Laine Cunningham, author, professional editor, and winner of five international awards for fiction and nonfiction, took the time to interview me about the writing of my novel, Cosette's Tribe. It turned out to be an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks so much for making me feel so at home, Laine.
Please find the interview below. I hope you enjoy the exchange.
LC: Leah Griffith is the award-winning author of Cosette’s Tribe (review here). She joins us today for a few questions about her writing process, her books, and her inspiration.
LC: When did you begin writing?
LG: I was in my late teens when I began writing. I felt a push within, something deep and soulful trying to find a mode of expression. In the early years my writing took on more of a spiritual nature. This type of writing has always helped me to remember how to breathe. In my twenties I began writing short stories and essays.
My mother was an avid reader, and shared her love for great literature with us children. When she was carrying me, she was reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable`s, and fell in love with young Cosette. Consequently she chose that as my middle name. As a kid I hated the name but after reading Les Miserable`s myself, I became proud to have the name and delighted to name my protagonist Cosette.
LC: Cosette's Tribe is somewhat autobiographical. What drew you to writing about certain times in your life?
LG: I’ve always felt the urge to write about my life in hopes that I could recycle my pain and use it to help others. This sort of powerful exchange helps me to remain a victor rather than a victim.
My life so far can be divided into three parts. Early childhood, ages 1-4: these were the magical years before the first sexual assault took place. During that phase I felt connected to unconditional love, and still possessed the lighthearted twirl of being a little girl. Ages 4-14 were a belly crawl through impossible situations. These were the years of abuse, where shame kept me isolated from “…everything nice.”
And 12 through today: these have been the messy years…and the best of years. It has been a time of getting up and getting up and getting up again, and feeling the generous healing power of my fall downs. These have been the years of sunny ah-has and moody reflections, illuminating all that I believe in and discovering that my little girl dreams could still be found optimistically tucked between bravery and forgiveness.
LC: Tell us about the second book you’re working on.
LG: My latest novel is a continuation of Cosette’s Tribe. In book two, we find 14 year-old Cosette still living at home with her mother and sexually abusive stepfather Ken. Although Cosette was able to put an end to Ken’s advances a couple of years before, she now faces his vindictive side where Ken’s main form of entertainment is how to make Cosette suffer for rejecting him. Cosette continues to search for purpose as she follows a pale stream of hope into the future.
Cosette’s mother remains clueless about the past sexual abuse and spends most of her time playing referee between Cosette and Ken. But Cosette has more sinister foes to face; enemies of her own making, for the escape route she chooses from her unhappy childhood could shatter her young life in an instant.
I’m aiming for a launch of book two (still untitled) in the spring of 2016.
LC: What do you hope readers experience while reading your books? What do you hope they take away?
LG: It took me years to find the courage to write Cosette’s Tribe because of the personal nature of the story. Presenting my novel as a work of fiction created a cushion for me, providing just enough space between myself and the story, which was sorely needed. My hope was that my words would inspire readers to get back up after they’ve been knocked down, no matter what their struggles are. I want to encourage readers to trust life and embrace their own stories, perhaps discovering that it takes a certain amount of light to cast a shadow, and ironically, it’s that light which moves us beyond our pain.
As a woman I found creating this work incredibly empowering. It helped to move me from the space of a silent victim into the place of a vocal victor. It’s a mighty feeling to take part in one’s own redemption…to be your own hero.
LC: Connect with Leah on Facebook.
LC: Tell us about any awards or honors you’ve received as an author. What did those honors mean to you as an artist?
LG: Cosette’s Tribe is a self-published work, which means that it’s up to me to market and sell my precious story. Although I’m a bit shy and I should probably push a lot harder with the marketing of my novel, Cosette’s Tribe is not without awards and honors. Cosette’s Tribe was the first place winner of the 2011 Laine Cunningham, New Novel Award present by The Blotter Magazine. As a new author this was thrilling for me. After all, this wasn’t family and friends praising me, it was my peers, and it meant the world to me, as did the fat check and prizes they gave me.
Cosette’s Tribe took first place for both Best Novel and Mainstream Fiction in the 2013 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBooks Awards. Cosette’s Tribe was also chosen by Florida Weekly’s book reviewer Phil Jason as one of his favorites for 2012. Of course my biggest reward has been the overwhelmingly positive response from my readers.
LC: Find Leah’s book trailer and website at www.leahgriffith.com.
LC: Cosette is told from an intimate viewpoint of a young girl. How did this present challenges to your prose? How did you overcome those challenges?
LG: The language I chose to use while writing Cosette’s Tribe was a challenge. I had to “Be the kid” in order to write the kid. I kept things simple using the pure language of childhood when creating metaphors and expressions. Sometimes it became very difficult when describing scenes of a sexual nature, requiring me to enter and feel the darkness of a situation anew.
Writing Cosette’s Tribe was a work of bravery requiring me to look at my childhood with both eyes open. This is how I discovered the light in my childhood, which was there all along. I just never noticed it because of the trauma I endured. It was the surprise of seeing this happy light that kept me writing, and it is this same generous light that I hope to share with my readers.
LC: Describe your writing space.
LG: My writing space is wherever I can open my laptop and type. I wrote most of Cosette’s Tribe on an ancient IBM laptop facing a blank wall at work. Today, I write from half a tiny booth in my kitchen. My husband Mike uses the other half to run his online business. Our booth is the only working space in the 350 square-foot trailer that we share with Duchess, our tiny dog. I also do my artwork from the booth. Virginia Woolfe would be appalled.