This guest post was written by Anne Leonard, author of the book Moth and Spark, a novel combining fantasy and romance. I read Moth and Spark earlier this week and enjoyed it tremendously. Normally I have a hard time with romance, but this one had the perfect combination of love, magic, and dragons. Expect a review soon!
About the Author
Elisabeth Anne Leonard was born in Chicago and has lived numerous places since. After receiving her MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, she obtained her Ph.D. in English literature and published several scholarly works with an emphasis on race in science fiction and fantasy. Eventually she ended up in law school, where in the short intervals when she was not studying she started writing the book that became Moth and Spark. She practiced as a lawyer before selling the novel and turning to full-time writing. Her other creative outlet is photography. She lives in Northern California with her husband, son, and two black cats. Her website is http://anneleonardbooks.com, and she can be found on twitter at @anneleonardauth.
Life as a Student and a Writer
How does my academic life and its overlap with my writing life? What’s interesting for me about this question is that as I dig deeper into answering it, I learn stuff about myself that I didn’t know. The thing about personal history is that as you change as a person, the influence of your past changes too. I appreciate different things about events than I did when they happened.
I have four degrees. But they are all in significant ways different from each other. My B.A. was in liberal arts from St. John’s College, which is a very small school (there were about 90 people in my graduating class). The curriculum consists of reading primary texts instead of secondary texts in every class, and everyone takes the same classes, which makes it possible to have discussions with anyone on campus about a book. So I read Homer and Euclid and Kant and Newton and Chaucer and . . .
This was great for someone like me, who was interested in all sorts of things and would have had a terrible time deciding on a major in a traditional school. Some of the reading influenced me in the way that any book influences a person; it becomes part of an experience and it imparts knowledge. But it also gave me a broad frame of reference and an understanding of the history of Western ideas. More and more as I write, I go back and look through books that I read then, sometimes for story ideas but also as a reminder that ideas and cultures build upon each other and I’m not writing in a vacuum. College was not just about education; it was also about becoming a member of a community.
After my B.A., I got my MFA in fiction writing. It’s kind of obvious how a degree in writing influences a fiction writer. But more than just learning craft, I learned how to talk about writing. I think it’s where my style began to really develop into its own. There were also a lot of required literature classes, including literary criticism, so I got exposed to fiction and poetry I hadn’t read before, and to ideas about reading as a process. I also taught undergraduate composition and creative writing, which made me very aware of how I wrote and read. Thinking about how I interact with texts helps situate me in what I’m writing.
The Ph.D. in English literature continued to focus my ideas about literature, but with an emphasis on criticism and scholarship. I realized somewhere along the way that I didn’t want to teach in higher education as it exists in the US today, and I didn’t want to spend all my time writing about other people’s books when I could be writing my own. It didn’t seem at the time like getting a Ph.D. was doing much more to help me as a writer than reading books on my own would have. But in just the last few months, as I’ve been immersing myself in the online community of readers that didn’t exist at all back in the 90’s, I’ve realized that it really helped me think about how people read: what assumptions they come in with, how their personal background shapes what they take away from a book, where cultural biases exists. We talked about these things in classes, and I read plenty of articles on the subject, but it looks really different now when I see actual reaction to books “in the wild.” (And now I’m thinking I need to write an article on the subject….You can take me out of scholarship, but you can’t take scholarship out of me.)
After my Ph.D., when I needed a job and wasn’t going to do the teaching route, I landed in a paralegal position, which turned out to be work that I was really good at and mostly liked, and after a few years I was writing documents for attorneys to sign. Then it seemed silly not to make much more money by being able to sign them myself, so I went to law school. The only academic writing I did in law school was on exams and in legal writing classes. This was difficult writing; I had to learn another genre. It helped me become much more sharply aware of ambiguities and lack of clarity in my writing. This was obviously helpful when I got out into practice and was writing motions on a pretty much daily basis, but it turned out to be very useful in doing the edits to Moth and Spark as well. It’s always nagging at the back of my head in my current writing, too. Law school also served me well because for the most part, law is about the resolution of conflict, which is also what novels are about.
Occasionally I wonder about what would have happened if I had not gone on to a doctoral program after I did my MFA, or if I had just quick working for three years to write and borrowed the money for that instead of going to law school. I don’t know what either my life in general or my writing in particular would look like if I had not spent so many years in school. It’s an impossible question to answer. Separating my writing life from my experiences, including school, is like separating the front of a coin from its back.
One of the unifying aspects of my four degrees is that they have all, in varying ways, touched upon the relationship of the individual to society, the connections between self and the outside world. This isn’t something I’ve consciously articulated before. Thinking about relationship between me and the world is important to me as a writer, because it engages with questions about themes, plots, conflicts, and audience, among others. That awareness of self and world shows up in everything I write. And that matters.
About the Book
Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.