Interview with Leena Maria

Published 2016-01-18.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I'm quite the impulsive buyer - I choose the genre I wish to read, maybe write a search term and then scroll through the first couple of pages of the results. The cover of course first attracts my attention - I am an artist myself, and so I appreciate the work of a professional cover artist - a picture that promises a good story.

Also I love series. I want to get to know the protagonist better, and so I usually start from book one and buy the series one after the other (if the first book is good). This is also why I like to write series - I want to learn to know my own main characters as well. And they sure sometimes do develop into surprising directions, no matter how carefully I have planned the story...
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. I was three years old, and had just met a police horse in the park. I had never seen a horse before in my life, but that did not stop me. I was already climbing half way up the horse's front leg before my mom could stop me. I still remember feeding the horse candy from the palm of my hand (mother had shown me how to do it and not lose my fingers) and I remember how gently that beautiful giant took my little offering. After that we went home, I had an argument with my mother why we could not have a horse in the apartment (her excuse was we had no balcony), took my crayons and paper, and drew my first story. I could not write yet so it was a cartoon of a small horse who left its parents. I cried buckets as it was a sad story. After that, when I learned to read and write words, I've written stories. Cardboard boxes full of them somewhere...
What is your writing process?
I plan the story first. First the main events in the plot, and then add details to create a first draft. I also do research - my books happen partly in history, ancient Egypt especially, so I want the details to be right. After five years of Egyptology studies at the University of Manchester I have a pretty good overall picture of the events in ancient Egypt, but I need to check the details. (They may not be something a reader knows to question while they pass the details in the story, but I know what it is like to spot historical mistakes - like Egyptians using iron swords, having camels, and slaves building the pyramids... Not to mention the pyramids being built at the wrong time, or the kings living in stone palaces.)

And then I begin the writing. I write the first draft quickly. It is horrible. Then I return to it, and begin again at the beginning, and start "fattening up" the story with details. Then I go through the story, copy-pasting every detail into a file of their own. Every person, every place. I read these files separately, checking out the characters are consistent throughout the story.

Once this stage is ready, it is time for a professional editor. She makes me rewrite a lot, but eventually I hope the story is as good as it can be.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
This was not the first story I ever read (those were children's picture books and I don't remember much of an impact really), but I remember the first story that had a real impact on me and made me understand how a story can really carry you into an imaginary world. And that story was Eric Linklaters "The Wind on the Moon". We listened it on the radio with my brother. How I loved the story...
How do you approach cover design?
I am an artist myself, but I am no cover designer. I want my books to have professional covers, and so I use a professional cover designer. I send a synopsis of the story to her and she translates that into a picture. A professional cover is important, as it is the thing that catches the eye of someone searching for a good story to read. Even though the book is made of words, it is the cover picture that leads the reader to those words.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
For five years I had very little time to read novels - I studied Egyptology at the University of Manchester and all my time went to reading non-fiction and writing essays. But now, when I don't write, I have returned to reading novels and am enjoying it so much.

My five favorite books...? Hmm. If series count as books, I'd say Diana Gabaldon's Outlander-series, Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, C.J. Sansom's Master Shardlake series, The Lord of the Rings (must have read it a dozen times at least in different languages), and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly historical novels, with or without a twist of paranormal. I do love a little magic, and if it is well weaved into a story, all the better.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use an iPad and read iBooks and Kindle books on it.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Can't really answer that yet as I am only about to publish my first ebook. I shall return to this later.
Describe your desk
I share a desk with my husband. The desk is pretty big - it used to be my artist's table, big enough for big painting surfaces. Then I got a new desk for my atelier and this one became our desk. It is so wide we can have our computers back to back, and are sitting facing each other. There is plenty of space on both sides of my computer, meant for my reference books, but the left hand side is taken up by a pillow. Which in turn is usually taken up by a cat, under the reading lamp. A private kitty solarium, if you will. I have my keyboard on top of a Wacom tablet which I use to paint digitally.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Turku, a small 800-year-old city in the SW corner of Finland, by the Baltic Sea. I still live here. There are plenty of woods, and the sea has always been an important part of my life. My family's summer cottage is in the archipelago, and I have always loved the different seasons of nature - and the sea. The dark winters have had their effect - what better way to spend rainy evenings than reading good books. And the long walks in the forests all year round are quite meditative - which helps the imagination to come up with solutions to stories and life in general. My mother has always written too, so it was quite normal for me to write as well.

Turku is the oldest city in Finland and the history surrounding me made me interested in what has happened before. Hence my love for a good historical novel.

We Finns are a bit introvert, used to analysing everything, be it people or events. And that, I feel, is important for a writer.
When did you first start writing?
Even before I could write. I was three years old and my first story was a horse cartoon.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I developed the plot for years in my head, but studies and the illness of a family member used my energies so I could not get the story out. Once the time was right, the first draft (150.000 words) came out in two months, and the "fattening" of the story took another two months. After that it was time to edit.

In my Egyptology studies I have been fascinated by the ancient papyri and ostraca, and the stories people have written on them. You realise that who ever wrote those letters, legends and writing exercises, was speaking to you through hundreds, even thousands of years. And then the story line began to develop - what if someone was trapped in the past, desperately trying to reach their loved one in our present time? That's where it all started. And as I have always been interested in human mythology, the myth of angels and their descendants, the Nephilim, weaved itself into the story. (It goes without saying the part of the story set in ancient times happens mostly in ancient Egypt, but also in ancient Greece)
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The very idea I could publish my own book on my own terms was one of the factors that made me decide I would "finally write that book". The freedom to do as I choose, to write exactly the kind of story I wanted, was what I needed. I would not need to please any book publisher but could write to my heart's content whatever I wanted. That was the start.

And of course the control I have over my own publications is important. I can keep the books up for sale as long as I wish, decide on the pricing, be in contact with my readers. To have my author's career in my own hands.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I'll have to return to this later, once I have published my first book here and let a little time pass.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
That wonderful connection to my subconscious, seeing how the words type themselves on the screen. I wrote a blog post called "Writing is Reading?" about this. When the story really takes over, it is as if your subconscious is entertaining you, writing the story or you to read, That feeling of flow, of unhindered creativity. That is the greatest joy.
What do your fans mean to you?
I love every fan I can get. How else could it be - someone liking my stories, spending their time to read my books, and even being kind enough to comment on them, maybe leaving a review. I treasure them all.
What are you working on next?
The sequel to Nephilim Quest 1, Shadowhunter. Book number two will be set mostly in ancient Egypt, and this is a challenge to me as an Egyptologist - to get the events of the Amarna age right. On the side I am also writing a non-fantasy fiction book that also happens in ancient Egypt. And yes, there is a third fantasy story idea I am sketching at the moment. Sometimes, if I get stuck in one story, switching to another helps. A little pause in writing often is all my mind needs to find the solution to a story on its own.
Who are your favorite authors?
Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Harkness, C.J. Sansom, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
To be able to write! Sometimes I wake up early in the morning, when my brains have developed an interesting detail to my story. I lie there going through the new piece of the plot many times over to root it in my memory. And then I get up and write it down, so that I can write it into my story later.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
When I am not writing? I try to stop at 9PM, so that I have an hour or two before I go to bed. That's when I watch TV, or read a book. Also I go to the gym regularly, many times a week (mostly in the afternoon), so I won't slump in front of my computer Quasimodo-style.
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Books by This Author

Nephilim Quest 1: Shadowhunter
Series: Nephlim Quest. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 186,560. Language: English. Published: January 31, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Paranormal, Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
The truth about her ancestry is not an easy thing for Dana to accept – she was deliberately created to perform a task, to find something that should stay hidden, or it might threaten the world of humans as Dana knows it. Her existence is tied to the myth of the Nephilim, the descendants of angels. Dana must prepare for a long search in ancient Egypt, hunted by creatures of darkness.