Interview: Joan Leotta

Please welcome Joan Leotta, author of the Legacy of Honor series and other works.

ABowlofRiceCoverArtWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day is one spent with my family–that is my husband and daughter. It doesn’t have to be an active day. We can be watching a movie, shooing, on vacation together or simply sitting in the same room, each doing our own thing–puzzles, reading, writing.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
This was hard for me to answer. I don’t think of myself as a person with a distinctive style–at firs tall I could say was pasta (any type of pasta from rigatoni to rotini) in marinara sauce. Then I remembered my sea glass necklace and bracelet. They are definitely signature jewelry. I wear them all summer long. In the winter I wear my garnet jewelry most often. Rings are one of my signature items. I usually wear three on my right hand and three on the left.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Inspiring my creativity? Well there are two ways to take that–a person who was an unwitting muse or a person who actively sought to push my creative powers. Speaking about persons who inspired, having recognized my need to write and to perform, I think of three people in my youth. The first was Sister Anne, a teacher at Ursuline Academy in Pittsburgh. I was in fifth grade when she started a student newspaper. We had to mimeograph it to print it. She also encouraged me to send my poetry to all-county poetry anthologies and several of my poems were chosen. Years later, when I was living in Washington DC, on a return trip to Pittsburgh, I brought my husband and children to meet her and see the wonderful Victorian mansion where I went to school. Sister Anne told me that she started the newspaper specifically to encourage me to write.

The next teacher to give me a substantial push was a Mercy nun at our Lady of Mercy Academy. Sister Leonora encouraged my friend, Barbie and me to send our poetry to Horn Book Magazine. I did and received my first check for my writing! That was a great boost.

The next person of significance is the woman (name, long lost to me although I can see her face in my mind!) who was the preschool director when our son was three. She hired me to perform as a storyteller, starting a wonderful career of performing, (writing my own material in the form of adapted folklore and later, original tales and scripts based on women in history). In addition to the writing that goes into the prep work for performing, the very act of performing and interacting with an audience feeds my creativity and often, I come home and write something completely unrelated after a performance.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I should but I don’t. I understand Mozart increases creativity. I write with background noises to block out, a TV show or in an open café, or with no noise at all.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate covered caramel, because that’s what I like, although I had to give up chocolate due to my migraines.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The particular story in the book for which I have included the cover is not a mystery per se. It’s a romance with a small element of mystery. It is book four in my Legacy of Honor series tracing an Italian American (that becomes Italian-Irish!) through several generations. A Bowl of Rice deals with the Vietnam era.

In the area of mystery, I have had more good fortune in short stories. In fact, one of my short stories will be a part of the SinC Guppy Anthology coming up. The anthology is Fish or Cut Bait and my story is, “Egidio Decides to Fish.” The inspiration was my Uncle Egidio who was gassed while fighting for the USA in World War I. I wanted to write a story that would honor him and reveal some of the leadership problems endemic in that struggle. This past spring I visited several WWI battlefields in Belgium.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
That’s easy! Family and food!

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Again, I’ll give you two–the woman in the book whose cover I gave you and the mann in my latest mystery story coming up for publication. My main character in A Bowl of Rice, Anna Maria is influenced by her family. She is a young woman with good values and a strong sense of duty. My Uncle in the short, well his character is based on my Dad (his brother) and various men in my family,

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Anna Maria has the common sense of Nancy Drew, the lack of ability to judge men that shows up in early romantic heroines, no particular one, and the “moxie” of a Katherine Hepburn heroine. She is smart and not afraid to assert herself in a man’s world.

Egidio is a man of action. Is he part Clark Gable? Tom Selleck as Magnum PI? The third actor is the hardest–anyone who plays the loyal friend ready to sacrifice self for his friends– Sydney Carton, the hero in A Tale of Two Cities. Ronald Coleman played him in the old movie I recall watching as a young girl, late at night on TV with my Grandma.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Pearl Buck (who I have met!), Italo Calvino, Alexander Dumas, O’Henry, James Joyce, and Louise Penny. Oh, do I have to stop at six? What about North Carolina’s Shaber and Maron? And, how about Donna Leon and Ellis Peters and Elizabeth Peters and….. Hey, I’m Italian, I cook for crowds!

What’s next for you?
Well, right now I am working on Book Four for the Legacy of Honor series for Desert Breeze. This one has more mystery in it—stolen treasure in the Gulf war, a Civil War prequel treasure hunt and…(You can see why it is taking me a bit longer than the others did to finish!). This October, an eclectic collection of my short stories (all either published or award winners) comes out thanks to the wonderful folks at Cane Hollow Press. Three of my mysteries, and a fourth story that is a Western/mystery combo, are included. Title of the collection? Simply a Smile. Each story in this collection was inspired by an object–a smiling statue, recently-discovered Roman fasces from the time of Cesar, and so on.

My next story performance will be at the el Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum. I try to list upcoming on my blog.

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit!

***

Joan Leotta has been writing and performing since childhood. Her “motto” is “encouraging words through pen and performance.” Her award-winning poetry, short stories, books and articles have been published in many journals, magazines and newspapers. She performs folklore shows and one-woman shows on historic figures at venues up and down the east coast. She lives in Calabash, NC with husband Joe. You can learn more about her at www.joanleotta.wordpress.com.

 

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10 thoughts on “Interview: Joan Leotta”

  1. Alexander Dumas, Donna Leon and great Italian food?! I’m there! Congrats on mastering diverse genres and characters and good luck with the new and forthcoming titles.

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  2. Thank you so much for taking the time, all of you, to comment on my interview with Cynthia, and of course, thank you Cynthia once again for hosting me! I will include all of you in that virtual dinner invitation!
    We writers often live with no input on our writing, so it is really nice to have someone check in! Pleased that several of you commented on Sister Anne–she was such a lovely woman. Gone on to heaven some time ago, but I do think often of how God used her in my life.
    Pearl Buck? Well, Cynthia, I was blessed to be a part of a very nifty program in college that among other great opportunities, invited about twenty of us (out of five thousand freshmen!) to spend the evening with Pearl Buck. Not sure if a meal was served or not. I recall that in the time when we were able to ask the questions we (and I) had prepared, I was sitting on the floor at her feet and I got so tongue tied I could not say a word. My books will be out in paper at the end of the year. If anyone of these 8 commentators would like a copy (and promise to review!) they can send me their email and I obtain their address (or now if they want an e-version) and I will send. Joan
    joanleotta@atmc.net. Thank you all

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