Monday, September 16, 2013

The Wisdom to Read Leesa Freeman

One of the best things about being a writer as well as reader is getting to meet some of the brilliant writers out there, both long-established, and new and emerging. I "ran into" Leesa Freeman on the Writer Unboxed FaceBook Group, and as a result got to enjoy her fabulous debut novel, The Wisdom to Know the Difference, which is about addiction, recovery, and love. She graciously agreed to do one of my ten question interviews.

1) If The Wisdom To Know The Difference was shelved in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore, where would it be shelved - and why?

For a while there I thought it might end up in the New Adult section, based solely on the character’s age, but after doing more research I think it’s more commercial fiction because of its subject matter.

2) You choose to self-pub this book via CreateSpace. Did you always plan to go in this direction, do you have a long sad tale of trying to find an agent/publisher, or...? Unpack that choice for us, please.

It’s not so much a long, sad tale as it is one of learning from my mistakes. The first book I wrote was epic. I didn’t know what I was doing and when I queried agents with my 210,000-word tome, I’m sure they had themselves a hearty chuckle while typing out their rejection letter. When The Wisdom was finished, I had learned so much in the interim, but I wasn’t quite ready to put myself through the query process again.

I will say that I am waist-deep in that process for my newest book, Into the Deep End, because I do believe I can learn so much as a writer from it.

3) This is a fictional tale about addiction and recovery. What kind of research did that entail?

When my mom – who was a psychotherapist - read it, she asked me if we needed to have a “conversation.” Her way of asking if it maybe wasn’t a bit biographical. In truth, I spent a lot of time reading blogs and books written by recovering addicts; sorting through different drugs, what they do and how they are used; and what the recovery process is for many addicts. After that, I pushed myself to really explore Todd’s self-hate and anger, to take myself to its deepest level and then go further.

4)  Likewise, Todd begins modeling, first for college students, then for a "name" photographer. How much research did you do into those worlds?

In that case, less than you might think. I took a photography class way back in high school in which I learned a lot of what Shawna teaches Todd about developing film – of course I had to look up the process again – but I vividly remember the frustration of working in complete darkness. As far as the photography world goes, though, I more or less took the big names from what could’ve been Scott Mitchell’s early career – Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and Bill King -  tossed them together and hoped it worked. I also figured the best way to sell a fictional character as a big name was to lay it on the table without apology, add some real big names in the fashion industry, and don’t blink.

5) Wisdom is being told from first person POV (Point of View) from a young man. Assuming you yourself have never been a young man...? How did you make that choice? Todd's voice sounds very male to me, but I've never been a young man, either.  Have you had young men read it and offer feedback?

This book was actually born out of that epic tome I talked about earlier. Todd is a character in it, and when I was done with it, I couldn’t get his voice out of my head. He left me no choice but to write him, so I did. And yes, actually several male friends have read it and commented on how accurate they thought he is. That might be one of the biggest compliments I’ve received. (Well, that, and asking if I am a recovering addict. I think…)

6) Following up on that question, at one point, I kind of closed one eye and imagined a gender flip, that Todd was female, his love interests male. I would've been a little uncomfortable with some of his actions and choices, if he had been female, and believe that some readers might also have carried a double standard into the story. (Slut-judging/shaming.) Do you think there is greater social forgiveness/understanding for male addicts/alcoholics, rather than female, or am I way offbase?

No, I think you’re right, we do have different standards for men and women in our society – men are allowed to act however they want to, whereas women are allowed to feel however they feel. Going into this, I was very aware of that double standard and very much afraid of writing from a male POV. What I realized one day, which pretty much saved my bacon, was that I wasn’t writing about a guy who just happened to be a person, but that I was writing about a person who just happened to be a guy. It was a distinction that allowed me to let him feel what he felt without asking “would a guy feel that way?” If he does, he does. The other thing that helped was taking out that internal “filter.” Because I didn’t have to worry whether he would come off as a slut, etc. I was able to write what I wanted without asking “how will readers react to this?” It was extremely liberating and allowed me to really find his (and my) voice.

7) Though there is some family friction, in large part, Todd has a large and supportive family. While that didn't prevent his initial issues with addiction, did it play a big part in his recovery? What about the role of his 12-step group?

Todd’s biggest issue in recovery is his own self-loathing, standing in direct contrast with the acceptance he receives from his family. Yes, they are sad/hurt/afraid for him, but it’s the juxtaposition of their love that stands in bas relief against his pain, and what he ultimately needs to find for himself. By the same token, his sponsor, Michael, refuses to take his crap and hands out a couple good doses of tough love. Todd needs both to accept himself in the end.

8) What's the most valuable tip you've gotten - about writing, recovery, laundry, or life in general?

Follow your soul. For years I thought I would be fun to write a book, but never could find the courage to do it. Or I’d talk myself out of it – what do you say for 200 pages??? But once I gave myself permission to try, just try, yeah, it was hard at times and involved a huge learning curve (see 210,000-word tome), but I simply can’t imagine anything I’d rather do.

9) What's next for Leesa Freeman on the novel front?

Right now I’m in the query process for my novel Into the Deep End about Luke Stevenson, a young man who was on the cusp of achieving his dreams of swimming in the Olympic Trials and leaving his New Mexico town behind when a drunk driver crossed the yellow line one rainy night. In an instant, Luke lost his best friend Rob, his twin sister, and his sense of normalcy when he woke up in the hospital an Incomplete T11 paraplegic. [Bev here: I'm totally intrigued and looking forward to the read.]

Fingers crossed.

10) What question haven't you yet been asked, about this book or your career, that you've been waiting for someone to ask you - and what's the answer?

Gosh, um, I suppose how much of my personal beliefs went into this book? And I honestly, this book is rife with them. Which hasn’t happened since, but this book in particular brought out all kinds of potentially controversial topics for me.

When Shawna is taking pictures of Todd, he says:
My dad, the incredibly liberal UU minister, believed that because God created human beings, we each had a bit of His creativity in us. Like a wave is part of the ocean and therefore has its characteristics, so we have the characteristics of God. When I was a kid, the analogy made absolute sense, I’d been to the Gulf of Mexico. I’d ridden in the warm surf, tasted the saltwater as it washed over me. I understood the force of the waves and respected the power of the ocean.

…But I had long since stopped thinking of myself as a wave; I was too busy trying not to drown.

Later, when talking to his brother, he asks when Troy knew he was gay, and Troy’s response is to ask Todd when he knew he was straight. Troy goes on to explain his sexuality to Todd this way:
“I have this theory,” Troy said, reading my face. “See, people think of sex like a light switch, do you like guys or girls? But I think it’s more like a continuum and the only question is where do you fall on that line? Some people, like you, could only be with someone of the opposite sex. Some, like Ashton, could only be with someone of the same sex. And then there’s me. I enjoyed myself when I was with any one of the girls I was with. Well,” he smiled, “most of them. But when it comes down to it, I’m much closer to the ‘gay’ side on the line, than the ‘straight’ side.”

headshotsmall.jpgLike I said, it hasn’t happened since, not really, but if you want to know how I feel about certain things, just ask Todd.

A native Texan, Leesa Freeman enjoys escaping the chill of New England, if only in her imagination, often setting her stories in the places she loved growing up. Some of her favorite moments are the ones where it’s just her, her Mac, and simply conversing with the people who live inside her head, and sharing their lives with those who take the time to read her stories. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters, where she is also an artist, avid baker, a self-proclaimed music snob, and recovering Dr. Pepper addict. 

Have you read The Wisdom to Know the Difference, or added it to your TBR list?
Got a question or comment for Leesa?

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