Author Kathy-Diane Leveille is a former broadcast journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBS) and is a member of Sisters in Crime; International Thriller Writers; Kiss of Death RWA and Crime Writers of Canada.
Her short story collection, Roads Unravelling (Sumach Press, 2003) was published to critical acclaim. A selection from its pages, "Learning to Spin", was adapted to radio drama for CBC’s Summer Drama Festival while "Showdown at the Four Corner’s Corral" was revised for the stage and performed by New City Theater in Saint John.
Her work has also been published in anthologies that include Water Studies: New Voices in Maritime Fiction (Pottersfield Press, 1998) and New Brunswick Short Stories (Neptune, 2003) as well as in a number of literary journals, among them, Grain; Room of One's Own; The Oklahoma Review; Pottersfield Portfolio and The Cormorant.
Let the Shadows Fall Behind You (Kunati, 2009), is her first novel.
In this interview, Kathy-Diane Leveille talks about her writing.
When did you start writing?
I wrote my first poem when I was in Grade 1:
Oh Father Dear, I’m glad you’re here
So we can celebrate this day, with a Doran’s beer.
Of course I didn’t understand why my teacher’s eyes rounded with horror when she read it. That was my first lesson in discovering that not everyone will welcome the truth in what you write.
My mother sewed paper together for me so I could write books when I played library, but I really didn’t have any desire to write until I was in Grade 6. I was secretly in love with our new teacher from Toronto, Miss Matthews. (Yes, she was the inspiration for the character, Miss Matthews, in Let the Shadows Fall Behind You.)
One day Miss Matthew glided to my desk, scarf fluttering, and delicate cologne filling my nostrils. She announced she loved the story I’d written, and that it would make a great radio play.
I was stunned.
I had no idea that the words I scribbled like mad would actually elicit such a strong and positive response in someone else. It was my first inkling that words were powerful.
I wrote and produced a few radio dramas that year, and also wrote and directed the class Christmas play.
When did you decide you wanted to be a published writer?
I’m a former broadcast journalist with CBC radio.
Seventeen years ago, when I was home on maternity leave with my youngest son, I dug out an old file of story ideas and started scribbling. By the time the date arrived when I was supposed to return to work, I had already decided that I didn’t want to keep putting my dream of writing fiction on the back burner.
Since then I’ve done different jobs, including being a janitor and typing medical transcription, to give me the time and energy to pursue my passion.
My first book Roads Unravelling, a collection of short stories set on the Kennebecasis River where I live, was published a few years ago. Let the Shadows Fall Behind You, released this spring, is my first novel.
Who is your target audience? And, what motivated you to write for this audience?
Anyone who loves a good psychological suspense story.
I tend to discover a new author in the genre and compulsively read every single thing they’ve written. Lately, I’ve been devouring the works of Nicci French, a husband and wife British team. Maybe I’m just intrigued that this collaboration continues without self-combusting. I can’t imagine my husband and me surviving a writing project long enough to type THE END.
I really like sophisticated screen thrillers, too, like Fatal Attraction and Wall Street, and have watched both quite a few times. I just love the mechanics of the plot paired with superb characterizations. I think every movie I watch and book I read informs my writing to some degree, because when the story transports me, I am always curious as to why and try hard to nail it down. Hopefully, I’ve done it with Let the Shadows Fall Behind You.
How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?
Working in the field of journalism offered valuable training in discipline. You’re working to a deadline to produce stories whether you like it or not. There were many times I sat down at the computer with absolutely no idea of where to go. You learn in journalism to have faith in the process, that you can start with nothing and eventually something will take shape and grow. It was a tremendous mentorship in the art of research, fact checking and honing the 5 W’s.
What are your main concerns as a writer?
The most difficult thing about writing is returning to the page when the initial excitement over a story idea has worn off and I’m riddled with doubts about my ability to translate the vision to the reader. However, I’ve learned through the years that I must keep going back, that eventually the doubts fade and something sparks and I fall in love with my characters all over again. It is that moment, ironically, that is the most exciting about writing because I always learn something from my character’s journey.
I believe writer’s block comes with the territory. At first, I despair, convinced whatever I’m working on should be tossed. But usually after reflection, a long walk or a trip to the library, I realize I need a break from the writing. For me writer’s block comes because the well is dry. I need to get out and enjoy life. It usually takes one or two days before suddenly a window opens in the block (when I’m doing something totally mundane like having my tooth drilled), and suddenly I’m antsy to be set free to grab a pen and paper.
What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Rejection of the work you’ve spent so much time on is always a blow. The only cure for my disappointment has always been writing. Before you know it, I’m caught up in the characters and the mystery of their journey. Sometimes it helps to work on a completely different project. If anything, I figure I must have learned something by now to make this one come closer to the mark.
Do you write everyday?
I have a large chair that could fit three people in its lap. It allows me to keep lots of books, pads of paper and pens by my side. Directly across from the chair is a large picture window three-quarters sky and one-quarter river that is constantly shifting in light and color.
I usually start with a pen and pad for the inspiration stage, then move to the computer for the perspiration stage. When I get to a place where I’m uncertain as to how to proceed, I always go back to pen and paper. I think there’s some mechanism in that tactile exercise that frees the right brain to soar.
I usually begin by simultaneously visualizing a situation that causes an upheaval in life, and hearing a character’s voice emote their reaction to it. It’s a very strange process and definitely has my husband worried some days; especially when he dusts the books on my research shelf: Handbook of Poisons and Crime Scene Investigation.
How many books have you written so far?
My first book, Roads Unravelling, is a collection of short stories set on the river where I live on the east coast of Canada. It was published by Sumach Press in 2002 to critical acclaim when "Learning to Spin" was adapted to radio drama and aired on the CBC Summer Drama Festival.
My second book Let the Shadows Fall Behind You is a suspense novel published in the spring of 2009 by Kunati Books.
How long did it take you to write Let the Shadows Fall Behind You?
It took about five years to write Let the Shadows Fall Behind You from the initial idea stage to publication. Partly, it was because I had so much to learn about novel writing; but I’m a slow writer. I need to do a draft and then set it side before digging it out again.
Ultimately, Let the Shadows Fall Behind You is a story about coming to terms with the past and letting it go.
The truth is people disappear from our lives all the time; the fiction is the belief in our control to bring them back.
Let the Shadows Fall Behind You celebrates the strength of women’s friendship.
What did you find most difficult when you were working on the book?
I think when you write mystery novels, constructing the murder scenes is always difficult. The theme of suspense is positive not negative. When you get to the last page, the story is about the triumph of good over evil. Those short times I, as a writer, have to step inside a psychopath’s mind are always a bit grizzly.
What did you enjoy most?
Turn to the opposite side of the coin, which is the protagonist who is flawed and human, but still contains the kind of heroism, hope and strength I admire.
What sets this book apart from other things you've written?
I absolutely love the freedom a novel provides in comparison to a short story. The canvas is so much larger, and there is so much opportunity to stretch your creative muscles.
Tackling a novel was a steep learning curve for me. I had to write three or four in order to learn the many elements involved, and I’m still learning. I can remember that feeling of breaking through, however, when I knew that I was finally juggling all the balls of character, setting, plot, theme, pacing and not dropping any. It was, and is, tremendously satisfying.
What will your next book be about?
My next suspense novel, In Cold Storage, is about finding the courage to believe in yourself.
What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?
Having my own books displayed on the shelves at the library. When I was growing up, the library was my sanctuary and source of inspiration and grace.
There is no feeling comparable to having my books published and joining the authors who opened new worlds and ideas to me. Picture the arrival of Christmas morning, the thrill of hearing a newborn baby’s cry and the rush of your first kiss all rolled into one. My husband and I do the happy-happy joy dance. He’s my number one cheerleader and gets more excited than I do!
However, he does get nervous when I start digging plots in the garden, and discussing ideas for a new character who murders her spouse.
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