Let's keep this train rolling!
Next up today, Emily Lavin Leverett!
Emily Lavin Leverett is an author, editor, professor, and scholar. She is the author of the paranormal romance series The Wolf and the Nun based on the life and stories of 12th century abbess Marie de France, and she is the co-author of the contemporary fantasy series The Eisteddfod Chronicles. She is the co-editor of several volumes of short stories including the kickstarted volumes Predators in Petticoats, Lawless Lands: Tales from theWeird Frontier, and The Weird Wild West. As a medievalist, she has published articles on medieval romance, medievalism in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, and Shakespeare in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. She is the co-editor of the scholarly collection Terry Pratchett’s Ethical Worlds. Her current scholarship focuses on the intersection of her medieval scholarship and her fiction in The Wolf andthe Nun, and the use of the medieval by the Las Vegas Golden Knights NHL team. In her day job she is aprofessor of English at a small university where she teaches creative writing, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, among other things. She lives in North Carolina with her spouse and three cats where they are all avid Carolina Hurricanes hockey fans.
Find me and my work:
Reboots – a great idea or a lack of creativity?
There was a time not too long ago where I was a fan of reboots. I still am, to an extent. However, I’m getting a bit tired of them. I’m also getting a bit tired of retreading my childhood. I loved Star Wars, but I’m kinda done with it now, which is a bit of a shame since Andor is supposed to be quite good. I’m also getting over remastering in video games. Now, if they’re taking a PS2 (for example) era video game and making it playable now, that’s one thing. But I’m starting to see remasters of games that are only a few years old.
I’d like to see new IPs in all media: games, comics, movies, tv shows, books. I want to meet new characters, not spin offs, not reboots, etc., but brand new people in new worlds that are going to give me new things.
Coffee, tea, or cacao?
Tea, 100%. I don’t drink coffee, but I love tea. I have tea most mornings when I get up. Though I used to love black tea, and still do, I’ve switched to mostly herbal teas. Currently my favorites are a chocolate mint tea and lemon ginger tea from Wegman’s (grocery store chain). I also love Bigelow’s constant comment, which I’ve been drinking since college (which is a long time ago now). I love hot tea with milk, but I don’t often drink it that way. Just plain, with a bit of sweetener.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I’m a medievalist—I have a PhD in medieval English Literature—and so, so many of my ideas come from there. Both of my series, the Wolf and the Nun and the Eisteddfod Chronicles are based in my academic work. The EC is co-written with Sarah Joy Adams, a friend of mine from grad school. We wrote the first drafts of what ended up being our first book in the series during grad school as an escape from all the stress. The Wolf series is based on the life and poetry of a 12th century abbess named Marie de France. My series is an adaptation of a sort of her romance Bisclavret, the story of a man who turns into a wolf three days a week. Marie is also a character in the series. The idea behind it is that the stories Marie wrote, with magic and knights and all that stuff, were real things she experienced. I also have adapted other medieval stuff into the series.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
This is a tough one for me. I don’t write every day, though I think I’m going to start aiming to write a lot more consistently. My work (an English professor with 4 classes a semester) makes it so that writing every day is incredibly difficult. I teach night classes often, so I’ll be at school from 8am to 8pm. But, I only go into school 3 days a week, so those other days are mine and they are my writing days. When I have a writing day, I’ll usually start when I get up and work through until I’m done with what I’m writing or I need to make dinner. I write very quickly—I’ve written as many as 10,000 words in a day, when I had my writing planned out. I’m this way with all my writing work, whether fiction or scholarship. Summers I do try to write every day for at least 4-6 hours.
Is there a trope you find yourself going back to in multiple works? Or one you avoid?
I return to the dead parent (usually and especially the mother) often. At first it was accidental. You write what you know, right? My mom died when I was a senior in college, so my characters have that trait a good bit of the time too. As for tropes I avoid, I’m writing more romance lately, and I will not do the innocent girl saves wicked man. When done well, I love the “love saves someone” trope, but I want to write women who have experience. One trope I don’t like at all is “fated mates.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, and it is super popular right now. Again, done well it’s great. I prefer characters who aren’t fated for anything and have to do all of it on their own. I also think that “fated mates” can lead to romanticizing abuse, and in particular abuse of women. #NotAllFatedMates of course, but I’ve read some stuff in that trope that I’ve had to put down because the romance felt based in emotional manipulation and abuse.
What does your family think of your writing?
My father and step-mother are ridiculously proud of me. I will say that when I wrote the Wolf and the Nun, which is a paranormal romance, I was a little concerned about my dad reading the rather steamy sex scenes. So, when he called one afternoon to visit, and said he’d finished it, I do believe I blushed bright enough that I was visible from space. The thing that gets me a bit is that I know my mom would be so proud of me. I hadn’t written or published much of anything (save in school literary magazines) when she died. I really wish she had gotten to hold a copy of my first book. She loved reading, and I think she’d have loved writing if she’d had the chance.
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
The automatic, knee-jerk response is to read a lot, so I’ll start there. Read a lot. Not only in your genre. I read a lot of non-fiction for awhile, and they gave me an interesting perspective. Next is find a critique person or group. Your writing can’t ever get better if you don’t have someone else give you feedback. I teach fiction writing, and I have to say, showing someone else your writing is super difficult. I also taught composition for a long time, and the same was true there: for some reason, sharing what you’ve written is more vulnerable than just about anything (that you do with your clothes on). But I really started getting better when I let others read and critique my world. I see a lot of young writers with great story ideas and characters, but the writing isn’t quite there—it can’t do the ideas justice.
The single most important thing I think a writer can do to become better is this: finish something. Finish a short story. If you want to be a novelist, finish a novel. Yes, the first one won’t be great, but that’s what first drafts are for. Finishing a story, and not leaping to something new when it gets hard, is a huge step toward being a professional writer.
What do you think makes a good story?
Conflict! When I’ve been stuck in a story, it often is because there isn’t enough conflict. Conflict drives the story in popular ficton. The most interesting characters in the world won’t work if they don’t have something to overcome. It isn’t a specific kind of conflict, though the best stories have both external and internal conflict in them.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Yes. It does both. I’m often surprised by how exhausted I am after a session of writing. That said, I also leave writing invigorated and wanting to think about stories and writing and what I’m going to do next. The longer I go without writing, the more difficult it is to find a groove, because writing does light up my brain. There is a specific feeling—a physical feeling—in my head and body when I’ve poured myself onto the page. I think it is similar to an athlete who had just given their all. Yeah, I’m tired, but I’m also high on that kind of rush. I’ve also felt like my brain hurt—not my head, my brain—from really digging into writing.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I did. I started professional work as a writer via editing. I was an editor at a small, start-up erotica press. I teach at a nominally religious school, so I kept them very separate. My co-author Sarah and I considered whether or not we would use psudonyms for our series for similar reasons (she taught at a conservative Christian university). We also wondered what it would mean for our academic careers—would we be taken less seriously, etc. Ultimately, we decided that we were writers of fantasy, and we’d put our name on it. It was the right decision. That said, if I ever go far afield from what I’m writing, like I suddenly switch to children’s books or something, I’d consider a pseudonym just to keep those separate.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I genuinely believe that originality is overrated. I think true originality is very rare. Less rare are writers who present something we know in a very different way than we’ve seen. Often what we may think of as original might only be new to us. I believe there aren’t that many stories in the world when you get down to it. Striving to be original seems like an almost futile task. I also like stories, especially in the last few years, that are, to a point, predictable. That stability, whether the story has a happy ending or not, is comforting. So, I want to deliver stories the audience wants.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes. There is a lot of emotionality attached to the idea of writing. That is, there’s kind of a mystique around writing often focuses on inspiration. Writers talk about their muses driving them to write, etc. A lot of it is just joking around, but there is an undercurrent of truth to it. An unspoken, and I think unintentional, attitude that suggest that if you haven’t felt that way you’re not really a writer. I’ve never felt that way. I’ve never felt like I had people in my head that would harass me until I wrote them down. I’ve never felt like I’d die if I didn’t write. To me, writing is a choice. I love it. I work hard at it. I don’t know that emotionality is a required component. I will say empathy is a required component.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Woo, boy. This question. I’d go back to when I was in high school, and I’d tell the younger me this: You’re a writer. You can do it. Stop thinking that you can’t do it because you don’t have the talent. I didn’t start writing with an eye to actually being a published writer until I was in grad school. And then I was only able to do it because Sarah was doing it with me. When I was younger, I believed I wasn’t capable—that it was men around me who were capable. I had incredibly supportive parents who were of the “you can do anything you set your mind to!” feminist variety, so I don’t know where or how I internalized the sexism of women being supportive of male writers. I’d just tell the younger me to stop thinking she wasn’t good enough and write.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
This is a question that makes me uncomfortable because the incident that sticks out to me isn’t necessarily flattering to me. I realized language has power—and that I had control over language—in a fight with a person dear to me. Yes, I’m being vague. I had a moment when I knew exactly what to say to crush that person. Something I could say that would have been irrevocable, that destroyed our relationship. Thankfully, I didn’t say it. But it was then that I realized just how much words could really affect everyone. If you are good with words, then you have to be really careful about how you deploy them. And yes, we “deploy” weapons, and that’s part of my point.
What do you have coming next?
I’ve got three things coming up. First, I’m really excited about an academic article I’ve written that will appear in a scholarly collection. The book is about medieval scholars and medieval fiction—since I do both, I’m writing about how my academic work impacts my fiction. The other two are forthcoming books. Book four of The Eisteddfod Chronicles, Summer’s Regent, will be out next year, and the final book in the series, A Queen for All Seasons, should be out early 2024. Finally, the fourth book in the Wolf and the Nun, An Honorable Love, which wraps up this story arc, will be out next year, too.
And now an Excerpt!
What Came Before
Changeling’s Fall: Deor Smithfield is a changeling raised in the human world by her human grandmother. Forced to abandon her career as a professor by mysterious and dangerous magic, she travels to the Winter Court to find the faerie who fathered her. There, she finds a job, a roommate, and a royal goblin boyfriend at Eisteddfod University. She also finds her magic worsening and her life in danger from all sides. Under surveillance by the King’s Sword of Peace and Justice, Deor struggles to find out her father’s identity before her own magic kills her.
Rafe, Lord Farringdon is the devoted Sword to King Fionnleigh (Finn) and his appointed heir. He has agreed to undergo a painful magical adoption ceremony to make him the king’s bodily heir. Each successive adoption ceremony drains Rafe of magic and leaves bloody gashes on his body, but no one knows why. In between these painful events, Rafe struggles to find out who is in the kingdom is attacking changeling women, leaving each one more psychically damaged than the last. Deor’s all too convenient relationship with Geoff, the goblin Crown Prince, and her status as the sole material witness to yet another violent attack makes Rafe certain Deor is more than the innocent she seems.
Deor wrangles an invitation to the final Adoption Ceremony from Geoff, so that she might search for her father among the nation’s nobility. As the ceremony begins, Deor is overwhelmed by magic. She realizes that she is the lost heir to the Winter Court, and Geoff plans to use her to murder the king. She breaks free from Geoff, interrupts the ceremony, and confronts the king about his affair with her mother. She then sits on the throne, proving that she is the rightful heir.
Winter’s Heir: Deor is forced into the painful realization that her new role as heir leaves her incapable of pursuing her teaching. Forced to give up her job at the university, she struggles to master her newfound magic and wings while navigating a relationship with Fionnleigh. As Rafe is more and more convinced that his mother Madeline, a longtime enemy of the king, was behind the attempt on Finn’s life, he finds an unexpected ally in his brother Victor, once a tool of their mother and now a supporter of princess Deor.
Fionnleigh demands a show of fealty from the nobility before the opening of parliament taking place at the northern stronghold of Finn’s loyalists. Rafe finds himself increasingly attracted to Deor, a problem that culminates in his fiancé, Genevieve, breaking off their engagement in an ugly public fight the night before the fealty ceremony. Fionnleigh ignores Deor and Rafe’s pleas that his actions are breeding resentment, leading people to support Madeline.
As Deor and Rafe expected, Madeline attempts to steal the throne again, this time by enspelling Parliament with her powerful will magic. Deor, her newfound magic powers growing, confronts Madeline. Deor destroys the spell with a sword formed from her own magic. Order is restored, but Madeline and her retinue escape, leaving the other nobles dazed and confused. The king is furious at Deor for making a public spectacle and is unconvinced by her explanation of what happened. Deor realizes that Finn now sees her as a rival for power. Rafe and Deor return to London on horseback, giving Deor a chance to see the wilds of the Winter Court, and giving them a chance to spend time alone. Unknown to Deor and Rafe, Finn has Rafe’s brother Victor abducted and taken to a secret location.