Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Leigh K. Cunningham - Being Anti-Social - Author Interview

Author Interview

1. How did you come up with the title?
Being Anti-Social (BAS) was the working title when the story first germinated. Strangely, I didn’t go through the usual process of considering other possibilities. In BAS, the main protagonist, Mace Evans, references quotes from Oscar Wilde to help guide her through life’s challenges. She considers him her “life coach and mentor”. Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest and so Being Anti-Social is a play on that. It is also a reference to the quirky, unique movie, Being John Malkovich.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Being Anti-Social is a story about being true to oneself. In the first chapter, the main protagonist, Mace Evans is at yet another family gathering sitting in an armchair reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Her much-unloved older sister tells her she is being anti-social. Mace then embarks on a journey to try and understand why she prefers to be alone, if there’s any basis for her long-standing friendships, and why she has such a difficult time living up to expectations, in particular, her mother’s expectations. She wants to be herself whether others like her or not, but in any event, she embarks on the journey to see if she can and should change.

3. How much of the book is realistic?
Based on the feedback received from readers to date, the story seems to have touched a chord. One reader wrote saying I had unwittingly written her autobiography, and another said she no longer felt so alone being a single woman who enjoys being alone. Many others have said they see themselves in Mace.

There seems to be a lot of people out there who enjoy being home and alone. Society’s reaction to this - and that of friends and family - is usually to coax that person into social situations they simply don’t enjoy. I personally don’t understand the purpose to this (hence the book) – if someone likes being alone and staying home, leave them be. As Oscar Wilde says, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

I think the preference for being alone these days may be because our lives have become so incredibly busy and complicated, and people need quiet, private time to recharge. Also, social networking, which brings people together, has for many, become an obligation and burden, and they feel a need to reclaim their private life.

Relationship issues, whether it is with family, partners, colleagues or friends, tend to be the same the world over, so Mace’s encounters within her circles seem to be relatable.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I started writing Being Anti-Social more than five years ago so it has been through endless rewrites during that time. It’s barely three months old so it’s still fresh from the last rewrite in April.

Once I release a book, I avoid reading it again as there will always be something I will want to change; I’m not sure it’s possible to ever be completely happy with my work, but at some point, you have to let it go. However, if someone finds an error, then I would correct it immediately, and that’s the benefit of today’s publishing environment – you can update a book and have the new version back in the marketplace within 48 hours.

Also, if you continue to obsess about a book post-publication, you’ll never get anything new written; you’ll always be fine-tuning the past. Once you’ve published, the focus needs to be on marketing and PR, and writing new material.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
My previous title, Rain was a very dark, tragic, personal story, and it was quite painful to write and rewrite during those six years. I had to regularly confront moments in my life I do not like to relive, like the death of my brothers and the aftermath. Being Anti-Social is chick-lit/humor, and although it also deals with death, it is a much lighter story and it was a joy to write. However, at about 45,000 words into a proposed 80,000 manuscript, I had used or discarded all my story ideas and I had no idea where to go from that point. But I then started having vivid dreams that I could recall in detail the next morning, and these were always relevant to where I had left the story the day before. I incorporated these dreams, and they moved me and the story along until the next road block. Then there would be another dream and this process continued until the end for 30,000+ words. So the dreams Mace has in the story are actual dreams I had the night before I wrote that part of the story.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Writing is a learning experience on many levels. Firstly, as an author, you must continuously learn more about the craft, and be courageous enough to try new ways of construction so each book doesn’t sound the same as the last or the same as other authors.

Then, with each story, there is learning about places, history, cultures, and people and what makes them tick. Like an actor, you have to ‘be’ someone else and absorb their attitudes and viewpoint, which are often diametrically opposed to your own. For example, I’m a Christian but I often have characters who are atheists, like Matthew Baden in Rain, and Mace Evans in Being Anti-Social has difficulties connecting with her Christian mother and sister who she feels are judgmental.

There’s also learning about yourself and how your mind works. My mind tries to sabotage my writing progress by constantly offering up other things to do when I need to be writing.

Once published, authors also need to learn how best to cope with criticism and negativity, which is unavoidable, even if you’re JK Rowling. I never set out believing everyone would love everything I write, so that makes it easier to accept and live in harmony with criticism. I’ve never felt compelled to respond to or address a negative review, and I don’t spend any time or energy dwelling on them. It achieves nothing.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
English was always my favorite subject at school, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve had the story of Rain percolating in my head although it ended up completely different to that first draft (as you would hope after six years!). I was also influenced by Angela’s Ashes and The Thorn Birds for this story. JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was an influence for Being Anti-Social, particularly because I enjoyed the first-person narrative of Holden Caulfield.

My next three books all sprouted from fleeting moments in time: my two children’s books came to life from a dream my husband had about a glass table at the bottom of a river – that’s all he could remember, but by the next day I had drafted the outline for a children’s fantasy story and several of the main characters. Being pressured by friends to go out on the town when all I wanted to do was stay home was the catalyst for Being Anti-Social.

I do find the writing process extremely challenging. When I’m writing a first draft, that’s all I do until it’s done for eight hours every day for however many weeks it takes. And there are always several moments in every day when my mind tries to tempt me into doing something, anything else, so it takes a lot of commitment and focus to stay at the laptop until the day is over.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’ll have to go with George Orwell, although it makes me feel like I’m betraying good friends (JD Salinger and John Steinbeck). I’ve chosen George Orwell because I love how he wrote about social injustices and the politics of his time (Stalinism, corruption, ignorance and indifference – how awesome was Animal Farm!) Then there was the satirical Nineteen Eight-Four, which was considered dystopian in its time, but in hindsight seems more prophetic.

And like my favorite playwrite, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell was witty and sarcastic, and his work intelligent, clear and precise.

9. Tell us your latest news.
Readers Favorite has short-listed Being Anti-Social for an award in two categories: Chick-lit and Humor.

In September I will be embarking on a radio tour of the USA with Annie Jennings PR.

Later in the year, I hope to make some inroads into the third book in The Glass Table series. And since I’ve received a lot of requests from readers for a sequel to Rain, I need to start planning for that as it will probably require some time in Luanda, Angola, which does not appeal to my husband at all.

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I’m extremely grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read my books. And naturally, I’m especially appreciative to those who were kind enough to post generous reviews, and those who sent emails and posted kind comments on my Facebook wall.

I also would like to thank the many book clubs that chose to read Rain, which seems to have generated a lot of discussion and polarized viewpoints. One lady wrote, “My book club just read Rain and it inspired passionate and sometimes heated discussion on a number of topics. Thank you for writing a book that gave us such a great discussion!” That’s the kind of feedback that makes being a writer all worthwhile. I think most authors, especially those writing literary fiction, would like to know they’ve raised issues that are challenging even though it means your book is one that readers will love or hate. Rain is definitely one of those books, but ironically, I didn’t set out to write a divisive story.

About the Book

Mace Evans is single at thirty-eight. When her much unloved older sister, Shannon, declares that Mace is anti-social, she embarks on a journey to understand her condition; whether she was born that way or if it is the accumulation of thirty-eight years of unfortunate encounters with other humans and dogs.

For reasons unbeknown to Mace, she has an affair with a work colleague, which brings an unexpected end to her perfect marriage. And as if the self-imposed torture and regret is not enough, Mace endures ongoing judgment from her older sister and mother, which further exacerbates already tenuous relationships.

With support from her four best friends, merlot and pizza, and with guidance from her life coach and mentor, Oscar Wilde, Mace recovers to a degree, but in her quest to understand her anti-social ways, she finds herself wondering about the quality of the fabric that keeps her network of friends intact.

When Mace's mother is diagnosed with cancer, Mace searches for common ground on which to connect before it is too late.

Price: $12.95
Paperback: 316 pages
Genre: Chick-lit, Humor
Publisher: Vivante Publishing
Date: May 19, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-9810720933
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository (UK), Borders (Australia)       

About the Author

Leigh K Cunningham is a lawyer with a career as a senior executive for a number of public companies in her home country of Australia. She has master’s degrees in law (Master of International Trade and Investment Law) and commerce (Master of Commerce) as well as an MBA (International Management).

RAIN, Leigh's first title for the adult fiction market (April 2011) was named the winner in the Literary Fiction category at the 2011 Indie Excellence Awards. RAIN was also awarded a silver medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Awards (IPPY) in the Regional Fiction: Australia/New Zealand category. RAIN was #1 on the Amazon bestseller list for Women’s Fiction (December 2011).

Leigh's first two children's books, THE GLASS TABLE and its sequel, SHARDS are recipients of silver medals from the Mom's Choice Awards. SHARDS was also a finalist at the 2011 Indie Excellence Awards in the Juvenile Fiction category.

BEING ANTI-SOCIAL is Leigh's latest title (May 2012). It has been chosen as a Finalist at the 2012 Readers Favorite Awards in two categories: Chick-lit and Humor. Winners announced September 2012.

Links to connect with Leigh:
Web Site

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  1. Thank you so much, Nicole - it was great 'talking' with you!


  2. Great interview, Nicole!

    Melanie Walsh
    Director, Membership Services
    Association of Independent Authors

  3. Leigh, it was a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to "chat" with me :)

    Melanie, thank you for stopping by!

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