My second guest in my series of lesbian fiction author interviews is D. Jackson Leigh, who just released her thirteenth novel, a small-town romance titled Ordinary is Perfect. She has graciously agreed to give away an ebook copy of her latest novel, so make sure you don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this post!
Welcome, Jackson! Please tell us a little about your newest release, Ordinary is Perfect.
Ordinary is Perfect is about looking past our preconceptions to discover the treasure lurking inside. Most romances have main characters we think we’d like to be—super-smart, strikingly beautiful, rich, or famous—who come together because an instant sexual attraction. Ordinary is about two pretty regular people. It’s really in keeping with a theme common to my books: People—and animals—are so much more than what you see on the surface, both physically and emotionally.
The blurb of Ordinary is Perfect describes Catherine as “passable-looking”—which is pretty refreshing in the romance genre. Would Autumn, the other main character, agree with that assessment? What makes Catherine perfect in her eyes?
Catherine has a pleasant, but not beautiful face. She’s not a person you’d notice in a crowd, because she’s reserved and does nothing to enhance her appearance—no makeup, her clothes practical for farming, and her shoulder-length brown hair simply tied back rather than styled. She actually prefers to go unnoticed.
Autumn is very style conscious, always seeking to make an impression and to prove herself worthy. She sees only Catherine’s surface at first and deems her too butch and too “country” for her tastes. It’s only after Autumn gets to know Catherine that she begins to recognize how really special Catherine is, and that changes how she sees Catherine’s outward appearance. Autumn no longer sees Catherine as a butch lesbian, but as a handsome woman. She no longer sees boring; she sees an anchor to her storm. And Autumn comes to see Catherine’s lack of concern about enhancing her appearance with makeup, clothes, and a designer haircut as a statement of honesty—something she’s rarely experienced in her life.
Ordinary is Perfect has a 10-year-old supporting character. Was she hard to write? How did you make sure to get her right?
She was not hard to write. I pretty much raised my two younger sisters after my mom became a nurse and started working when I was twelve years old. I also have a big, pretty close-knit family and loved spending time with my nieces and nephews as they were growing up. I’m the cool, lesbian aunt who keeps their family from being ordinary in the eyes of their friends. LOL. Now, I love spoiling my great-nieces and great-nephews. So, I’ve had a lot of experience with their fears and constantly shifting moods. And I’m still a bit of a kid at heart and so could easily slip into Gabe’s head.
You have written three speculative fiction novels, the Dragon Horse War series. How was the writing process different from writing a contemporary romance novel?
The world-building and maintaining consistency throughout the three books of the trilogy was extremely difficult. When I started the project, I had no clue about the millions of details I would have to remember. I thought there were a lot of secondary characters in the first book, but the second and third books added even more characters. Also, the setting is more than two centuries in the future, so I had to consider how society would have changed during that time. The great religions had finally extinguished each other in a worldwide holy war, so since there was no belief in a single omnipotent god, I had to come with new swear words. Also, each book had to have a story arc within the overall story arc of the trilogy.
There were times that I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the project. I usually stick to a specific outline, but these characters totally took the story out of my hands as I wrote. That was scary. I just knew I’d get to 90,000 words and suddenly discover I’d written a major flaw into the story.
In the end, it was good experience for me, and I think it allowed—and sometimes forced—me to stretch as a writer. Most important, the Dragon Horse War trilogy is my social commentary about how we allow our differences to divide us as a society when we should be celebrating them.
As an editor, I couldn’t help noticing—and appreciating—that your writing got stronger with each of the books you published. What did you do to improve your writing skills?
I am a career journalist, but fiction writing is so different from reporting news events. I’ve had a lot to learn since my first book.
When Radclyffe called me almost eleven years ago to say that Bold Strokes Books would publish my first book, Bareback, she cautioned that she was only interested in authors who wanted to hone their craft and write more than one book. Every other year, Bold Strokes hosts a retreat for their writers with workshops on subjects like point of view, character development, conflict, writing sex scenes, etc. We discuss and examine the mechanics of our craft.
Also, every Bold Strokes writer can get free ebook copies of all BSB books published each month, if they want them. I read as many as I can, then spend my money on books by authors I admire from other publishers to note the words they use, the plot twists, scene and character building. And I incessantly listen to audiobooks even if I’ve already read the book, because audio allows you to feel the pacing and rhythm and to hear the melody and flow of the words.
However, I have to give most of the credit to my editor, Dr. Shelley Thrasher, who has been the biggest influence in my development as a fiction writer. She’s edited all but two of my books and helped me tighten my sentences and overall pacing. Her editing style is uniquely suited to me. Most book editors I know make several passes over a manuscript, editing for a specific thing each time. Many do this before they return the manuscript to the writer to clean up the problems. Shelley sends the manuscript back more than once, each time allowing me the opportunity to read through the manuscript too, after weeks of not looking at it. I find edits I want to make too and send them back for her approval along with the corrections she’s asked me to make. A lot of writers dread the editing process, but I love it because Shelley lets me be involved. In the end, I feel confident that we’re printing the best book I can write.
Most of your books feature horses in one way or another. What makes horses special to you personally?
I’ve always been crazy attracted to the beauty, power, and rhythm of horses. I’m that kid who asked for a pony every Christmas and never understood why I couldn’t keep one in our backyard. I’m not a formally trained equestrian, because my family never had money for such things. But in the small rural town where I grew up, I had friends who lived on farms, and I rode their horses at every opportunity.
When I moved to North Carolina in my 30s, I finally bought my first horse, an Arabian. The first close friend I made in North Carolina is an equine veterinarian. When we met, she was just starting her own practice so picked up a lot of weekend emergency work for other horse vets in the area. My best weekends were when she’d swing by and pick me up to ride with her on calls. She liked having someone to talk to while driving from farm to farm, and I loved soaking up her horse knowledge and visiting lots of different farms and horses. We used to joke that we were both horses in a previous life.
When I moved to Raleigh, my Arabian was in his 20s and, although I’ve seen twenty-year-old Arabians still winning ribbons in the show ring, I retired him at another friend’s farm. He’s gone now, taken in his late twenties by sudden and deadly case of colic.
What wallpaper do you have on your computer or laptop right now?
At home, something generic that Microsoft throws up there and changes every now and then. At the office where I edit news stories, I have a Peanuts cartoon that declares: “Editors are sometimes human, too.”
What did you want to become when you grew up?
I mostly dreamed of being a cowboy (obviously not a cowgirl because they all wore silly skirts), but it was a fantasy, not a real aspiration. My childhood was a string of barefoot summers, fun with cousins, riding ponies, and reading every book I could get my hands on, and I never spent much time worrying about what I’d be when I grew up. I never aspired to be a journalist. I just fell into it because I loved reading and writing and thought journalism was the only alternative to teaching. Much to my surprise, I found I was pretty good at it, too.
What types of books do you like to read? Any favorites you can recommend?
My favorite genre is romance, obviously. I consider Radclyffe and Gerri Hill masters of the romance craft, but there are many, many others I love, too. I’ve read or listened to every one of your books. This blog would be too long if I listed them all.
I also love fantasy (more than science fiction). I spent a month once reading every one of Jane Fletcher’s books. When I won a Goldie in the fantasy category for Dragon Horse War: The Calling, I think I was more thrilled that the other two winners were Fletcher Delancey and D. Jordan Redhawk than I was about receiving my award. I love their books.
I love LL Raand’s Midnight Hunters series, but I also love Gill McKnight’s Garoul series. I’ve read Amber Eye at least three times.
When’s your next book coming out, and what are you working on right now?
Ordinary is Perfect just came out this month (January 2019). My day job—the move from a printed newspaper to a digital product—is consuming my life right now, so I don’t feel like I can sign a contract with a deadline right now.
However, I have a 15,000-word piece on the back burner that started out as a short story for Ylva’s Don’t Be Shy collection. I’m considering fleshing that out as a short novel. It’s an erotic story about a writer who falls for her niece’s riding instructor.
I also have a story loosely mapped out and titled Naked. It’s something of a romantic comedy about a woman who has spent her life letting her ovaries make her life decisions—the worst ones happen when she’s naked and in a sex haze—and results in a series of ridiculous situations. She’s personable and attractive, and her reputation for calamity makes her a popular party guest and leads to string of short-term relationships. She’s okay with that until she meets that special woman. She desperately wants to prove she’s not a total screw-up but can’t seem to get out of her own way.
Where can your readers find out more about you and your books?
My books are released first at www.boldstrokesbooks.com, then midmonth on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, www.bellabooks.com, and many independent bookstores. My website www.djacksonleigh.com doesn’t have my latest books on it, but links to my personal blog.
On social media, I can be found at facebook.com/d.jackson.leigh and @djacksonleigh (Twitter). Also, I love to hear from readers, and they can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
D. Jackson Leigh is giving away an ebook copy of her latest novel, Ordinary is Perfect. Anyone can enter. To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment on this blog.
Entries close on Thursday, February 7, 2018, 10 a.m. CET, when I’ll draw the winners using a random numbers generator. I’ll notify winners via email. Your email address won’t be used for any other purpose.
There’ll be more author interviews, giveaways, and free books this year. If you want to make sure you don’t miss any of them, please subscribe to my blog.