Lesley is a writer and actor living in Toronto, Canada. Captivated at a young age by stories of mythology and folk lore, past civilizations, and legendary heroes, she developed into a full-fledged
Celtic Mythology Geek, steeped in stories of the Otherworld, Faeries and King Arthur. Lesley went on to earn a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Toronto specializing in Shakespeare and Arthurian literature.
For almost three years, Lesley hosted weekly late-night movie marathons on the nationally broadcast television show, SPACEBAR, as the Waitron-9000, a sparkly holographic waitress with an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure B-movie trivia. She is also a founding member and principal performer with Tempest Theatre Group.
Lesley is an unrepentant egghead – a character-trait that somehow doesn’t interfere with a love of shoes and shiny things. She is the author of the Wonderous Strange Trilogy, Starling Trilogy, and Once Every Never Trilogy, as well as the newly released, How to Curse in Hieroglyphics.
(Full disclosure: Lesley Livingston and Bonnie Grove went to high school together. They met in 10th grade, hated each other, then, one day when the drama teacher never showed up, they began quoting lines from the movie Airplane to each other and were inseparable after that.)
Novel Matters: Lesley, you write YA fantasy novels that are read by all age groups. What do you love about YA?
Lesley Livingston: I love writing YA. I love the readership (which is both young and young-at-heart) and I love the stories I get to tell. There is a freshness and a vibrancy to the YA perspective that I find energizing.
NM: How so?
LL: It’s a literature of “firsts”. First kiss, first love, first heartbreak, first lie… and while it does require a bit more of a hectic writing pace (if you’re writing a teen trilogy, you can’t really take years between books), that’s part of the fun of it.
NM: It was the right choice for you as a writer?
LL: I get to plunge into these stories and stay in them for an extended period of time. I like hanging out with my characters. So, yes. I guess you could say I’m happy with my choice. (Occasional whining about crazy deadlines, notwithstanding. Heh.)
NM: I usually whine about my office smelling like gym socks. It’s a weird sort of treadmill of success, isn’t it? It’s a great life, the writer’s life. And you’ve been writing your butt off for a long time now. You have an impressive back list.
LL: Here’s the link to my Goodreads page, which has all of my books/series listed and links to synopses and buy buttons, etc.
NM: What are you working on now, and when will it be in reader’s hot little hands?
LL: I just launched my very first co-written project, which is also my very first Middle Grade project. It’s called HOW TO CURSE IN HIEROGLYPHICS and I wrote it with Jonathan, with illustrations by Steven Burley. It was a ton of fun and it’s available now!
I’m also neck deep in revisions for the third book in my Never series, EVERY NEVER AFTER, which will be out in April, 2014, and I just finished writing the third book in my Starling series.
NM: How To Curse in Hieroglyphics may be a departure from YA, but it’s written in your distinctive style. Recently, I was rifling through a box of old stuff looking for who knows what, and I came across a handful of papers—notes you and I wrote each other in high school when we were supposed to be paying attention—I had a laugh, then was struck by how clear and honest your voice comes across, not just in the hilarious high school notes, but in your novels. Reading Wondrous Strange, there were times I could hear your voice in my head. Does it come naturally? Was it a product of letting go and trusting yourself?
LL: Ah, good times… good times… that was mostly math class, wasn’t it?
NM: Er, certainly we only wrote notes to each other on lunch break and after school. Not during math class, which we never, ever skipped. Ahem. Back to your remarkable writing voice.
LL: Voice, to me is everything. (And thanks for saying that!) I’m not even sure I can separate it out as a distinct function of how I write but I do think a lot of it is facilitated by the fact that I was an actor for so long and that developed my ear for things like dialogue and pacing and flow. Usually now I just know when the voice of the story (and every story has a different one) sounds right. And it doesn’t always. Not right away. But I can sense when it’s wonky and that usually comes from trying too hard. When I can hear myself over the characters, that’s when I go back into the prose with a garden rake. And sometimes a blow-torch.
NM: Speaking of blow-torches, let’s talk the public life of a writer. One day you’re an Amazon 5-star, the next you’re on your way to the bargain table. Always, every day, however, you’re an artist. The story must be written. How do you—do you?—separate yourself from opinions to give your creative self for another day of writing?
LL: I was an actor for years before I was a writer. I’m so very used to criticism (good and bad) and rejection (yay auditions! Bleh.) that it all pretty much just rolls off my back by now. It’s not always easy and sometimes I read a review and mutter unkind things but the truth is, if you’re going to believe the good reviews, you’ve got to believe the bad ones, too. It’s just what you said—opinions. Once the book is out there, it’s no longer just yours. And everyone who reads it has the absolute right to there opinion of it. (No matter how wrong they are!! Ha!)
NM: It's amazing how wrong they can be! So, if a writer decides to read reviews of her work, a thick skin is required. Let me ask you, if tomorrow were the first day of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
LL: Go to bed early for once, will ya?
NM: Still working on that one, eh? You've done well to stay awake through this so far. Fingers crossed. Let’s touch on the Great Writer’s Debate: Outline vs. No outline (planners vs. pansters). Which do you go with your gut? Or hammer out the novel before writing it?
LL: I used to gut it. Now that I’m at the point where I’m pitching projects that aren’t written yet, I’ve learned the value of the synopsis because I’ve had to. Which is not to say that there is no longer epiphany. I surprise myself constantly. In the outlining stages, the writing stages, the revising stages…
NM: What's the one thing (be it a technology, a notebook, a wristwatch, or pen) that you can't be without as a writer?
LL: My Mac AIR. It goes with me everywhere.
NM: Who, besides the obvious agent and editor, do you turn to for advice when things are rocky on your writing journey?
LL: That would be my guy, Jonathan Llyr. He’s been my creative partner for years—ever since he was directing me in plays—and he has an ability to look at large-picture issues with story and helps me figure out how to untangle all the plot knots I write myself into. He’s encouraging and helpful and, at the same time, never lets me feel sorry for myself when things get tough or my brain gets scrambley.
NM: For the record, Jon also does The. Best. William Shatner impression on earth. Just saying. Okay, you’ve traveled a ways down the writer’s road. What advice do you give to writers who are looking to seize the year and take control of their writing career?
LL: Do it. That’s the whole thing with carpe-ing. The act of seizing is a willful act. You pretty much just have to do it. Write. You can’t edit a blank page. You can’t revise an empty screen. The lion’s share of writing is re-writing. Get the words down. Then put them in the right order. For me, it comes down to writing every day. As much or as little as I can, but every day. If I’m away from the story for a day, it takes me twice as long to get my head back into the game.
NM: Love that. “You can’t edit a blank page” is my new mantra. The theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey as a writer when you took hold of your career. What did that look like? How did that moment change you as a writer?
LL: It was the moment when I was maundering on about not getting an agent for the book I had written and had spent the better part of a year querying. Jonathan, having heard this same refrain from me for, er, awhile at that point turned to me and said, “Write another book.” I, taken aback, sputtered something about “What?! I am!” He said “No you’re not. You’re whining about not getting an agent for this book. Didn’t you tell me that writers write? You’re not doing that.” I sputtered some more. Then I thought about it. And he was right. I had gotten so caught up in the business of trying to get published that I’d forgotten that core truth of the writer’s life. Writers write. So I did. I wrote another book. It got me an agent. The book after that got me a publisher. Writers write.