Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Leslie Liautaud, Author, Literary Fiction and Contemporary YA

Leslie Liautaud, Author
Reviewers praise Leslie Liautaud’s latest novel, BLACK BEAR LAKE, as an “enjoyable, easy read about the many forms of love, family, and finding oneself.” Liautaud has focused much of her writing on families because she believes you can learn about people by “hanging out” with their families. Although her latest novel is a coming-of-age story, she – and reviewers – recommend it to readers of all ages.

A playwright and novelist, Liautaud enjoys spending her non-writing time with her family of a husband, three teenagers, and three dogs. She grew up in Kansas City, MO where she was in the performing arts, and currently divides her time between Key Largo, FL and Champaign, IL. She loves to travel, and she and her family enjoy the outdoors, especially fishing, snowmobiling, skiing and hiking.

Q: Many of your stories focus on families and the events that drive them. How do you select these events? What is it about the family that inspires you to write about them?

Leslie Liautaud: For the bulk of my stories, I couldn’t begin to tell you where I find the actual storylines or main plot. It’s like a bizarre streak of magic occurs. I can be walking down the road and a wild thought will pop in my mind and I’ll say, “YES! That would be interesting…” However, Black Bear Lake was a different experience. It’s based on true events and I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to write about it.

Family is definitely a strong theme…the main theme…in most of my writing. I find families fascinating. You want to really get to know a person? Hang out with him for a while with his family. For better or worse, people’s guards go down around their family. It’s where we are safe, where we come from. And everyone…EVERYONE…has some secret kept in the family.

Q:  Reviewers praise your most recent novel, BLACK BEAR LAKE, as an “excellent job of delving into the angst-ridden psyche of the adolescent.” How do you connect with the “psyche” of a teen-ager? And how do you entice the reader to care about your adolescent character and those around him?

Leslie Liautaud: I think having three kids…ages 14, 15 and 20…helps with understanding angst! We all go through it but to be able to stand back and observe it from afar gives me a different perspective. And I truly empathize with the angst. I’ve never been one to say, “That’s not a big deal! Get over it!” It IS a big deal when your first girlfriend breaks up with you. Your heart IS broken. It’s a big deal to not understand when a friend stops being your friend. It’s scary when your parents, people you love, are fighting. That’s all VERY real and I think it deserves the respect to be acknowledged as valid emotions. I’ve read so many YA books that sugar coat or are very bubble gum, pop princess oriented. I think that genre is awesome and can be very entertaining (and that’s why most people read it!). For me, I get more satisfaction of what the reality is for most teenagers. It’s scary, it can feel lonely, confusing. As human beings, we have ALL felt those emotions and to splay those feelings out on the table can make us feel vulnerable and exposed. So to face them vicariously through a character, I believe connects the reader to the adolescent.

Q: Although BLACK BEAR LAKE concerns the coming-of-age of your key character, would you recommend it to older-than-adolescent readers? Why? Or why not?

Leslie Liautaud: I would definitely recommend it! I’ve had a few book clubs read BLACK BEAR LAKE and I’ve been shocked how connected they became with the story and characters. It’s a coming-of-age first but it also is heavily weighted with the theme of family and family bond. I had readers tell me they connected with Adam and how he dealt with his feelings towards his mother’s illness. I heard stories about readers’ families and their own annual reunions together. The theme of family bond seems to strike a note with many people in other ways, as well. They related to leaning on family for support during hard times, to fighting and making up with family members, to dealing with the differences in generations.

And if you grew up in the 80’s…it’s like totally tubular to hear the old slang!

Q: How, if at all, has your upbringing influenced your writing? Was your family important to you?

Leslie Liautaud: My family was a HUGE influence on me growing up. My mother was the one who first introduced me to theatre. She did quite a bit of acting and her circle of friends were all actors. I remember big get-togethers with this group when I was 4 or 5. Lots of singing, piano playing and reciting lines from plays, it was a very bohemian group. My mom also read Shakespeare to my sister and I at night for bedtime stories. I don’t know if we always understood the meaning but it definitely taught me the rhythm of words, sentences and phrases. There is an ebb and flow that is very musical, lilting, in good writing. My father is a very quiet, almost Buddha-like, man. He taught me how to meditate and how to quiet myself, and my mind, enough to focus in a productive way even when things are spiraling all around me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve been VERY lucky to still have them champion all my endeavors. My sister is a visual artist and is extremely talented. Although I can’t draw a straight line, her work inspires me every time I look at it. We also proactively take time to nudge each other to make solid time to work in our art and to continue to find joy in it all.

Q:  Did you write BLACK BEAR LAKE strictly to entertain or did you intend to educate readers or deliver a message?

Leslie Liautaud:  Strictly to entertain. My only goal is to tell a story the best I can and hope it brings the reader enjoyment. It’s a wonderful and pleasant surprise if the reader is able to pull something deeper out of that.

Q: How relevant is the concept of “heroes” and “villains” to your stories?

Leslie Liautaud: Great question! I actually love the concept of heroes and villains…because in my view, we are all both. I try to make all of my characters human. Even the character Ron is not 100% a villain. He’s a shmuck. He’s a jerk. But he’s a loser and he knows it. He’s got really low self- esteem and he acts out in inappropriate ways. That’s not a villain, that’s someone who is greatly flawed and feels misunderstood. Tennessee Williams once said, "There are no 'good' or 'bad' people. Some are a little better or a little worse, but all are activated more by misunderstanding than malice. A blindness to what is going on in each other's hearts; nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos." And man, do I believe that! We all come from our own place of understanding and when we don’t understand what someone else does, it’s very easy to label it as “bad”. For sure, there are a handful of people throughout all of history that could be labeled “hero” or “villain”…but most of the time? Nah.

Q:  How important is humor to telling your stories?

Leslie Liautaud: Oof, it’s so important but so hard! People need to laugh, especially when there is a lot of drama going on, or they get nervous or uneasy. And no one wants to feel like that. That’s why in movies or plays you’ll always find a comic relief character. It’s a RELIEF to laugh when things get tense. But for me, writing humor is very difficult. Being funny on command is HARD!

Q:  You have written plays and novels. Which do you prefer? Do you find that writing one helps to create the other?

Leslie Liautaud: They are apples and oranges. I love writing dialogue, it comes very naturally to me. So, once I have the storyline of a play set, I can whip a full-length drama out pretty quickly and with solid results. But I also love the process of writing a novel. Descriptive writing is much harder for me but I’ve found that I really like the trance I go into when the story starts to flow out of me. I also am a huge fan of editing. I know, it’s a strange one, but I love to go back through and cut and cut and cut and condense. Like cutting away at a stone until you have a beautiful diamond.

Q: What’s next?

Leslie Liautaud: I’m currently working on a new novel about a group of college age friends. That’s all I can tell ya!

Q: Tell us something about Leslie Liautaud? What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Leslie Liautaud: I love spending time with my family! We’re spread out across the country right now…my oldest son is in college in Salt lake City, my daughter is at a college prep boarding high school in New Hampshire and my youngest son is at home finishing his 8th grade year (and then off to join his sister next year). We all love the outdoors and spend a lot of time fishing, snowmobiling, skiing and hiking. I love to cook with my husband. He’s in the restaurant business (Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches), so we love to do as much food research as possible. I also really love to travel. I’d say my favorite spot so far has been Botswana in Africa. The nature is still so wild…it’s almost spiritual, it’s so raw…and it puts you right in your place…in the food chain! I’m planning a trip to Tibet next year and am counting down to that!

About Leslie Liautaud

Leslie Liautaud is the author of Midnight Waltzes (2006), He Is Us (2008), The Wreck (2009), SALIGIA (2011), The Mansion (2012) and Summer Nights and Dreams (2012). She is also the author of the coming-of-age novel BLACK BEAR LAKE (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014).

Leslie is originally from Kansas City, MO where she worked in the performing arts. Currently, she divides her time between Key Largo, FL and Champaign, IL with her husband, three teenage children and three rambunctious dogs.

Adam Craig, a forty year-old stock trader in Chicago, finds his marriage teetering on the rocks and his life at a standstill. Desperate and on the edge of personal collapse, Adam takes the advice of a therapist and travels to his childhood family compound on Black Bear Lake with hopes of making peace with his past. Stepping onto the northern Wisconsin property, he relives the painful memories of the summer of 1983, his last summer at the lake. 

In August 1983, a self-conscious fifteen year-old Adam carries a world of worry on his shoulders as he arrives at Black Bear Lake for a month long family reunion. Between anger and fear of his mother’s declining health as she quietly battles a quickly spreading cancer and his cherished cousin’s depression over her parents’ bitter divorce, Adam is swept up in smothering familial love among the multiple generations and heartbreaking misunderstanding and betrayal. The arrival of a sensual but troublesome babysitter throws the delicate balance of his family into a tailspin. Blinded by his attraction to the newcomer, Adam fails to see his cousin's desperate cries for help and the charged electrical current running through his family's hierarchy. Crushed in the middle of it all, Adam is forced to learn that there's a fine line between self-preservation and the strength of family blood, all the while unaware of the impending tragedy that will ultimately change his life forever.



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