Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Meet Author Leigh Verrill-Rhys!


Today we're talking to Avalon author Leigh Verrill-Rhys about her novel Wait a Lonely Lifetime. Join us to learn what makes this novel special...

Wait a Lonely Lifetime (Avalon Books, 2012)

Sylviana Langdon's marriage went bad from the start. She married the wrong guy, and there was no chance of ever making him right -- not for her. Divorced and dating again, she can't stop thinking about a smart guy she met a few weeks before Steve came into her life. Eric Wasserman walked away from her with no explanation back then. What would he want with an airhead artist's model now, fifteen years and two little girls later?

Captain Wasserman's best buddy, Steve Langdon, saved his life and stole his girl. The career Army officer's second-in-command drops a pretty blue envelope on his desk. The handwriting isn't familiar, but the name pulls the pin on the grenade that has been in Eric's mind since he walked away from the green-eyed girl his buddy wanted.
When he doesn't reply to either of the two letters and a third arrives, his ungentlemanly behavior threatens the morale of his combat support unit. For the sake of his unit, Eric takes the hit from his best buddy's wife, wondering why Steve has put her up to writing to a man she doesn't know.

Welcome, Leigh! We've read the synopsis, but please take a minute to tell us in your own words what your latest novel is about.

Besides girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back? I began with that basic framework and built in betrayal, loyalty, self-sacrifice, hope and determination. Sylviana is a wide-eyed innocent looking for direction. When she meets Eric, he’s a bit roughed up by four years in combat zones but still has a strong commitment to doing right. Their natural connection is torn apart by Eric’s best friend, who is also attracted to Sylviana. Steve is smarter and meaner. When all his lies come to the surface, Sylviana ends her marriage to him and turns back in search of the man she believes she was meant to marry.

There's lots to like about that set up. I understand a big part of Wait a Lonely Lifetime is written in letters and emails. What inspired you to take that approach? 

Epistolary novels have a long, respectable history especially in the Romance genre. If you remember the film You’ve Got Mail based on the eastern European story The Letter (also made into a film in the 1930/40s with James Stewart) as well as a musical, He Said, She Said, you’ll recognize the device. I didn’t really plan the book that way; it seemed the only way Sylviana could communicate with Eric, not knowing how to reach him once he had re-enlisted. A letter is a monologue. Until it receives an answer, it’s just one person, one-sided. A letter demands and expects an answer. Once it’s written, the writer is at the mercy of the recipient. A lot like writing a book. Writing Wait a Lonely Lifetime in letter and emails seemed the natural way to bring Sylviana and Eric back together, much safer than a phone call. No matter how dependent we are on electronic communication, nothing replaces a handwritten letter to send a heartfelt message, most especially a love letter.

I couldn't agree with you more. There's something inherently romantic about letters. And speaking of romantic...your novel is set partly in Firenze. You’ve been there and have described it as one of the most enchanting places you have even visited. Was there anything in your book based on real life experiences? 

The moment I arrived in Firenze, I knew I was going to write about it but I didn’t make notes or keep a travel diary. I had a camera but took no pictures. I observed and absorbed. What I wrote about the city is distilled from all I remembered. Quite a lot! I made mental notes of some details like the high water mark and the monument to the victims of the Mafia bombing. I wove those into the story because they were unique. I kept the tourist map so I could find my way around once I was back in Wales.

It sounds like a great place to fall in love. Your heroine, Sylviana, falls in love with Eric at first sight. I’m a big believer in this, but how does she know?

I believe this happens for many people. The moment doesn’t always lead to everlasting love but I think we know when we’ve met someone we will never forget. That chemistry is instantaneous – ignore it at your peril! A lot of that sense is hopeful. Some of it is intuition and instinct. I’ve only felt that way about one person. I married him pronto.

Smart move! Let's talk about your writing. What was your favorite scene to write and why? 

I’m particularly fond of the plaid pajamas with piping around the collar scene. The most dramatic scenes are when Sylviana escapes with her daughters from her house and they can’t reach Eric on Thanksgiving Day. I also loved writing about Eva’s first school dance. The whole book was fun and challenging. I couldn’t stop writing. Part of the joy of writing for me is discovery. I don’t plot beyond a basic outline, feeling my way through the boxes and barriers that these persnickety characters put in the way.

Based on your discovery writing style, you must have learned something from writing your book. What was it? 

The most amazing thing I learned was that I could actually write a novel, from beginning to end. I learned the essential ingredient of discipline and more discipline. When Lia Brown asked to read the first chapters, I had half of the book still in draft. A month later, when she asked to see the full manuscript, I was ready! I had the feeling I had to be prepared. 

Good thing you followed that instinct! Was there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult? 

The list of authors I’ve read and been influenced by is pretty long. I studied Victorian literature and was enamored of George Eliot. I’ve read every book she wrote and put Daniel Deronda as my #1 of all time. Also Middlemarch but that is lower on my list. I’m reading a lot of more contemporary writers at the moment: Frank Waters, Chinua Achebe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Isabel Allende’s short stories, Eva Luna and In the House of the Spirits are stunning. I’m a fan of Anne Tyler and enjoyed Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. I just bought a copy of Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite A Husband after I heard her speak at the San Francisco Area RWA chapter meeting. I’m reading as many of the Avalon authors’ books as I can find. I guess you don’t want to hear about things like Milton Freidman’s books on economics!

You've just made me add about a half dozen books to my reading list (with the exception of the one on economics). What about more books from you? What are your current works in progress? 

My current work is another contemporary novel but I’d call it women’s fiction with strong romantic elements rather than Romance. Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls is set in the financial district of San Francisco (hence the Milton Freidman!). This is another book I couldn’t stop writing but, like Michaelangelo, I am “finding the story in the words”, so to speak. 


I love the title—intriguing! What would you say has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

The toughest criticism is always a rejection. When I was just starting out, I kept all the polite notes from short story magazines. Nowadays they come in emails. I keep those too. There’s no honest criticism that you can’t learn from. I keep in mind it’s a lot easier to criticize than it is to create.

I'm sure many of us can relate to that. On the flip side, what has been the best compliment? 

The best compliments I’ve received are about Wait a Lonely Lifetime and my historical novel (written under my pen name) when people have told me they couldn’t put it down or that they were brought to tears, laughed out loud, are still thinking about the characters. When I read a book like that, it’s a lifelong treasure. 

And that's what makes it all worthwhile. In closing, do yo have any advice you'd like to give to aspiring writers? 

I considered myself an aspiring writer until I was mortified to hear myself say, “I always wanted to be a writer.” We’re only aspiring if we’re not writing. Once you write, you are a writer. My best advice is: Write the best book you can and then make it better.



Great advice. Thank you so much for your time today, Leigh and congratulations on your new Avalon release!


About the Author:

A native of Paris Hill, Maine, Leigh Verrill-Rhys spent most of her childhood and early adult years in San Francisco before emigrating to Wales to marry and raise three sons. She has been a writer, editor, and lecturer for most of her life, intermingled with career portfolios in marketing, finance, and community arts projects.

Wait a Lonely Lifetime is her first published novel. Leigh admits to running with scissors and leaping before she looks.


Follow Leigh at www.leighverrillrhys.com, her blog: www.everwrting.wordpress.com, onTwitter: @EverWriting9, or Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LeighVerrillRhysAuthor


5 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

Leigh, this sounds like one of those books that will keep me up all night turning pages. I love reading other people's mail. Good luck with Wait A Lonely Lifetime.

Thanks, Rebecca, for asking the right questions and giving us a chance to get to know Leigh a little better.

Leigh Verrill-Rhys said...

Thank you, Sandy! Rebecca's questions were challenging and I enjoyed thinking them through.

Beate Boeker said...

Your books sounds absolutely great, Leigh! Thank you for giving such an interesting interview. It's great to have such talented authors among the Avaloners - and thank you, Rebecca, for your work, too!

Leigh Verrill-Rhys said...

Thank you for saying so, Beate. Rebecca's questions were thoughtful and inspiring. And that is high praise coming from you. I certainly enjoyed writing Wait a Lonely Lifetime and answering these questions.

Carolyn Hughey said...

Leigh, your book sounds awesome and something I should definitely read. BTW, I know I've said this before, but I absolutely love the colors on the cover. It's tranquil and tells me the HEA is at the end of the war between them and that shining bucket of gold is theirs for the taking.