An Interview with Leslye Penelope

Portrait by Valerie Bey

Leslye Penelope was born in the Bronx just after the birth of hip hop, but she left before she could acquire an accent. Equally left and right-brained, she studied Film at Howard University and minored in Computer Science. She has been writing since she could hold a pen and loves getting lost in the worlds in her head.

Her series Earthsinger Chronicles recently concluded with Requiem of Silence and her next novel, The Monsters We Defy, a historical fantasy heist set in 1925 Washington, D.C., will be published by Orbit in 2022.

You can find her newsletter, podcast, and numerous goodies on her website,

I interviewed Leslye Penelope via a collaborative Google Document in September 2021 and in a Zencastr call on 22 September 2021.

For the uninitiated, who is L. Penelope and how would you pitch the Earthsinger Chronicles to potential readers?

I’m a fantasy and paranormal romance writer, primarily. The Earthsinger Chronicles is an epic fantasy romance series about two warring nations that try to find peace after five hundred years. There is hate and mistrust on both sides due to one side having magic and the other side having wealth and technology. There’s also a racial aspect to the conflict, and the main character of book one, Jasminda, is biracial, a child of both lands, who has magic in a country where it’s hated and feared. So the series follows her and a cast of other characters living at the margins of power and society as they free themselves and their people.

Was there a moment when you knew that you needed to write Earthsinger Chronicles?

There wasn’t a moment; it came about so organically that I was just inspired with an idea. It was one of those cases where I had a dream and I saw this scene in my head and the next day I started writing furiously. And I wrote 10,000 words one day and 11,000 words another day and that was the first draft. It was a very short 21,000 word first draft. It was very basic. It had the core story elements of Song of Blood and Stone as it is now, but there is obviously a big difference between 20,000 and 130,000. I guess at that point it had all of my attention and all of my energy and I wanted to see where it went and I knew I had to write it.

Writing a series like that takes a lot of focus. You describe it as being like running a marathon. Which of the books was the hardest to write? And how did you get past the walls?

Yes, the first one came so easily, although the revision was difficult. The second book was extremely hard. The second and the fourth ones were the hardest. The second because it was such a different experience to the first. I never had that same burst of inspiration again and I had to pull the story out for the rest of the series.

With Whispers of Shadow and Flame, the second book, I was trying to tell a story and ended up having to split it in half. So half of the original story I wanted to tell in book two, I had to push to book three. And I was still learning how to write a novel at this point, and they always say the second book is the hardest. Sometimes that’s because with traditional publishing, but also with self publishing, when you’re writing the second book, and the first one is out, and people are reading it, expectations rise. Then it’s not just you in your office, in your cave writing. You have an idea that people are going to actually read this one. Whereas with the first one, no one may ever see it. You never know. So there’s no pressure, and then there is, and that gets in your head.

And then the story was just twisting and turning and just growing. It really was very hard, the fourth one, Requiem of Silence, because it was the end of the series. This is after Game of Thrones ended to lots of controversy and I didn’t want to go in that direction. You don’t want to disappoint people after they’ve spent all this time with your in your world and with your story and I also had to wrap up all of these threads that I had pushed off until later like well I’ll think about that in book four I’ll worry about that later and later came and I had to worry about it and so those two were were super hard.

You mentioned self publishing and traditional publishing. How has your experience of those different worlds changed the way you write, or changed the way you think about publishing generally?

It’s interesting, because no matter how you publish, it can be difficult. Finding your audience and marketing and all of that. What’s changed is that I do both now. I’m hybrid. I think about each project and which way I’m going to take it. I ask myself, —Is this something that I’m going to give to my agent to try to sell, or is this something that my current editor would like, or is this something that I want to keep and that I want to do everything on, and I really want to figure out the elements of the cover myself and work with the cover designer and all of that.

Some books do better as as self-published because araditional publishers aren’t really interested in these genres. They’re not looking for paranormal romance, for example. Whereas there’s still a huge market for that in in self-publishing and online. It’s just that’s not the focus of the the New York publishers.

So I ask myself, —Okay, how fast can I write it? —How long is this book? —What’s my budget? The longer a book is, the more expensive it is to edit. So I think about self-publishing shorter things, and things that are in genres that I feel would do better self-published and that maybe the New York editors aren’t as interested in.

You feel more liberated self publishing.

Yeah, exactly. And I mean, that can be a double-edged sword because it could also be difficult to sell it self published. You still have to try to find the categories on Amazon or figure out how you’re going to target it. But for me, I want to write the book and if no one else wants it, I’m perfectly fine self-pubishing it. I know I have some readers who will read whatever I publish, even if it’s difficult to market. And if it’s something that I really want to write then I’m fine with that.

Some Leslye Penelope swag

You do excellent marketing, and swag. You seem very confident in that role. Was that always the case, and where did you go to educate yourself about that side of the business?

…I’ve been in self-publishing for so long and seen all of the changes within it, and I know my limits. I’ve learned my limits.

Leslye Penelope

It definitely was not always the case I think it’s come from experience and it’s come from both the successes and the failures that I’ve had. I’m not confident that I can make $100,000 on my book or anything like that; but I am confident that I can find some people who want to read it. At this point I feel like I can make at least my money back and then start seeing a profit on it, which is not always guaranteed.

When we start out, there are certain milestones you want to hit. Self-publishing is expensive. So you do want to make your money back, and it’s a business, and you’re ultimately trying to make money. But I’ve been in self-publishing for so long and seen all of the changes within it, and I know my limits. I’ve learned my limits. I know what I’m willing to do and what I’m not, and so I’m okay with the results of that because if I was willing to do different things then a whole other path could open up to me. But based on my desires and my skillset, I can set my goals. I can set realistic goals, and I can meet them. I think that gives you a lot of confidence. I’m not trying to set the world on fire. I’m really trying to do this thing and tell stories that satisfy the readers that I have and also try to find new readers, of course. And I have certain monetary goals that make me able to continue doing this.

Do you feel closer to your readers because you’re self-publishing mode. Do you feel a closer connection, and also maybe more of an obligation?

I do feel closer to them, yeah, because I can hear from them. Even with my podcast and people who comment and email me on social media. All of that. I sometimes do a reader’s survey with my newsletter. So I do try to get to know my audience and find out things about them.

I try not to feel obligated to them necessarily because that can interfere with the creative process. You’re trying to write books that people enjoy and want to read, but I do know that some authors do feel extremely beholden to the audience. They feel like they direct their path, and that’s not something that creatively I can do.

So they’re in my mind because I’m writing for other people to a certain degree but at the at the end of the day I’m writing for myself and and being able to have that connection with the audience make self publishing easier.

In one of your newsletters you mentioned writing at different lengths. And the first Earthsinger book started out as a novella. Are you playing around with different, shorter forms after the massive undertaking of four novels?

There was a long time when I didn’t believe I knew how to write a novel, and I had to teach myself all of that.

Leslye Penelope

I actually started with short stories. There was a long time when I didn’t believe I knew how to write a novel, and I had to teach myself all of that. But since novel writing, and since being contracted, there’s not a lot of time for short stories. I didn’t come up through the ranks like a lot of science fiction and fantasy authors do. I wasn’t submitting to the magazines before later going into novellas and novels. So I think that’s how I feel. I do have some novellas that I self-publish and short stories that are mostly romance.

But I enjoy short stories. I’m taking part in this anthology, and I’ve done a couple of anthology shorts. It’s just sometimes with deadlines, I just don’t get the chance to play in that sort of length, even though I do enjoy it.

Which which anthology is that?

There’s a new one that we just finished a kickstarter for that is called Three Time Travelers Walk Into… where a bunch of authors are taking three different people from different times in history and making them time traveller and having them go on an adventure.

That sounds wonderful. What can you reveal about your story? The era, maybe?

Zora Neale Hurston

Well I’m still plotting it, but I do know but the three time travels travelers that I’m working with are Zora Neale Hurston, the Queen of Shiba, and Tituba from the Salem witch trials. So these three historical figures with all the mythology attached to them.

Zora Neale Hurston is fascinating to me I’ve always loved her. She’s an anthropologist and an ethnographer. She went and studied voodoo and became an apprentice under these voodoo masters, and so she’s sort of magical herself. And I haven’t figured out exactly what the story is going to be but it’s going to be fun.

You studied film, and also computer science. And there is definitely a diverse range of interests on display in the Earthsinger Chronicles. How do the different sides of your brain affect your writing?

I’m never happy unless I’m exploring both my creativity and the technical side of my brain, and I think this comes out in my writing process. For example, to create the magic systems of Earthsong and Nethersong, I did a lot of random research on quantum physics both because it’s an interest of mine (not that I understand it much at all) but I also find the need to ground my creativity as much as possible. I don’t think a physicist would ever recognize much science in the magic, but creating parameters around which to imagine something fantastical is the only way I can keep myself from spinning wildly out of control. I input a lot of data into sort of a mental blender, and then the resulting smoothie is the story or the particular element I needed to flesh out.

What inspires you to write? And do you write every day?

I write 5-6 days per week. I used to try to write every single day, but finally learned to stop beating myself up about not hitting that goal. Now that I plan to write most days, but not all, I can give myself some grace and not feel guilty at all on the days I don’t write.

As for inspiration, I’m constantly ‘filling the well’ even if it’s not conscious. So I’ll get inspired by music or films and TV shows. Or other books. Though I’ve never actually written fan fiction, I have had stories that came about because I imagined a different ending for another book or piece of media. Then the characters became my own and I ran with them. I also have tons of other ideas, a long list of story fodder that I doubt I’ll ever live long enough to turn into anything, because new ideas come along all the time.

Do you always have a clear plan when you begin a project, or do things clarify as you write?

I generally start with a plan—though it may not be entirely clear. I need an outline to begin writing, but that outline invariably changes, often several times, before I’m done. I’m a plotter who is also a discovery writer, because my plots always end up wrong the first time through. Once I know the characters more and have lived through the story a bit, then things get clearer.

When I worldbuild now, I always start with geography and climate to figure things out, because that tells you so much about culture and society and economics and agriculture and all of that stuff.

Leslye Penelope

How did you create the geography of the world in the Earthsinger Chronicles, and what is the role of the landscape in the book?

The geography had to come in really early. When I had that initial first draft I knew I had these two countries that had been at war for a really long time, for hundreds of years, and I had to figure out why, and then why one hadn’t completely taken over the other one. What is keeping them apart. So I started with the map. I actually designed the original map that was in the self-published version and the hardcover St. Martin’s Press version, and then I got a professional map designer. But I drew it by hand.

I wanted these countries metaphorically to be two halves of a whole. So I designed the landmass essentially to be a broken heart, and there’s this mountain range that separates them, and then there’s the magical border that goes along the mountain range because I had to figure out what is the thing that separates them.

And all of the world building built out from that. Things like and the climate. So one country is desert and it’s very sparse, and the other one is farmland, which is one of the reasons why the desert country would invade the greener country.

Coming up with all of that helped me figure out the conflict between these two peoples and just build out the worlds and everything really flowed from there so it was really foundational. When I worldbuild now, I always start with geography and climate to figure things out, because that tells you so much about culture and society and economics and agriculture and all of that stuff.

A map of the world of the Earthsinger Chronicles

There’s a great observation James Baldwin made about how you have to go the way your blood beats. He says, —If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.

How much would you say Jasminda’s story is about an individual discovering herself and going the way her blood beats?

I love that idea! I haven’t heard that before, but it’s lovely. Jasminda starts out isolated and alone and ends up the queen of a country overseeing a huge change taking place across two nations. She is uniquely positioned to be able to do this, and accepts this enormous challenge and responsibility. Her story is definitely about finding the confidence and strength and ultimately the compassion and grace to be able to live up to what she’s stepped into. I think it’s about discovering the way her blood beats and also embodying her best qualities and not her worst ones.

I like how there is a musicality to the magic in these books, and the idea of a pulse or rhythm to the magic makes sense to me. Did your idea of the way the magic worked change as you wrote more, or did you have a very clear conception from the outset?

I love magic systems. I think that actually, the first draft didn’t have any magic in it. It wasn’t on the page. It was in my mind, but I didn’t have it fleshed out, so I didn’t know what was happening. And then it went through all kinds of changes.

I don’t even know how I came up with earthsong. A long time ago, someone had told me something about—this is like a very woowoo person who was into spiritualism—how the Earth vibrates at a certain frequency, and it’s C sharp or something like that. That was the the basis of it.

As I continued writing the other forms of magic came to me. So if there’s life energy magic then there would be death energy magic also, which is the nether song and that comes up in book two. And then ways to combine magic. So you have to be born with earthsong or another song. But there’s also blood Magic. There are several different magic systems in the series.

Then there are people who can actually steal magic and combine it into amalga magic. I tried to ground it and create rules. I have lots of charts. So if you’re born with earthsong, it’s an ability within you, but each individual singer has a song, and some are weaker, and some are stronger, and they’re essentially pulling this energy into themselves and then using it. So I have charts of people pulling in energy waves and manipulating them and and trying to figure out what can a weaker singer do and what can a stronger singer do. And I have a chart of power ranges from one to ten. This is not on the page, but you hopefully get a sense of it where you see that some characters are much stronger than others, and they can gift power to one another and things like that. So I planned it out a lot, each of the different types of systems, to make sure that I knew what they could do so I wasn’t I didn’t want to just solve project problems with magic.

Out of the blue I wanted to make sure that the reader could understand what was possible, and also the fact that they can innovate this magic, and that things are lost through history. That’s an important theme once we get to the end of the series. The knowledge that was lost. What did people not know how to do that was possible, and that they can rediscover how to do.

Do you listen to a lot of music while you write?

I can’t listen to music while I write. Occasionally I can listen to instrumental music, but nothing with lyrics. Usually I’m either writing in silence or I play coffee shop sounds while I write, even if I’m at home or in a coffee shop, because sometimes they have music blaring and I need to cover it. But I do sometimes create I create playlists that I listen to when I’m not writing to get me into the mood or the vibe of the story and that help that helps sometimes too.

And those can be songs with lyrics and usually I do like lyrics because I like what what they’re saying and the energy of the song. So music is not a super important part of most projects. Although there will be some projects where a song will inspire a lot of it. And every book is so different, but I’m still at that point not listening to it while I’m doing the actual writing.

I emailed you the Desert Island question before, the question about the media in a niche category you would take to your deserted island. You replied with Audra McDonald, a singer I didn’t know, but I really came to like her voice, the clarity and power of it. What is it about Audra McDonald that made you choose her for your hypothetical island?

I was just thinking of what would nourish me on a desert island and she’s just so inspiring. Anytime she comes to my area, to the DC area, I try to see her. I remember the first time I heard her I was flipping through the television and she was on PBS. A couple of times a year they do the the pledge drives where they need money to run, and so it was a concert of hers and they were offering it and so I immediately pledged so I could get the VHS tape of her concert.

I watched that VHS tape so often that it wore out and I had to buy another one. That was the beginning of my my love for Audra.

You mentioned the dream which led to the Earthsinger book. Was Jasminda the first character you had in mind after that dream?

Yes, the dream I had was basically her standing on her porch with a shotgun as she watches these people coming down the mountain towards her valley home. Her isolated home. There were two parts to it: I saw her and I saw Jack. And he was at this point captive by these soldiers and he has this very fierce expression as they’re knocking him around. Those were the two parts of it. and I didn’t know who these people were or why they were in the situation and but you know like I said the ideas just came to me and I just started writing and and it was total panting and I am not a paner. But yeah, everything just just float out the the core of the story.

What did you learn about Jasminda as you wrote her story across four novels and three novellas?

What does happily ever after look like in a world of racial tension and division?

Leslye Penelope

Her story in so many ways is the analogue for the entire saga. So, while we follow other characters for many of the novels and novellas, we start and end with Jasminda—she’s the beating heart of the series. I’d envisioned her story in book 1 as a fairy tale, farm girl becomes queen. But given the conflict between the two countries that I set up, I knew that couldn’t be the end. What does happily ever after look like in a world of racial tension and division? So as I wrote her, I had to explore how she would really make her way through her world, even in such a position of privilege as being a powerful Earthsinger and the queen. She had to embody the characteristics of a heroine I would enjoy reading about, but still have a relatable, flawed way of dealing with her trauma and the prejudice she’s experienced her whole life. The Jasminda in book 4 surprised me at times while writing her, but she felt even more real by the end than she had at the beginning.

Each of the books has a quotation, an epigraph, from a text in the world. In the first book, it is COLLECTED FOLKTALES, and in the fourth book, THE HARMONY OF BEING. Could you talk a little about what those mean to you, and also about how you came up with them all.

I’m really proud of the epigraphs of all of the books because they are they are difficult. Actually my editor suggested doing chapter epigraphs and I was like oh ok and so they always come at the end of the writing process.

It is a way to expand the world building and so that was the idea. And then I looked at other authors who do this, like Brandon Sanderson and Octavia Butler who have really great chapter epigraphs for everything, and they do give you more insight into the culture and the world.

Collected Folktales in Song of Blood and Stone was supposed to be something short and pithy that would give you an idea of the theme. Each one relates to something in that chapter.

Once I figured out that I wanted to do folktales I would look at the chapter and scribble down the themes of the chapter, then brainstorm ideas. So I was reading a lot of folktales from different parts of the world. I did like Hawaiian Pacific Islander folk tales, and then African, and Native American folk tales. I was reading many different cultures and looked at the throughlines and the similarities.

I already had these animal characters from the houses, the sigils as part of the culture and lagramar and thinking about the background of these two cultures and how they used to be one people and they were separated. I wanted some folk tales that were a little bit strange, and sometimes maybe not great advice, but interesting, and food for thought.

How far would you characterise writing as a process of experimentation, or maybe alchemy. And when do you know when your experiment has worked? How do you know you’ve created gold?

Alchemy is a great way to think about it. Writing is incredibly intuitive. It’s like cooking with no measuring cups or spoons. (Which is not something I do in real life). But you have to feel the mix of the ingredients. Taste it a little bit and judge how much more of one thing or another to add, or take away. So knowing when you’ve created gold or that perfect flavor, starts as trial and error, and then becomes experience and trusting your gut and your taste buds. You’re often applying rules that have been learned by studying craft and then freestyling with them a bit, bending and shaping them to fit what feels right to you.

Do you keep a particular reader in mind when you sit down and write?

I don’t really. I’ve created an ideal reader as a marketing exercise, but generally I’m writing for myself. To entertain myself and write the stories I want to read. Whenever I get caught up in trying to write what I think is expected or desired in the marketplace, I trip myself up and get stuck. So I’ve stopped that.

Maya Angelou said that one of the most important tools for a writer is the ear, so they can hear the language. And another is courage. What tools are important to you?

Self trust is an ongoing battle. Discipline has helped me get the words, meet my deadlines and create a positive space in which I can come to my work regularly so I can meet my goals.

Leslye Penelope

Those are both spot on. My tools are trust in myself, discipline, and time. Inevitably, the thing I think I should change but then talk myself out of is the thing an editor or reader will pick up on as being an issue. Self trust is an ongoing battle. Discipline has helped me get the words, meet my deadlines and create a positive space in which I can come to my work regularly so I can meet my goals. And knowing that if I can’t figure something out, or have some kind of block, then I need to step away and let my brain work it out for a bit. Switch to a different project or use my writing time to read, then come back a bit fresher to tackle it again.

Are you switching between projects now?

I am. I’ve just turned in my newest book, the one that comes out next year, The Monsters We Defy. So I’m switching gears now. I’m going to be revising a new book that I’m going to be Self-publishing. And I have a brand new draft of another new book to write. So I’m in the filling the well portion where I’m watching some TV and I’m trying to read some things, but reading has been a little bit difficult the past couple of weeks.

And marketing stuff that I’m doing during my writing time because I’m maintaining that writing time I have every every morning. But this is a good time to take a break and to think about the future and to let the back of my brain ponder what I’m supposed to be doing next.

What do you write on, or with, and what does your drafting and redrafting process look like? Do you write longhand?

I do not write longhand my hand would not forgive me for that I do I type so much faster. Um, so what? my first draft is a fast draft which means I write it as quickly as possible I don’t do any editing and I use either an Alpha Smart or my new toy which is a Freerite Traveler, and both of those are basically distraction free writing machines. The Alpha Smart is very low tech. They don’t actually make it anymore. But you can find them on Ebay. It’s just a keyboard with a tiny three or four inch screen. So you really can’t edit. And it just lets you open your mind and free yourself and just draft and write and get it out of you. Um.

And then there is a high tech version which is several hundred dollars which connects to wi-fi because the Alpha Smart is so low-tech you actually connect it with a USB and it transfers your document

But either one is really good. I take that with me if I have to go somewhere and draft. I just like not being on the internet and not being on a computer screen, per se, just writing.

The second draft is then in Scrivener. Everything these days, all of my novels, have been written in Scrivener because I do like to be able to move things around. You can move scenes around very easily. It has all kinds of wonderful features that Scrivener has and I do my revision. So every morning I’m getting up, and depending on the stage that I’m at, I usually do everything in sprints, twenty- or twenty-five-minute sprints, and then I take a break, and then go back to it. That’s the basic process.

The theme of community, and of being an outsider, is there right at the beginning of SONG OF BLOOD AND STONE. What does community mean to you?

Community is something that I’ve often struggled with because I’m a loner by nature and am naturally suspicious of things that ‘everyone else’ is doing. I recognize the value and have often wished for stronger community, so it makes sense that it’s a theme in my work. Where I think I’ve been successful is in maintaining a strong writing community, which is vital for an author. So community to me means like-minded people, or at least people who respect your mind even if theirs is different, working for a common goal or for mutual benefit.

You said you’re a loner, and you want to sit and do your own thing. How do you balance your needs with the need to do the marketing and have a presence on social media?

I’ve gone back and forth a lot with social media. Sometimes I just want to cancel all my accounts and just not be on it anymore. I wish I could do that, but then I feel like I have an obligation. I have an obligation to be there to market, to promote the book. I don’t really eenjoy social media. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. I refuse to download TikTok. I’m like, —I’m just not doing one more thing.

it’s just not my favourite place to be and I just don’t like using my time that way. I’d rather be reading or writing or or talking to my friends or my husband or something.

Leslye Penelope

It’s such a time suck too, and I’m fairly busy running my own business—I’m a website developer—so I just find that social media is a poor use of time and I hate the idea of being addicted to it. So when I have to market a book, I use social media tools to schedule posts. I try to make sure that I up my normal posting, my non-marketing posting, so it doesn’t feel like, —Hey I’m only here to market to you? Because that always feels bad.

It’s just not my favourite place to be and I just don’t like using my time that way. I’d rather be reading or writing or or talking to my friends or my husband or something.

Is The Monsters We Defy a project you’ve been thinking about for a long time?

Not really, it actually came into existence fairly quickly. I think the idea of a Harlem Renaissance-era fantasy heist came to me in late 2019 and was nothing more than that for quite a while. No plot, no characters, nothing. After I turned in Requiem of Silence, I wanted to do something very different. I had a couple of unfinished projects calling to me, but this idea was the loudest. Heists are so compelling and I wanted to challenge myself to write one. I found the characters via research into the time period and started writing.

Of all stories I read in 2020, Ring Shout is the book which really lodged itself in my mind. What led you to set The Monsters We Defy in the 1920s, and why Washington D.C.?

‘Harlem Renaissance-era fantasy heist’ was the idea and it took some research to narrow it down to the exact year, 1925. I picked that year for a variety of reasons including the fact that the Ku Klux Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House, that August. As for why DC, I grew up in nearby Maryland about 45 minutes away. My mother and brother were born in DC. So was my grandmother. Her parents had been a part of the Great Migration of African Americans coming North from the South. My roots are in DC and while the initial idea was to set the book in Harlem, I honestly didn’t want to go to New York to do research. Then the pandemic happened and I literally couldn’t travel, so I relied on my knowledge of the District, and having gone to college there at Howard University. It’s such a rich city and so culturally important for Black people. So many Harlem Renaissance figures came through DC, are from DC, or did work in DC. And not enough novels take place here, in my opinion.

DC is such a unique place. It was known as chocolate city for a long time because the city used to be 80 or 90 percent black. This was in the eighties and nineties and gentrification has taken its toll. And specifically in the past the government had great jobs for black. During the Great Migration when a lot of black people were coming out of the South and moving north, like my great grandparents. Actually they came up here and they found jobs in the government and they were able to create middle-class lives and create enclaves within the city which is why it became known as chocolate city. So there’s so much rich history here.

And because it’s such a transient place and a lot of times because the government changes every 4 to 8 years and people move out and new people come in and different agendas happen, and so there was a lot of build-up in DC in the reconstruction era. After the civil war, black people were saying, —Ok, now we can prove our humanity which was not recognized before and they were in government they were in congress. There was a black senator. That was all taken away pretty quickly after that and things went to the dark times and so DC is a microcosm of the black experience because the laws are written here and made here and it doesn’t have any other industry other than government. So there’s the pros and cons of being here and all of that just mixes up into this this place that I was very familiar with from the late nineties when I lived there.

I lived on U Street in DC which in the twenties and thirties was known as black broadway because it was a black community. It was self-sufficient. It was everything they needed here. There were all of these clubs and nightclubs and musicians and art happening here. And you hear about Harlem all the time and you hear about Chicago a lot, too; and there’s other cities that are really well known for certain things, and people don’t think of DC as being a bastion of entertainment, and of jazz, and music, but it really was So that was the part that I wanted to highlight. I had the idea of doing something in the Harlem renaissance but everyone does Harlem, and so I thought about doing something closer to home that is more meaningful to me. That can shine a light on things that other people might not know happened.

Would you like THE MONSTERS WE DEFY to become the first of a series, or do you envisage it as a self-contained story?

It could go either way, however, I sold it as a standalone novel. I think I need a break from series for a bit. (Of course, I’m self-publishing a book next year that is intended to be a series, so don’t hold me to that.)

Any time I hear ‘ragtag team’, I think of THE DIRTY DOZEN or THE A-TEAM. Are there television shows or films that have had a big impact on the themes or imagery in your stories?

I loved The A-Team growing up! For MONSTERS, the TV show Leverage was very inspiring. Also the British show Hustle. I had a lot of fun watching both as well as a bunch of other classic heist films to better understand the genre and its expectations. To me, ragtag team, means somewhat reluctant team members who don’t always play well together, which is something I think is always fun to read about or watch.

What other influences have been working there way into The Monsters We Defy? What else is shaping it?

So it’s a fantasy heist novel and I did a lot of heist research. well heist streets.

Heists are great.

Yeah, I mean it is a challenge because there have been some great heist stories. Everything from the Ocean’s Eleven movies, which I love, to Lee Bardugo’s Six of Crows which is a fantastic fantasy heist, just next level.

Taking on something like this I ask myself, —What would my heist look like, and mine is different than everyone else’s. It’s a Leslie heist, I think I said that on my podcast one time, because I was looking at it, and it’s not like anyone else’s heist but it is like me. So I guess this will work. And it’s fun. It’s a fun challenge. I do like to challenge myself with new projects. I’ve done this, I’ve done that, so what I haven’t I done? What do I love that I would love to put my spin on.

Reading heist books and watching tv shows and movies was my filling of the well and it was all going into the machine in my brain and and coming out in a completely different way but one that I think is is still really fun and really interesting.

And I think that whatever genre, whatever trope you’re using if you have something to say it always elevates it.

Do you have a chest of sorts, or a bunch of projects that you’re hoping will one day see the light of day?

Absolutely. I mean every time I finish a project I go back to my list of unfinished projects that I have and see okay are any of these calling to me is this the right time for any of these because I’ve done nanorimo like a bunch of times and just never gone back to those manuscripts.

Because I was working on other things so there are things in various stages of completion that are calling to me, or not calling to me, but they’re sitting there and I would always love to see some of them come to life and be able to bring them back and finish them. And then there’s always new ideas coming. Like The Monsters We Defy was a brand new idea. It wasn’t anything that was sitting around. It came around really quickly. But that means there are still a bunch of things that are in the trunk. And I wouldn’t even call them in the trunk there. They’re waiting for me to get back to them and they’re waiting for me to have the right energy to complete them the way they’re supposed to be completed.

I can picture this heavy trunk with the lid shaking, like something out Indiana Jones. There’s the light leaking out, —I want to see the world.

Yes, it’s like, —Pick me, pick me.

Finally, what have you read over the last couple of months that has left a really big impression in your mind? Or what are you looking forward to getting to next?

There’s been a bunch of great fantasy that has come out that I haven’t had a chance to read. I really want to read She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, and The Unbroken by C. L. Clark. Another I want to read is Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa.

A book I read recently was Song of the Forever Rains by E. J. Mellow. It’s a fantasy romance and it’s a really interesting world. There’s a thief king, and there’s a lot of surprises, and it’s got one of the best opening paragraphs.

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