Originally from Rhode Island, Leila spent five years acting in New York where she was a company member of the award-winning Flea Theater in Tribeca. She now lives in LA with her husband and two dogs. In addition to writing, she also teaches English for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
For what age audience do you write?
I write contemporary realistic fiction for young adults (YA) and for younger readers (8-12).
Tell us about your latest book.
The book that’s in stores right now is ‘Nantucket Blue’. It’s about one unforgettable summer when everything changes, set on an idyllic New England island. There’s love, sand, and fried clams!
Henry: And really, who needs love when you have fried clams?
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope they will be transported, entertained, and moved.
Henry: And develop a deeper love of fried clams.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Sometimes getting inside the hearts of characters takes so much patience and a light touch. I have to remind myself not to force it or I’ll miss the magic completely.
Henry: Indeed, voice is a subtle thing.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Striking a balance between discipline/structure and freedom/whimsy is essential and ever evolving.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
Working with my writer’s group. We meet every week to discuss our work and have formed a community of trust and friendship. I have grown so much as a writer and learned so much from them.
Henry: I second that. My critique group is invaluable to the development of my craft.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write the story only you can tell. Find a community to share your work with. Set daily or weekly or monthly achievable goals. Trust your own unique process.
Henry: That is a beautiful encapsulation of writing advice!
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard
Henry: That reminds me of, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
Sometimes when I’m really stuck I like to go away for a few days, just me and my dog. We love to go to Laguna Beach or Palm Springs. Getting out of context helps those creative juices flow. My dog silently cheers me on!
Henry: I felt sure fried clams were going to be part of your writing ritual.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I would like to be able to be in more than one place at a time. I miss my family on the east coast!
Henry: I’ve had writers wish for teleportation or for stopping time. But, you are the first who wants to lead parallel lives.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare. What a night that would be!
Henry: No argument there.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Friendly dragons. I would like to go for a ride on the back of one.
Henry: Readers, I cannot stress enough the importance of the word “friendly” in Leila’s response. “’It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.’” – Tolkien
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Hang out with my husband, cook, do yoga, and play with my dogs.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
She lived, she loved, she wrote.
Henry: And she ate fried clams.
Where can readers find your work?
At your favorite bookstore! I’m also on twitter @leilahowland.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.