Get to know Ann…
Ann Haywood Leal comes from a long line of musicians, artists, and teachers. Since she’s never been able to carry a tune, she was always given plenty of writing supplies and allowed to use the sharp scissors. Eventually, she put those writing supplies to good use and wrote her first novel, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER. A Seattle-area native, Ann is an elementary teacher and now lives in Connecticut with her husband, Andy; her cat, Pepper, and is a train and a subway away from her daughter, Jessica. Her second novel, A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, was released in October. Visit Ann’s site here.
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
In ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, I began with a character and with a setting. I was on a run one day, and I saw a house with an eviction sign. Right away, in my mind, I saw a little girl tearing off that eviction notice. In A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, I actually started with the setting. I love anything that is broken-down and falling apart, because it always gets me wondering about what happened there, who lived there, and what their stories were. When I run across an interesting setting, I like to take pictures for my idea file.
Describe your perfect day.
I would wake up in Seattle and go for a run with my dad. Then I would write for the rest of the morning at a coffee shop near the Freemont Bridge troll sculpture, and zip to New York to have lunch at the Yaffa Café with my friends and family. I would write for the rest of the afternoon in my cousin, Sean’s pasture in County Mayo, Ireland. Then I would have dinner on a sailboat with my husband in the Florida Keys, listen to jazz at the Blue Note in the Village, and watch the fireflies from my backyard treehouse in Connecticut (without mosquitoes!).
Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?
My mom was wonderful. She was a very busy person, because she was a teacher and an artist, but she always had time for my brothers and me. Her mother, my grandmother, was also very inspiring. She was born without the fingers on one hand, but she never let that stop her from doing anything. She used to say that the only thing she couldn’t do was to pound a nail. She was bold and always tried to do the right thing, no matter what people thought of her. My father is still very inspiring to me. He always had time to read to my brothers and me, and he taught us to love and appreciate good stories. He is a retired biology teacher and he taught me so much about science and questioning what is going on around you. I think I got my curiosity and creativity and my love of words from all of them.
Where do you get your ideas?
Absolutely everywhere! I true to always pay attention to what is going on around me and to notice the small details.
What advice would you give young writers?
Save all of your stories and write every day, even if you only have a small window of time. Read everything you can get your hands on!
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Hmmm…probably eel. Sushi is one of my favorite foods, and I’ll try most any of it.
What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?
My grandmother’s bible and my great-grandmother’s stories.
What one word describes you?
Probably friendly, because I’ll talk to almost anyone, often to the embarrassment of my kids!
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
I’m not sure if it’s the first item, but it’s one of them…I’d love to zipline over the Amazon Rainforest.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I go for a run or a bike ride, or read a great book of poetry.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
I let my agent read my work-in-progress, because he has really good intuition and feedback. I’ll also read chapters to my dad and to my best friend and critique group members.
I’m trying to be less of a seat-of-the-pantser, but the truth is, I’m probably somewhere in between.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
A rooftop garden with a fully catered lunch nook, and a skywalk that goes out to my treehouse. My treehouse can stay rustic, because I really like it that way.
How long do you take to write a book?
For a first draft, anywhere from six months, to a year.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer and a teacher.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
Hmmm…part of me thinks it was easier before, because I didn’t have the pressures of deadlines and reviews. But I’ve learned so many valuable and helpful things from the people around me since I’ve been published – my editor, my agent, and other authors—people I probably wouldn’t have come in regular contact with before publishing.
Earliest childhood memory?
I was going up in the Space Needle with some of my family. I remember being really scared, and holding tightly to my dad, because it was dark at one point when we were going up in the elevator.
What is your secret talent?
I have a really good singing voice in the car, by myself, with the CD player turned up high.
What’s one rule you’re dying to break?
I would love to ignore the ropes and the glass cases at a museum and really get a good look at things. I want to touch all the mummies at the Met and get up close and personal with the dinosaurs and the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History.
If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?
I’m going to have to cheat and double that number; two dead, four alive: John Steinbeck, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Harper Lee, Anne Lamott, and David Sedaris.