The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Melissa Leet

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Melissa Leet

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Summary: Sue was impressed when she read Landslide by Melissa Leet and was surprised to find that it was a debut novel. She had quite a few questions for Melissa when she popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 13 September 2018
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue was impressed when she read Landslide by Melissa Leet and was surprised to find that it was a debut novel. She had quite a few questions for Melissa when she popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Melissa Leet: When I close my eyes, I see most the expressions of my family and friends as they tell me what they liked (and disliked) about the novel. Eyes closed, I feel again the unexpectedness of having them share their interpretation of a passages from angles that I had never considered.

  • BB: What inspired you to write Landslide?

ML: I write to explore questions that are preoccupying me. In Landslide’s case, I consider the nature of resilience after catastrophic loss. By the time I started the novel, my mom and three close friends had died. My husband had also battled cancer. Before death (or hardship) came again -as it inevitably would given our aging parents - I wanted to understand what death meant to me personally. While writing Landslide, we have lost two additional friends, and my husband’s entire nuclear family - father, mother and sister - all gone. While writing Landslide did not stop the pain of the subsequent passings, I believe it did help me face death with greater grace, presence and love.

  • BB: When I finished reading Landslide I came to the conclusion that it wasn't only in your characters' lives, but in everyone's, that we have a series of before and after events which come to define us. What do you feel has defined your life?

ML: I would say that both my husband and my children most define my life. In terms of before-and-after events, my husband’s cancer probably impacted our lives even more than the death of those whom we loved. My husband was diagnosed when my first two children were 15 months and three weeks old, and he was ill for many years.

  • BB: How much of you is there in Jill and Susie?

ML: What Jill and Susie express best is how important friendship is to me. I’m lucky to have amazing friends who are wit, wisdom, intelligence and goodness in real live human form.

  • BB: Did you ever feel any guilt about all the tragedy you heaped onto Jill’s shoulders?

ML: It is true that in Landslide Jill experiences unimaginable heartbreak - landslides altering Jill’s life again and again. While writing Jill’s reactions to such tragedy, I discovered Jill’s persistent optimism. Because of this optimism, I have never felt guilty about challenging Jill so aggressively. Instead, by moving Jill through the hardship, I have seen Jill discover her resilience. I have also seen Jill realize that sometimes death opens paths as wondrous as those found in life.

  • BB: I loved the way that the story cross-cuts between Jill and Susie's childhoods and adult lives. How did you come to the conclusion that the story needed to be told in this way?

ML: I wrote about Jill’s childhood because I wanted to understand how early hardship reverberates throughout one’s life. I felt that alternating between Jill’s childhood and adult life helped to keep the plot dynamic.

  • BB: I sense that you have a great love of nature and outdoor life. Is it important to you? Where is your favourite place?

ML: I do love nature. At times, I find nature’s solitude and peacefulness so exquisite that it feels as if I am drinking a large glass of cool water on an exceptionally hot day. I don’t have a favourite outdoor place. Instead, I find natural loveliness everywhere, even in the heart of Chicago.

  • BB: The book is so accomplished that I was surprised to find that it's a debut novel. How did you learn to write so well? How did you find the time to write the story and how long did it take?

ML: Landslide went through seven drafts. Each draft took between six months and a year to complete. My best writing time is between 5:00-7:00 am. I find that when I write daily, two hours a day is ample, as the rest of the day I am “writing in my head” in preparation for the next morning. For drafts four and five, I worked with paid editors. They gave me invaluable advice on how to improve many aspects of the novel including characterization, foreshadowing, connecting all plot threads, etc.

  • BB: Do you read a great deal? What's your favourite book and what are you reading at the moment?

ML: I do read a lot. Books I have enjoyed recently include the Oryx and Crake Trilogy by Atwood, Red Sparrow Trilogy by Matthews, Little Flies Everywhere by Ng, Pachinko by Lee, Home Going by Gyasi, the Alice Network by Quinn, Essex Serpent by Perry, The Great Alone by Hannah, The Light We Lost by Santopolo, Sparrow by Russell, My Antonia by Carver, Blue Nights by Didion, City of Women by Gillham. In terms of an all-time favourite, it is much too hard to choose!

  • BB: Will we meet Jill and Susie (or indeed, that wonderful garden) again?

ML: Many people have been asking me that! Currently, my writing has gone off in another direction. Perhaps I will circle back to Jill and Susie after I explore my present ideas.

  • BB: What's next for Melissa Leet?

ML: What’s next is a deep dive into the history and the geography of the Silk Road. I have a stack of books just waiting to be read, and already they are whispering my name, calling me close.

  • BB: Well thank you for taking the time out to chat to us Melissa - it was fascinating to hear what you had to say.

You can read more about Melissa Leet here.

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