LeAnn Neal Reilly graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a master’s degree in professional writing. Along the way, she majored briefly in chemistry, served as opinion editor and then editor of her college newspaper, followed by an internship for an international design firm. After graduate school, LeAnn began working first for a small multimedia startup before moving on to a computer science research group. While at the startup, she spent her time writing user manuals and scripts for multimedia software used to train railroad engineers.
While writing among geeks, LeAnn became enamored with one and decided to take him home all for herself. After the bliss of getting married and starting a family, she returned to her adolescent daydreams of writing novels. Following years of working in an office not much better than an unfinished closet, LeAnn published The Mermaid’s Pendant.
LeAnn lives outside Boston with one husband, three children, a dog named Hobbes (after Calvin &), and a cat named Attila. She is at work on her next novel as well as writing reviews at Goodreads.
You can find LeAnn at her website.
Please tell us a bit about your book: The Mermaid’s Pendant - characters, plot, etc.
In the first half of The Mermaid’s Pendant, a graduate student named John Wilkerson runs away from his overbearing girlfriend Zoe and his high-tech research to Culebra Island. When a mermaid named Tamarind saves John from drowning and falls in love with him, she sets his life on a different course. Over the course of their romance, John and Tamarind face rivals, internal conflict, and a hurricane. Unlike typical fairy-tales, however, the story doesn’t end with John and Tamarind on the beach as the sun sets. Instead, the second half finds John moving his young family to a new city and starting a job. Without their awareness, the magic of their romance drains away, forcing them to cope with the realities of marriage. Zoe returns, bent on getting John back, and Tamarind’s old mentor, Ana, does what she can to wreck their chances. Yet John and Tamarind have advocates in their neighbor Lucy and their old friend Valerie.
If you could meet, in person, any of your characters, who would it be and why?
I’d love to meet Lucy, the elderly widow who dispenses blunt wisdom along with her tea and cookies. I could use Lucy to advise me.
If you could fictionalize yourself and put yourself in any situation, how would it play out? Could you give us a scene/scenario of such an occurrence?
Actually, I fictionalize some aspect of myself every time I write—I don’t know how else to put myself in my characters’ shoes so they come alive. Here’s how I imagine meeting Lucy:
“Shortbread?” Lucy’s voice interrupted my agonized inner debate. “Sugar’s good for calming the demon chewin’ at your guts. They give sugar water to newborns to quiet them.”
I took two cookies from the plate she held out to me. “Thanks.” My stomach knotted as I nibbled on one. “I feel like a newborn. All exposed and vulnerable. Lots of bright lights and strangers looking down at me naked.”
She leaned forward and put her hand on my wrist. “That’s because you are.”
I looked up. Her pale blue eyes, the corners drooping, stared into mine. “Whatta I do?”
She held my gaze for a moment and then turned back to her tea. Sighing, she said, “You do what every grownup does. You give the baby some sugar, put it to sleep and then pull up your socks and face the world.”
Do you have any particular habits that you do while writing? Places you write the best, foods, drinks, etc that help set your “writing mood”?
I write best in my home office, the library, or Starbucks. I don’t really need to set a mood, just sit down in my chair and focus. I do need a cup of black tea and often, dark chocolate. Snacks are necessary — my muse gets very hungry— usually cheese and crackers or an apple with peanut butter.
What are you reading right now?
Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography, and Dr. Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain
Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?
Margaret Atwood, John Irving, and Jane Austen are some of my favorite authors. Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice rank among my favorites. Some other books that have left an indelible impression are Cold Mountain, Empire Falls, Gone with the Wind, A Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Crime and Punishment.
If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Shakespeare. Reading his biography has only whet my interest in him. He didn’t leave much behind except plays and poetry, so of course he’s a cipher to us. It would take more than conversation over dinner to satisfy me. I think I’d have to be one of his “players” and work with him.
Okay, here are a few “get to know you better” questions:
Please share with us a favorite memory.
One of my favorite memories is of my wedding and its reception. Many of our family and friends told us the same thing afterwards. Unlike other couples I know, we didn’t forget to eat or rush visiting with guests to get through the ordained rituals of cake cutting, garter and bouquet tossing, and toasting. I’d been too happy and excited to be nervous at the ceremony. Instead, I was on top of the world for hours, dancing and laughing. I’ve never been quite so filled with bliss for so long again.
Please describe a perfect meal – including menu and those present.
A perfect meal includes about a dozen of my closest friends, along with my husband (and my children aren’t too far away). I’d host it because I’ve got a huge kitchen island — longer than my dining table — and everyone always gathers around it to eat and talk. There’d be lots of wine and appetizers, probably different kinds of cheese. Nothing very involved. I’d make a huge pot of pasta e fagioli soup with crusty garlic bread. For dessert, I’d offer coffee and tea with a selection of pastries. Or cappuccino and gelato, but then I’d have to get a cappuccino maker!
What are some of your favorite ways to relax?
In the winter, I can’t live without a regular hot bath, a book, and a cup of tea or a glass of wine. A regular “date” night with my husband when we watch comedy shows or movies keeps my stress level down.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I haven’t been enough places to know for sure, but I’d love to live in Italy, probably Rome. I’d have to visit Florence and Sicily before I can decide. There’s something about the quality of sunlight at that latitude, and the color of the Mediterranean, that fills a spiritual need in me. I love the sense of history and the beauty of the art and architecture that defines Italy.
If you could only read books by one author, who would it be? *I know, this is an inconceivable thought, lol.
I guess Shakespeare didn’t write books, so he’s out. It would either be Jane Austen or Margaret Atwood.
Share with us a few of your dreams. Also whether they have been fulfilled or are still a work in progress.
So far, my biggest dreams are works in progress, if only because they continue to grow and deepen. I wanted to marry my best friend and live happily ever after. I wanted to have a close family where traditions matter. I wanted to travel. And I wanted to write and publish a novel with substance. Those I’ve achieved. Other dreams? I’d like to teach college or adult creative writing classes someday. And I’d like to have enough money to support libraries and prenatal care in developing countries.
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
I inhale romance novels when I’m sick to get that rush of falling in love all over again. I also sneak dark chocolate and stay up to watch TrueBlood on DVD.
If you could leave the world with one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t be satisfied with what you make out of life. Keep your eyes on far-off goals. Doing and failing is better than only talking about doing.