Leslie Kain earned her degree in psychology at Wellesley College, then served as a social worker at McLean Hospital for two years. With children to support, she then got her MBA at Boston University and began a career in business development for bleeding edge high tech and Intelligence. She later returned to her true interest, serving as director in nonprofits (NAMI, CHADD) focusing on mental health. Having written “nonfiction” (technical, scientific, marketing) during her varied careers, she then turned to fiction. With several short stories published in literary journals and an anthology, she tackled novels; ‘Secrets In The Mirror’ is the first to be published, by Atmosphere Press, September 2022. She brings her passion for psychology to stories of inner conflict, with emotional journeys to transformation. Originally from “all over” — especially Boston, she now resides in Mexico with her husband and cat Sheba.
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Featured Author Interview
What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book(s), but nobody has? Write it out here, and then answer it.
How does your background in psychology inform your characters’ experience with mental health disorders – how it affects the behavior of the person with the disorder, and how it affects the ability of characters to deal with the mental illness of other characters who “victimize” those characters?
My education, training and experience in psychology help bring authenticity and accuracy to the portrayal of characters with mental illness, to victims & loved ones around them, and to treatment approaches.
Is the behavior of characters with mental illness “bad”?
It’s either a product of genetics, brain dysfunction, or of their “nurture” (childhood upbringing).
Can those characters be “saved” by their victims?
Their victims are the last people who should attempt to save them.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
I don’t have a “regular routine” in my writing; it’s sort of organic. I’m inspired by events, peoples’ behaviors, ideas, conundrums, etc. and scribble down those snippets/ideas and file in my “ideas” folder on my laptop. Sometimes those ideas spawn short stories or blog posts, sometimes they serve as the core, subplot, or theme of a novel. Once I begin — especially when I become immersed into a longer story or novel — I interview my key characters at length. Then as I progress to rolling out a plot, my characters come alive and begin coming to me in dreams and telling me what the plot really should be, what’s really important to them. Soon a 60k-word story grows to ~100k, and meaning & theme emerge.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
When I’m struggling with a difficult scene or transition out of one key scene to what follows, I struggle with how to frame, represent or “speak” that bit. It is at that point that I will often go off into a dimly-lit room, no sounds except non-lyrical music (lacking a strong regular beat), feet up with a glass of wine, and the words begin singing to me. At other times, taking a walk may achieve a similar breakthrough.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
“single most important”? Read. Many genres.
Write SOMETHING — ANYTHING every day. If you don’t know what to write, respond to “daily writing prompts.” Or pick up an article from the newspaper and construct a different story or ending from it.
Take writing classes/courses
Join writers’ groups
Get Beta readers
What are your current/future projects?
I have a whole stack of blog ideas on topics that are meaningful to me.
I have an earlier novel (women’s fiction [always psychological of course]) that I’m currently revising. That novel also has two “sequels” I’ve mapped out & begun — one from the perspective of the MC & her newly discovered grandson (which will be a coming-of-age) and one from that of the antagonist (crime fiction).
The themes from several of those blog ideas will likely find a home in one or more of my future novels as well.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
My Psych undergrad, the few years of psychology work after that, several years of my post-MBA career in AI hi-tech & gov’t Intelligence, and the last four years of my career in nonprofits for mental illness, were all focused on psychological themes. I consistently want to understand what drives human behavior, both good and bad. The psychology of people, whether protagonist or antagonist, is for me at the heart of what makes my characters human.
I find it difficult to become totally immersed in more than one story or novel simultaneously. However, I log, describe and file those “ideas” that pop up, and eventually return to & expand upon them.
What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?
Good question. I hope that independent presses will continue to develop their “brand”, choose (and foster) quality writing published under their imprint, and continue to evolve collaborative publishing models that benefit both their business brand, quality authors, and readers. I see far too many books published not only by indie pubs but also by self-pubbed writers, which fail to demonstrate good grammar, spelling, literary style, character development, etc.
And I hope that writers will have the good sense to avail themselves of classes & courses that will hone their skill and craft. We do the reading public no favors if what we offer them to read are flawed in mechanics, style, and content.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
My publisher offers a “hybrid” model.
The publishing industry has been changing for many years, but in the past few years much more so. Several years ago when I queried my first novel (of which, as a first novel, I’m not too proud), I got a lot of positive responses and requests for full. For my current novel, which reflects much growth in skill, craft & depth, with a compelling theme, my queries to agents elicited either form responses (“doesn’t fit my list”) or no response, and many responses landed in my spam folder – which tells me a LOT about the state of the publishing industry for debut authors. So, realizing that, as well as the very long timeline for any debut author to be traditionally published (where little/no ‘marketing’ services are provided anyway), drove me to begin researching & qualifying indie presses. The one I chose — Atmosphere Press – has published quality meaningful books in my genre (literary/upmarket suspense), and provides support services, all at moderate cost. As with traditional press treatment of debut authors, I must do the majority of the marketing & promotional work, even if I choose to purchase their “boost” package.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
No, I have not done that.
I did change the title of my current novel three times before settling on the final choice by “vote” at the eleventh hour before it “went to press”.
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc.)
There are, at many levels, writing “communities”, and I’ve developed many connections, acquaintances, allies, supporters, and a few actual friends through those networks. I live in Mexico (San Miguel de Allende, with its own long history of literary conferences), so only a handful of those are local, others virtual.
I’m not (yet) a widely known author, so combined with limited geographic connections, the opportunities you suggest are limited. I’m being scheduled on a number of podcast interviews, so that exposure should help.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
Social media: grow “followers” and post about writing, books, blogs, one’s own book
Connect with successful authors & network with them
Invest in a book blogger tour (Suzy)
At specific limited times, offer “discounts” on purchases
I haven’t yet tried ads
Most valuable: Get interviewed on podcasts. It won’t necessarily lift sales significantly, but it will broaden your exposure and grow your brand.
If you are a self-published author, which platform do you prefer? (Amazon, Smashwords, Lulu, Author House, or something not mentioned), and why?
What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?
Psychological fiction, because that’s my background
Literary or upmarket, because I’m a good writer (and grammar/spelling nazi)
Suspense or mystery, because that’s life
Emotions/feelings/hidden unresolved “issues” in characters, because they tell me.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
I’ve been known to write it down on a napkin, or speak it into my phone, or jump out of bed to scribble it
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
Initially my “plot” may get me to just 30-60k words, but then my characters take over and begin telling me what should really happen, what the challenges are, what it all means, and finally what’s the overarching “message”, or universal theme. Which finally takes me over 100k.
How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?
Interesting question. Several years into writing, I find I like myself better. In new, or different, ways. And I’m surprised to find that more people like me, and actively seek to befriend me. I don’t know if there’s causality – or even correlation – in any of that. Perhaps in exploring fictional worlds, along with the motivations and feelings of my characters, I have at the same time opened myself.
As an author, of course I’ve evolved and grown. How could I not? Through reading more authors, writing more often, taking workshops, working with betas & CPs, my skills and style have improved. And I’m continually striving for even better.
My debut novel has helped my readers understand the near-impossibility of escape and recovery from long-term narcissistic abuse. And I’d like to think that I, as with most members of CP groups, have provided – and received – benefit from the writing of fellow CPs.
How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?
I have not done thorough research into the statistics for those factors. But I’m guessing the degree of influence may vary by genre.
A cover should communicate what genre and style the writing manifests. For example, I wouldn’t consider a book with a flashy or trashy cover, assuming it is a shallow plot-driven story. However, I would consider a book with a moody, dark, simple or sophisticated cover, assuming it is a more serious layered story. My cover is dark and moody.
A title may communicate similarly. It definitely shouldn’t mislead; e.g. communicate the book is a crime mystery and the reader is annoyed to find that it’s actually an historical romance. I worried that the title of my current novel – ‘Secrets In The Mirror’ might convey that it is a thriller, which I don’t think it is, in the typical sense. The protagonist and antagonist are identical mirror twins, and there are secrets held by every member of the multigenerational family. I favored ‘Breaking The Mirror’ – the MC must break the chain of abuse mirrored throughout generations. But I was outvoted. I hope people expecting a thriller aren’t disappointed.
As for content, unless it has already been widely & highly reviewed/awarded, I flip through pages when browsing in a store, or check the “see inside” view online. That reveals whether the story initially intrigues, whether the style is simple & plot-driven, or literary & dense, or upmarket & character-driven, or combinations/variations thereof. A reader will select according to their tastes and desires.
Page numbers? I can’t imagine anyone would buy a book on that basis. But what do I know?
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
Everything I read indicates that there is little to no value in press releases, so I have not done nor do I intend to. Perhaps well-known authors whose publicist expects NYT Book Review to cover that author’s new book may think there’s value, but …
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
Reviews do matter. Both editorial reviews for recognition, and reader reviews to influence purchases.
What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?
Review swaps can in some cases be helpful for both authors. If you know, prior to agreeing to the arrangement, that the other author’s writing and story are good, it’s a win-win. However, if either book is dreadful, the reviewer is reluctant – and unlikely – to give it an honest review.
Paying for editorial reviews can, for debut authors, be a worthwhile investment in order to gain recognition. Such reviews (e.g. Kirkus) are unbiased, and you are paying for their services. These reviews are also, typically, done by professionals who understand literature.
On the other hand, you can pay for “unbiased” reviews from less professional review sources – as my friend did, and the result was a five-star review that completely misrepresented the point of the book, presenting it as a happy love story although it was really a dark psychological tragedy.
I think there may be greater value in entering (and winning) competitions for “best of”. Choose carefully though.
Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?
That’s a terrifying thought. Why would anyone do such a thing? I’ve not had that experience, and hope I never will.
Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?
I remember doing a reading of one of my short stories and looked up to see several people in tears.
With self publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an over abundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?
There’s a lot of really bad self-pubbed books. Abysmal, atrocious.
Which can lend a negative bias against self-pubbed books, some of which are excellent.
I’m pretty selective, so I’m unaware of the copycats.
What is your biggest fear about having a book published?
Aside from the fear that only a few people will buy it, my greatest fear is that it will be misjudged. For example, a reader may WANT a character to do something different (resist, fight back, leave; love, kiss, marry), but the story is actually about characters who are UNABLE to do those things due to psychological traumas or constraints in their history or cultural background. So that reader may give it a bad review.
If you have multiple books published what do you feel is your greatest work, why?
What is the intended audience for you book?
Intelligent readers – male and female, adult and “new adult” (if that’s actually a thing)
Readers who appreciate deep, complex stories & subject matter that require thought. Some bookclubs.
Readers who aren’t looking for a romance or “beach read”
Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?
Not sure how “fun” these facts from my current book are, but:
The contextual aspects of the story accurately conform to the years of its timeline – 1994 to 2005
There’s a deep dive into key players & activities of the Boston Mob during those years.
Music (consistent with the timeline) plays a part in how the MC & the antagonist express their innermost feelings.
Betcha didn’t know that there’s such a thing as the Black National Anthem 😊
If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?
Make the time and effort to understand people. Don’t judge. Everyone has a backstory; use that to deepen your characters.
Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?
Social media are both a blessing and a curse. Especially during the pandemic, it facilitated connections that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. However, it’s an enormous time sink (as in down-the-drain), yet a vital necessity in seeking market reach. The one I dislike the least is Facebook, because conversations (vs sound bites) are possible. But Mark Zuckerberg ☹
What makes a good story, why?
For me, it’s complexity & nuance in both plot and the characters. If the outcome is obvious early on, that’s not good. If the plot that takes you there is too predictable or too unlikely, that’s not good. If I don’t learn anything new, that’s not good either. I want complicated characters who evolve and transform emotionally, not perfect ones.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Names aren’t too important for me, although of course if a character is of a specific country or ethnic background (Irish, Italian, Hindi, Native American, Mexican etc.), I may have their name reflect that.
I wanted the names of the identical twins in my current book to reflect the way some people during the time they were born (1978) often gave similar-sounding names to their twins. But the reader shouldn’t have difficulty keeping them straight. So I spelled them a little differently, and in the first chapter there was dialogue that labeled them “Goody Gavin” and “Devious Devon”, which aligned with their behavior & roles in the story.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
Yes, I read my reviews. They tell me something about my book, and about the reader. At this point (pre-launch) I click “like” but don’t respond. If/when I get a bad review, I will not respond. I know that would not help in the least. I’m aware of a review (which has not yet been posted) that knocked one star off for the “mis-judge” factor I mentioned, which is my biggest fear.
What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?
Workshops (both in-person and virtual) with Donald Maass, which dragged emotions out into my writing (as a survivor of CPTSD, I’d learned to suppress emotions).
Writing conferences (pre-COVID), which provided the opportunity to pitch to agents, learn in mini-workshops, enjoy successful authors in panel discussions, and mingle with other writers.
The last “in-person” conference I attended was Feb 2020, the 15th annual San Miguel Writers Conference – coming back LIVE in Feb 2023!!
What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)
Easiest: Conversations between two characters. Before I began writing fiction, I feared I would not be able to master dialogue. I discovered it’s one thing I do well. I interview my characters so deeply & thoroughly that I can live in their skin, each individually. And they talk to me. So the “voices” and lives and emotions in dialogue are uniquely & authentically theirs. (Donald Maass has said they’re “real”😊)
Hardest: Transitions from one scene to another, where narrative voice enters and must strike just the right tone that reflects the mood and meaning of the story, with lyricism, metaphor or imagery. This is often when I go into a dimly lit room, put on non-lyric no-hard-beat music, my feet up, and a glass of wine. The words gradually whisper to me.
What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?
I’m actually a science geek. Love learning new things, new discoveries in most branches of science. I have a story I dreamed, that was sparked by a new discovery I read about outer space, but I know nothing about space travel vehicles that would be required to get my characters to the location of that new “wrinkle” in space. That one’s definitely on the back burner.
Consistent with my love of science, I’d like to do a cli-fi story.
Research is an integral part of everything I write, to ensure accuracy and authenticity in every aspect of the story. Although I enjoy and appreciate historical fiction, my future writing intention is more toward science.
Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?
Absolutely! One book idea that came from a dream is the outer space story that’s currently on the shelf.
Characters – both current and unknown – come to me in dreams, telling me secrets about themselves.
Sometimes I “think” I will remember it all the next morning, but sometimes don’t. Sometimes I get up and write down stuff that I then don’t understand in the morning. Sometimes it sticks and lands in my “ideas” file.
Do you have any characters you would like to introduce in other books or a combination of characters from multiple books you would like to write about in one book?
Haven’t thought about that specifically. I do want to carry on certain characters’ stories into subsequent books, which could be considered a “sequel”. But you’ve given me an idea: What if Gavin met Andrew (when he was on the lam & changed his name to Clyde)? Would Gavin – always the savior – try to “save” Andrew/Clyde?
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
It varies. In my first book, the MC and the antagonist were based on people I know. Which perhaps is why I’m seriously revising that book! In my current novel, the characters were all made up, but of course everything we write becomes an amalgam of characteristics of different people we’ve met and known. However, parts of the PLOT in my current book are a re-casting of something that happened between two people I know, including the narcissism and how it played out.
What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?
Curiosity (about the world and human nature). Openness (to new ideas and new techniques).
If you begin a story certain of its end, you will have a formula, not a living, breathing story with dynamic characters.
Understanding that good stories have plot (what happens), meaning (“the point”), and theme (Universal truth). Those are the elements that stick with the reader, that make him FEEL the story, long after he’s finished your book.
What book(s), author(s), or significant life event(s) have had a positive or negative influence in your life that inspired you to begin writing?
I had a traumatic, tragic and abusive childhood, which drove me to psychology, which contributed to my desire to write fiction.
Donald Maass’ “Emotional Craft of Fiction” had a very positive influence on my writing,
There are many authors who have influenced my writing style.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
I prefer reading print books, but eBooks are purchased more often, and in fact yield a better profit margin for the author. Audio books are becoming more prominent, but when there are many characters of different genders with different accents and a lot of back-and-forth dialogue, finding a “narrator” who can deliver all that effectively is costly. I’ll consider that next year.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
I’ve already had several careers. So this is a labor of love and creative outlet for me. Although I’m of “retirement age”, I do have at least several more books in me.
Were there any challenges (research, literary, psychological, or logistical) in bringing your book to life?
Only “life” challenges. Hubby’s needs & expectations. Family, friends, social etc. demands can seriously interfere with writing time.
Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?
I’m well known among family, friends, betas and CPs as the grammar & spelling nazi. So that part I do myself. I have used a developmental editor (one who has a psychology background) prior to taking my manuscript to my publisher, and they also provided a developmental editor who confirmed some issues that my CPs had flagged. I fixed those issues.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of self or traditional publishing?
Traditional publishing has a more accepted imprimatur, but it’s harder to get in (several houses have merged), it takes longer to get to market, and they make changes whether the author wants them or not.
Self publishing requires the author to do EVERYTHING, or to pay others to do things while the author serves as general contractor. And self-publishing doesn’t (yet) have the positive reputation that traditional publishing does (partly because anyone can do it, even people who write crap). But a book can get to market in a shorter timeline, and the author has full control over content and positioning.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
Although I do have a few stories in me that are in the “erotica” category, which friends have urged me to write, I don’t think I’d ever make that my genre of choice.
What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?
Real life. It’s all around. Stranger than fiction.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Well, I’ve been told it’s the complexity of story, emotions and characters. And two editors & all my betas and CPs have all told me it would be perfect as a Netflix series. Think ‘Succession’ from HBO. (btw, I just happen to know someone who has written scripts for and produced TV series 😊)
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
No, I don’t. Although I’m an avid art collector and at one time was an interior designer, I can’t create art myself. But I’m very collaborative with my publisher’s design team to ensure my cover conveys the right messages.
What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?
Marketing, social media, and promotion.