
I went to college intending to be a journalist, because that seemed like a practical use of writing skills. But I also started taking fiction and poetry workshops. When I was a senior, Manette Ansay started teaching at my school, and she suggested I apply to MFA programs. While I was in grad school, I started doing summer work at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and there I met a writer who suggested I send some stories to his agent, who became the first to represent me.
3) How long did it take you to publish your 1st book?
I worked on it for two and a half years, sending pieces to the agent I mentioned. He made me revise multiple times, and then at last he started sending it out. I don’t actually remember how much time elapsed between the first submission and an offer. I do remember lots of rejections, and his increasingly discouraged voice on the phone.
4) Who is your favorite author?
Oh, wow, I always have trouble with this question. It’s probably Jane Austen, although I wish I had something more original to say.
5) What is the best author experience so far?
Two women came to one of my readings this summer from three hours away. They wanted to take a photo with me, which was flattering and surreal. Also, one of the benefits of being a writer and teacher of writing is the opportunity to meet writers you admire. Denis Johnson and Lorrie Moore came to the University of Cincinnati, where I teach, in the last year, and meeting them both was incredible.
6) What do you when you’re not writing?
This afternoon I’ll be taking my kids to the swimming pool. Then dinner and the kids’ bedtime followed by some reading of Chandra Hoffman’s new novel CHOSEN and an episode or two of Mad Men. That’s fairly typical.
7) Have you ever had trouble writing? What to you do?
All the time. I mope around in a stew of self-pity and self-loathing and talk about how I wish I wasn’t a writer. Then, if I can get it together, I go for a walk, listen to music, take a shower, talk out whatever’s got me stuck with my husband.
8) Do you have any book promotion tips?
I’m doing a lot of social media stuff right now. I ran a huge contest on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve been writing blog posts galore. I don’t really know what affect any of this has on sales, but at the very least it makes me feel like I’m making an effort.
9) Tips for other aspiring writers:
Make the work part of your daily life—put it before doing the dishes or answering emails—or you’ll never get it done. The world doesn’t care whether you write, so you have to care extra. Also, read, read, read, and as you do look for models of what you’re trying to do, and try to figure out how it’s done.
10) Tell me about your current book, Husband and Wife:
It’s about a woman whose fiction-writer husband—a loving partner and father—confesses to a one-night stand, and what’s more reveals that his upcoming book was inspired by that affair. This sends her reeling through an examination of her life as she’s living it now, the choice she made to give up writing while he continued, the ways that having children changed her life and maybe her very nature.
11) You teach creative writing courses at the University of Cincinnati. What’s it like guiding other writers to succeed and helping them fine-tune their voice?
It’s exciting, because writers just starting out are themselves usually excited by the discovery of what it’s possible to do with language, what they themselves can do.
12) You just won the lottery. What would you do?
Go on vacation is my first thought. Maybe Hawaii. After that, I’m not sure. Buy a house with a second bathroom, maybe.
13) What’s your favorite all time dessert?
There’s a restaurant here in Cincinnati called Orchids that makes what’s basically a fancy s’more–warm chocolate pudding topped with handmade caramelized marshmallow and a candied graham cracker. Unbelievably good.