Author interview: Leslie Kain

  1. What inspired the idea for your book?
    The increasing rise of dysfunction in Western society, families, and individuals (including well-known public figures who encourage & promote it) ― domestic abuse, misogyny, narcissism, racism, mental illness, and substance abuse. I wanted to show how such dysfunction can proliferate from one generation to the next, and the effect it has on individuals and families.
  2. What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?
    This is the most important and critical aspect of my writing. Before I even begin writing a story, I spend a LOT of time “interviewing” my characters (especially the protagonist). I eventually get to “know” and understand my few main characters, and REALLY know the protagonist. I want more than getting inside their head – I want to get into their heart, their soul, know them better than they know themselves. When I get to that point, I become fully immersed in them, and they in me! They take over the plot at many points when I think it’s going in one direction and they want it to go in a different direction. There are many scenes and chapters that I never envisioned in my initial framework (I don’t do an actual “outline”). My MC Gavin comes to me in my dreams, in my half-asleep/half-awake states with new scenes; he often changes scenes I’ve written, and deepens the emotions & their core drivers.
  3. When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?
    I have to be alone. Late at night/wee hours when no one else is around. Lights down low, away from my computer, non-lyric music playing (what tempo of jazz or classical depends on the scene), immersing myself many layers deep into how the character feels and WHY – what are the long-ago roots of his emotions, not simply what he’s feeling at that point in the plot or action― and how that relates to the THEME of the story.
  4. What was your hardest scene to write, and why?
    When my MC’s father was killed. The father had always bullied Gavin throughout his childhood, calling him a loser & exalting Gavin’s narcissistic twin as the best; Dad was also responsible for the mother’s death. Gavin had every reason to hate his father. But weeks before this incident, Dad began opening up to Gavin about HIS childhood and the pressures & fears he had always been under, which shaped his behavior, for which he then apologized. When Dad stepped in front of a bullet meant for Gavin’s twin, Gavin felt empathy & forgave him for the past, and in the process realized that multiple generations of men in the family had created – and passed along – the dysfunction that warped his life & that of his twin.
    Forgiveness was difficult but transformative for Gavin. It was a very emotional cathartic scene.
  5. What part of the book was the most fun to write?
    Dialogue; especially the banter between Gavin & Katie, and between Gavin & his best friend Tray. After careers in which I wrote mostly nonfiction, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to write believable dialogue in fiction. Turns out that’s one of the things I do well (or so I’ve been told by many people). I don’t know how much of that is attributable to my being so immersed in my characters or that I just have an “ear” for how people communicate with each other.
  6. Whom do you trust for objective and constructive criticism of your work?
    Ideally, a developmental editor should fill that role, without trying to change the intention of the story. I’ve had two DEs, but neither went far enough, or deep enough. My CPs (especially Nancie) provided great insights and suggestions. For example, my CPs often didn’t understand why my MC, the victim of narcissistic abuse from his identical twin and his father, didn’t “fight back”. Although with my background in psychology, the symptoms & behaviors of both mentally ill characters and that of the victims they’ve abused is “obvious” to me, I decided to expand the role of Gavin’s high school counselor, who became his champion throughout the eleven years of the novel. He was the one to “explain” that persistent narcissistic abuse – especially from someone you love – will rob the victim of his self-esteem, his persona, and his agency – the belief in his own ability & right to make decisions & stand up for himself. Of course such information had to be conveyed without seeming dry, pedantic or didactic.
  7. What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
    The book realized, developed & reinforced its THEME. It grew from 60K words to 100K, and gained “Caveats” (trigger warnings) and book club questions. Oh, and the title changed, too! I had to put it out for a vote!
  8. If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?
    I didn’t plan for a sequel. Given how the current book ended, I didn’t think there would be one. But Gavin came to me one pre-dawn morning and said “Wait a minute! There are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up, and doing so will reveal more secrets that attract some unsavory characters. Besides, do you really think I’ve recovered from what you put me through? And if I have to dig through those old secrets & deal with those bad guys, it’s going to trigger me big time.” He then proceeded to lay out the framework of the plot … but not the ending! The story has Gavin as MC, but his wife Katie plays a huge role when Gavin is triggered & goes rogue. She has to get tough and bring him back from the brink. I may have some chapters from her POV. I’m working on it now, and Gavin is nagging me.
  9. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
    I learned a lot, and improved my craft in the process (thank you, Donald Maass). The surprising thing I learned is that writing a story & character that in any way mirrors my life is really difficult for me to do well. There must be separation between me and the character in order for the fictional character to have depth & authenticity, and for the story to be really vibrant and dynamic. That’s why my first book is still sitting on the shelf. It’s a good story with a surprising ending, but the MC needs to grow from two dimensions to four.
  10. If your book were made into a movie, which actors would play your characters?
    MANY people have told me this book would make a great Netflix series. I haven’t thought about who would play the characters, but I have been given – serendipitously – a soundtrack. Now that’s a really amazing story!

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