Interview with R. Leonia Shea

Published 2013-09-01.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the country so when school was out for the summer, there wasn't much to do except read. I remember going to the bookstore with my mom at the start of the vacation so I would have my "summer reading list" (which I'd manage to go through in about two weeks!) and those are some of my favorite memories. As an adult, I fell in love with Boston's north shore and most of my books are set in Salem, MA or the Berkshires - both places I love dearly.
When did you first start writing?
I don't ever remember NOT writing! In third grade I wrote a poem for the local newspaper and won first prize - it was wonderful because I'd never imagined that the little poem would catch someone's eye. I wrote from that point on (but my poetry is still on a third grade level).
What's the story behind your latest book?
The story behind Fortunes Bought & Sold
The first time I visited Salem, Massachusetts, I fell in love with the way the city embraced its heritage and the way it managed to profit from a terrible past. Salem took a chilling event and turned it into a way to teach tolerance and acceptance while refusing to forget the horrors of the witch trials – and it has a lot of fun doing it. During a tour on the Salem Trolley, I thought about twisting the idea into a story about someone with a past they were not proud of. How could that person move on and put a positive spin on something that was awful? It was on that tour when Calypso Mendelsohn was conceived, and it’s been an interesting experience watching her grow!
So many people go through life trying to keep a tight lock on their less savory attributes, only to discover that those hidden things bubble up at the worst times. Think of the man who cheats on his diet while lauding his willpower, or the woman who consoles a friend while secretly cheering that their perfect life isn’t so wonderful after all. These are not bad people, but their inability to acknowledge their faults leaves them on a slippery slope where guilt and deceit lurk in the periphery and threaten their good intentions.
Most of us delude ourselves to some extent, but I didn’t want Caly to suffer the same fate. There’s something admirable to me when people own their faults and I wanted Caly to have a bit of that honesty. She is not blind to her own faults; if anything, she is well aware of her “black little soul” and “larcenous heart” and struggles to acknowledge her benevolent motives – she would laugh if you called her altruistic. Her ability to embrace her faults and repent her dishonesties is one of her greatest strengths, but it isn’t until another desperate and guilt ridden person needs help that she realizes her own jaded past makes her uniquely qualified to help someone else untangle a sordid past and get a second chance – and that is something Caly believes in.
Caly is the honest con artist who risks her own comfort to help someone else start over. In order to do that, she must rely on the very skills she finds so distasteful - those less than charming talents are exactly what Caly needs to employ in order to set things right. She walks the fine line between doing wrong for the right reasons; she's good at being bad.
That brings me back to the story of the city of Salem where Fortunes Bought & Sold takes place. While the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials remains a prominent part of the town’s past, it has also become a lesson for the future. The town has embraced the tale and used it to educate and further the understanding of how hysteria is spread and how the whisperings of malicious people can cause real destruction. The legacy of the Witch Trials is tolerance, and the message contributes to the positive vibe of the city despite its sordid past.
The tragedy in Salem was brought about, in part, by vicious rumors and an inability to stand against the crowd. Sure, there was a belief in wickedness and evil, but the more familiar sins of greed and jealousy played no small part. We are so familiar with those emotions that we tend to ignore their power. Those two emotions play an important role in Caly’s story.
She encounters these unpleasant feelings in her journey and must deal with them because unless they are brought out in the open, they can erode the very foundation of Caly’s plan. The lesson for Caly is the same as the one Salem so brilliantly learned: Embrace and acknowledge the bad, then forgive yourself and do everything in your power to make sure it never happens again – and don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it!
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have a full time job and tons of hobbies so the thought of working under deadlines and losing control of my stories made traditional publishing completely unappealing. I don't need another full time job with tons of pressure! Becoming an indie author has allowed me to tell my stories at my pace and maintain full control over cover design, plot, and character development. I am a bit of a control freak, but in the best way possible.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing gives me a chance to get out of my own head for a while and become totally involved in another world where I CAN solve the problems that I create. It provides me with some great escapism and my goal is always to provide my readers with the same experience. There's nothing better than getting lost in a good book for a few hours and not having to deal with all of the stresses and problems that exist in real life.
What do your fans mean to you?
Every time I read a review, it brings tears to my eyes because a complete stranger got what I was trying to say - there's something magical in being able to let a reader glimpse a little bit of my soul and knowing that they understood it. I work hard as a writer and I think about the reader at every turn. I often liken a good book to a first date - you want to go, have a good time, and be brought home safely. You don't want to go, get bored to tears and then find out that in order for the date to "end" you have to go on another one. I write an urban fantasy series (Elementary Magic is the first book) and I am careful to make sure that all of the books stand alone so the reader doesn't feel like they have to read them all or read them all in sequence - if it weren't for the fact that I respect my readers, I wouldn't take so much care in making each story a complete stand-alone.
What are you working on next?
I'm writing the third book in the Relic Hunter Series. This one will be called Legendary Magic. In between working on that, I also have two others that I'm drafting. One is historical fiction set in ancient Rome, the other is about fallen angels (kinda) and lawyers and fate and religion...and there's a bus crash or's still very draft-y but I think I'm in love with my characters already.
Who are your favorite authors?
Colleen McCullough, Maeve Binchy, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Rachel Caine, Dean Koontz, J.A. Konrath, Marsha Canham, Rex Stout, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and about a hundred others!
What is your writing process?
That depends very much on which book I'm working on. Some are drafted very carefully, others just flow out. I'm trying to be more organized with drafting because sometimes my plots get so twisted that it takes me quite a while to cut, edit, and re-work things so they're clean and flow well. I'm not sure how much I deviate from the drafts because once I start a first draft, I just write and write and write.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I always want to give due to other indie authors so I often sample books and then decide if I want to read the whole thing. I admit if a book doesn't grab me in the first ten pages I'm pretty much done with it. I search by genre, but I'll try anything that sounds interesting. I'm a voracious readers in all genres so I'm pretty flexible.
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