Author Interview: Ann Haywood Leal
Did you major in English / Creative writing in college? Would you recommend aspiring writers to do so or major in a subject they would like to write about, such as history?
I majored in psychology and elementary education at the University of Washington in Seattle. Being a teacher has influenced my writing in a huge way. The kids definitely fuel me with ideas! I love listening to them talk. I don’t think you need to major in creative writing, but I’m sure it helps. Getting a liberal arts education is great, because it exposes you to so many different topics. You never know what is going to spark your interest as a writer and end up as the beginning of a story!
What was your first reaction when you saw the cover of your first book? Do you think that the cover of your Also Known as Harper represents the story within it?
That’s a great question because my book has actually had two covers! The one on the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) is an old broken-down motel, which I loved. Then it was changed before the final hardcover was printed. It sounds corny, but when my editor showed me that cover, it took my breath away. It was as if the designer had gotten inside my head and put my thoughts down in picture form. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Does it make you nervous knowing that people are reading your work?
Yes, yes, and yes! All of my writing life, which is from about age four, only a handful of people have ever read my stories; mainly my family and my teachers, and later on, my critique group. The one thing that I have always wanted though, was to give someone else the feeling that I got as a young girl when I found the right book on the shelf at the library. I would be thrilled if someone connected with one of my characters like that.
What kind of environment do you prefer to write in? Any music, or television in the background?
I am still teaching full-time, so I’ll pretty much write in any environment! I take a notebook or a laptop wherever I go so I can squeeze in as much writing time as possible. I’ve written on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer practice, on an old church pew while my daughter was in her religion class, and on the floor in the hallway outside her violin lesson. My ideal environment would be outside with jazz music on my IPod and a really good mocha espresso drink, with extra chocolate on the side!
Have you ever based any of your characters on real life people? If so have they ever figured it out?
I have never consciously based any of my characters on a real person, but I’m sure they have certain traits of people I have come across or known. For example, Winnie Rae Early’s mother, Harper’s evicting landlord, has shades of an old neighbor of mine from my childhood. That neighbor said the most horrible things to the neighborhood kids—and even worse, she was the mother of three kids, herself! If she were to read the book, I doubt that she’d recognize herself. I don’t think that people tend to recognize their own bad qualities!
How do you pick the names of your characters?
Harper is named after Harper Lee, the author of my favorite book (and what I consider to be the great American novel!), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Hemingway is a tribute to a friend of mine who passed away. He was her favorite author.
What inspired you to write Also Known as Harper?
I have volunteered at my local soup kitchen for the last few years. Harper isn’t based on a particular visitor of the soup kitchen, but more on a feeling I got when I first saw the children come in with their families. The adults tend to be somewhat beaten down by life, but the kids are so strong and they still have hope in their eyes. I tried to convey that hope and resiliency in the characters of Harper and her brother, Hem.
Do you have a favorite character from your novels?
Hmmm…..probably Harper. But I’m also attached to the main character from my first novel that I wrote in the sixth grade. It was a hundred pages, mainly on colored notebook paper. I was kind of a geek (I still am!), and I spent a lot of time with the characters in the books I was reading and writing!
If you were not an author, what profession would you want to have?
I would want to work in a bookstore or a library…or I would love to be a jazz singer or the lead singer in an alternative band…but there is an issue with my singing voice…it’s terrible!
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I just finished my second novel, SEARCHING FOR EZEKIEL, due out next year, also with Henry Holt/MacMillan. It is about two sisters, dealing with a mother who I hope will bring out conflicting emotions in the reader!
I have loved visiting your blog. Thank you so much!
Thank you oh so much for stopping by Books Love Jessica Marie and answering all of my questions! I really appreciate it! :)