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Friday, July 27, 2012

Interview with David LeRoy

Welcome to my blog David.  Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about yourself and your book The Siren of Paris.

Q. Tell us about your latest worktitle, genre, etc. and why you wrote it?
A.  The latest happens to be my first novel and that is The Siren of Paris.  I wrote this book to shed light on an entirely different point of view on World War II.  The main character is a young art student who was born in France but raised in America.  He becomes trapped by the war. Due to survivor’s guilt, after his friend dies in the sinking of the RMS Lancastria, he returns to Paris for the duration of the war.  His decision leads to his nearly complete destruction, leaving him, after the war, an utterly changed person.

QWhat draws you to your genre(s)? Why is this type of story compelling to you?
A. The people I discover in my research, hands down.  The history is interesting and dramatic, but my key interest is how my characters change in response to those driving circumstances.  I am attracted to underdogs, or the unlikely hero.  For instance, among the more unlikely heroes I ran across in my research was a British nurse named Joan Rodes.  She rescued 19 men from the sea at Saint-Nazaire on June 17th, 1940 when the RMS Lancastria sank.  She is known among the survivors of the tragedy as the Angel of Saint-Nazaire.  I decided to give this historical figure a large role in my book, similar to the role Molly Brown had in Titanic.  But Joan Rodes is a very different character from the larger than life Molly Brown.  She lost the baby she was carrying two days later and was sick for the next two years.  What attracted me to her is that she is a wounded hero, and I think this is the type of character that can be very healing

Q. What is your writing process like? Do you map the whole thing out or do you just let it unfold?
A.  I am something of a control freak when it comes to writing, and this is likely due in part to my past jobs in project management.  Once I have the basic plot and characters down, I write out a three-page summary of the story and test the emotional structure of the book at that level.  Then, after making changes, I move on to writing a complete first rough draft of the novel.  From there, I add more details, emotional content, description and dialog as needed as I work through the drafts of the story.  Actual writing seems to be only a very small part of my process.  Re-writing is the majority of my process.  Once I have solved any pacing or tension issues, and all of the chapters and scenes of the story flow as I want them, I begin fine tuning the editing until I had it off to a copy-editor.  Here is the control freak part; throughout the entire process, I am tracking everything on a large MS Excel worksheet so I know exactly where I am at in the writing of the book.  Yes, I let things unfold through a highly structured and controlled method. 

Q.  What kind of research was involved in writing your book?
A.   Most of my research for this book was reading various other books on the subject of Vichy France, or World War II With that said, books published just after the war, up to 1965, had far more rich details that I could use in my story.  Books written after 1965 seemed to emphasize the political aspects of the war, and would not include the mundane details which actually bring the time period to life.  I also read all of the major French newspapers from 1938-1939.  I wanted to know if a common everyday person would have recognized the size and scope of World War II approaching.  The frightening thing is that I don’t think they would.  The papers have headlines about this or that crisis with Germany, but they really are just like our modern paper headlines about the Middle East or various social political crises.  Over time, I am sure people would become desensitized to the news or even dismissive. And the papers would go back and forth between highly urgent headlines and just everyday normal news.  I expect that instead of anticipating a new war, many people had just come to expect that each crisis would be resolved just like the last one.  Of course, that is not what happened, but I wanted to understand exactly what my characters would see, hear and read as World War II engulfed their lives. 

Q.  How much of YOU makes it into your characters?
A.   I suspect far more than I realize.  My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy and Religion; therefore I am accustomed to dealing with questions that have no answers.  Instead of glossing over these questions, I focused upon them in this story and tried to put the reader directly in front of the moral dilemmas people would face during the war.  I have my own experience with survivor’s guilt and posttraumatic stress disorder. It was not difficult for me to know exactly how surviving the sinking of the RMS Lancastria and later Buchenwald would torment Marc.                                                                                                                              
 Q. How do you balance the need to have time to write with the needs of family, society, etc.?
A.  I am single and without children, so it is not too difficult.  However, balancing my artwork with writing is a challenge.  They are both creative processes, but I use completely different parts of my brain for writing vs. painting.   Plus, because of the stories and characters I am attracted to, it is not practical for me to produce multiple books per year. 

Q. Have there been any authors in particular, that inspired your writing?
A.  I suppose Hemingway, but I am more likely influenced by John Steinbeck.  But here is an unlikely one, and that is the American landscape photographer Ansel Adams.  Before I took up painting, I used to spend a lot of time with fine art in the form of black and white photography, and Ansel Adams taught about the need, in photography, to pre-visualize your image as you are taking it, down to the type of negative you are creating and what it will look like as a final print.  When I am writing, putting together a scene, I am completely pre-visualizing that scene in my mind’s eye.  This is the most exhausting aspect of writing for me, because I have to see it in my mind first, which requires creating it from my imagination and then describing what I am seeing through words that communicate this vision effectively to the reader.  Sometimes I pull it off, and other times I struggle, but I learned this technique from a photographer instead of an English professor.

Q.  Is there a story you want to tell behind or about your work(s)?
A.   The story behind The Siren of Paris is a spiritual story of rising above betrayal and survivor’s guilt.  For a World War II novel written over 70 years later, that is a unique story, because most of our modern World War II novels focus upon a hero’s victory over the Nazis or some secret mission that somehow helps to turn the tide of the war.  My own personal experience with survivors and veterans of the war is that time has healed the wounds very slowly.  For instance, survivors of the Lancastria sinking are still trying to get the government to at least declare the ship to be a protected war wreck.  My own personal hope is that there will be healing one day, even if it happens outside of the realm of the living.  The war did tear the fabric of our human life over 69 million times. 

Q. What other projects are you currently working on or about to start?
A.   The next story will be smaller in scope than this epic war novel, but poignant all the same.  I will be examining the choices and decisions that a Mayan orphan has to make after the death of her mother in San Cristobal de la Casas Mexico.  Currently, I am in the middle of my research for this story, and I expect to have a finished product in 2013. 

Q. Could you share some of your marketing strategies?  Which ones are the most effective in your opinion?
A.  Marketing is a terribly long race.  In the past, I have run a few half, full, and even one ultra marathon.  I am just starting out in this race, and my own goal is to pace myself and maintain a consistent level of activity.  Eventually, I will reach my target audience of readers, but from my perspective, although social media might help, achieving this goal takes time, effort and patience.  This is likely not the answer a new author wants to hear, but I think one of the problems new authors are having with marketing is unrealistic expectations of a small amount of activity within a short period of time.

Q. What would be the top five, (or 3 or 1 or however many) things you would tell aspiring authors?
A.  First: read a wide range of books about the craft of story creation.  Be on the lookout for new releases, and revisit the books that resonate with you the most from time to time.  In other words, develop a library of tools at your disposal.  

Second: Learn to experiment with your characters.  Don’t get locked into only one set of decisions, but try out a scene involving several sets of possible choices.  I use a square method to identify possibilities.  I draw, on a piece of paper, a giant square with a cross through it. 
Then, on the left side, both above and below, I have “fear,” and then on the right side, I have “desire.”   I use this template to explore my character‘s choices.  For instance, Marc must struggle with leaving Paris before the Germans arrive.  He has fear of leaving, fear of staying, desire to leave, and desire to stay all at the same time as he struggles to make the right choice.   I take the issue, and then look at how both fear and desire might influence a character’s choices in a given situation.

Third: you should embrace editing early in your process.  Toss out the ego, and get used to the idea that what you have written is not brilliant and can always be improved upon.  It is not easy to do and can be very discouraging, However, the reward is that both your story and writing exceeds what you would otherwise be capable of.   Personally, I found it easier to strip to pose nude for an art class than to allow others to read my writing.  If you do it often enough, it no longer feels so strange.  I am using this analogy for a reason, because both posing nude and being edited are both highly vulnerable experiences.  If you are anxious about editing, that is natural, but don’t let it prevent you from embracing it, because if you become the shy sensitive writer, your craft will suffer for it later.

Again, thanks David for taking the time to share your knowledge with us. We appreciate you and your work.

Good luck with your current and future publications.
For more information: 
Purchase:      Amazon Kindle Edition
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  2. Thank you Anonymous. Perhaps you would also like to comment on David's book review and interview.


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