Coffee Date with Savy Leiser!
Welcome to Savy Leiser week! We have an exciting week including this interview with Savy, a book review of her debut novel, The Making of a Small-Town Beauty King coming this Wednesday, and two children book reviews for her Furever Home Friends series, releasing this Friday!
So join me in welcoming Savy, where she’ll tell you about where she gets her inspiration, what she does aside from writing, and what’s next in the busy life she leads!
When did you first get into writing?
In 1996! Story incoming: when I was four, I got into writing because I wanted to write stories about my friends and my dog. One of the first stories I wrote was about the time my dog, Sam, stole a candy cane off of someone’s Christmas present, and got caught because he had peppermint shavings stuck to his fur. This dog was about the same age as I was, so it hit me really hard when he died in 2008, when I was 15. So, I wrote a creative-nonfiction essay about Sam, and how he inspired me to start writing. I got the story, called “The Year was 1996,” published in Delaware Beach Life Magazine in fall 2008. So, the whole point of that little anecdote was, my dog inspired me to write one of my first stories as a little kid, and then his memory inspired me to write one of my first published pieces!
I hope the dog angle made that answer less cliche, haha!
Also, that dog, Sam, is one of the supporting characters in Princess Allee, the first Furever Home Friends book. So, my love for dogs and my love for writing really come full circle!
What was your inspiration behind The Making of a Small-Town Beauty King?
I’ve lived most of my life in Chicago (both my childhood, and all of my adult life), but my middle-school and high-school years were actually spent in rural Pennsylvania. During that time, I got to experience the wonders of town fairs! I loved going to our community’s local fair every fall and entering all their art contests. They also had a beauty pageant, which I always considered entering, but never did. I always wondered, though, what would happen if a boy entered the pageant. So I filed that thought away in my head as a potential story premise. Then, when I was in college, I took a screenwriting class, and decided to try developing that concept. After college, I realized that the story would work better as a book than a movie, so I converted it, and was happy with the end result!
What was it like writing Beauty King as opposed to a children’s book? Which do you prefer?
It’s really hard to say which I prefer. I like to think of young adult as my favorite category to write, but writing The Furever Home Friends, as well as a few other children’s books I have in the works, has really opened my eyes to the joys of illustrated kids’ books. Outside of the Furever Home Friends series, the next two books I’ll be releasing (which will likely be in 2018–stay tuned for more details!) will be young-adult and new-adult novels. So, I would say I spend the majority of my time working on YA, but I really like children’s books as well.
When it comes to writing these, the main difference is how you utilize words. Obviously a children’s book is much shorter, so it’s more important that every word counts. I went through way more word-cutting sessions with both of the Furever Home Friends books than I did with any YA novel. Princess Allee was originally about twice its final length when I wrote the early drafts. So, when you write a picture book, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what can be shown through illustration, and getting rid of words that aren’t necessary. A lot of times, you don’t actually need that many words, because the pictures can tell more of the story than you realize.
How long did it take you to write Beauty King?
I started Beauty King in 2013, but that was as a screenplay. I spent a few months writing the screenplay, and then I put it aside for awhile. In 2015, I came back to it, and decided I wanted to try writing it as a novel instead, so I switched my medium. After rewriting it, revising it, and editing it, I released the book in 2016. So I guess about three years in total, if you include the initial stage when I was writing it as a script. I include that stage, because it’s when I fleshed out the entire plot and all the characters.
Why did you choose self-publishing over traditional publishing?
At first, I wanted to try all the different methods. I self-published Beauty King while pitching a few picture book manuscripts to agents. I found that I LOVED the creative freedom that comes with the self-publishing process. Plus, I love what’s happening in the world of independent books. The hard part is, you really have to become your own publicist, marketing department, and salesperson. It takes a ton of time, and you end up working like 90-hour weeks without the income level to show for it. But, I’ve heard that a lot of traditionally published authors nowadays have the same struggles–especially in the age of social media, a lot of publishers expect you to gain your own online following and market yourself. So, to an extent, you have to become an entrepreneur either way. I chose the path that awarded me more creative freedom. Plus, with The Furever Home Friends, it allowed me to turn this project from just a book series, to a movement to help animal shelters and promote #AdoptDontShop. Overall, I really like having the ability to brand myself and my work.
What was the inspiration behind Furever Home Friends?
My family has always been into helping dogs. Sam, the dog I mentioned in the first question, was my first rescue dog. Since then, my family has been big on adopting rescue dogs, and dogs from owners who can no longer take care of them. When I was 14, my family adopted Allee, a black lab from a shelter, who had been abandoned because she wasn’t completely purebred. Allee’s a beautiful dog, and she’s always acted like this cute little diva. So, 10 years ago, when I was 14, my mom told me that she wanted me to write a story about Allee the Diva Dog at some point. We talked about creating a story that promoted pet adoption and treating animals properly, and also helped kids learn about social issues. I wrote about a million drafts of it, but something seemed like it was missing. In 2016, it hit me that this should be a series! Each book could focus on a different shelter dog, and feature a different moral. At this time, I had recently adopted Chewie, my sweet pit bull mix. Chewie had suffered abuse when he was younger. (Warning for violence–the actual story is that Chewie was shot in the face with a BB gun, and as a result, has pellets embedded under his fur. In the book, I talk about his scars, because I don’t want to get too specific about the violence itself and scare kids.) At this time, I was hearing a lot in the news about different states and countries banning people from adopting pit bulls, and all the discrimination that was happening against dogs like Chewie. So I realized that a story about Chewie could cover topics like discrimination, as well as body image, when discussing his scars. The project grew from there!
What’s in the works after Furever Home Friends? Do you enjoy children’s books or do you think you’ll write another novel?
A little of both, actually! So, I’m working on growing the Furever Home Friends series. I’m in contact with a few shelters to find our next character.
At the same time, I’m working on a few novels. The next novel I’ll be releasing is One Final Vinyl, which is a contemporary YA novel about music bringing generations together. There isn’t a release date set yet, but it will be in 2018. I’ll make sure to make an announcement once a date is set! Right now, it’s going through revisions and edits.
I have a few other novels I’m working on as well. So it will probably alternate between releasing a new novel and releasing a new Furever Home Friends book.
How did publishing your first book change your process as a writer?
It helped me see writing as a collaborative process, which I love! I’m big on collaborating with other people. I’m extroverted to a fault, and love constantly meeting new people and networking every chance I get. When I was working on Beauty King, I joined a critique group for YA writers. When I was working on Princess Allee, I joined a critique group for children’s book writers. So I got to meet tons of other people, who gave me incredible feedback. I always knew it was important to have others read your writing before you put it out into the world, but working with my critique groups has shown me how essential it is to have a variety of viewpoints on all of your work.
It also changed my process outside of writing. Learning to promote myself has helped me realize the importance of having a strong online following. Growing up, I was always a little behind my age group when it came to technology and the Internet. That was partially because I’m super cheap and didn’t want to pay for new technology or phone plans, and partially because I love talking to people face-to-face so much, so I never saw a need for it. But after releasing this book, I realized how important it was to have a really strong online presence. So, I committed to my Twitter account and started a blog. Just a few weeks ago, I started a YouTube channel as well. Now that I’m gaining a following online, I’ve realized how much time I have to devote to that side of my career. And I love it, honestly! I’m so glad that publishing books has motivated me to get myself up to speed on the Internet.
How do you get your inspiration?
So many different ways! I recently wrote a blog post on this, actually. Part of finding inspiration for me involves physically seeking it out. I like to wander around Chicago whenever I have spare time (which isn’t often, but sometimes if I bring my work along with me, I can wander for a bit and then commit to working). I like working on things in public, because ideas come to me faster when other people are around. For me, it involves physically standing up and walking somewhere.
I also love to draw on life experiences and my personal interests. To an extent, that makes it impossible to ever separate business from pleasure. But, on the flip side, that means I get to build my career on writing about things I care about, like dogs and music and teenagers finding themselves.
Do you have a specific writing process? Like needing a cup of coffee before you begin or quirks of things needing to be a certain way before you sit down?
Yes to the coffee. I’m very addicted to coffee, which I know is bad for my health. But having coffee definitely helps me get the ideas flowing. Sometimes I can use tea or hot chocolate instead. Always something hot, though!
I don’t need things to be a certain way. My desk and my entire office are a huge mess. Plus, sometimes I like writing in public, and you can never control how things will be in a public fast-food place or cafe. That’s interesting to me, because I actually do have diagnosed OCD, which I’m medicated for, so I would think I’d need things to be a certain way more than anyone. But I don’t. Go figure.
If you’re interested, here is my article about what it’s like having OCD that doesn’t have to do with cleanliness or order. I got it published in Elite Daily in January. Except the part about how I eat raw meat is no longer true, because shortly after this was published, I became a vegetarian.
As self-published authors, we often have to juggle multiple things, what else do you do when you aren’t writing?
In terms of other things I’m juggling for my writing career specifically, I spend a lot of time marketing myself. I write blog posts, I film videos for my YouTube channel, and I stay active on Twitter so I can network with as many other people as possible. I’m also the co-rep for the North Side of Chicago’s chapter of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), so I spend time planning events for that. I also host book signings and speak on author panels, usually in Chicago.
In terms of other ways I earn income, I have a few jobs. One job is teaching creative writing workshops at Open Books, a bookstore in Downtown Chicago. During the school year, we hold creative writing workshops for 3rd-12th grade students almost every day, so I teach those. I also travel to different schools throughout Chicago to teach creative writing. Additionally, I write for Halftime Magazine, where I write bi-monthly articles about music. I take on freelance editing assignments as well, and have a few clients that I regularly edit for. I also coach the middle-school debate team at one of the schools where I teach creative writing. So income filters in from all directions, but I try to make sure that the jobs I take on are good moves for my overall writing career.
What inspired you to start a Youtube channel?
I love watching YouTube channels! I especially love review channels, like channels that do book and movie reviews. I’d say I watch more YouTube channels than regular TV shows. I like YouTube, because it’s a great way to support independent creators. It’s kind of like the self-publishing community. People who want to make things and put them out into the world can just do it! And if people like those things, they can gain a following.
I also love to make movies and videos. In college, I was constantly directing student films, and working on the crew for other people’s movies. I missed doing that. Before I got my job teaching creative writing at Open Books, one of my day jobs had to do with making video highlight reels for student athletes. While at that job, I met a bunch of other people who are really into filmmaking as well, so I collaborated with them and we started a channel. It’s a lot of fun regularly making video content again!
What’s your favorite genre to read?
Young adult, which is also my favorite to write! I guess that’s not really a genre; it’s an age category. So I’d probably say contemporary YA. I enjoy sci-fi as well, but I’d rather watch sci-fi movies and TV shows.
Authors least favorite question: What’s your favorite book? Children’s book and novel.
I can do this!
Right now, my favorite novel is Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I read this book only a few months ago, but it reminded me what it was like to fall in love with a book. I enjoy a lot of books that I read, but this book reminded me what it was like to fully immerse myself in another world and become so emotionally invested in the characters, that I can’t stop thinking about them even months later. It’s also one of the first fantasy novels I’ve really liked. I’m not into fantasy as much, but this book completely turned me on to the genre.
But I also want to give a shout out to John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, because that was my favorite book for 10 years before I read Carry On. Those books both constantly motivate me to improve myself as a writer, because I want to reach that level.
For children’s books, if I can pick an entire series, it would be Junie B. Jones. That series influenced my writing in countless ways, and inspired me to write more when I was a kid. I was so sad when Barbara Park died a few years ago.
If you didn’t write, what would you be doing?
Probably teaching, since a lot of my non-writing jobs involve teaching (even though they are teaching creative writing). Either that, or I would be working somewhere in the Chicago film industry.
In the limited free time you do have, what do you like to do?
I’m trying to set aside time to develop hobbies, so I can enjoy things without having the high stakes of being a business decision. I really like to draw. Sometimes I draw comics, but usually I just practice drawing. Sometimes I draw fan-art of my favorite characters from other works. I also like to play video games. Right now, I’m really into playing Animal Crossing, and the new Splatoon game that just released. I like to play The Sims too. That’s actually helpful for my writing, since I can make my new characters in The Sims when I’m developing them, and that helps me figure out their aesthetic. And I watch a LOT of Star Trek. I usually take a break in the evening to do these just-for-fun things while I’m eating dinner. Or sometimes I’ll take a day off on the weekend just to do these things.
I used to play music back in high school and college. I played the bassoon and the alto saxophone for years. I no longer have a school to borrow these instruments from, though, nor do I have time to devote to improving musically. So instead, I write about music!
And, of course, I play with Chewie! 🙂
Thank you, Savy for the interview! It’s been a pleasure getting to know you further and having the opportunity to read your books! I cannot wait to see what you come out with next!