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Author Diane Leslie

Author of Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime
and Fleur De Leigh in Exile (Simon and Schuster)

exclusive interviews Author Diane Leslie

Lovelier the second time around

By Ann Cooper
WordSmitten Correspondent

Described as an Eloise-of-Hollywood, Diane Leslie's first novel managed 21 weeks on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list. Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime also was selected as one of the Best Books of 1999 by Library Journal and the L. A. Times.

Her second, Fleur De Leigh in Exile, published in April 2003, was described by The Washington Times as "a novel filled with funny escapades and endearing characters, amusingly and charmingly portrayed by a delightful protagonist…"

But it wasn't until Diane Leslie had already written four unpublished novels that she decided to write "Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime" a comedic debut novel and a semi-autobiographical account of a young girl who had 60 different nannies in her Hollywood milieu.

In a world where increasingly younger authors are offered increasingly megabuck advances, Leslie's later-in-life success story is both compelling and inspiring to those writers still toiling in fields of relative anonymity.

In addition to her writing, she is a bookseller at Dutton's Brentwood Bookseller in West Los Angeles where she hosts author readings, discussions and several book clubs. On top of this busy schedule she is generous with her time and guidance. She provides one of Word Smitten's contributing writers with thoughts about the writing life.

A Conversation with Diane Leslie

WS: When you were writing the first Fleur novel, did you already have the sequel in mind and what were the thought processes, considerations and decisions that you went through en route to the second one?

DL: Since I had already written four novels that didn't get published, Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime was meant to be my last. I did decide to write autobiographically this one time because, I believed, if this book didn't get published it would be, at least, therapeutic. Only when my publisher asked me what I planned to write next, did I decide to write in a comical way about the terrible boarding school to which I'd been exiled at the age of fifteen.

WS: How influential/important were your editor and agent?

DL: My agent wanted to send out a smacking clean manuscript. She kept after me to rewrite and improve my novel. I'm very grateful for her zeal and mission of perfection. Still, the lovely editor who acquired my novel wanted to omit one particular chapter. I spent a whole day cutting, rewriting, and reshaping it in order to save it. That chapter is probably my favorite.

WS: What kind of contract did you have with your publisher? Was there ever mention of a two-book deal? Do you think it is advantageous for writers to have a two-book deal?

DL: I don't want to make deals on books I haven't begun to write. I need to know I really have a whole, viable novel I trust in before I can feel comfortable negotiating a price.

WS: Presumably, in order to write a sequel, you have to really like the main character. How close were you to Fleur, and how easy was it to continue writing about her?

DL: In the second novel I had new problems with Fleur, who is in many ways myself. She was ten through twelve years old in the first book. In Fleur De Leigh In Exile, she was three years older, smarter, and sassier. I couldn't count on her innocence. She needed a more mature voice. This novel is darker because Fleur had been placed in an untenable situation by uncaring parents.

WS: What were the conscious decisions you made with this second novel and how did it differ from the first?

DL: Although I tried to smooth it into the novel form, you could say that Fleur De Leigh's Life of Crime was composed of interconnected stories. In Fleur De Leigh In Exile, which took place during an eight month period, I definitely wanted to write one cohesive linear story. And did.

WS: Has the reaction to the second novel been what you hoped for?

DL: I think it is a great luxury to be able to write novels. I'm doing what I've wanted to do since I was a child. I feel very lucky.

WS: How much promotion/marketing did you have to do yourself and did you get enough support from the publisher? Does having a first novel out there make it easier to publicize the second?

DL: My idea about promoting books is to say yes to everything. You never know who you'll meet or who will hear you. Since I'm interested in most people, especially those who like to read, and I enjoy public speaking, I usually have a good time. But I think first novels will always get more attention than second or third ones. In fact, I know people who collect only first novels.

WS: Anything you'd have done differently with either the first or second novel?

DL: One of my own drawings has been published in the pages of my second novel. I had wanted to illustrate each of the nannies depicted (in print) in the first, but timidity or the assumption it couldn't be done, prevented me from mentioning my desire to my editor.

WS: Are you still working as a bookseller at Dutton's? How does that help or inform your writing?

DL: I still sell books, host author readings, and lead book groups at Dutton's Brentwood Books in Los Angeles. Writing is lonely but I have the certitude that I will be spending late afternoons or evenings in the company of readers. I will be able to talk and think about books other than my own. Being a bookseller, as my husband will concur, both stimulates and stabilizes me.

WS: After the first novel, is it easier or harder to launch the second novel and how does it distract from the writing process?

DL: It was more exciting giving birth to the first of my two sons than it was birthing the second. The same is true of my two books. That's just the way it is. Everything distracts me from the writing process--this questionnaire for example.

WS: What recommendations would you give to writers about handling the organization and management of writing the third book while on the road touring with #1 and #2?

DL: I don't really write when I'm out of town. Traveling is too wearying and/or much too exciting for me to settle down and concentrate on such an intimate thing as writing. I think it is important to observe and absorb new places and ideas. You never know what will be the geneses of a new character, description, or metaphor.

WS: Does vetting get easier? Does the structure of the novel begin to get more comfortable and do the revisions get easier or more manageable? What tips for organizing the process did you discover?

DL: The one thing that makes writing easier for me now is that someone (my agent and editor) really wants to read what I have to say. I've come to the conclusion that the characters are the all-important elements of my novels, and that the structures eventually just fall into place. I happen to be someone who loathes writing the first draft but who would merrily continue rewriting and revising forever.

WS: I'm assuming you're already embarked on writing the next novel. Is it also about Fleur de Leigh?

DL: My next novel is about my family and me again. It takes place in the present, however, so I'm not positive it will be a Fleur de Leigh novel. But then my mother is Charmian and I am pretty much Fleur.

WS: Is there a danger of being the literary equivalent of typecast, if you continue writing about Fleur?

DL: My mother was a successful screenwriter but she had to write the pictures that were assigned to her. I am fortunate to be able to write what is important to me. I don't believe there is typecasting for writers. If Phillip Roth writes a book without Zuckerman narrating, we still read it, don't we? I've just finished a short story that has nothing to do with my novels, and I feel confident it will be published. Somewhere.

WS: Do you write every day?

DL: I try to write every day but I don't bawl myself out if I don't. The things I do when I'm not writing seem to stimulate what I write. I don't feel that I spend much time writing, but I guess I do.

WS: What else do you write?

DL: I love theatre and wrote one play that didn't get produced. It had two readings, and I was thrilled to hear audiences laughing at my lines. It fascinated me how two different actors found such contrasting qualities in a character. But I also realized I didn't have the chutzpah at the time to work in this most collaborative medium. Instead I've done a lot of public speaking which, the way I do it, is really writing on my feet. I can usually rely on my own spontaneity and I cherish the instant gratification of laughter. I do find it much easier to speak to a group than to write. But as I mentioned, I've just finished a new short story. It called Driven.

WS: Any movie options on the horizon?

DL: Books are extremely important to me; I love to read. The whole movie-possibility thing embarrasses me, and I dodge the question whenever possible. I resent it when people tell me my book will make a terrific movie. Why don't they say it has already made a terrific book?


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that either truth or irony will appear on the doorstep.

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