With the first of the three big summer holidays behind us, we’re moving on…. I hope you were all able to spend the holiday with the people you care about. But for today, let’s spend a little while with Neil Leckman, author of INSTANT DRAGON.
IDI – Hi Neil. With Memorial Day behind us, let’s get down to business. Writing business. When did you know that you were born to be a writer?
NL – I don’t think I have ever had that, I never considered that as something people could do I was too busy getting lost in the stories I read from Steinbeck to Heinlein. Every one of them was like a gem in a crown of wondrous jewels, and I got to wear it every time I opened up one of those books.
IDI – I think when we write, to a degree, we become the people we write. We have to feel what they feel, think what they think and know what they know. Agree or disagree? What are your thoughts?
NL – It is pretty common for me to be in the middle of writing a story and I have to stop a moment and ask, ‘How did I get here? This isn’t what I thought the story would be about,’ the story takes on a life of its own and surprises me.
IDI – What are y ou working on now? Can we get an excerpt?
NL – MAGIC OF TREES is a children’s book I’m working on at the moment, I am writing and illustrating it.
This is an excerpt from “Instant Dragon” a short story about a boy who is the victim of bullies and a dream of owning his own dragon, sometimes dreams can be powerful things.
“Place the capsule in a glass of water just before going to bed, when you wake the next morning you’ll find your instant dragon. Like all living animals treat your dragon with love and respect and you’ll have many happy years together”
A young boy follows a firefly into the woods and discovers and ancient magic, one older than man, and a new respect for the trees he loves so much to play in.
IDI – Who’s your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?
NL – I consider whoever my words land on to be my target, that’s why I like flash fiction, it’s a lot like using a shotgun. There are even people out there that write stories the length of a tweet, or 144 characters, now that’s challenging. It’s amazing what some people can do and that is the beauty of writing.
IDI – Everyone has their own dream. What’s yours… best seller, feature film adaption, fame, riches, Pulitzer?
NL – That people like what I write, plain and simple. I live by the philosophy, ‘If a novel falls in the woods and nobody read it, was it ever written?’
IDI – We’ve all heard arguments for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch the entire book before you feel comfortable enough to begin your draft or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your jockey’s?
NL – I thought so, but what I encountered is that it blocked the free flow of the story. Once a tale begins to live in your mind it has to be free to follow its own course, plotting one makes it come across false, for me anyway.
IDI – We all draw from within and I believe there is an element of ‘us’ in everything we write. How much of ‘Neil’ will a reader find in one of your books?
NL – The irony, humor and twists I put in stories are all me, one of my editors calls it ‘The Leckman Twist’, just when you think you’ve figured out where the story is headed it goes another direction. The reason I do that is because that is the way life comes at me, just when I think I have it figured out it something comes along and throws me a left hook.
IDI – What was the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
NL – Put some pants on people are coming over!! Just kidding people don’t come over that often. John Claude Smith told me that I have a voice and that’s one of the hardest things to accomplish in writing. Since then I have been told that by several editors as well. Sometimes the feedback he gave me was like he stood behind me while I wrote. ‘This part of the story seemed rushed, and the next chapter comes across like you stopped, then came back much later and it seems like another story’.
IDI – What advice would you give to a new/unpublished authors?
NL – This is an easy one, don’t quit, and focus on the positive comments in rejections. Even bad comments can be a good thing. I stopped for twenty years and only recently started up again. I looked back on some of my rejections and had one from Marvel comics in 1976 that said, ‘Stan told me to tell you that we liked the story, however we are not currently accepting outside material’. To me it said, “NO!!” Looking at it now I think, ‘Stan Lee liked what I wrote, how cool is that?’ Ed Bryant recently told me the same thing, ‘focus on the positive’.
IDI – In your opinion, what is the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
1) That you didn’t pay someone to put your story in print.
2) That in consideration for your story you got a free copy of the publication or money.
3) That the story has to be approved by an editor before it can be in a publication.
I personally write a lot of stories that I get no payment for, but not all of them. The reason I do that is to gain visibility, and not every story gets accepted, so an editor has to like it first.
IDI – Everyone has visions of where they see themselves in the future, be it a year or five. Where do you see yourself in five years? Where did you see yourself five years ago? Did you make it there?
NL – Sitting in a little park feeding pigeons, I’m not sure why because I’m not that fond of them. I am wearing pants, which is a plus, and I have a big bag of crumbs. So even if I have no fans I do have the birds, and that’s something, I’m not sure what, but it’s mine!!
IDI – That is probably the most unique answer I’ve ever received for that question, Neil! If that’s your vision of where you see yourself in the future, what do you do presently when you’re not writing?
NL – Eat, stare at blank walls, drool, but with style and panache. Other times you’ll find me drawing the places or creatures I want to use in my stories. It helps me makes the places and people more real when I write, and I enjoy it, then I drool.
IDI – When reading another author, do you find yourself taking in what you read or are you more likely to critique as you go? And if so, what is the one thing you see most often?
NL – Critique, I’d have to be pretty foolish to consider myself in a position to do that, not that I haven’t done silly things in the past. I have a library at home with books that go back to 1890 that I’ve been building for a long time. Among them are a few treasures, including one that Clive Cussler signed for me years ago, after he sat and talked one on one with me about writing for an hour. Every writer that I have met in my life has been very nice, easy to talk to, and often humble, amongst those would be Dan Simmons, Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem and Ed Bryant, who was a gem among gems and still is.
IDI – The guides say that once you know the rules, only then can you break them. Which ones do you find yourself breaking most often and does it work in your writing?
NL – I have a bad habit of submitting my first drafts, and there are a couple of editors that accept them that way. I admit that the feedback I get, even rejections, have been good for me. Several of the editors took the time to point out errors in my writing, even when they weren’t considering the stories for publication. In that respect I have been blessed.
IDI – Who is the most supportive of you and your dream to be a writer?
NL – Dorothy Davies, an editor for Static Movement, has been very supportive, and far quicker than most to reply to my emails. Thanks to her support I tried poetry, and for some reason other editors seemed to like it too. To be honest poetry has always seemed odd to me, far too easy to write, and yet people like it. To me that’s like, ‘If it’s too good to be true it isn’t’, so that house of cards may tumble at any moment, leaving a full house and empty verse.
IDI – Define a great book.
NL – A great book is a thing of mystery and beauty; it has the power to move you.
IDI – What is your all-time favorite book?
NL – I’m going to go with a short story; ‘The Father Thing’ by Philip K Dick, the other would have to be ‘Mimic’ by Donald Wollheim, both classic stories from the oldies.
IDI – Tell us, what is an ordinary day in the life of Neil Leckman?
NL – Go to work and during my breaks write a short story, poem or sketch something, submit them when I get home. Scan the images into my computer and post them for people to see or put them into one of the books that I’m working on. One of the longer projects is a collection of short stories that lead up to December of 2012. I wanted to create monsters that nobody else has used, so I evolved trilobites into wurms. The stories range from the old west in the 1800’s to after December of 2012 when the lost journal of Tesla is revealed.
IDI – What is the hardest or most frustrating aspect of writing? Ideas, getting started, writer’s block, re-writing?
NL – Editing, because that entails doing the things that I skipped classes to avoid having to learn about, I attribute that to laziness for the most part on my own part. I see comments where someone took a week to write a story and two months to edit it. To me in those two months I could write several more less than acceptable stories.
IDI – Who, in your opinion, was the best character ever written, and why?
NL – What is better, I poke in the eye with a sharp stick, or reading one of your stories?
I’d really like to answer that question, but I have to go to the Urgent care now!! The things I do for my readers…
IDI – How did you get your start?
NL – I lived in a town with three television stations, and after 2 AM they went ‘off the air’ and VHS, DVD’s and such were things of the future, so I told stories. I would just make them up as I went along and once I finished them they were like so much smoke on a windy summer day, gone. I never once thought about writing them down, I was a story-teller, not a story writer. Sometimes I might draw a cartoon to go with a story, but I often just threw them away. In those days they called me the wizard. Someone once asked me if they called me that because of the way I talked sounded like as good a reason as any other. It wasn’t until June of 2010 that I started writing seriously, and 100 stories later here I am!!
IDI – What is it that makes you different from any other writer?
NL – Well I would say it is the twist, or spin, I put on my stories, someone who makes it hard to guess where the story is going, because often it seems like you can tell what is going to happen far too soon, and that’s no fun. It is all about fun and that’s more obvious when you tell a story verbally.
“Oh, I know what’s going to happen next!!”
“Really, I guess I’ll have to fix that won’t I?”
That’s how you learn at the street level, put a twist on it that people can’t guess, or shut up.
IDI – Do you have any regrets about your writing?
NL – Yes, the fact that I waited too long to be serious about it. Maybe that gave the stories time to grow and become living things inside me that begged to be unleashed, or maybe I’m just saying that because this in an interview and it sounds good. The bottom line is that I write hoping that the readers enjoy it, because if they don’t I haven’t done those stories justice, and after all these years that would be a sad thing indeed.
IDI – Thank you for appearing here with me today, Neil. You gave some very unusual answers and I love nothing more than originality! I want to wish you the very best with all of your writing endeavors and who knows, maybe we’ll see you here again!
If you read Neil’s interview, please don’t forget to take a minute or so and leave him your thoughts. I know he’d appreciate it. *Due to unsolicited spam mail, Neil has asked me to remove links to his personal and websites that previously appeared.
And now… this week’s recommended reading. This week, I’m offering a few writer’s reference books that are some of the most informative out there.
And here is a handy little guide that not only helps you to choose the word with as much or as little Oomp as you need, but gives word choices that you might not think of otherwise. I love this book!
Okay… it’s a wrap!
I missed her signing in Jenkintown last Saturday, but she’ll be paying us a second visit next week – Karen Pokras Toz, author of the ‘NATE’ series of childrens books. Don’t miss her!
*In honor of Memorial Day, a photo of ‘long-ago me’ and my father, John Garvey. Miss & love you, Dad.