Author Interview: Leah Weiss

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As part of our Blog Tour of If the Creek Don’t Rise, we at Meraki Post bring you the interview with the author, Leah Weiss. What are we waiting for, let’s jump right into the interview!

Image: Leah Weiss

Tell us more about yourself.

I’m happy to! First, a rather delicate confession. I remember hearing recently on talk radio that if you hadn’t published your first book by the time you’re forty, your chances to succeed are slim to none. Well, I’m here to tell you that rumor just isn’t true (and I am far from alone). My first published book is coming out after I celebrated my seventieth birthday, and I didn’t start working intentionally at this craft until my mid-fifties. I’m proof it’s never too late to follow your dreams and have them come true. Proof that your long life’s experiences carry great merit when it comes to writing authentically. You just need to roll up your sleeves, set the bar high, and do the hard work. Thank goodness, I didn’t hear nor heed to the advice of the cynics who said I was far past my prime to do this—otherwise I wouldn’t be having the ride of my life right now.

How did “If The Creek Don’t Rise” come about?

I cut my writing teeth on 1500-word story contests. I loved getting a prompt as my starting point, having a word limit so I didn’t rattle on, and a deadline so I didn’t procrastinate. No surprise, initially my stories weren’t chosen, but I could study the winning story when it was printed online or in my copy of Writers Digest. I learned a lot about better writing from this simple exercise, and eventually my stories were selected. The idea for this book came from a winning 1500-word story I wrote in 2011 that began with the prompt I struggle to my feet. That five-word opening instantly transported me to Appalachia and the plight of young Sadie. I knew there was more to Sadie’s story than the brief one told on four pages but I didn’t know how to go about telling it, until…

Please share your experience of writing this book and what the readers can expect from it.

… until a few years back. A dear friend gave me a signed copy of “Olive Kitteridge,” and what struck me about the book was its unique format. It was a series of stories woven together to make one intimate novel. At that same time, I attended my first week-long writing workshop at Wildacres in Little Switzerland, NC. That initial class gave me my sense of direction and clarified the need for deep character development. In one feverish year (my final year employed), I finished the book. The story unfolds through the voices of ten characters who live in Appalachia in fictional Baines Creek. (Thank you, Elizabeth Strout, for the road map into a new territory!)

Are the characters or any elements inspired from real life?

I love this question because my characters have become part of a community that feels real to me, but only one character is modeled after someone I knew. My beloved Uncle Willis Wilson was a Baptist Preacher for over fifty years, a man with a heart of gold and the most excellent timing of a comedienne. He passed away when I was finishing the book, and his spirit lives on in Preacher Eli Perkins. I should make it clear that I have no first-hand knowledge of life in Appalachia, no family lineage that I know of. My knowledge comes from intense research and the fact that I live at the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Maybe I lived an earlier life in Appalachia, but it is with respect and admiration that I dare to be the voice of such a proud and tenacious people, even the fictional ones.

What is the most exciting and challenging part of writing a thriller?

My book holds mystery, murder, meanness, hope and steady strains of a Loretta Lynn ballad. It is a blend of hard and soft characters, smart and mountain wise, authentic and metaphysical, tender and funny, all tied together by rhythmical language meant to be read aloud. I think this complex blend offsets the tough Appalachian life they live. Finding that balanced blend was the most challenging part. Having it come together and feel right was the most exciting.

Please suggest to our readers 3 Authors and 3 books that you think they must read!

I read mostly fiction, literary and historical. I love books that have a strong, lyrical rhythm to the language. I love flawed characters I come to care and worry about. I love to be emotionally surprised and ask “How in the world did the author take me there?” A list flies to mind, but you’ve limited me to three, so I’ll be quick about it before I change my mind.

Barbara Kingsolver’s “Prodigal Summer” is one I’ve read several times, and I love it for obvious reasons. The mountain setting and diverse characters are marvelous and authentic. I love the lessons about being caretakers of the land. The full circle feeling at the end makes it such a satisfying read.

Markus Zusak’s brilliant “The Book Thief” has some of the most original writing I’ve seen. I was particularly drawn to the sympathetic narrator, Death. Death was portrayed as caring, tender-hearted, relentless, necessary. And the last line of that book is a jewel.

I love “Folly” by Laurie King partly because I have many artistic vents of my own (stained glass, portrait sculpting, music, interior design). The main character, Rae, is a talented woodworker artisan in need of healing. Lots of surprises. Lots of character growth. And on some pages, the words magically gallop at an exhilarating speed that awes me.

What more can your readers expect from you in the forthcoming years?

I hope more writing—“if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise!” (Hmm… where have I heard that before?) Between the 2-years it has taken to prepare this book to launch and the actual book launch that runs for two intense months, I have begun work on two book ideas. One is set in 1944 in eastern North Carolina where my mother was born and raised. She gave me a wonderful kernel of truth for that book before she passed away. And the other book draft I’ve recently started is set once more in Baines Creek with the return of some of my favorite characters and some wonderful new ones. If that isn’t enough to fill my days to overflowing, Dave and I often head to the mountains and hike with a local group of Happy Hikers. The Appalachian Trail is less than an hour from our door. My goal now is to hold on to the tail of this high-flying kite, get over my fear of heights, and enjoy the ride.

Gazala Amreen

Logophile, bibliophile, writer, designer, high on wanderlust and all things pretty.

Bangalore, KA merakipost.com