Six Questions with Leah Cypess

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This interview is part of the Codex Author Tour.

One of the cool things about joining the Codex Author Tour is that I get to meet some new, great authors. One such is Leah Cypess. Leah and I didn't know each other, except for peripherally, as we were both members of Codex, but when the tour rolled around, her book, Mistwood, was one that caught my eye right away. Then I took a gander at the Mistwood trailer on her website and the first chapter on HarperCollins website. Aside from having a very attractive book, the first chapter was a real grabber. I came away impressed, and I was instantly curious to learn more about Leah and her road to publication.

After Leah was kind enough to agree to the interview, I sat down (virtually, of course) and asked her a few questions.

There was a pretty big gap between your first short story sale and the sale of your novel, a time during which you focused on your "other" career more than writing. To what extent did your experiences in obtaining your biology and law degrees, and your subsequent time in law, affect your writing? If you had it to do all over again, would you dive into writing or follow the same course? Or is there perhaps a choice C?

I never stopped writing and trying to publish—through college and law school, I always devoted a significant amount of time to writing and submitting works. (This ground to a rather drastic halt when I got a job at a law firm, though!) In a way, I think the fact that writing was secondary for so long was a good thing. It gave me time to develop my craft without driving myself crazy over the fact that none of my book-length manuscripts were being accepted for publication. It broadened my life experience, which significantly improved the kinds of stories I told. And also—more mundanely, but most significantly—the money I made during my two years of working as a lawyer enabled me to finally try writing full time.

I see that we have quite a few favorite authors in common. Who has made the biggest impact on your writing and in what ways did they affect it?

Wow—that's a tough one! There are a lot of different authors I admire for various aspects of craft, but probably the thing I admire most is that ill-defined "sense of wonder"—I don't think any writer really knows how to imbue all their works with it. Some of the books I admire most for that quality are The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, the "angel" series by Sharon Shinn, and A Great & Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I admire Connie Willis for her ability to transport the reader into another time and place and make it feel so real—even more impressive because the times and places she chooses are real ones!—and Sarah Rees Brennan for creating characters who feel extremely real. And Megan Whalen Turner for, well, everything.

Now that Mistwood (which looks wonderful, by the way) has been out for a little while, what would you say has been the most satisfying part of the journey toward and beyond publication?

The most satisfying moments were: (1) the phone call, when I was told that my publisher was going to make an offer—and (2) walking into a bookstore on release day and seeing my book right there on the shelf together with other, real-life books!

How has your life or outlook changed since Mistwood's release?

Both quite a lot and not that much.

In practical terms, a lot of my time is now taken up with promotion, reviewing copyedits, etc. rather than writing; my schedule has become a lot busier, and ironically, I have less time for writing than I did before. It's also somewhat more stressful now that my deadlines aren't all self-imposed. Financially speaking, it hasn't made a huge difference. Even though I got a nice advance, my main contribution to our family income is still the negative cost of not sending two kids to daycare, and taking care of my kids is still what I do with the majority of time. But it does make things a little easier; for example, now that I'm getting paid for my writing, I feel justified in paying for babysitting twice a week so I can write.

Psychologically speaking, it's very different. There is a great sense of relief, satisfaction, and validation in knowing that I've made it to this stage, that my work is published and out there, especially because it happened just at the point where I was starting to seriously consider that it might NEVER happen. That's been the main effect, and one I'm incredibly grateful for.

On the other hand, this new stage comes with a whole host of new things to worry and obsess about. You thought cold rejection letters were bad? Wait until you get a nasty review from a major industry journal. You thought sending out query letters was stressful? Wait until you're sitting around wondering whether Barnes & Nobles is going to carry your book or not. At a writer's chat last year, I said that I used to sit around and worry about whether or not I would get published, and now I have a whole list of things to worry about. I wasn't kidding!

I understand you have a new project, Nightspell. Can you give me a teaser for the book?

When Darri rides into Ghostland, a country where the living walk with the dead, she has only one goal: to rescue her younger sister Callie, who was sent to Ghostland as a hostage four years ago. But Callie has changed in those four years, and now has secrets of her own. In her quest to save her sister from herself, Darri will be forced to outmaneuver a handsome ghost prince, an ancient sorcerer, and a manipulative tribal warrior (who happens to be her brother). When Darri discovers the source of the spell that has kept the dead in Ghostland chained to this earth, she faces a decision that will force her to reexamine beliefs she has never before questioned—and lead her into the heart of a conspiracy that threatens the very balance of power between the living and the dead.

In writing Nightspell, your second published novel, what did you find came easier to you than writing your first novel, Mistwood? What did you find came harder to you?

I actually wrote the first draft of Nightspell before Mistwood was accepted for publication, so the difference was mostly in the revision process. When revising Mistwood, I stressed myself to the point of panic over every single revision. With Nightspell, I realized that it's more of a process—and especially, that as a part of my process, I usually have one revision where I do everything wrong and then another revision where I fix it all. 😉 This realization kept me a lot closer to sane during the revision process. (For my third book, maybe I'll get to actually achieve sanity! We shall see.)

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!