Today, I'm delighted to have in the forum Ron Leighton, the fascinating and funny fantasy author who is here to talk about his ‘Beneath a Vengeful Sun’ story. We’re also going to get a few exclusive first comments about his upcoming fantasy novel.
Tim Greaton: Ron, I’ve been pleased to know you for quite some time through our overlapping social networks, however, some of our audience might not be so fortunate. Could you tell them a little about your background?
Ron Leighton: I’m pleased to know you too. Thanks for the invite.
My background? Um. It’s just an ordinary off-white wall thoughtlessly interrupted with some non-descript “art.” Nothing special. But of course you meant ‘background’ figuratively. Okay, I am originally from New Mexico, but have lived in California for 27 years, since I was about 20. The bit on my Twitter profile about being an actual Romanian gypsy is…untrue. Did you know that already? However, my grandfather on my dad’s side did come from Maine, by the way. I know there are Leightons in Maine. I’m sure I’m related to some of them. Anyway, he was a merchant marine who ended up in Houston. From there it’s only a hop, skip and a largish jump to New Mexico. So the ‘gypsy’ thing is not entirely ridiculous. I’ve done all kinds of work, from office to labor and beyond! But for the last twenty years, and in relative earnest, I have, come rain or shine, worked at honing my writing. Furthermore, until recently I was simply a high school grad. But now, at long last, I’m taking some college courses. I’m trying to decide if I should continue towards a major. One reason I’m not sure is that school really cuts into my writing time, you know? It is a dilemma. As an aside, I am definitely one of the oldest students on campus and I am more annoyed by 20 year olds than I thought I would be. Just kidding, school buddies.
Tim Greaton: I know you currently have quite a number of stories on the market and that you’re also a talented artist (which reminds me a lot of my good friend Larry Donnell). First, which artistic medium do you prefer most? And I think we’d all love to know how you squeeze in the time to learn two difficult crafts?
Ron Leighton: Thank you, by the way, for the compliment—I’ll tell my art instructor you think so. I have three short stories, yes. ‘A Cheerful Smoke for the Dead,’ ‘Child of Chaos’ and most recently, ‘Beneath a Vengeful Sun.’ They are all set in the world I have created, Varaeim, or the Shining Lands. Regarding time, it helps that I am only partially employed. I’m part of the “new normal,” you might say. The decline in the quality of employment that began in the 70s leads directly to me. It’s so good to feel part of something larger than myself. As for my favorite artistic medium, I’d have to say I prefer charcoal—a surprise to me since it is messy and I generally avoid messy things, mostly because I hate cleaning them up. I recently tried my hand at pastel pencils and I am not yet as enamored with them as I am with charcoal pencils, even though they are a lot neater to work with. I pretty much suck at pastels right now is what I’m saying. But it’s not the pastels’ fault.
Tim Greaton: Ron, I first read one of your fantasy stories in 2011 and was immediately surprised that you hadn’t already published a number of books. Your clarity, detail and characterization are all beautifully done. Are you a naturally amazing writer or have you put in lots of what I call drawer time, which is when you write and write and write, constantly shuffling the works into a drawer or closet because in your mind they’re not “quite” there?
Ron Leighton: Well, that’s nice to hear. I’d like to answer yes regarding the “amazing writer” thing without sounding ridiculously full of myself. Is that possible? Anyway, the answer might be a little of both in a way. I sometimes write scenes or dialogue and they hardly change after that. But what happens more often is that goodish scenes or dialogue get punched up a bit over time. I’ll find just the right thing to turn the scene or dialogue into what I am trying to achieve. Attending a writer’s group—not so much lately—has certainly helped that! The three stories I mentioned were done rather quickly, but crucially, I’d say, they were only finished after feedback from my writers’ group. Another thing that helps me, writing epic fantasy, is that I am very focused on creating something rare, something that just feels a certain way. So I guess what I mean is I have developed or am still developing a mindset from which I write. I’m sure I didn’t invent this and it doesn’t require hallucinogens to get there, I swear. I want readers of my fantasy to get chills as they suddenly feel that, despite the fantastic elements in the story, they are immersed in a very real place with very real people (and monsters). Whether I achieve that is another question, but simply and desperately desiring to create such epic fantasy helps, I think. Do I as a writer want to create something special or not? I really, really want to.
Tim Greaton: Because we writers tend to start out telling real life stories, I wonder if you have a funny or exciting event from your past that you’d like to tell us about?
Ron Leighton: At the beginning of ‘Beneath a Vengeful Sun,’ there is a black pit. When I was a teenager hiking in the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, N.M., a friend and I found an abandoned mine high up—and way off—a narrow, winding trail. About twenty yards into this dark mine we found a hole preventing us from going any further. The tunnel went on in three directions on the other side of this hole—this pit—but I couldn’t shake my fascination with the pit. I dropped a stone into it and, as I recall, it took some time to make a noise. My friend and I imagined that mine contained more potential for adventure than you could shake a stick at—if only one could get beyond the pit! I still have an itch in the back of my mind to get beyond that pit! So, yeah, I’ve always wanted to put the pit in a story and now I have.
Tim Greaton: Do you have beta readers in your family or circle of friends, or do you trust your own instincts before you publish your works?
Ron Leighton: Up until about a year and a half ago, I had only my own instincts to rely on, which, as you may know, are good to have though it is also good to understand their limits. I started attending a writer’s group. I think I actually got the idea from a literary agent who gently rejected my request for his or her representation. Or maybe from an agent’s blog. I can’t recall exactly. Being in a writers’ critique group has helped tremendously. As a writer and as the originator of a story, you can develop blind spots that, to put it simply, are not blind spots for others. You discover both good things and bad in a critique group. Such a group’s goal could be summed up as “maximize readability.” So, feedback is invaluable and indispensable. Even the most accomplished writers would agree, I think. As for beta readers, no, I’m afraid not. I would like to have one. Volunteers are being accepted.
Wait! That’s not entirely true! One gentleman in my group did a great deal of beta reading for my novel! Guy named Peter Jessup. Invaluable input. By the way, the novel is called ‘Belt of the Wolf’ and I hope to have it out in the near future.
Tim Greaton: What is your most recent story release, Ron? And could you tell us about it?
Ron Leighton: My most recent story is called ‘Beneath a Vengeful Sun.’ Like ‘A Cheerful Smoke for the Dead’ and ‘Child of Chaos’ before it, it’s a short story. It is specifically about a young Kuetran (koo-Eh-trun) woman named Ránača (ray-NOTCH-uh). She’s a slave, a concubine, kept by a large estate owner, Hergesto, who lives in the country just east of the Waywood in the land of West Kuetra (or, the Eastern March, as the powers-that-be call it—you can look at a map at my blog). She’s faced with—what is to her, and would be to many—a hard choice.
Tim Greaton: What led you to tell this particular story?
Ron Leighton: There is a point in my nearly-edited novel when Ránača, the protagonist in ‘Beneath a Vengeful Sun,’ talks about some of her life with another character. I always wanted to tell some of that story, but didn’t think it fit in the novel. Actually, now that I think about it, my aunt Michele read my novel. Though she didn’t really do it as a beta reader, per se, she did provide some feedback. One of the things she said was she really liked the character Ránača. That reinforced my own special feeling for this character. Okay, maybe I have a crush on her. Anyway, in the novel, Ránača is a secondary character, but a very good secondary character! Now, I think, when in the future someone reads my novel, they will, having read ‘Beneath a Vengeful Sun,’ recognize Ránača and feel like they know her already. Personally, I always want stories like that—the stories in the stories that are only hinted at. I think it makes the world more expansive, gives depth to its backdrop. I crave even the back-stories about secondary characters. I guess what I’m assuming is that others might feel the same way. But I’d do it anyway.
Tim Greaton: Will there be other stories connected to this one? Or do you plan on exploring other realms or even genres next?
Ron Leighton: I am committed to epic fantasy over the long term, though I won’t rule out dabbling in other genres. The world I’ve created is complex and full of countless people (and creatures) and places, as well as possibilities—histories, cultures, myths, legends, etc. Frankly, I can’t wait to discover them all! There will likely be more short stories set in this world, some directly related to my upcoming novel and some not. I am considering writing more shorts specifically about other characters in my novel. But to answer your first question directly, yes. I think there will be stories about the further adventures of Ránača. She’s an interesting person.
Tim Greaton: Which author do you model your work after, or do you not see any parallels with past works you’ve read?
Ron Leighton: I’ve read only a very small number of fantasy writers. Tolkien, of course. But after him, only Robert E. Howard of Conan fame, as well as his co-writers and legatees. I’ve read Robert Jordan, but only his Conan novel (can’t recall its exact name). However, if you come to my writing specifically looking for carbon (and necessarily faded) copies of Tolkien or Howard, you’ll be disappointed. I’m trying to go in my own direction. As to avoidance of fantasy, partly this has to do with my nearly-superstitious wish to steer clear of undue influence and bleeding-over. I once read that for a fantasy writer to avoid clichéd and formulaic results he or she should simply avoid reading fantasy. Read other stuff, this guy said, including non-fiction. I think he was right. As for being modeled on other writers, I don’t think so, except in the most general sense. They write epic fantasy, I write epic fantasy. (I am aware, however, that my map is particularly Tolkienesque.) I try hard—most often while not really knowing what I’m doing—to blend fiction and nonfiction writing in a way that produces story with realism. I like fantasy, but I’m a stickler for realism. Go figure. I get bored really quickly with fantasy filled with characters that don’t feel real to me, or worlds that feel two-dimensional. Of course, since I don’t read much of it, it’s usually an instinctual reaction to something. Did I answer the question?
Tim Greaton: You answered the question exceedingly well, Ron, and while we’re talking about it, you are a spectacular interviewee. Your personality and facility with language really shines through in this format, and I for one am having a ball. Thanks again for coming.
Getting back to Ron-business, which part of your story was the most difficult to write? Why?
Ron Leighton: I tend to be better at dialogue and certain kinds of, I don’t know, idyllic scenes, but feel a little clumsy writing action. I think it is in part because many of my scenes tend to revolve, really, around world-building—hopefully in the most subtle and with-the-flow manner. Writing action requires a break from that. Action is boom, boom, boom, you know? So, yeah, the action scenes were definitely the hardest. But I am getting better at it! My novel will show this, he declares with confidence.
Tim Greaton: If one of your works made it all the way to Hollywood, what kind of a monster would be in the film? And which actor or actress would you have battling it?
Ron Leighton: I’d like to think Hollywood would be wise to make a movie of one of my stories! But I think I’d be worried they might screw up my characters or change the heart of the story…I wonder if all writers feel that way? What was your question? Oh, yeah. Regarding a monster, think zombie giant (yes, it’s copywrited already). He could fight an equally bizarre creature—to the death, perhaps? The actor would likely be wearing a motion-capture suit, so maybe Andy Serkis (Gollum) or Willem Dafoe (Tars Tarkas in the new John Carter of Mars movie) could play the part. I’m wondering who will play Ránača. Somebody tough and beautiful like Sarah Silverman. The potty mouth would okay, but she’d have to dye her hair.
Tim Greaton: (In the interest of semi-disclosure, I’m currently protecting my William Dafoe and Sarah Silverman studio posters. For an author, Ron’s pretty quick, though J) It would be great if you could share your website/blogsite and links to where our audience could directly communicate with you and purchase your stories.
Ron Leighton: Readers can visit my blog at http://ronleightonauthor.blogspot.com/ There they will find the aforementioned map as well as various stories and myths set in my world. My unrelated art is there too. To get my stories, the ones mentioned above, readers should go to my Smashwords profile at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ronrexl Should I mention my Twitter account? @Ron_Leighton And last but not least, readers can go and like the Tales of the Shining Lands Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tales-of-the-Shining-Lands/170628579698609?sk=wall I think that covers it. Did I say readers should go to my Smashwords profile?
Tim Greaton: Thanks for taking the time with me today, Ron. I’m fortunate to have some of the greatest forum readers in the world and I have every faith that many of them will be looking up your stories as soon as we finish up here.
Ron Leighton: No, thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity. I’m waving to the audience/readers right now but they can’t see me, so… Thanks, everybody! Happy reading. And may the gods bless you with showerings. I may have translated that wrong.