Today I’d like to introduce you to fellow Author Leslie Conzatti. Leslie is an avid writer and a voracious reader residing in the Pacific Northwest. Equipped with a vibrant, active imagination, Leslie has been crafting stories and creating fantasies out of the world around her and the one within her mind since before she learned to read. From the start of the very first book, Leslie has been committed to the production of lasting literature intended to invest in the lives of her readers, motivating them to become more involved in the world around them.
Leslie holds a Bachelor’s degree in English, and when she’s not pegging away at the myriad story ideas she has started in her spare time, Leslie works as an elementary school staff assistant, teaching kids the intricacies of reading and writing English.
Please Introduce us to your Blog. What is it all about? My blog is called “The Upstream Writer.” I chose the title based on a story I heard during a very inspiring discussion.
The story described a river in East India, one full of trash, human and animal waste, and all sorts of disgusting filth. Yet if one were to just station themselves mid-river and attempt to “clean” the river by dredging the garbage from it, there would always be more garbage flowing through from further up-river. To complete the task effectively, then, one must travel upstream and get at the source of the nastiness, and the water flowing down would eventually become gradually cleaner.
I understood this as a very applicable metaphor for what I saw in literary trends in America, particularly after I studied the whole history of American literature in college. I saw the “downstream” trend of “filth” building up on library shelves, with more “garbage” books being produced, and less of the wholesome, “clean” literature that would still be cherished by future generations, centuries later, in the same way many of us still cherish the “classics.” Where are the “classics” today? I wondered.
As an “Upstream Writer”, then, I set out to write literature that would stand the test of time to become “classic.” I welcomed the opportunity to feature reviews and participate in blog hops and interviews to encourage other writers who share the same goal in creating quality literature rather than “flash-in-the-pan”, popular doggerel “that sells.” That’s what my blog is all about, and that is what all of my writing is geared toward.
What kinds of posts can readers expect to find on your blog? I tend to have quite the variety of posts. I use “The Upstream Writer” as a platform for both reviews and sharing my own writing. As a general overview, I’ll explain the various pages/tabs I have on my blog. Under “Articles”, I have linked all the non-fiction-type posts, such as “Top 3/5/10 Lists”, “Sunday Musings” (different posts I’ve written based on sermons that stick with me), and “How To” posts.
Under “Reader’s Reviews” is where you’ll find all my 70+ featured book reviews by indie/self-published authors, as well as the Reading Lists I compiled during the first 3 years of my blog.
“Flash Fictions” is fairly recent, and it has an assortment of single-scene or mini-series I’ve written, mostly along the lines of “fairy tales with a twist” and usually inspired by someone else.
“Serial Saturdays” is quite hefty because it’s the one kind of post I’ve been able to continue with plenty of regularity for the last four-and-a-half years of my blog’s lifetime. I have everything sorted and linked, categorized by the various complete stories, or excerpts (if I already have the series posted somewhere else), as well as the “Suggestion Box” series I’m kind of known for (among those who know me).
“The Shelf” is a bunch of half-finished or incomplete ideas in various stages—I “store” them here in the hope that sparking interest in other people will help motivate me to revisit and hopefully complete them.
The “Blogs I Follow” page is a list of links to a bunch of helpful blogs I have subscribed to, of other writers like me that I hope to encourage. (It hasn’t been updated in a while, so I’m sorry if there are any defunct links in the bunch!)
The last 2 pages, “The ReBible Series” and “Princess of Undersea” deal with at least 2 ideas that are more permanent and wide-spread than those I’ve listed on The Shelf. “Princess of Undersea” in particular is my first published book, and I made that page to link to all the various posts I’ve made during its development, as well as tie-in stories and reviews on other blogs.
What Inspires and stirs your creativity? One thing that I’ve never quite been able to get away from is the habit of finding inspiration just about anywhere. A pair of broken eyeglasses in the middle of the road, a simple sentence quoted somewhere, a string of story ideas on Tumblr, or even a single picture with no words—I see it and immediately I want to create a context for the thing’s existence, to explain how it got there, and what might happen next. My “Suggestion Box” series began when I wanted to write new ideas, but I didn’t know where to start. I sent messages to all the friends I knew who either read a lot or wrote books, and I asked them for a list of four things: a name, a place, a time, and an object. I placed no guidelines, allowed them to be as vague or specific as they liked—I assured them that the 4 things didn’t have to have anything to do with one another (what does “a can of orange juice” have to do with “the year 4093”? Absolutely nothing, at first glance… but then again, I managed to come up with something)—and my personal challenge was to write a story or a scene incorporating all four things. This challenge lasted me the whole summer the first time I tried it, and the second year I was able to actually string the lists together to make a continuous story that actually turned out better than I could have hoped, and the third summer I tried it, I got so many responses that it lasted an entire year! All from just random lists from random people of those four simple elements of a premise: a name, a place, a time, and an object.
Conversely, what do you find difficult to write about? What you would find on my blog is a lot of step-by-step guides to being a professional writer, or a lot of moving passages about social issues or emotional trauma—I admire and I have a lot of blogger friends who can do that, but I just can’t seem to produce it myself.
How has your blog helped you as a writer/Indie Author? What things have you learned along the way that you never anticipated? My blog has helped me build confidence that my thoughts could be valuable to someone (for example, the all-time-highest performing blog post that still receives hits to this day is the first-ever how-to post I wrote, “How To Write An A+ Essay From Any Prompt In 5 Easy Steps”), that strangers would be supportive of my writing, and to actually to write more than I ever did before. I kind of attribute it to the fact that saying “I have a blog” is a lot easier than saying “I have three different 50-page documents that are stories I wrote, do you want to read them?”
I have learned that “a picture is worth a thousand clicks” (therefore I always try to have some kind of picture attached to the post—definitely it gets more clicks than the posts I have with no pictures!), I’ve learned that “networking is key” (so the more blog hops and book reviews I post, the more hits my blog gets as the author/blog hop participants share my blog around, thus expanding my network further than just the people I know) and that “think first, then write” is always the better option!
Tell us about your book: “Princess of Undersea” is a fantasy re-telling of the classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Little Mermaid.” The young daughter of the king of mer-people defies a long-standing kingdom boundary to walk among the humans and prove that they aren’t as terrible as her father claims—and unwittingly becomes a pawn in a deep-laid plot that could spell disaster for the undersea kingdom as well as the one on land.
What Inspired you to write your book? I’d always enjoyed Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and I grew up reading the original fairy tale. There were a few things, however, that didn’t sit so well with me—the blatant rebellion of Ariel rewarded with Disney’s signature “Happy Ever After” for one thing, the rather depressing ending of the original fairy tale for another… plus a whole lot of little details in between. I set out to write my own version, with little tweaks and changes that would carry a slightly different, and more worthwhile, message.
What genre do you prefer to write or are you truly eclectic? I write mostly fantasy—typically of the urban or high-fantasy variety. But there are times when I’ve tried my hand at cyberpunk, a little bit of historical fiction (particularly in the ReBible series), but most of the time, I like inventing my own settings and the rules by which it operates, so fantasy or sci-fi is the name of the game!
Do you painstakingly plot out your story; are you a discovery writer or a bit of both? Why? I am largely a plotter, but not painstakingly so—at least, not painstaking in my research. Mostly, what I concern myself with is crafting the story that comes across in my head, and with as many stories as I have unfinished at a time, I need to write things down because I don’t want to risk forgetting them. Sometimes, with as long as it takes me to write a story, the plot direction that I have at the beginning of the changes as I go to write it. Just because I have a plan at the outset doesn’t mean I stick to it—sometimes the plan serves as more of a “checkpoint” so that I can stay on track with at least a coherent sense of story.
Do you have a favorite or least favorite character? And Why? My favorite character would probably be Giles, King Theodore’s steward and the mentor for Prince Nathan. It was really fascinating when I first came up with the idea, because I initially thought that for this “steward” character, I would take the characters Sebastian and Grimsby from the Disney movie and create a combination of them, someone stuffy, arrogant, paranoid, and very critical of Ylaine—but then, out of the blue, this man shows up, “introduces” himself as Giles, and he ends up so kind and concerning and noble that I didn’t have the heart to continue with my original idea!
Share an insight or secret about your book.
There were two details I changed a whole lot:
- The mermaids. It never sat well with me, the idea of having to describe and justify mermaids in the traditional sense, with the human torso and the fish tail—like why would an aquatic creature have human skin and features? Why does the top half need to be covered if clothes create more drag? If modesty is an issue—how did an aquatic creature develop such human-like tendencies? How does any of this make sense? I decided that a mermaid, rather than just being a combination of half-human, half-fish, would be a hybrid of the two, too human to be rightly classified as a fish, too fish-like to be taken for a human. Merpeople would have scaly, streamlined body, with arms like a person and a single tail like a fish, the face arranged like a humans, but gill slits and fish eyes instead of the human features—things like that. The “skin tone” would vary as much as human skin tone does, only in hues of blue, green, and grey rather than beige and brown tones.
- The mermaid’s voice. In every iteration of the Little Mermaid story I’ve ever encountered, the mermaid yields her voice completely to become human. The iteration “it’s she who holds her tongue who gets her man” was another assertion that didn’t jive with me. I didn’t think it was completely fair for the girl to lose her voice completely and have literally no say in the matter of the relationship that was supposed to develop, and I thought it was kind of stupid to expect a guy to just fall in love with the girl’s looks rather than her thoughts, which she would need a voice to express… So in my story, she has a special gift, a magical singing voice given to her by a fairy, and this is what she gives up. Without the special song, she can still speak, but her voice is flat and dull, and she cannot speak without a pronounced stutter. It made quite a difference in the dynamic between Nathan and Ylaine, my two main characters, when I had to think about him patiently waiting to understand her through the constant stutter—such a thing would force him to listen closely to her, and she wouldn’t be able to sustain talking for long periods, not when every word is a struggle.
So there you have it, two things to look forward to in this adventure, which you won’t necessarily find in any other version on the market!
What do you feel is your best advice to share with other aspiring authors? My best advice is just to write. Write lots, write often. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with researching absolutely everything into oblivion, don’t let the self-doubt gremlins get you, don’t get stuck in the rut of just one project till you burn out—write a lot, read a lot—don’t worry about crossing genres. Something you read in a crime thriller just might kickstart an idea to help you in your high-fantasy adventure story. Good writing is good writing; the genre doesn’t matter.
Would you like to share an excerpt from the book or a poem or two to give readers an idea what you offer? Here’s a brief excerpt, just one page of the novel:
“—So you see, that’s why I need more than one day, because I want to find him, Nayidia!” Ylaine’s voice pleaded with her. “I need to find him.”
The timbre resonated with ardent longing that told the merwoman that her goddaughter’s heart was already hovering on the surface of the water. Time for her body to join it.
“And what will you do when you find him, Ylaine?” Nayidia asked carefully.
The fluttering of the gills was the Mermaid equivalent of a blush. “I don’t know.” Ylaine looked as if she wanted to loose her hair and let if float in front of her face to avoid her godmother’s gaze.
Nayidia let Ylaine wonder for several minutes, and then said slowly, as if the idea had just occurred to her, “I am afraid I cannot make the potions last any longer, but I do have some old three-day potion.” Nayidia swam down to the belly of the ship to retrieve the vial of potion.
Ylaine was so excited to receive it that she did not notice the sparkling sheen of fresh-brewed potion. “Three days?”
“Yes; you’ll be human for three days—unless…” Nayidia broke off just long enough for Ylaine to look up expectantly, then shook her head. “Never mind, it’s silly.”
“What is?” Ylaine took the bait as easily as a tarpon.
If you had to describe yourself to someone who has never met you, what might you say? I’m nerdy, but I’m also introverted. I can be shy at first, but once we find common ground, I will warm up quickly and tend to cover my nervousness by getting really excited over the things I like! I don’t talk much in general, but when it’s a topic I enjoy, I will chat myself hoarse.
If you could meet one person from the past, who might it be and why? I think I would have loved to meet J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and all the rest of the Inklings—just being in a room with that much literary genius, geeking out over dead languages and alternate worlds would be amazing!
When you are NOT writing, what is your favorite pastime? What do you mean when I’m not writing? You mean when I’m working or sleeping? Just kidding. When I’m not writing, I read. When I don’t feel like interacting with words at all, I usually pull out one of the small collection of art therapy/adult coloring books I have, and color one of those.
Describe Your Dream Getaway Destination. Have you ever been there? What makes this place Irresistible to you? Dream getaway? Well, on my bucket list is to tour all four countries in the UK: England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. I am absolutely enamored with the landscape and the music and the art—I haven’t been, but I very much want to go!
What “Charity” or “Cause” do you feel passionately about & Why? Literature is quite possibly my greatest passion. I realized it when I studied American Literature for two semesters and it absolutely pained my soul to see the quality of content decline sharply with each successive movement. Writers got angrier and more depressed, stopped seeing the beauty and the hope in life and the world, and instead of being a catalyst for change and motivation and hope, the written word became a platform for complaining and vitriol between cultures and societies.
It needs to change, and I want to be someone who inspires that change. I want to bring hope back into literature, I want to bring quality back to literature. It shouldn’t be just about slapping my feelings onto a page; books are the instruments of change, so what do we want the world to look like? Do we seriously want a world full of filth and degradation—or do we want it to end up differently than the dull, depraved dystopia we are painting? Literature should empower the reader with a sense of purpose, of understanding, and of hope. I want to be and to encourage those writers who produce not just “to sell” but “to improve the world and future generations.”
Thanks So much Leslie for sharing your insights with BnV today 🙂
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