Name Joan Leotta
Where are you from
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pan (right in the city) in the USA into a very close Italian-American family. My Dad was a WWII vet and owned a pharmacy. My mother worked for her family.I went to a small private girl’s school, then a larger one and then a public school for the last two years—my school moved out of the city! My first poem (for pay)was published when I was fourteen in a National magazine for librarians. I was on the school paper and in all of the school plays
I went to college in Ohio and spent a summer in Africa doing research and my last year of college in Madrid , Spain. I went to graduate school in Washington DC and Bologna Italy in the Johns Hopkins SAIS International Studies program. I worked for the government for ten years and then, after I was married and had children I stayed home and began writing and performing professionally. I lived in the Washington DC area for thirty-five years. We have two children, one of whom is already in heaven. Our daughter lives in the DC area
I love to travel with husband and daughter when she can, and now live near the beach in NC. I collect seashells and pressed pennies and good memories.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My ; latest writing news, eh? Last month I was named a finalist for poetry for a prestigious NC award, made me feel good to be honored in my new home state. The fourth book in my Desert Breeze series has been nominated for an award. My most current longer work is for children—I have a short mystery for children coming out in a magazine called Ruby for Women. (story title is Red and Yellow Bracelet). My second picture book, Summer in a Bowl will come out in September of this year. Like the first (WHOOSH!) it’s about a little girl named Rosa who loves her parents. Sumer in a Bowl shows her the fun of gardening and eating the vegetables one harvests.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I started to write as soon as I could hold a crayon. I scribbled “stories” onto scraps of paper and “read” them to my mother before I even knew how to make letters. I simply cannot NOT write. I love words.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve always been in love with writing and so I always thought myself a writer—a professional writer , well only after I began to work as a journalist and an author, after I held my first book in my hand.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
The challenge of it –going longer than a short story.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Wow, that is a difficult question—analyzing styles is something I love to do—except when it is my own! I guess, simple, direct? I do like description, tho I try to keep it short. I hope my poetry and my work as a performer influence my style, keeping it imaginative and interesting as well as peppy, fast moving.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are difficult. I tend to be pedestrian at the first and then, I re-title after working on the book for a while. My book, Simply a Smile, a collection of short stories (one of which won an award in Australia), well, I wanted to call that one, Objects as Subjects. Fortunately, my cousin and my daughter intervened. They said that title (which reflects that all of the stories in the book were inspired by objects) was dull, dull, dull. So, I poached the title of one of the stories for the book title.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?—
Each of my stories, whether a short, or a novel in the series, or the books for children are more about projecting a world view than voicing a specific message. I like to focus on strong women, and children who live in cities and who are loved by their families.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
These first two children’s picture books are directly based on experiences I had as a child with my father. I believe the father-child relationship is very important and finally found a publisher who agreed with me.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I love the work of Eric Carle for children. I love the books of Mark Twain, Dumas, O’Henry and James Joyce. I love the poetry of Theodore Roethke, TS Elliot, Garcia Lorca, and Pablo Neruda. I read many contemporary poets as well. I definitely study current popular children’s books and poets –especially the work of Charles Ghigna. There are many random books I have used and continue to use as mentor texts in children’s work.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Louise Penny, Elizabeth Peters—I love the way they plot mysteries that are character driven, the way they work in having us care about the protagonist. And I love Elly Griffiths, especially the way she works the landscape of where Ruth Galloway lives into the mystery as another character—all qualities I try to emulate
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My writers critique group. The one here has been wonderful and in DC I had a critique group, too—supportive.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Oh yes, but I don’t do much of the writing that earns money (non-fiction—jouranlism , magazines and newspapers) any more
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Summer in a Bowl ? No I like it the way it is. Plus it acts as an homage to my Aunt Mary
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Just loved words as my mother read to me, I guess. To me, writing is magical.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Summer in a Bowl is the story of Rosa, who spends every summer Thursday with her Aunt Mary. On those days they work in Aunt Mary’s garden. On the last Thursday before school starts, Rosa helps Aunt Mary harvest the vegetables. When Aunt Mary says she is going to make soup, Rosa is a bit put off. She does nto like to eat vegetables. But she helps Aunt Mary make the soup. When Rosa’s dad comes to pick her up later her Dad tire the soup,. When Rosa sees how much her Dad likes the soup, she tries it too. She likes it and Aunt Mary gives her some to take home and tells her that whenever she eats it whe will have a little bit of summer in her bowl.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Editing—I am good at overall editing—changing and shifting the book—or a poem or essay, often from one form to another. But I am a horrible proof reader!
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not so far, although I did use our Christmas 2014 trip to Rome to nail down the names and locations of a few places I mention in Secrets of the Heart.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
The covers of Desert Breeze books are by Gwen Phifer. The covers of my children’s books are by Rebecca Michelle Zeissler
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Deciding what to leave out
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Mostly how to cut and how to find the best POV
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
For these children’s book, no. I’d love to see Becca’s lovely illustrations made into a cartoon, tho. If the Deesrt Breeze books were put on TV or made into a film, I think I would be so overwhelmed with joy, I think I just trust the director to doo a good job of casting.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Work hard, don’t give up, have perspective on yourself—don’t think yourself to be better or worse than you are, and by all means, work constantly on improving craft—join a critique group, read widely, dive into research , work, work. I write daily a couple of hours a day at least
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
At this very moment I am reading a mystery by someone new to me
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No, but it was probably a Golden Book
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Laugh—I like dry humor. Cry—anything that puts children in a bad position
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Corrie Ten Boom—she stood against Nazis in Holland. Stood up for principles at a difficult time, put her faith into action, then was able to forgive those who killed her family
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Faithful servant—all work is to honor God, but Good friend and Good writer, as in Charlotte’s web also a great epitaph
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Photography, shell collecting
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
NCIS, all fo the Brit TV mysteries and period dramas that I can see—very into Aussie mystery series, Dr. Blake, right now and Canadian series, Murdock mysteries
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Fave food—pasta, pasta, pasta
Music—classical and classic rock (60s)
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Be an artist
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Thank you for this opportunity.