Author Interview: J. Anne Lezsley

On Friday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a reading and book-signing at Eckel’s Ice Cream Fountain in Mechanicsburg, PA.  Featured was my friend and new author J. Anne Lezsley reading from her first novel, The Unforgotten Promise. Unforgotten Promise  Lezsley graciously agreed to allow me to practice my interview skills on her. A brief review of both the venue and the reading will follow in a separate post later this week.

*First of all, who is J. Anne Lezsley? Tell us a bit about yourself and what you write. Feel free to share any social media sites, links to Amazon/CreateSpace, or photos.

Well, the name J. Anne Lezsley is a nom de plume, because I didn’t want to publish under my real name. Primary reason being Proverbs 4:23 – Guard your heart. So much of my heart is invested in what I write. I’ve gotta keep that safe from critics, some  of whom are closer than I’d like. However, Anne is my real given middle name. I needed something close enough that I would remember to answer to it!

About me? Maybe that’s a question better directed to my friends… Umm…  I love writing the things that people struggle with inwardly and interpersonally meaning in relationship, more than external stuff. But at the same time,  I’ve been given good reviews from readers on my metaphors/similes and my scenic descriptions. I love playing with words in general, and assembling them artfully. Whatever comes out of that is what I write. I went through a poetry phase a few years ago – free-verse – and I can still rock a mean Shakespearean sonnet with all the rules of the form abided-by.

I don’t have a huge social media or online presence, which is probably not a good thing. The book has pages on CreateSpace and Amazon, and I have a FaceBook page:

*What is the genre of your novel?

Oh, this is a tough one! (laughing) I’m debating with friends, yet, about it. Some of them insist that it’s a romance, but I hate that label because of the characteristics implied by most books in that genre.  Besides, everybody keeps their clothes on! But, I do have to concede that some people who aren’t married at the beginning of the story, are by the end. In terms of characteristic elements, it’s got a little bit of a lot of things. There is a love story, I can’t deny that; the backstory is a little bit post-apocalyptic; and I can’t not call it a Christian story when God has a speaking character role.

*The Unforgotten Promise is set in the future. How does that setting contribute to the plot? Were there any specific challenges to writing in a futuristic setting?

Well, what the future time setting enabled me to do is cheat, actually.  Because of the post-semi-apocalyptic backstory, it enabled me to throw backward so that things look more like the Old West. Think 1860s, westward expansion, Pony Express days, sort of thing. Hence the horse-and-wagon travel, stone streets within the Settlements, and manual labor trades, such as carpentry, stonemasonry, smithing, and so forth, as well as the agricultural elements. Things they would be required to rely on after an upheaval would literally deny them physical access to the industry for more modern equivalents. But due to the 22nd century placement, I was also able to give them things such as geothermal heating and cooling technology, solar thermal cell tech, insulated concrete form construction (which, by the way, is that “new building method” which was such a big deal in chapter 17), indoor plumbing, modern appliances (and, for the men, I would wager some tools), and some electronics. It allows me to cherry-pick and cobble together the cool stuff and the convenient stuff into a collage that blends two really disparate eras.

The great and freeing thing about writing something set in the future is that we don’t know what the future will look like. Think about “Back to the Future”. We’re in 2015 now, but there are no hoverboards, trends from the 1980s have finally been let to die, and the “Jaws” franchise quit after the fourth film. It was completely off-base, but we still love it as a modern classic. It proves that there’s no onus to project accurately for thirty, or one hundred and thirty, years from now, when writing fiction if you tell a good story. It’s very liberating to have those fetters off so that I can focus on my characters and the plot of the story itself.

*Describe your writing process.

Processes might be a better way to say it. It really depends. For one, as a general rule, I write to music. Especially with something like this story. There’s a very particular cadence to the narrative and the speech and the language, and using the same music by the same composer helps me maintain that consistently, since music is incredibly mathematical. Also, I’ve heard other writers say they let their characters tell them their stories. For me, it’s a bit more than that at times. The characters sort of run amok, and I take it all in and note down what happens. Don’t get me wrong, I do get to intentionally write, sometimes; it’s just that the other happens, as well.

And when something is, for lack of a better word, ‘downloaded’ from God, it’s very much like stream-of-consciousness writing, and it’s all I can do to keep up and get the words on the page in the correct order. Figuring out any peripheral stage blocking, background action, dramatic emphasis or window dressing all gets added in on a second pass-through, after I’m sure I’ve got it all down intact. I had a day once like that, where in 8 hours I produced and/or finished 13 chapters and then later that evening had absolutely no memory of any of what I had written. A week later I reopened those documents and read them for literally the first time, ever. It was wild. It also taught me a lesson about how much the Type-A, OCD mind in me will edit what I write, six times before it hits the page for the first time, which is potentially detrimental to the ‘creating’ part of the creative process.

*Is there a type of scene (love scene, action, dialogue, etc.) that is more difficult for you to write?

Tough one. In the case of this story/series, I’d have to say it’s the scenes that involve horses. I don’t know anything about horses. Fortunately, a friend of mine, one of my editors, does. Between her and Google, I had bases covered. Otherwise, a lot of the scenes that you see either wouldn’t exist, or would have far less detail or, lamentably, wrong detail.

Emotionally charged scenes, action scenes, visual scenic descriptions, conversational dialogue, witty banter, all of those in their turns are not too much of a problem. Give me a horse and I’m lost.

*If you could cast your characters for the film adaptation of your novel, who would play your main characters?

Guilty pleasure confession: I’ve already done this long ago. It helped me to have a visible frame of reference when attempting to write the visual descriptions of their features. I have an entire (and growing) Pinterest board. How many would you like? These are my “Dream Team” choices, if I could cast anyone I wanted.

For Caeleigh, I chose an actress named Lauren Ambrose. She is, most importantly, not too pretty for the role. Given the conversation that Cae and Elizabeth have in chapter 3, that’s rather crucial.

Speaking of Elizabeth, for my favorite short and sassy blonde, I chose Jenna Coleman. She won me immediately in one of the first episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ I saw that she was in, called “The Snowmen”; it reminded me of the sass level required of a woman who would be handling a guy like Peter for the rest of her life.

Andrew, I based on a fictional character from a television series from 1989. Obviously, the actor from that role isn’t going to be able to play a 35-year-old anymore. Something put Zachary Levi on my radar a while back, and it was a tenuous casting choice at first… but after the last few episodes of the final season of ‘Chuck’ and a Hallmark Channel flick (yes, I confess to watching the latter of those sometimes), I have solidified the choice. I posted a video clip to my FaceBook page of a performance that really felt like Andrew’s white-knuckled prayers.

For Thomas, I chose Jay Ryan. From stuff I’ve seen him in, I know he has the chops for the emotional gamut that Thomas goes through over the course of the story.

And though he isn’t a main character, I’d like to say that I have chosen Ernie Hudson for Marcus, just because, yes, I cast a Ghostbuster! I think he has an awesome laugh, and that’s one of the first things we see from Marcus, so it’s gotta be a memorable one.

*What has been your biggest obstacle to being published? Your biggest encouragement?

The biggest obstacle, initially, since I chose to self-publish, was not knowing anything about the process. As I learn more and more about it,  and I find myself surrounded by people who do know the process and can help me through it, now the challenge is that I’m entirely on my own when it comes to promotion and so forth. It’s a huge leap of faith.

The biggest encouragement has been people like you, who have done what I’m doing, before I’ve done it, who are willing to advise and instruct me. Also the people in my life who simply cheer me on every step of the way, telling me to hang in there and stay the course, and reminding me of the things that God has been promising for years that He means to do with this book that are beyond and outside of my own life.

And some non-writing questions:

*What were you like as a child? Did you have a favorite toy or game?

First off, I love this question. Totally unexpected. Thank you.

I had a creative imagination, even when I was young. I would watch films and TV shows and spin off my own story lines from what I had seen. And I was embarrassed by what I gravitated toward. That, I think, is the thing I regret most now, looking backward. If that storycrafting creativity had been fostered I might have been a different person, but as a kid I had this sense that there were expectations on me to be a certain kind of person, and I wasn’t fitting that mold, already. So I tried to wedge in there and suppress what I was and make my creative nature behave. I’m sure it’s coming out in my characters now, all that repressed energy.

Outside of a fondness for Legos, I don’t remember a particular toy or game, but I remember favorite books. Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” was a prominent one. I remember when I was fairly young, the copy in my hometown public library had gotten vandalized – scribbled with really badly with an ink pen. I made my mother take me to go buy the library a new copy. After it was donated, they let me keep the old, ruined one. I still have it. It’s in awful shape, because thereafter someone in my house decided to start coloring in the illustrations with markers, but I now own a first-edition copy.  Another was “Too Many Lollipops” by Robert Quackenbush. I loved the wackiness of that story, the fact that the principal character was a duck and the ironic juxtaposition of that with the author’s name, plus a series of alliterations and fantastic illustrations. I tracked down a copy on ebay a few years ago, because I’m pretty sure I wore out my childhood copy entirely.

*Do you have any pets?

I do. I have a 15-year-old cat who is insanely anthropomorphic and a little bit OCD. He’s also a closet Trekkie.

*Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares?

Funny you should ask. The Unforgotten Promise actually started with recurring dreams. I had told God I wanted to write, but that I didn’t have a story and needed Him to give me one. That night or the next, I had this really bizarre dream, and then another the night after. Then the two repeated for days – well, nights – in tandem, with cinematic clarity and vividness. They’re the exact scenes/images of Caeleigh Bonding with Andrew then running away from him and Peter running into the burning meetinghouse. Thanks to a sleep disorder that wakes me mid-REM cycle, I still have visual memories of those dreams, and that was in December of 2011.


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