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Chandra's Blog


Entries in Dr. Anna Leahy (2)


The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was invited to this blog event by Dr. Anna Leahy, author of Generation Space. You can read her post here on her Lofty Ambitions blog. Anna has also been a guest blogger on my Writers on Wednesday series--click here to read her past post. Thank you Anna, for inviting me! 

While there is a part of me that is superstitious about talking about work that is out with editors, (documented in The Submission Jinx by Jennifer Haupt at Beyond the Margins) I'm going to throw caution to the wind and dish. 



What is your working title of your book?
The Summer After
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was on book tour for CHOSEN in a hotel room in Santa Monica. I went to bed with the windows open to hear the ocean and I dreamed the plot of this beach story in the night. It was tricky, though, because I had my three kids with me on tour and we hit the ground running the next day--our promised day in Disneyland and then I had a book club that night. It's a scary thing, trying to hold a story in your mind before you can get it down, like carrying a plate full of steaming, slippery spaghetti, and worrying the whole thing will slip off and be lost. I had to hold that dream until we were on a red-eye the final day to dash down the details of the story. The summary is below: 
 Dean Adler flies to Grand Cayman when his teenage son is involved in a tragic accident on the island; Juliet has been sent there at her family's insistence--an urgent change of scenery. The summer after the loss of their spouses, this widower and widow meet over the sandcastle friendships of their children in the sweltering sun of the Caribbean. 
As Dean and Juliet navigate the tentative steps out of grief, love blossoms among the hibiscus. But the quietly brewing storm of Juliet's secrets threaten the tenuous bonds and their tranquil summer.  All vacations must end, and their love story has a built-in expiration date. When the past catches up with them both, a pending hurricane forces an answer to the question--is the greatest tragedy the loves that they lost, or the potential devastation of what they just found?

What genre does your book fall under?
Mainstream/upmarket womens fiction--the kind of book you would want your book club or sister to read and chat about with you. I always say that I aspire to be a Jodi Picoult, only with a little more grit, slightly edgier, less formulaic. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh I love this question! The guy in my dream looked exactly like Martin Donovan, who played Nancy's dead DEA husband in Weeds, which I was watching back then. There is something so sympathetic and St. Bernardish about him that the character of Dean grew out of him. I want the reader to feel worried for Dean and the goodness of his heart as Juliet's story unfolds. For Juliet, Sandra Bullock comes to mind. Or Claire Danes, because I want her to play all of my characters, but I don't think she's quite right for this one. 
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The Summer After -- a dark past catches up with a widow and widower stumbling through grief and threatens their quest for love the second time around.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
I am represented by Maria Massie of Lippincott, Massie, McQuilken. This work is currently out with editors.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It's funny--I was working on another book and while that manuscript was going out, I dreamed this one. I threw together the above blurb and editors got more excited about this story than the one I was clunking away on. I backburnered the first project and wrote this in about six months. It was a new experience, going back and writing from nothing after years of revision on both CHOSEN and the book in the middle. It was a huge relief to see that I could still sit down with a blank screen and create a world.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Nicholas Sparks SAFE HAVEN
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Two things, really. I'm at the age where a lot of friends are navigating the grief of loss, and the challenge of love the second time around. It's hard and heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. I wanted to write happy love stories for them all, but then there's always the past, and the rub, and second time around, often the kids. It's complicated. I love digging around in messy domestic stuff and encouraging the reader to root for a good outcome.  
I also use stories to write love letters to places I have loved and left. I've been waiting for the right story about Grand Cayman, where I was living when I met my husband. Because of our history with the island and the years we lived there, I knew I knew my Cayman story had to be a love story, but there also had to be some drama. This feels right.
the exact spot where I met my husband
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
The pace of the book is a little faster than a typical love story. Plus there's the setting--who wouldn't want to live out on the remote Rum Point in Grand Cayman for a summer, even if it's only a virtual visit? 
* *** * 
Tagged authors:
Emily Kennedy
Hannah Shelton
Michelle McGee




Writers on Wednesday--Dr. Anna Leahy

This week please welcome Dr. Anna Leahy and her essay on the necessary components of the writing life...




Last May, my husband and I went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s open house, where we saw the new Mars rover. The shiny vehicle is being assembled in a clean room, which we observed from the glassed-in gallery above. Spirit and Opportunity, previous Mars rovers, began their mission in 2003 and were expected to roam the surface of Mars for ninety Martian days (slightly longer than Earth days). Seven years later, these contraptions still send back data. Curiosity should launch late this year, with arrival on Mars in August 2012.


I’m interested in space exploration because I was born into the space race of the 1960s. But what also interests me is the names: Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity. It strikes me that these are characteristics essential to my writing life.


If spirit is our animating force, consciousness, tendencies, then spirit defines the drive to write too. Pultizer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, in her talk “Why I Write,” remarks, “It seems to me that all writers at some point must respond to a question posed either by themselves or someone else in order to answer, as Orwell did in his 1946 essay, ‘Why I Write.’” She calls on every writer to figure out where her spirit resides and what her goals are.


George Orwell, the author of 1984 and Animal Farm, claimed to know by age five or six that he’d be a writer. I could say the same about myself, for when I was that age, I hoarded paper, pulling sheets from my parents’ wastebasket. I sat beside my mother’s desk at home while she drafted the Illinois State Constitution. I would attempt to replicate cursive handwriting. The result looked more like Spirograph without the plastic pieces necessary to make patterns, but the drive to write pushed my pen along the paper.


If spirit is the urge to write and, perhaps, the focus, it doesn’t do much good without opportunity. For Virginia Woolf, opportunity meant “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Similarly, for me, opportunity is time—the time that must be carved out of or built into a week filled with teaching, meetings, and mundane tasks like laundry.

ABOVE: the author and her mother 


I used to have the mindset that writing was reward for getting through the rest of my work. I put other obligations behind me before focusing on writing. That made a lot of sense at the time; this attitude made writing akin to vacation. But what happened was that writing came last. Send just one more email; grade just one more batch of essays. This mindset made it too easy to delay writing too long, and the pattern fueled strange resentments toward teaching and toward household chores I share with my husband. Now, instead, I prioritize writing time, even if that means I don’t vacuum for three weeks or I don’t check email before noon all month.


Opportunity is external too, but writers can’t wait for it to knock. Opportunity, like inspiration, must be invited habitually. I think of opportunity as a combination of circumstances that encourages success. My writing group is an opportunity; it helps me set production goals and talk about writing with other writers. Submitting work for publication is a chance to share my work with readers. An invitation for guest bloggers posted on SheWrites was a chance I hadn’t seen coming, hadn’t sought out, but welcomed nonetheless.


In wartime bombing runs, when a primary and secondary target can’t be bombed, the pilot and bombardier look for a target of opportunity. Putting aside the problematic use of war as context for this writing analogy, opportunity is sometimes unplanned, or born out of failure to reach what I thought was the goal. My husband and I never planned to move to California. Within weeks of our move, we saw a space shuttle land in the desert. This fall, our university helped us with a trip to Cape Canaveral for the penultimate space shuttle launch; I surprisingly had press credentials, and we talked with astronauts who walked on the Moon. And it turns out that Southern California weather helps prevent my migraines, a boon for writing.


Curiosity, though, remains the most important among these characteristics that invigorate my writing. Like the Mars rovers, curiosity is bigger, more complex, able to go farther no matter the terrain. One Saturday when my mother was away, years before we had cable, my father, sister, and I got caught up watching a macramé show on public television. Afterward, my father drove us to the hardware store to buy boards, twine, and pins. We spent the rest of the weekend tying knots, just to see how string worked and what we could make of it, which, as I recall, was a lopsided plant hanger.


Maybe curiosity doesn’t matter to all writers. Surely, it doesn’t matter if you don’t hone sentences too. But I can’t imagine how my ideas would emerge or how I would transform my thinking into sentences without the inclination toward inquiry. In Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson writes, “encouragement does not necessarily lead to creativity. Collisions do—the collisions that happen when different fields of expertise converge in some shared physical or intellectual space.” Divergent interests give me sources for ideas, images, language, questions. Johnson goes on to discuss collisions: “Serendipity is built out of happy accidents, to be sure, but what makes them happy is the fact that the discovery you’ve made is meaningful to you.”


Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity are rovers that have nothing to do with writing. Only, I’m interested in them as scientific exploration and as words. Somehow, when the deadline for this blog post approached, my ideas collided. Spirit, opportunity, and curiosity have everything to do with my writing life!


I hope the next rover is named Serendipity. Only irony rivals serendipity among powerful forces in the universe. And irony is usually most amusing when it happens to someone else.


ANNA’S BIO: I’m the author of the book Constituents of Matter, which won the Wick Poetry Prize, and two poetry chapbooks. My poems appear regularly in literary journals, recently Barn Owl Review, Cream City Review, and The Laurel Review. I recently finished a novel manuscript called The Undone Years and am now working on a series of essays, one which will be featured in The Southern Review in 2011.


With my husband, I blog at Lofty Ambitions ( We focus on aviation and spaceflight, science of the twentieth century (and beyond), and writing as a couple. Our regular posts appear every Wednesday, and guest posts appear every first and third Monday of the month. My website is


I teach in the MFA and BFA programs at Chapman University, where I direct Tabula Poetica and its annual fall reading series.