Tuesday, September 27, 2016

AMONG THE STACKS: Jennifer Lamont Leo


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Jennifer.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I grew up near Chicago and now live in a remote area of northern Idaho.  I'm married and enjoy books, music, paper crafts, and gardening.  I am a servant to my cats.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
When I'm not writing fiction, I'm a marketing copywriter and book editor.  I sing in a community choir and volunteer at a local history museum.  I could live for many years on peanut butter.  My favorite movie of all time is The Elephant Man.  Is that five?  I'm terrible at math.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
A children's book called The Gingerbread Man.  Before I could read on my own, I used to chase unsuspecting adults and beg them to read it to me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
 What are you reading now?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon.  I just love Father Tim.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn't expect you to have liked?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Writing was always what I did best in school.  I loved writing reports, and wrote short stories to amuse myself.  When I was in fifth grade, the author Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague) visited our school.  That's when I decided on writing as a vocation, although it took many years to get there.  I wrote church drama sketches and plays before I tackled fiction.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I have a writing room in my house.  I live on a mountain, so the view is quite pretty.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I love to write to music, instrumental only with no lyrics.  While writing You're the Cream in My Coffee, I played 1920s music to put me in the mood.  I also keep a piano keyboard in my writing room and relax by playing a tune or two during writing breaks.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Getting started.  Once I get started, I'm fine.  But I can procrastinate endlessly.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the most satisfying thing you've written so far?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Writing You're the Cream in My Coffee has been hugely satisfying.  But I also love to write plays, because I can hear the audience laugh.  I love getting that immediate reaction.  Maybe someday I'll rewrite You're the Cream in My Coffee as a play.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I'm especially fond of mid-20th-century women authors like Cornelia Otis SkinnerEmily KimbroughBetty MacDonaldBarbara Pym, and E.M. Del afield.  They're largely forgotten now, which is a pity, because their writing is bright, witty, and full of charm.  It's time to bring them back into the spotlight.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
When there's an engaging hero or heroine whom I genuinely like and care about, I'll follow them anywhere.  And I like to be surprised by plot twists, but not shocked in a negative way.  I think a good story should leave the reader feeling optimistic and hopeful, not filled with despair.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I love about characters the same thing I love about real people: kindness, cleverness, a quick wit, and a winsome personality.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Marjorie, for sure.  She keeps finding herself in a pickle, but she means well, and she has a kind heart, even if she does mess up from time to time.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I appreciate beautiful covers that are pleasing to look at, but I'm not usually turned off by covers unless they totally misrepresent the book inside.  My publisher was gracious about letting me have a lot of input into my cover.  I know that's not always the case.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I can endlessly tweak and fuss and make it just a little bit better.  At some point I have to say "stop" and move on, or I'd never finish anything.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Fights and break-up scenes are hard for me.  I want everyone to get along.  But that wouldn't be much of a story, would it?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Many novels set in the 1920s celebrate wild living and make vice look glamorous.  I try to show another side.  Gangster and flapper stereotypes aside, not everyone was drinking bootleg gin and dancing in fountains.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Like covers, titles should tell the reader something about the book, and should also be somewhat memorable, so that later she can recommend it to a friend without resorting to, "I don't remember the title, but it's a red book with a picture of a girl on the cover."  You're the Cream in My Coffee is a song title in the 1920s.  It's a bouncy, catchy tune, and the lyrics are clever and romantic - qualities I hope the reader will find in my story.  My working title, Thoroughly Modest Marjorie, was a disaster. I was trying to riff off of an old Julie Andrews movie set in the 1920s called Thoroughly Modern Millie, turning "modern" into "modest" to reflect my non-flapper character.  But most people either got the title wrong, or had never heard of the movie and thus misunderstood the reference entirely.  I'm very glad that I was encouraged early on to change it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
It's hard to say.  A good short story is an art form in itself, and not as easy as it seems.  But writing a novel is like climbing Everest.  So probably the novel is more satisfying in the end, although short stories are fun, too.  I write both.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I write clean historical fiction with plucky heroines.  "Plucky" is a term not used much these days, but to me it means a brave and resourceful person who goes after what she wants without losing her charm, grace, and femininity.  I hope my stories dust off some of those old-fashioned virtues like honor, duty, and common decency that seem to grow scarcer by the day.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I wanted to write a Christmas scene but it didn't fit.  So I turned it into a short story called "The Christmas Robe."  Also, in the earliest version of the book, Marjorie was a nurse, not a sales clerk.  I liked the hospital setting and may use it in a future book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your "trunk"?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I'm writing a sequel to You're the Cream in My Coffee, also set in the 1920s.  No title yet, but for those who've read You're the Cream, it's Dot's story.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
More historical fiction that revives the best of the past.  I'll probably stick with the early 20th century for the time being because I love that era.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
I maintain a blog where I write about all things vintage.  Readers can also sign up there for my newsletter, called "A Sparkling Vintage Life."  My main character, Marjorie Corrigan, also maintains a blog, Miss Marjorie's Guide to Life, where she comments on life in the 1920s.  I'm also active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by today, Jennifer.  I look forward to reading the sequel when you finish it.
            Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Jennifer Lamont Leo:
Just a heartfelt "thank you" from me and Marjorie for reading our story!


About the author:
Jennifer Lamont Leo writes from her home in the mountains of northern Idaho, where she lives with her husband, two cats, and as much wildlife as she can attract.  Passionate about history, she volunteers at a local history museum and writes history-themed articles for regional publications.  She is also a playwright, blogger, and marketing copywriter.  You're the Cream in My Coffee is her first novel.
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