R. Leigh's novel, The Winds of Asharra, combines elements of fantasy, romance, mysticism, and philosophy. In this interview, the author talks about her inspiration for the book, the creative process, and her writing habits, among other things. Most interestingly, she stresses the importance of a writer's working environment.
Were you an avid reader as a child? What types of books did you enjoy reading?
Growing up. I read anything and everything, so favorites were changed as frequently as socks, making it difficult to answer. My favorite authors were really more like a variety of appetizers before a meal. My preferences for them would shift depending on my appetite or mood. One day, it might be the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs if my pulp adventure sweet tooth was calling me. The next day, I might be craving something inspiring like Lost Horizon by James Hilton. In general though, even with such a smorgasbord, my tastes ran toward the hopeful, the noble or the larger than life in the fantasy or science fiction genres. That having been said, it's not surprising I ended up with a focus on the positive, mystical, fantasy and philosophical elements and attempted to create my own literary delicacy that included all of these ingredients.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
My current novel is called The Winds of Asharra and it is a 600 page opus that is a bit difficult to classify. It has more than enough fantasy elements (intelligent trees, evolved felines, musical dragons, etc.) to be considered a fantasy, but enough raw sizzle to be seen as a romance (with multiple happy couples by the end). It also spends considerable time outlining a complicated yet positive alien philosophy and culture. Yet, apart from all of those elements, it is a journey of self discovery really, both for the characters, certainly for myself and perhaps for the readers as well. As far as inspiration goes, I spent many years studying a variety of diverse cultures, religions and societies. Frequently, I would rejoice over the discovery of some little “nugget” of wisdom or example that people could really be in harmony with their world and be happy. However, the more tidbits I amassed, the more I felt ultimately unsatisfied, since the result was a crazy patchwork that didn’t quite fit together.
Asharra changed all that. This strange and sensual alien world, seen through the eyes of two American teenagers suddenly transported there, was my backdrop to explore the concepts of a better and more natural way of life. The term “Asharra” to the native Asharrans means “the home around us” and applies to their planet and every living thing on it. They believe you don’t even have to be born there to be Asharran, so long as you are natural and “true” (in their terms). Thus, when one native Asharran tells the two main characters (from Earth), “welcome home,” it is because Asharra is simply the home they have never seen yet. I suppose then, my inspiration for WOA was an idealistic dream of a better world and a better way of living.
How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?
It was definitely a stream of consciousness. Ten years prior to writing The Winds of Asharra, I had written a science-fiction book (now out of print) called 3 Passports to Paradise. That experience was the exact opposite of this one. I created the world, the plot and the characters in that previous work, by the proverbial book, taking all of the necessary steps that authors are told they should make. With The Winds of Asharra, it was the reverse. The words flew from my head so rapidly that my fingers could not keep up at the keyboard. I suppose you could say that the overall tone or setting for this book took ten years to subconsciously percolate inside my brain, but regardless, when I ultimately sat down to write it, I was surprised how easily the characters, the setting and the concepts flowed.
Describe your working environment.
I am very influenced by environmental factors, so surrounding myself in a "special" writing space is of paramount importance. Since The Winds of Asharra is set in a fantasy environment where things are larger than life, my writing atmosphere had to match. I painted my study a deep reddish purple, adorned it with dark blue drapes and started looking for posters of dragons or at least ethereal landscapes. There was always some mystical music playing in the background (David Arkenstone, Himekami, Enya or even Yanni) during the actual writing process. As the novel took shape, I even managed to acquire some life-sized props (large crystals for example) which are central to the story, to help "transport" me to my novel's setting. It may not be the most conventional way to work, but it has been a greatly enjoyable technique.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Given the creation of this warm and cozy atmosphere (my writing study) that I just described, the subject of discipline was minimized for me since the atmosphere was so inviting. Naturally, the fact that I had 600 pages of nagging itch inside my brain coaxing me to allow those characters to "come out and play" was also a central factor. I did not have to laboriously set aside a specific amount of time or a specific amount of pages or words each day. Instead, I willingly found myself drawn into that world (or as close as I could come) and instead, had to remind myself to take lunch/dinner breaks, much to the amusement of my spouse.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Many writers quote the famous line "write what you know" as their personal mantra and favorite advise to pass along to others. I would have to tweak this and change its entire meaning. For me, it's not a case of "write what you know" but rather "write what you feel." If your work is truly to be a vibrant, living reflection of your inner passions and thoughts, it must be filled with your feelings, even more than your thoughts. Every one of the characters in WOA is someone (or something) with whom I can identify in some way, even if some of them are not even human! For me, caring about the characters is central and identifying with some aspect of them or their situations is central in the enjoyment of the writing (and hopefully the reading) process.
What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?
At this point, it is difficult to say, since I am literally sampling many of the various methods simultaneously. It is certainly enjoyable for me to be interviewed or post on blogs since I hope that my own enthusiasm comes through. At the same time, I've been experimenting with book trailers, banner advertisements and even had some fun with some online chats and newsletters.
I've also taken the unusual step of actually offering an e-book of the Winds of Asharra totally free on our website. Naturally, we're hoping that the readers will sample it (it is 600 pages long) and ultimately "upgrade" to the paperback or hardback editions, but for us, it's about sharing this fantasy world and the inspiring story of the main characters. If readers agree, they will determine if it is worth parting with their dollars. Naturally, it's available at the major online channels like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?
Many authors loudly proclaim that their latest book is for everyone. We would like to add a caveat to that. While WOA is indeed designed for fantasy fans, romance fans and even New Age philosophy fans, it is definitely NOT for everyone. It’s not often you hear an author admit that. While we are very proud of the adventure and the humor we injected into the 600 page opus, (centering on the journey of Victor and Ionera, two earth teenagers, who arrive on this world of the purple sky) we must make one point clear. Since Asharra is a very natural and sensual place, The Winds of Asharra is definitely not for a pre-teen audience. We certainly hope that any Hogworts graduate of the Harry Potter books will explore the world of Asharra, but they must be of legal age. The excitement in WOA comes not only from the adventures but also from the sizzle between some of the characters. The joy of creating a crossover product is that it can include a much wider audience than just a single genre. However, we feel it is our responsibility to also point out the proverbial flip side, when an audience segment (in this case pre-teens) should be excluded. While we're hoping that many readers will be "carried along" by the Winds of Asharra, we want to make certain that it finds the appropriate audience.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Sure. We're located at thewindsofasharra.com.