Interview with Kaitlyn Leyva, author of “United We Fight”

A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, how true is that?

I suppose the answer to this question is as different as each author. For me, however, this is very true. I am an extreme introvert. I am exhausted after social engagements, I hate going into town, and I frequently cancel plans at the last minute. I am also just generally an awkward person. I often respond to statements or questions with something that doesn’t even make sense, because I panic and answer without thinking. Example: Person, “Hi, how are you today?” Me, “Yeah, thanks!”

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first book during my senior year in high school. I was homeschooled, and my mother was out of ideas for my English assignments. At the beginning of my senior year, she just told me to free-write for an hour every day. After a few months, I realized I was writing a book and loving it. I spent far more time than just one hour a day working on it. And when I was finished, I was still craving more. That is when I realized I was going to write books for the rest of my life, regardless of how successful I became as an author.

What inspires you to write?

Anything and everything. It really is odd what can inspire me. I can be having a conversation with a stranger, and they just say one sentence that strikes me with an idea. It can be a sentence that has nothing to do with books, but calls to a story within my mind. As soon as this happens, I immediately start building a storyline in my mind.

If I am working on a specific series, anything that has to do with that topic makes me crave the story. I have to go work on it anytime something reminds me of it.

How often do you write?

I write almost every day. After completely finishing a book, I usually try to take a week or two off. Give myself a mental break, a reward. But I usually don’t make it very long before I am craving the work again. It is definitely an addiction. When I say I crave it, I mean that literally.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I do not stick to any sort of schedule. I write when I feel like writing. I have several stories in the works at all times, so not only do I only work when I am feeling the vibes, I work on whatever story is grabbing my attention at that time.

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

Again, the answer to this is as different as each author. For me, this is true. I love being alone. I have two dogs and two horses, and they are usually the only company I need. The perfect Friday night to me is being at my house alone in comfy clothes working on a book. I often have a TV show on for background noise and a dog snuggling up to me.

Every now and then I realize I haven’t spoken to a living person in several days. When that happens, I go visit my Mom and sisters to re-ground myself to reality a bit.

Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

It depends on the story and the inspiration. Sometimes, I just decide I want to try writing a story about a specific character type. When that happens, I go wherever the idea takes me. Other times, I have a set plot in mind and design the characters and story to go with the plot.

Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last?

Yes. On every single book I have written, I have experienced “Writer’s Block” at least once. The length of the block varies, but usually about a week or two.

Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?

I try to distract myself from the book completely when this happens, so I don’t obsess about the block and make it worse. I find riding my horses, baking, or playing soccer to be good distractions.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I proofread and edit my own books, with the help of my awesome mother. She is even more of a grammar nazi than I am, and she loves helping me proofread and edit my stories. My mom is the most involved person in my writing.

What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

This is a tough question. I am not sure there is any one key thing that is the most important. If I had to pick one thing, though, I would have to say the ending. I have read really good books, that just had terrible endings. The entire story was ruined for me after that.

Have you ever designed your own book cover?

I have not, but I have had local artists design the art for me. For my second book, United We Fight, I held a competition with high school artists. The winner of the competition had their piece published on the cover. For my third book, As One We Conquer (coming soon), I held a competition with middle school artists. The winner is going to have their artwork published on the back cover of the book. I love involving local people and I love working with kids.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

I read every single review. I love hearing what readers think about my stories. My favorite part after I publish a new book is hearing from my readers.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

You will get a lot of rejection. Don’t let it get you down. The best authors in the world have been rejected at one point. Keep trying, and no matter what, keep writing.

Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

No, but I do remember the first series I fell in love with. In junior high I fell in love with the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain.

Do you read any of your own work?

Yes, it is a requirement of mine. If I don’t love it enough to enjoy reading it, then I can’t expect other readers to love it too.

Do your novels carry a message?

In my “Divided” series, there are several messages. I weave messages into the story line about today’s society and people.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

It depends on the book. I think every author puts at least a little piece of themselves into each book they write. Even if I don’t mean to, I incorporate my own beliefs and way of life into my stories. It is only natural for my opinions to sneak into my writing.

Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

Yes, I have. I think doing this helps bring the story to life that much more. Any time I have the opportunity to draw on a real experience I have had, I do.

 Who are your books mostly dedicated to?

My family. I am very close with my immediate family. My mother, sisters and husband are so supportive of everything I do.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?

I wouldn’t call it a day job, because it is very part time. A few hours a week I teach creative writing to high school students. I enjoy it very much, I love working with young writers and encouraging them to create their own stories.

From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?

I have noticed this. Once again, every author is different. Personally, I don’t enjoy drinking alcohol at all because I don’t like the taste. I can count the number of alcoholic drinks I have in a year on one hand, and I rarely finish a whole drink.

How do you see writing? As a hobby or a passion?

Definitely a passion for me, even an obsession. Even when I am not actively writing, I am often thinking about it.

Which of your books took you the most time to write?

Divided We Stand took me three years to finish writing. So far, that is the record holder.

What do you do in your free time?

I have several hobbies. My favorites are exploring mountains on horseback, conquering a cross country course on horseback, baking, hunting and cheering on my awesome younger sisters at their soccer games.

How are your relations with your family? Do you like to stay in touch?

I am very close with my family. My mother and sisters are my best friends, we do activities together on a weekly basis. My brothers and I have always been close and talk on a regular basis.

How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book?

My husband surprises me with a giant bag of tootsie rolls every time I have a new book released. This is now a tradition because he did it for the release of my very first book.

Does it get frustrating if you are unable to recall an idea you had in your mind some time earlier?

Yes! I have sticky notes, notepads and notebooks all over my house and car just in case I get an idea. Even if I don’t think I like the idea, I write it down so I have it later if I change my mind about it.

Although all books say that all the characters in the book aren’t real or related, but are they really all fictional and made up?

All characters are fictional… but they might be inspired by real people. Even the evil characters.

When can the readers expect your next book in print?

Hopefully in just a few months. I am doing the final round of editing on the last book in my “Divided” series and hope to have it ready for publishing soon.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves while they’re writing – how true is that in your case?

Very true. I need background noise, it helps me focus. My go-to background noise is TV, because it is something I can tune out. Music usually distracts me. Once I am absorbed into my bubble, it is difficult to get my attention. I can tune out an entire room of people when I am in the zone.

If you’re writing about a city/country/culture you haven’t physically visited, how much research do you conduct before you start writing?

Google maps is a wonderful thing for these situations. I like the geographic descriptions in my books to be accurate. So, if I am writing about a specific place, I stalk that area on google maps to make sure everything that I describe in my books is real. It is easy when I write about a fictional world that doesn’t exist, because I can make the geography match whatever I want it to be.

Does fan mail still excite you as much as it did the first time you received it?

Yes! Each piece of fan mail is just as exciting as the first.

Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

I have had dreams and nightmares both that I have used to create a scene in a book. I keep a notepad and pen next to my bed in case I need to write a dream down in the middle of the night. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

How many siblings do you have? How many of them share your passion?

I am child number three of six. I have two brothers and three sisters. My youngest sister is the biggest fan of my “Divided” series. Her enthusiasm inspires me to write captivating stories. My younger brother likes to spit out random and wild ideas in hopes of inspiring me, it has worked on rare occasion.

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